INFINITE VARIETY by Scot D. Ryersson


The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati
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She strolled Venice’s Piazza San Marco clad only in a fur cloak, escorted by pet cheetahs on jeweled leashes; she adorned herself with snakes, live and stuffed, and accessorized an evening costume with chicken blood. She was a Belle Epoque eccentric, big time. Luisa Casati was also extraordinarily wealthy in her own right, heir to a Milanese cotton fortune and wife of an Italian noble. Her marriage began to disintegrate after just a few years, when she began an affair—and a lifelong friendship—with Italian poet and writer Gabriele D‘Annunzio. Here she began to re-create herself, evolving from a rather shy, conformist young woman to the flamboyant pale-faced redhead, her remarkable green eyes rimmed by kohl, who would be the subject of more than 130 portraits, many by famous artists. She decorated a villa in Rome, refurbished a Venetian palazzo (now the Peggy Guggenheim museum), and threw extravagant parties and costume balls, mingling socialites and her newfound artist friends. As illustrator—graphic designer Ryersson and film critic Yaccarino describe it, her behavior grew increasingly bizarre—life-size wax replicas of herself and others were seated as guests at dinner parties—but she continued to intrigue serious artists like Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Augustus John, who was her lover briefly and a friend until she died. Eventually, her self-indulgent life style left her $25 million in debt; in 1932 her personal possessions were auctioned off. She resettled in England, sinking into poverty so acute that it was a choice between food for herself or for her dogs. (The dogs won.) Her life was the inspiration for a play starring Vivien Leigh and an Ingrid Bergman film. Casati died in 1957, her tombstone inscribed: “Age can not wither nor custom stale her infinite variety.” In essence, a predictably superficial superstar bio—Cher at the turn of the century, as it were. (42 b&w, 8 color illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-9670527-2-6
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999