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Augustus III. ; to see Pietro Longhi directing his Academy
of Fine Arts under the roof of the Pisani ; to hear Guardi,
on the first floor of his house of La Madonnetta, giving
lessons to Casanova's brother ; or his sister, Cecilia, who
became the wife of Tiepolo, dictating her will : " I leave
to my daughter all my chemises, my new dress, and the
dark one with the yellow bands. ..." There is so
much that we should like to know.

They compose a little family of artists closely bound
together. They are connected by all kinds of ties, of
kinship, of interest, and of pursuits. They reveal their
secrets to their sons, and found a line of painters. They
work for lords, for travelling amateurs, for collectors,



THE LESSER VENETIAN MASTERS 127

who sometimes are inclined to rob them, like Smith the
English consul. They are very ready to go abroad in
search of fortune ; and afterwards they come home
again. When they have completed a canvas, they ex-
hibit it in the Merceria or at the fair of the Sensa ; and
the Gazettes burst out into applause.

The interior of Rosalba Camera's house is delightful.
It is off the Grand Canal, in the Calle di Ca Cent'anni,
the street in which Goldoni was born. Here is her
mother, the old Venetian woman, prudent yet playful,
very fond of persegata and gingerbread ; her two sisters-
Angela, who married the painter Antonio Pellegrini and
calls him her " puppet," and Giovanina, who remained a
spinster and is called La Neneta. It is a cheerful circle,
honest and industrious ; no idlers and libertines, but
good books, old friends, a spinet, a violin, and the
magical colours of the pencil. No dust, but pretty objects
such as a lapis-lazuli box, silver candlesticks with their
snuffers, and on the wall a little painting, a present
from Watteau. They are all at work : Angela and Neneta
help their sister, preparing her grounds, putting on them
the first tints, covering them with the light coat, from
which the luminous image will spring out. Rosalba,
whom the family call " the little one " — la putela — is at
her easel, painting. Or she is reading a Latin book, or
trying her hand at simple rhymes, or accompanying on
her harpsichord the Duke of Mecklenburg's viola, or
receiving a visit from the Elector of Saxony in a red
coat, or making answer to her French friends who put
her on a throne — Crozat, Mariette, Vleugels, Marigny,
and the Abbe de Mayroulle. She is merry, and likes to
stroll about and converse and go into company. Some-
times she amuses herself with a game of cards. She is
quite small, and tries to increase her height " by dint of
shoe-heel " ; she is ugly, and seems not to care about
appearing pretty. In the evening, when work is over,
the whole family gather under the lamp ; and, as the



128 VENICE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

industrious Neneta is rather tired, having got up at dawn,
been to church, visited her poor, cut out dresses for the
masquerade, and busied herself indoors with household
affairs, accounts, clothes, and linen, she is dreadfully
sleepy, and goes off into a doze. They all laugh at her,
and Antonio Pellegrini sketches lively caricatures of the
sleeper. She notices it and is furious, springs up, runs
to the kitchen to dose herself with a drop of coffee left
over, comes back, sits down resolved not to sleep any
more, and promptly goes off again. The laughter is re-
doubled, the jokes begin afresh, until Neneta is disarmed
and laughs as heartily as the rest. That is the interior of
La Rosalba.

And it may well be that this famous daughter of
Venice, who showed such a sweet placidity of mind, and
loved to diffuse around her such lively merriment, and
never hated anybody or anything in the world — except
the rain, and the bores, and her break-neck ruelle, and
Canons in the choir muttering and taking snuff between
two psalms — it may well be that Rosalba Camera gives
a fair idea of these lesser masters of Venice — sparing of
confidences about themselves — of their customs, their
methods, their pleasures, their temperament, and their
character.



CHAPTER VIII

THE VENETIAN THEATRE AND ITALIAN COMEDY

The Venetians with their poetic, pleasure-loving char-
acter could hardly have existed without the charm and
glamour of fiction. It is true that footlights, curtains,
and a double bass were sufficient to create the world of
wonders which they loved. But they would have died
if altogether deprived of their theatrical illusions.

In the eighteenth century, Paris had three theatres.
Omitting occasional theatres, stages in palaces, open-air
theatres in the piazze, and travelling theatres for mario-
nettes, Venice had seven, all permanent and bearing the
names of their parish saints, all open during the whole
season of masquerades, and giving performances every
single evening. ' Take, for instance, the evening of
January 21, 1765. Didone abbandonata was performed
at the S. Benedetto, V Amor in ballo at the S. Mos6, II
rico insidiato at the S. Salvadore, Semiramide at the S.
Cassiano, Brighella disertore disperato sequace delta Magia
d' Archelaiisse at the S. Crisostomo, La Favola dell'
Uccellin belverde at the S. Angelo, and at the S. Samuele
that beautiful and amusing comedy the Cavaliere di
Ripafratta, sia il Marchese di Forlinpopoli. They let
no grass grow in these shrines of frivolity ; they almost
lived in them, so that nearly every house was to let.
From the red-capped boatman, who prided himself on
his taste in comedy, to the patrician in his toga, whose
hobby was the management of theatres, all found their
way in. They were at home there, even more than in
church. They were hardly inside before they seemed to be
in possession of the place. They enjoyed being together,

«9 I



130 VENICE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

after the solitary business of the day. In the absence of
known events, they filled the silences of history with
imaginary inventions of their poets, they gave their whole
hearts to the play of imaginary emotions ; they filled the
empty spaces of their souls and lives with happy illu-
sions ; they liked the frenzy which Was aroused in them
by the roulades of a singer, the contortions of an acrobat,
the pleasantries of a buffoon. They found the door of a
theatre as irresistible as a cafe.

Drama is the literature of those who do not read. It
was pre-eminently the literature of Venice, to whose
spirit it was most akin. It was her glory, her natural
mode of expression, her standard of literary judgment.
From Ruzzante to Goldoni it spread her fame through-
out Italy. A too stern reality wearied the old artistic
race ; the drama was their liberating dream, their in-
digenous diversion. It was the prevailing genre ; every
one attempted it, every one was familiar with it, the most
humble critic formed a theory of it and supported an
opinion. The name alone of an actress could draw sparks
and flame from a languishing conversation. A new play
was a public event ; its echoes spread even to the ferries.
The engagement of a dancing-girl was an affair of State ;
it filled the portfolios of the Council of Ten, and embar-
rassed a number of embassies. Any plots or factions
that disturbed the State were purely theatrical. The
rivalry of the priest Chiara and the lawyer Goldoni
gave birth to two parties, divided the city into two camps,
" armed one against another, lords and ladies, citizens
and their wives, the poor, the artisans, the gondoliers,
the cultured courtesans." No literary polemic ever raised
a greater stir, or wasted more paper.

The horizon of the Venetians seemed to be bounded
by footlights, stage scenery, and a prompter's box. The
air of deserted passages was heavy with the damp odour
of worn velvet and orange-peel, exhaled from theatre
halls. The atmosphere was mingled with the bitter



VENETIAN THEATRE, ITALIAN COMEDY 131

floating dust which rose from their " boards," and
" burnt and killed like gunpowder." Of all this busy
hurrying population there was scarcely a person who had
not some connection with the stage, as lamp-lighter or
ticket-collector, as box-attendant or copyist of music, as
chorus girl or her dressmaker, her music-master, her
stage-manager, her glover, her hosier, her confessor, her
hairdresser, her protector. They were poets or
prompters, "crowds" or machinists, pages or painters
or first haut-boys. They sang in Italian opera or acted
in pantomime, or played the Wit, the Moor, the late
Roman, or the capricious courtier in a ballet. Take, for
instance, a comedienne ; she knows more about love than
Ovid ever wrote. Take her mother or her brother. He
is paid sixpence a day to do the policeman, or the robber,
or the devil, and to carry a lantern in front of the
princess, his sister, when she returns from the " wings "
to the kitchen to change her clothes. The chariot of
Comedy had stopped for good at Venice ; the shafts rose
empty in the air.

At every corner of this fantastic city there stood out
a group of wandering comedians. At one a poet reads
his compositions to some actresses ; they knit stockings
while they listen. At another some singers loll about on
chairs and fan themselves with their music, while they
practise their songs. Elsewhere an artiste converses with
her patron, while her hairdresser plays the spy ; her
husband has gone shopping with a basket on his arm.
The Senator Malipiero surprises Teresa Imer and Casanova
in too intimate conversation, and rains showers of blows
upon them. Carlo Gozzi is on his way to Teresa Ricci to
present the homage of a poet ; her husband, with holes
in his stockings, sleeps peacefully through the long dis-
course. A girl of eighteen is practising her dance on the
Piazza in the clear moonlight. A boat-load of comedians
bears the young Goldoni over the blue waters of the
Adriatic. A troupe of opera-singers is waiting on the



132 VENICE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

quay at S. Mose to embark at break of day. The mother
of a singer is drawing the lottery, which she has organised
to meet the needs of her daughter.

All things — past, present, and future — were exploited
for the drama. They ransacked the antiquities of Greece
and Rome, myth and legend, the East, the dwellings of
the fairies, the " cloak and sword " drama of Spain, con-
temporary stories of adventure, even old and innocent
nursery tales. Fielding's Tom Jones and Marivaux's
Marianne, Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Ovid's
Metamorphoses, the Peruvian Letters of Mme. de Grafhgny
and the Amazons of Mme. du Boccage, Richardson's
Pamela and Le Sage's Gil Bias, Fieux de Monhy's Paysanne
Parvenue and Virgil's Mneid — all are transported to the
stage. From the Mneid alone Abbe Chiari drew three
plays. They made .ZEneas a Captain Fracasse, Menelaus
an amorous Pantaloon, Helen a Venetian gossip. They
showed Cupid scattering flowers upon the tables, Aphro-
dite in her chariot of clouds, peasants' raids, pitched
battles, ships burning, gods flying, stars shooting, children
hidden in a tomb, the shades of the dead, and even the
whole kingdom of the shades. Everything from Tirso
de Molina to Boursault, to Regnard, to Klopstock, was
marked down, copied, stolen, adapted, or simply trans-
lated. With this material they manufactured indifferently
the libretti of opira-bov.ffe and of Grand Opera, masques
and comedies of character, tragedies and tragi-comedies,
fairy-plays, ballets, and melodrama. Novelty was the
essential thing. Hence Count Alessandro Pepoli com-
posed a Ladislas, which was neither comedy nor tragedy
but a " physedy " or song of nature, with sun-rises and
moon-rises, with lofty towers, precipitous mountains,
battles, and habitable caves. The second essential was
to produce something full of marvels. They wanted
men carried on devil-back through the air, set-pieces of
fireworks, pilgrims' staves, daggers, poisons, prisons,
slaughtered bears, lofty pavilions, earthquakes. Accord-



VENETIAN THEATRE, ITALIAN COMEDY 133

ing to Marcello a dramatic poet was dressed in cork,
adorned with metaphors, translations, and hyperboles, '
and a sword in a bearskin sheath.

At Venice the end of the eighteenth century was
marked by the triumph of Italian Comedy. Its birth-
place is unknown, and its origin is shrouded perhaps in
the mists of prehistoric times. Its torch may have been
kindled at the fires of the ancient Oscan civilisation ; or
it may have been handed down from the culture of Magna
Graecia or from some other old uncertain source. Oscan
games and Atellan farce were perhaps its cradle, Polichi-
nello the ancient Maccus, the Zannis nothing but the
Latin Sanniones. Its flowing robes and living outlines
may be directly derived fiom the pantomimists and
ballet-dancers, actors and clowns, whom lust and license
created to amuse the cross-roads with their wine-stained
cheeks and strange grimaces. But in the midst of so
great obscurity, this much at least is certain. The
Italian Comedy dell'arte, the Italian Comedy of impro-
visation, of masks, of plots and incidents, developed
along parallel lines with the Italian Comedy written in
the study. It died with the ancien regime. If the
written comedy presupposes an environment of cultured
ease, a villa garden or a palace court, the comedy which
is Italian Comedy par excellence is the spontaneous
growth of the Piazza. In fact, to set it in its proper
frame, we must reconstruct for ourselves an Italian fair
with all its wild excitement, such as Callot loved to
paint.

A gibbet was outlined against the sky. Strings of
onions hung from pedlars' stalls. Boys and dogs and
hedge-priests, servants and wandering merchants mixed
upon the stage. Cripples of every kind drawled out their
prayers. Men in plumed hats stood, hand in pocket,
spitting upon the ground ; few had the good taste to
step aside. There were vendors of rat poison, men who
sold mirrors to light fires with from the sun, showmen of



134 VENICE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

strange terrifying monsters, men who ate cloth, or vomited
fire, or bathed their faces in molten lead. There were
conjurers who pretended to cut off noses with a knife,
or extracted ten yards of rope from their own mouths, or
caused cards to be found in other people's hands. There
were men who blew into boxes till their faces were the
colour of some brigand's, and others made them eat dung
disguised as dainties. In the glare and hubbub of these
orgies, to the accompaniment of blows given by insulted
serving-girls, amid cries and stinks, among cheats and
swindlers, that strange, monstrous, savage growth burst
forth, with the gestures of an artist, and the soul of a
child.

Starting from some such fair of the Impruneta, Italian
Comedy spread through all the land. A yoke of oxen
dragged round its chariot with its canvas awning. Be-
neath the canvas Isabella suckled her child. At each
rise in the road the actors got down and pushed against
the wheels. They knew chance resting-places and strange
hostelries, all the hazards of the great roads. They
forded rivers and climbed mountains ; they slept in
barns or with the stars for their roof. They saw the sky
blaze at midnight with arquebus-shots and the village
children run after them with shouts. They passed from
hamlet to hamlet, from experience to experience, from
success to success. And then the poor rope-dancers of
yore, the thin vagabonds with the disjointed bodies, the
wasted, wandering sons of mud and night, who wiped
their noses with their fingers and knelt in the dust of the
road at the tinkling of the Angelus, found the great
gates of palaces opened to them, and entered in. For
did not Catherine de Medici laugh at their farces with all
her soul, like any common woman ? Were not diplo-
matic negotiations commenced to obtain a Scaramouche
or a Lelia ? Princes and princesses, even kings, gave
them rides in their carriages. Marie de Medici held
Harlequin's son at the font. Tasso sat beside Isabella



VENETIAN THEATRE, ITALIAN COMEDY 135

at the table of Cardinal Aldobrandini. Louis XIII. ap-
pointed Beltrami to his guard of honour. The King of
Poland made Mezzetino keeper of his privy purse, and
the Emperor Matthias made Fritelino a noble. The
cities of Italy pealed their bells and proclaimed tourna-
ments in honour of Vincenza Armani of Venice. The
magistrates of Lyon sent their mace-bearers and their
banners to the funeral of Isabella Andreini of Padua.
Together with his dog, his cat, his monkey, and his
parrot, Scaramouche had the entree to the Louvre. One
day he found the Dauphin in tears, and amused him
so well with his grimaces that the Roi-Soleil in swaddling
clothes suffered himself to be nursed by his visitor.

We gather up all that remains- of this spectacle. We
turn over the compliments of poets and the notices of
journalists. We read the biographies of these illustrious
comedians. We consult the poor scenarios, thin and
fragile as the skeletons of leaves. We look at Callot's
flying company of dancers or at Watteau's masquerades.
And we try to picture to ourselves this mad, enthralling
thing, which was born, and mounted to the skies, ravished
a whole world, and charmed a whole era, which is dead
now — so definitely dead, that it has left no memorial of
itself but the reflection of its brilliance and the echo of
its fame.

First and foremost we find the old men, Pantaloon of
Venice and the Doctor of Bologna, two toothless, cheese-
paring, doddering old misers, who sneezed and spat and
belched, and in spite of their baldness, catarrh, and
crutches, were always rubbing young men up the wrong
way. Next came the two servants of Bologna, Harlequin
and Brighella, with their arms round each other's necks,
the incarnations of two ideals of domestic life ; the one a
knave and fight of wit, the other a heavy simpleton ; the
one keen-eyed as a hawk, the other perpetually moon-
struck. Brighella was always letting plates fall, knock-
ing himself against walls, falling flat on his back on the



136 VENICE IN THE EIGHTEENTH USJNiukx

stairs. Harlequin was as sharp as steel, all knavery,
craftiness, elasticity. Then, in the train of these four
original types, come various imitations of them, degene-
rate copies and stupid grafts on the old trunk — valets,
peasants, sharpers, pedants, cowards, wastrels of all sorts,
idiots of every kind, gluttons and simpletons, monsters
and masqueraders. There was Mezzetino and Trufaldino,
Trivetino and Scaramouche, Paillasse and Cavicchio,
Burattino and Pasquariello, Pierrot all in white, Scara-
mouche all in black, Tartaglia the stammerer, Franca-
trippa the glutton, Coviello who was leaps and jests and
songs and nothing more. Naples produced Polichinello
and Sienna produced Cassandro, Niccolo Barbieri in-
vented Beltrami, Tiberio Furelli Scaramouche, Guiseppe
Giaratone Pierrot, and Domenico Biancolelli turned the
dull farm-boy of Bergamo into Harlequin ; " that sort of
half finished man," " that great child with the agility
and gentleness of a kitten," " that mixture of ignorance,
naivete, wit, stupidity, and grace " which Marmontel
admired. Each had his own character and his own
costume, his dialect and his country, his special attri-
butes and disfigurations. Each was sculptured large as
life on the subject-matter of Laughter. With them were
the lovers with their tenderness and youth and beauty,
who talked Tuscan and copied the latest manners.
Horace and Coraline, Isabella and Leander, Cintio and
Flaminia, Lelio and the exquisite Sylvia, all were there.
And after them came the clever, resourceful host of
soubrettes — Zerbinetta, Francesquina, Diamantina, and
Columbine. And threading his way through them all,
erect to his full height, his moustache-ends turned up,
his great plume waving in the air, and his hand on the
handle of a rapier, on which a spider's web lay rotting,
there was Captain Spaventa alias Aspromonte, Rinoce-
ronte, Furibimbombo, Leonontrone Arcitonotonantre
Sbaronne, Escarabombardon de la Papirotonda. He
could not wear a shirt because his hair bristled so with



VENETIAN THEATRE, ITALIAN COMEDY 137

rage, and would have made it as full of holes as a sieve.
He could only eat three meats, Jews and Turks and
Lutherans. He had sent his valet to pay his compli-
ments to the grand Sophti. He had saved the world
from the Deluge, he had fought against the stars, he had
lain with Death in the nether world, and had made two
hundred girls mothers in one night. But if Pantaloon
but put his hand to his pistol, the Captain took to his
legs as fast as he could ; and on lonely roads at night he
almost frightened himself to death.

Such were comic, delightful characters that appeared
against the scenery of painted canvas. Torn ruffs and
mantles mingled with white cloaks and jackets, with
jewels and ribands ; the Captain's sword with Harle-
quin's club, the woollen cap of Pantaloon with the red-
plumed bonnet of Coviello, Pierrot in his moon-white
suit, Horace in his petticoat of gold, Scaramouche and
his guitar, the Doctor and his wine-stains, Tartaglia in
his spectacles, all were there, strange, adorable turns in
the old rambling poem.

They were all as chock-full of malice as of wit. Mimes,
acrobats, dancers, musicians, comedians, all at once, they
were also poets, and composed their own piece. They
strained their fancy to the utmost in inventing it, and
improvised it on the spot as their turn came and the
inspiration took them. They were not willing, like silly
school-boys, to recite only what they had learnt from a
master, nor to be mere echoes, unable to speak for them -
selves without another having spoken before them. Thsy
did not draw themselves up in a line before the foot-
lights, five or six in a row, like figures in a bas-relief,
and wait their turn to present their tricks. Rather they
were full of impatience, imagination, devilry. They were
the great artists of Laughter, the sowers of the golden
grain of Gaiety, the servants of the Unforeseen, the kings
of Inspiration. They had only to receive a scenario,
which some one had scribbled on his knee, to meet their



138 VENICE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

stage-manager in the morning to arrange the outlines of
the plot, and to hang the paper within easy reach of the
wings ; the rest they could invent themselves. Famili-
arity with the stage and their profession and their art
had taught them a whole bundle of tricks and quips.
They had a store of proverbs, sallies, charades, riddles,
recitations, cock-and-bull stories, and songs jumbled to-
gether in their heads. They knew all sorts of metaphors,
similes, repetitions, antitheses, cacophonies, hyperboles,
tropes, and pleasant figures ; and besides they had
volumes of tirades, which they had learnt by heart, of
soliloquies, exclamations of despair, sallies, conceits of
happy love, or jealousy, or prayer, or contempt, or friend-
ship, or admiration, always on the tips of their tongues,
ready to utter when they were out of breath. They
raised their scaffolding high into the air, and then gave
themselves up to their own fertile genius and their
amazing caprice. They obeyed all the intemperance and
extravagance of their humours. They became nothing
but retorts, sallies, conceits, paradoxes, witticisms, mental
somersaults. They seized opportunity by the forelock,
and turned the least accident to profit. They drew in-
spiration from the time, the place, the colour of the sky,
or the topic of the day, and established a current between
their audience and themselves out of which the mad
farce arose, the joint product of them all. It varied at
each representation, seemed different every evening, with
all the spirit and warmth and alertness of spontaneous
creation, a brilliant ephemeral creature born of the
moment and for the moment.

Their pieces went with the speed of lightning and the
noise of Pandemonium. The house was consumed with
shrieks of laughter, like the tumult of a whirlwind. It
was all lovers' intrigue, complicated by disguises, kid-
nappings, unexpected returns, impersonations and sup-
posititious infants. Retorts, misunderstandings, character-
sketches, jests, caricatures, blows and kicks were their



VENETIAN THEATRE, ITALIAN COMEDY 139

stock-in-trade. They groped about in the dark and ran
into one another and fell down. They mutilated words.
They put out their tongues, rolled their eyes, made
grimaces. They boxed their ears with their feet. They
sang songs and recited, and poured forth proverbs, quota-
tions, precedents. There were scenes of tumult and up-
roar and inexpressible confusion, in which they were
knocked down and got up again, supporting themselves


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