Last Sunday I was immersed in an over-the-top exhibit at the Palace of Legion of Art in San Francisco. Giacomo Casanova (Italian, 1725-98) was our guide, though pictures of him were only a likeness at best. Through the art of painters of the time, including Tiepolo, Longhi, Boucher, Canaletto, Fragonard and Hogarth. Rococo was key, with sumptuous rooms filled with the finest wood paneling, Gilt candelabra, silvered mirrors, lavish furniture of silk-embroidered velvet, worked leather, marble, alabaster and gold. Tableaux with mannequins dressed in period costumes, demonstrated scenes of the era, and many paintings connected the viewer to colorful stories of the indulgent lifestyle.
Notice the note being passed to the maid by the suitor visiting a woman in the dressing room, a common practice, mixing friends and gossip into the ritual of getting dressed. Mythological paintings by Boucher grace the walls.
The exhibit was curated world-wide on loan from institutions including he Musée du Louvre; the National Portait Gallery, London; the National Gallery of Canada, the National Galleries of Scotland; the Musée des Beaux Arts, and several prominent private collections.
Casanova, born in Venice into a world of actors and musicians, related well to the theatrical. Once, having been imprisoned for his misbehaves in Venice and imprisoned there, he kept his fine clothing hidden until one day cleverly finding an escape route, convinced a guard he had been locked inside while visiting and calmly walked out the front gate. His many fortuitous circumstances are as legendary as his skillful finagling to bring them about to his advantage. His autobiography of many volumes leaves little to the imagination.
A gourmet connoisseur, he wrote in great detail about his meals. To highlight the importance of fine dining of the era, the Legion includes an interactive exhibit, “The Art of Dining”. It projects an overhead video so visitors can sit at a “dining table” and witness a historically accurate 3-course feast, using period porcelain and silver pieces.
Cosmopolitan Casanova was chosen to guide visitors through the glittering art capitals of 18th-century Europe as he knew the greatest figures of the age, from monarchs to popes, to intellectuals like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin.
The Legion of Honor is in Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave, San Francisco and is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. and closed most Mondays. Ticket information is at legionofhonor.famsf.org/visit-us.