Just in Time for Valentine’s Day: Casanova at the Legion

Beginning on February 10, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) invites ferry riders to journey into the world of 18th-century Europe through the eyes of one of its most colorful and notorious characters, Giacomo Casanova (Italian, 1725─1798).

And yes, there are several works of art displayed here celebrating the romance of boating and water craft.

Although commonly known today as a seducer and adventurer, Casanova was considered by his own contemporaries to be a witty conversationalist, autobiographer, man of letters, gambler, spy, and one of history’s greatest travelers. More than 80 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, period furnishings, delicate porcelains, and lavish period costumes, will re-create the luxurious and sparkling world of masked balls, palaces, theaters and operas that were formed the resplendent backdrop to Casanova’s escapades and adventures.

“Although he is considered by many to be a scandalous libertine, Casanova is a fitting guide to lead visitors on a tour of the glittering art capitals of 18th-century Europe,” says Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“Visitors will feel an affinity with many of the themes in the exhibition, including the cult of celebrity, the desire for travel, the dangers of social and political ambition, and the freedom of self- invention and individuality—all set on a glorious stage of Rococo paintings, fashion, and decorative arts.”

Visitors will immerse themselves in Casanova’s world, examining artworks not only as individual pieces but also as combined and cumulative expressions of wealth and prestige. These works—often exhibited in isolation—are best understood as parts of luxurious environments that also included architecture and interior design. To achieve the effect of 18th-century opulence, the exhibition will stage several tableaux enlivened by mannequins dressed in period costume surrounded by paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, creating scenes reminiscent of some of the dramatic episodes of Casanova’s memoirs and bringing his world to life.

“This theatrical display of artworks is fitting for Casanova, who was not only the son of an actress but also an occasional theater musician and playwright,” explains Virginia Brilliant, Curator-in- Charge of European Paintings for the Fine Arts Museums. “These tableaux will also show how he lived a life surrounded by the sensual pleasures of art by featuring amorous mythological and pastoral paintings by some of the most important painters of the time, including François Boucher, Canaletto, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and William Hogarth.”