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three pairs of lovers with space

THE ABATE BASTIANI (1714-86)
BY GIACOMO CASANOVA

 

Presented here is a short episode from the Venetian adventurer Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (1725-98)’s memoir, History of my Life until the year 1797. It concerns another Venetian, Giovanni Battista Bastiani[1] (12 December 1714 – 20 November 1786), a canon of Breslau, the capital of the Prussian province of Silesia.

Having just arrived in Breslau in July 1766, and his travelling companion having left him, Casanova introduced himself to Bastiani. Evidently they already knew each other by reputation.

The translation from the original French which follows is that by Willard R. Trask in Giacomo Casanova Chevalier de Seingalt’s History of My Life, Volumes IX and X (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970), pp. 207-8.[2]

 

Casanova, History of My Life, Volume Ten, Chapter Eight

I thought, as soon as I found myself alone, that I would give myself the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the Abate[3] Bastiani, the celebrated Venetian whose fortune the King of Prussia had made.[4] He was a canon of the cathedral.

Frederick II King of Prussia by Johann Georg Ziesenis 1763
Frederick II King of Prussia by Johann Georg Ziesenis, 1763

He received me as well as I could wish, cordially and unceremoniously; we were equally curious to know each other. He was blond, handsome, well built, and six feet tall; he had great intelligence, was very well read, had a persuasive eloquence, a natural gaiety, a good library, a good cook, and a good cellar. Very well lodged in an apartment on the ground floor, on the floor above he gave lodging to a lady of whose children he was very fond, perhaps because he was their father. Though a worshiper of the fair sex, he was not exclusive; from time to time he fell in love with some youth, and he sighed to conquer him in the Greek fashion when he encountered the obstacles which arise from education, prejudice, and what are called “manners”. During the three days which I spent in Breslau, dining and supping at his house every day, his passion was evident. He sighed for the young Abate the Count of Cavalcabo.[5] He never stopped looking at him with eyes which burned with love; he swore to me that he had not yet come to a declaration, and that perhaps he would never come to one, in order not to risk compromising his dignity. He showed me all the fond notes he had received from the King of Prussia before he was made a canon; the monarch had been positively in love with Bastiani, he wanted to become his mistress, and he recompensed him royally by the gift of an ecclesiastical laurel. The Abate was the son of a Venetian tailor, had become a Franciscan friar, and had fled from the persecution of his tyrannical superiors. Having fled to The Hague, he found the Venetian Ambassador, Tron,[6] who lent him a hundred ducats, and he went to Berlin, where the great Frederick found him worthy of his affection. It is often by such roads that men come to fortune. Sequere Deum (‘‘Follow the god’’).[7]

 

[1] Bastiani’s dates of birth and death and a little more about him, but not about his love of boys, can be found in Bernd Moeller and Bruno Jahn (editors), Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie der Theologie und der Kirchen, Volume 1, Saur, Munich, 2005, p. 95.

[2] This section of Casanova’s original manuscript, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France can be read at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000858n/f522.item.r=Fonds%20Casanova.

[3] Abate was the highest rank of minor order in the church bestowed on a boy who might or might not go on to be ordained as a deacon or priest. They were tonsured and wore black robes, but, apart from promising not to duel or dance, were not expected to behave very differently to lay boys.

[4] The King of Prussia was Frederick II “the Great” (three years older than Bastiani). As Casanova soon explains and was quite widely known, he was a passive homosexual. Earlier, Casanova said that every soldier in the King’s First Battalion had pedicated him (Volume X, Chapter IV: p. 77 in Trask’s translation).

[5] Giorgio Teodoro Cavalcabò, from a noble family of Trent and younger brother of a page in whom Frederick the Great had taken a special interest, was sent by the King in 1763, aged 13, to be lodged with Bastiani in Breslau. Three months after Casanova’s visit, on October 24, 1765, at about the age of 15, Georgio obtained from the King a canonry in the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross in Breslau, of which Bastiani was provost (Alessandro Cont, Le marquis de Cavalcabò : Un grande avventuriero nell’Europa del Settecento Breslau, Trent, 2021), pp. 101-2. For the canonry, he cites Biblioteka Kapitulna, Catalogus cleri almæ Dioecesis Wratislaviensis, Vratislaviæ, J. F. Kreutzer, 1766, pp. 16, 144-145). Thus, despite Bastiani having been able to play the man to his great advantage with the adult androphile King, his not being “exclusive” for the fair sex was evidently for the sake of boys.

[6] Andrea Tron (1732-85), Venetian patrician and diplomat; he was Envoy in The Hague from 1743 to 1745. [Translator’s note 76]

[7] Stoic maxim, […] It was a favourite maxim of Casanova’s. [Translator’s note 77]