Memorial to Giustiniana Wynne in Angelo Quirini’s Garden

 

Contributors: Rotraud von Kulessa and Catriona Seth

Location: Unknown (probably destroyed), Italy

Description: Giustiniana Wynne (1737-1791) was a true cosmopolitan from the moment of her birth in Venice, to a ‘Greek’ local woman (born in Lefkos) and an English baronet. The list of her friends and lovers reads like a Who’s Who of the republic of letters from her ‘caro Memmo’, the Venetian patrician Andrea Memmo (1729-1793) who was her first love in the 1750s, to the young William Beckford (1760-1844) when he was touring Europe, 30 years later. She was briefly betrothed to the wealthy French Fermier-Général La Poupelinière (1693-1762). The adventurer Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) recounts in his Memoirs how he failed to help her abort an illegitimate child but tricked her into having sex with him. She married the elderly Austrian ambassador to the Serenissima, Count Orsini von Rosenberg (1691-1765) and once widowed spent much of her time during her final years with Senator Angelo Quirini (1721-1796). Her literary collaborator was sometime government spy Bartolomeo Benincasa (1746-1816). She entertained the poets Melchiore Cesarotti (1730-1808) who reviewed her 1788 novel Les Morlaques, and Ippolito Pindemonte. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Leopold Mozart are amongst those who refer to her in their letters.

Well-connected but considered by many aristocrats—none more so than the Court at Vienna— to be of dubious social status and indeed of loose morals, Wynne cut a striking figure wherever she went, spending time living in Venice, Paris, London, Klagenfurt and Padua. She was a compulsive letter-writer as both published and unpublished correspondences with women and men friends indicate. She was also an accomplished author penning amongst others an account of the Russian tsarevitch and his wife’s visit to Venice (Du séjour des comtes du Nord à Venise en janvier 1782) and a novel, Les Morlaques, dedicated to Empress Catherine of Russia. Drawing on Angelo Fortis’ narrative of travels in Dalmatia, it is an extraordinary work which uses a fictional sentimental intrigue as a means to explore different customs and offer an almost ethnographical take on a culture about which practically nothing was known. It was translated into both Italian and German, and the original French text was known throughout Europe for instance to Germaine de Staël and Goethe. It was to exercise a profound influence on writers like Charles Nodier or Prosper Mérimée, and encourage the use of local colour in Romantic fiction.

Another publication by Wynne, drawn from private letters written to Swiss painter Jean Huber to bring the gardens of Quirini’s villa at Alticchiero (1) and their marvels to him in Geneva, includes illustrated descriptions of the statues and follies which graced it, from the Autel de l’Amitié (Altar to Friendship) and Chinese Pavilion to a statue of Time, Egyptian and Venetian antiquities as well as the Cabane de la Folie (Madness’ hut). She claims that amongst the inscriptions gracing the latter two (presumably in French) teasingly refer to her. (2)

It seems fitting that after Giustiniana Wynne’s death, Angelo Quirini should have decided to include a tribute to her in the very gardens she had described.

The engraving of the monument (possibly by Giovanni de Pian who engraved the title page of Alticchiero) shows a Latin inscription on a plinth – and there is gravitas in the choice of the language :

HONORI SECVLO SVO ET LOCO MEMORIAE IVCVNDISSIMAE DESIDERATISSIMAE IVSTINIANAE COMITISSAE DE ROSENBERG MATRONAE ACIE INGENII ATQUE SCRIPTIS SOPHIA ET ATTICO LEPORE REFERTIS NEMINI SECUNDAE CUI MUSAE ET CHARITES MELIORE LUTO PRAECORDIA FINXERANT VENUS QUINTA PARTE SUI NECTARIS INBUERAT QUAE INIQUO DEMUM VEXATA MORBO – AETAT ANN. LIV MAGNO ANIMO SUPREMUM DIEM PRAECIPIT AC HUMANISS. DISSIMULATIONE ERGA SUOS CONSTANTER LENITERQUE PEREGIT IX KAL. SEPT. MDCCXCI. A.Q. MONUMENTUM DOLORIS ET AMICITIAE DUM IPSE VIVIT ET ULTRA. – M.L.L. PRAE CAETERIS CARIUS POSUIT ASSERVANDUMQ. HAEREDIB. PRAE CAETERIS COMMENDAVIT PRID. IDUS OCTOBR.

In honour of her temporal life and standing: (3) to the memory of the most congenial and sorely missed Justiniana, Countess of Rosenberg, a matron second to none [nemini secundae] in her sharpness of intellect and in her writings, which are stuffed with wisdom and Attic wit; [a woman] whose heart the Muses and Graces had shaped from superior clay (4), [a woman] whom Venus had endowed with a fifth part of her nectar; [a woman] who, ravaged eventually by a harsh disease, in the 54th year of her life anticipates with great fortitude her final day and, humanely dissimulating before her family, completed it [i.e. the final day] steadfastly and gently 9 days before the Kalends of September, 1791. A. Q., affectionately for M.L.L. beyond all others, set up a memorial of his grief and friendship during his own life and beyond (5), and he commended its protection to her heirs beyond all others, on the day before the Ides of October (6).

Two other inscriptions were added on the bases of two Etruscan vases by the side of the statue (7). Also in Latin, they use the traditional language of mourning to bid an eternal farewell to the best of friends who lives on in the garden. The pediment is surmounted by a portrait head of the countess which bears a clear resemblance to other likenesses of her, with a broad face, apparent double chin and prominent nose.

 

Whilst Byron, Casanova or Ruskin’s names are recorded on façades of palazzi in which they lived, there are no plaques in Venice to the woman who was the ‘honour of her century’. Like many Romantic landscapes, the estate near Padua is no longer. The statues and follies have disappeared or been dispersed. Most of Wynne’s works have never been republished since the eighteenth century, yet the one trace of Quirini’s wonderful villa, its grounds and artworks is to be found in her Alticchiero.

Few memorials remain to female authors. It is fitting that the splendidly illustrated Alticchiero is a lasting monument both to the vanished earthly paradise on the banks of the Brenta and to Giustiniana Wynne herself.

Engraving of the Wynne Memorial showing a bust of Giustiniana Wynne mounted on a plinth.

 

Date: c.1791

Creator: Angelo Quirini et al.

Subject: Giustiniana Wynne.

Object type: memorial, statue, inscription, garden

Language: Latin

References

  1. We are using Wynne’s spelling. There is a modern district of Padua called Altichiero (with one ‘c’).
  2. Alticchiero, p. 25 « L’inscription ingénieuse, mystérieuse, satyrique même, renferme des préceptes, des énigmes ; je crois de ne pas y être oubliée moi-même, comme ayant exigé de lui, qu’il fît usage de ce buste d’une ressemblance si heureuse, ce qu’il dut me promettre. Ce que veut une femme est écrit dans le Ciel : Un fou en fait cent. C’est par ces deux proverbes, qu’il se justifie. » (The ingenious, mysterious, even satyrical inscription encloses precepts and enigmas. I believe I myself have not been forgotten therein since I required of him that he use the bust which presented such a fortunate likeness [to a local madwoman]. What a woman wants is writ in Heaven – One madman makes a hundred. These two proverbs offer his justification.)
  3. There is possibly an ambiguity in the first phase. I have translated loco as coordinated with seculo suo (saeculum can be used of one’s time in this world), but I suppose loco might have memoriae as a dependent genitive, but I can’t see an appropriate meaning for loco if so (‘as a memorial’ I suppose is a remote possibility, but you would expect that to mean ‘instead of a memorial’, which is not right for the context). Also, memoriae dative, followed by the genitive of a name, is normal in funerary inscriptions, and I therefore suppose that the first four words to loco are a sort of heading, and that the inscription proper starts at memoriae. (J.A.)
  4. Prometheus makes men from clay: see Thesaurus linguae Latinae s.v. lutum, 1903.9ff. for lutum (usually translated as ‘mud’) as the stuff from which the human body was made. (J.A.)
  5. [both for his own lifetime and beyond] (J.A.)
  6. With thanks, for this translation, to Professor James Adams FBA.
  7. ILLA MIHI MORTUA VIVET HIC – ILLA MEIS OCULIS – AUREA SEMPER ERIT – SINT OMNIA ROSAE.
    SOMNO AETERNALI – SACRUM – SI HABERE POTUISSET – AETERNAM INCOLUMITATEM – MUSAE DONASSENT – AMICA OPTIMA – AETERNUM VALE.Quoted by Brunelli drawing on Ferretto, Chiese di Padova, MS library of the Museo Civ. Di Padavo, BP 156 II (San Bartolomeo).

 

 

Share this post