Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Venice, 1739-40

“The Prince of Saxony is expected here in a few days, and has taken a palace exactly over against my house. As I had the honour to be particularly well acquainted (if one may use that phrase) with his mother when I was at Vienna, I believe I cannot be dispensed with from appearing at the conversations which I hear he intends to hold: which is some mortification to me, who am wrap up among my books with antiquarians and virtuosi.” Letter to the Countess of Pomfret dated Venice, Nov. or Dec. 1739, published in The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, vol. II (1887), p. 55.

“I went to see the ceremony of high mass celebrated by the Doge, on Christmas-eve. He appointed a gallery for me and the Prince of Wolfenbuttel, where no other person was admitted but those of our company. A greater compliment could not have been paid me if I had been a sovereign princess. […] The Electoral Prince of Saxony is here in public, and makes a prodigious expense. His governor is Count Wackerbarth, son to that Madame Wackerbart with whom I was so intimate at Vienna; on which account he shows me particular civilities, and obliges his pupil to do the same. I was last night at an entertainment made for him by the Signora Pisani Mocenigo, which was one of the finest I ever saw, and he desired me to sit next to him in a great chair: […] Letter to Mr. Wortley Montagu dated Dec. 25, 1739, op. cit., p. 57.

“He [the Spanish ambassador to Naples, Campoflorido] gives a great entertainment at night, where all the noble Venetians of both sexes will be in masque. I am engaged to go with Signora Justiniani Gradinego, who is one of the first ladies here. The Prince of Saxony has invited me to come into his box at the opera; but I have not yet accepted of it, he having always four ladies with him that are the wives to the four senators deputed to do the honours of Venice; and I am afraid they should think I interfere with them in the honour of his conversation, which they are very fond of, and have behave very coldly to some other noble Venetian ladies that have taken the liberty of his box.” Letter to Mr. Wortley Montagu dated Jan. 25, 1740, op. cit., pp. 58-9.

“We are now in the midst of carnival amusements, which are more than usual, for the entertainment of the Electoral Prince of Saxony, and I am obliged to live in a hurry very inconsistent with philosophy, and extreme different from the life I projected to lead. “ Letter to the Countess of Pomfret dated Feb. 17, 1740, op. cit., p. 59.

“[…] the Prince of Saxony stays till the second of May; in the meantime there are entertainments given him almost every day of one sort or other, and a regatta preparing, which is expected by all strangers with great impatience. He went to see the arsenal three days ago, waited on by a numerous nobility of both sexes; the Bucentaur was adorned and launched, a magnificent collation given, and we sailed a little way in it: I was in company with the Signora Justiniani Gradinego, and Signora Marina Crizzo. As you have been at Venice, there is no occasion of describing those things to you. There were two cannons founded in his presence, and a galley built and launched in an hour’s time. Last night there was a concert of voices and instruments at the Hospital of the Incurabili, where there were two girls that, in the opinion of all people, excel either Faustina or Cuzzoni, but you know they are never permitted to sing on any theatre.

Lord Fitzwilliam is expected in this town tonight, on his return to England, as I am told. The prince’s behavior is very obliging to all, and in no part of it liable to censure, though I think there is nothing to be said in praise of his genius; I suppose you know he has been lame from his birth, and is carried about in a chair, though a beautiful person from the waist upwards: it is said his family design him a Church, he having four brothers who are fine children.” Letter to Mr. Wortley Montagu dated March 29, 1740, op. cit., pp. 62-3.

“[…] while the Prince of Saxony stays here I am engaged not to move: not upon his account, as you may very well imagine, but here are many entertainments given, and to be given him by the public, which it would be disobliging to my friends here to run away from; […] Letter to the Countess of Pomfret dated April 1740, op. cit., p. 64.

“In the meantime I am tied here as long as the Prince of Saxony, which is an uncertain term, but I think will not be long after the Ascension; […] Letter to the Countess of Pomfret dated May 17, 1740, op. cit., p. 67.

“You seem to mention the regatta in a manner as if you would be pleased with a description of it. It is a race of boats: they are accompanied by vessels which they call Piotes, and Bichones, that are built at the expense of the nobles and strangers that have a mind to display their magnificence; they are a sort of machines [sic] adorned with all that sculpture and gilding can do to make a shining appearance. Several of them cost one thousand pounds sterling, and I believe none less than five hundred; they are rowed by gondoliers dressed in rich habits, suitable to what they represent. There was enough of them to look like a little fleet, and I own I never saw a finer sight. It would be too long to describe every one in particular; I shall only name the principal: the Signora Pisani Mocenigo’s represented the Chariot of the Night, drawn by four sea-horses, and showing the rising of the moon, accompanied with stars, the statues on each side representing the hours to the number of twenty-four, rowed by gondoliers in rich liveries, which were changed three times, all of equal richness, and the decorations changed also to the dawn of Aurora and the mid-day sun, the statues being new dressed every time, the first in green, the second time red, and the last blue, all equally laced with silver, there being three races. Signor Soranzo represented the Kingdom of Poland, with all the provinces and rivers in that dominion, with a concert of the best instrumental music in rich Polish habits: the painting and gilding were exquisite in their kinds. Signor Contorini’s piote showed the Liberal Arts; Apollo was seated on the stern upon Mount Parnassus, Pegasus behind, and the Muses seated round him: opposite was a figure representing Painting, with Fame blowing her trumpet; and on each side Sculpture and Music in their proper dresses. The Procurator Foscarini’s was the Chariot of Flora guided by Cupids, and adored with all sorts of flowers, rose-trees, &c. Signor Julio Conturing’s represented the Triumphs of Valour; Victory was on the stern, and all the ornaments warlike trophies of every kind. Signor Corer’s was the Adriatic Sea receiving inter her arms the Hope of Saxony. Signor Alviso Mocenigo’s was the Garden of Hesperides; the whole fable was represented by different statues. Signor Quern had the Chariot of Venus drawn by doves, so well done, they seemed ready to fly  upon the water; the Loves and Graces attended her. Signor Paul Doria had the Chariot of Diana, who appeared hunting in a large wood: the trees, hounds, stag, and nymphs, all done naturally: the gondoliers dressed like peasants attending the chase: and Endymion, lying under a large tree, gazing on the goddess. Signor Angelo Labbia represented Poland crowning Saxony, waited on by the Virtues and subject Provinces. Signor Angelo Molino was Neptune waited on by the Rivers. Signor Vicenzo Morosini’s piote showed the Triumphs of Peace: Discord being chained at her feet, and she surrounded with the Pleasures, &c.

I believe you are already weary of this description, which can give you but a very imperfect idea of the show; but I must say one word of the bichonis, which are less vessels, quite open, some representing gardens, other apartments, all the oars being gilt either with gold or silver, and the gondoliers’ liveries either velvet or rich silk, with a profusion of lace, fringe, and embroidery. I saw this show at the Procurator Grimani’s house, which was near the place where the prizes were delivered: there was a great assembly invited on the same occasion, which were all nobly entertained.

I can get no better ink here, though I have tried several times, and it is a great vexation to me to want it.” Letter to Mr. Wortley Montagu dated June 1, 1740; op. cit., pp. 69-71:

“Lord Scarborought’s terrible history is publicly known. Count Wackerbart talked to me of it last night at the Assembly, which is three times a week for the entertainment of the Prince of Saxony, at the expense of the Senate, who gave him the most magnificent ball I ever saw, in the great Theatre on Shrove Tuesday. I could not avoid going there with a set of noble ladies. I was led in by the Procurator G. [Grimani] and placed next the prince by his own direction. I was told since that the Princess of Holstein took it ill, and as she is married into a Sovereign House, I think she had reason, but he affects giving her some mortification in return for many that the present King and Queen [of Poland] have received from her, when she was all-powerful in the reign of the late King of Poland. I was but once at the Ridotto during the whole Carnival. A Regatta is intended after Easter for the Prince, which is said to be one of the fines shows in the world, and never given since the King of Denmark was here, which is thirty years ago. Many English and others of all nations are expected to come to see it. […]” Undated letter published in George Paston [Emily Morse Symonds], Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her Times (1907), p. 378.

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