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Chapter One

ROME

In the winter of 1786, Andrea Memmo, the Venetian ambassador to the Papal States, was visiting Naples with his daughters Lucia and Paolina during the Carnival season, when he received a dispatch from Venice that he had been waiting for anxiously. Alvise Mocenigo, the only son of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families of the Venetian Republic, agreed to marry Memmo’s oldest daughter, fifteen-year-old Lucia.

Memmo was an experienced diplomat and he knew this letter was only the first step in what promised to be a long and difficult negotiation. Alvise’s personal commitment was no guarantee that the proposal would actually go through, for he was on very bad terms with his father, Sebastiano, and did not get on much better with the rest of his family, whose approval of the marriage contract was indispensable. The Mocenigo elders were irked by Alvise’s marital freelancing. Moreover, they did not favour the prospect of an attachment to the declining house of the Memmos, which had been among the founding families of the Venetian Republic back in the eighth century, but whose finances and political power had been waning for some generations. Still, Memmo felt Alvise’s letter was a promising start, and he was confident in his judgement that the twenty-six-year-old scion of Casa Mocenigo was a son-in-law worth an honest struggle. “For some time now he has shown real promise,” he had explained to his closest friends, “and as I flatter myself of foreseeing the future, I know my daughter will be well taken care of.”1 The wisest course, he had concluded, was to cultivate Alvise directly, encouraging him to correspond with Lucia over the heads of the surly Mocenigos (it was Memmo who had convinced Alvise to go ahead and declare himself for Lucia). Meanwhile, he was going to exercise the full panoply of his diplomatic skills in an effort to bring Alvise’s family over to his side; marrying Lucia off without the consent of the Mocenigos in a clandestine ceremony was out of the question.

The small travelling household in Naples was already dizzy with excitement when Memmo, still clutching Alvise’s letter, summoned Lucia to his quarters. It was not clear to the rest of the family what the mysterious dispatch contained exactly, but it was plain to all that it must carry portentous news. Lucia entered her father’s room anxious and short of breath. Thirteen-year-old Paolina followed, her eyes already swelling with tears of anticipation, while Madame Dupont, their beloved governess, stood discreetly in the background. After revealing with appropriate solemnity the content of the dispatch, Memmo read out a draft copy of the marriage contract. He then handed to Lucia a separate letter in which Alvise, who was marrying for the second time, introduced himself to his young bride-to-be. He professed to remember Lucia from earlier days in Venice, though in truth he could only have had a vague recollection of her as a little girl. Lucia did not have any memory at all of Alvise. Standing in her father’s study, she must have struggled to conjure up an image towards which she could direct the rush of confusing emotions.

Alvise’s declaration called for an immediate reply. Memmo startled Lucia a second time by asking her to write to her future husband at once, and without his help. He would read the letter over, he assured her, but she had to set it down herself, letting her heart speak out and never forgetting to use her head. Lucia obediently retired to her room, and in her neat, elegant handwriting, penned her first letter to Alvise, a letter so poignant yet also so thoughtful and mature that it deserves to be quoted in full:

My most esteemed spouse, my good father having informed me of your favourable disposition towards me, and having told me of your worthy qualities, I will confess to you that in seeing myself so honoured by your letter, and having been informed that you have agreed to the marriage contract which my own father read to me at length, I felt such agitation in my heart that for a brief moment I even lost consciousness. And now that I am writing to you I am so troubled, my father not wishing to suggest even one convenient word to me, that I feel embarrassed to the point that I don’t quite know how to express myself. I thank you very much for the kindness you have shown me, for the good impression you have formed of me and which I shall endeavour yet to improve by the proper exercise of my duties. I know my good fortune, as well I should, and I will strive to become worthy of it. I am certain that my father, and indeed my loving uncles, in carrying forth this marriage, have had my happiness in mind, which means that in you I shall find all that a spouse may desire. I do not have the strength to say more, except that I have no other will than that of my father’s, nor do I wish to have one, just as in the future I will only wish to have yours.2

It would have been pleasant to linger in Naples—the seaside gaiety of this port-city so reminded the Memmos of Venice. They had been feted with lunches and dinners in the homes of the Neapolitan nobility, they had visited the porcelain factories at Capodimonte, gone out to Pozzuoli to view the antiquities, made a tour of the Catacombs and had walked through the magnificent stables of King Ferdinand IV, the primitive but jocular monarch known as Re Nasone, King Big Nose. On the night of the gran mascherata, “the great masquerade,” the king had spotted Lucia and Paolina in the packed crowd at Teatro San Carlo and had thrown handfuls of coloured confetti at them, giggling and clapping his hands when the two girls had thrown some back at him. Circumstances, however, had suddenly changed, and Memmo was anxious to return to Rome to push the deal on Lucia’s marriage forward before it lost momentum. Lucia, too, longed to be back in Rome, at the Venetian embassy in the Palazzo San Marco, among her things and in the company of her friends. Each additional day spent in Naples made her feel a little more unhinged. Her father had explained how complicated the negotiations might prove, going so far as to admit to Lucia that the deal was not yet sealed because of the opposition of the Mocenigos. With trepidation, she now wrote to Alvise beseeching him “to come to terms with your family before any official notice of our wedding is published…I must confess that I would be extremely mortified if your family did not acknowledge me as your very obedient and affectionate spouse.”3

Memmo drove out to the royal palace at Caserta to take formal leave of the king of Naples and his touchy Austrian wife, Queen Maria Carolina, as soon as it was convenient to do so without giving the impression of a rushed departure. Meanwhile he sent a small portrait of Lucia to Alvise. He had wanted to have a new miniature painted in Naples, but there was not enough time to arrange a sitting. So he sent an old one, of Lucia as a little girl, causing his daughter considerable discomfiture. “For heaven’s sake, don’t trust that picture,” she pleaded with Alvise. “My father had it painted years ago in order to take it with him to Constantinople. You might find me changed for the worse when you see me, and I wouldn’t want to suffer such disadvantage after a possibly favourable judgement on your part.”4

Finally, on 11 March, Memmo, Lucia, Paolina and Madame Dupont crammed their luggage in a rented carriage and headed north for Rome, leaving the hazy silhouette of Vesuvius behind them. “There I hope to receive your portrait, and there, I’m afraid, mine will be painted,” Lucia wrote spiritedly to Alvise in a note she dashed off before leaving.5 She was already addressing him as her amatissimo sposo, her beloved spouse.

Although not yet sixteen, Lucia was already a young woman of uncommon poise. As the older of the two sisters she had taken on quite effortlessly some of the duties and responsibilities that would have been her mother’s as the wife of the ambassador. Five years had gone by since Elisabetta Piovene Memmo had died in Venice of a “gastro-rheumatic fever,” leaving her two young daughters, ten and eight, stunned with grief. Elisabetta had been ill for some time. She was a frail woman, who suffered nervous breakdowns and often took to her bed. She drank vinegar every morning for fear of putting on weight and developed what the doctors described as “a bilious temperament.”6 When she died, Memmo was in Constantinople, serving as ambassador to the Porte. He sailed home utterly distraught, a widower with two young daughters to raise.

Lucia and Paolina’s education had been somewhat haphazard during his absence. The girls were taught basic reading and writing skills, they received piano and singing lessons, learnt a little French, but their schooling was unimaginative and perfunctory. Elisabetta became less reliable as her health declined, and the two sisters fell increasingly under the authority of their strict grandmother, Lucia Pisani Memmo, who lived upstairs from them at Ca’ Memmo, the family palazzo on the Grand Canal, and who was more interested in developing her granddaughters’ manners than their intellect.

Ambassador Memmo, a learned and widely read man with a considerable knowledge of history and philosophy and an abiding passion for architecture, embraced the opportunity to educate his daughters, in part because he had been an absent father. “My girls are still a little rough around the edges,” he confided to his friends, but under his care they would surely become “very beautiful and very educated.”7 He did not want to stay in Venice after the death of his wife because it would only sharpen his misery. So he welcomed his appointment to the ambassadorship in Rome, where he moved with his daughters in 1783, at the age of fifty-four.

Life in the papal city offered Memmo a nice change of pace after his very active and distinguished career in the service of the Venetian Republic. He needed “distractions to preserve [his] health,” he claimed, and these he certainly found, throwing himself in the arms of lovers, young and old, and thanking his “amiable sluts” for breathing new life into his otherwise “moribund cock.” He also indulged in the pleasures of a good table. “My appetite thrives and I am an excellent companion at dinner.”8

Although he took his pleasures, he did not neglect his duties as a father. His best time, in Rome, was the one he spent in the company of Lucia and Paolina, who blossomed, he said, “thanks to their excellent French governess and to my own efforts.” His daughters were indeed much admired and Madame Dupont’s “unequalled vigilance” helped to preserve their innocence. “Perhaps even excessively,” quipped Memmo, the aging libertine, to Guglielmo Chiarabba, his agent back in Venice, “since it does not seem to me they have the slightest desire to be attractive to men.”9

In Lucia’s case, things were rapidly changing.

After a four-day journey from Naples across the Pontine marshes, the mud-splattered carriage rattled into the courtyard of Palazzo San Marco, the stately residence at the end of the Corso that had served as the Venetian embassy for more than three centuries.*2 When Memmo had arrived in Rome he had found the building in great disrepair—further evidence of the Venetian Republic’s economic decline. The foundations were sinking and wide cracks in the wall zigzagged across the faded frescoes. Many rooms were so damaged they were uninhabitable and had been closed off. It was impossible to restore the palazzo to its former splendour, and hard enough to keep appearances up to an acceptable standard. Memmo complained to Chiarabba that the Venetian Senate provided a mere 500 ducats a year “to keep this old and worn-out machine on its feet.”10 He would have needed at least ten times as much to keep up with his flamboyant neighbour and old friend, Cardinal de Bernis, the French ambassador. Memmo was also expected to cover his living expenses, but the family income from his estates in the Veneto was down to a trickle. As a result, he lived in what he plaintively referred to as his “immense palazzo” in a state of constant penury, fretting over every little expense. His table was so frugal that even his staff complained of the scarcity of food in the house. He closed down the stables and drove around town in a rickety old carriage he had bought second-hand from his predecessor. He quickly gave up the idea of renting a summer villa in the hills south of Rome, as most other ambassadors did, and in the hotter months he was reduced to cadging invitations if not for himself, at least for Lucia and Paolina. He assured Chiarabba that he entertained as little as was possible without being pointed at all over Rome to his disadvantage.

What Memmo dreaded more than anything was the expensive custom of illuminating the facade of the palazzo with torches on feast days and special occasions. He cursed each time a European court announced the birth of a royal newborn, and his weekly dispatches to the Venetian Senate were replete with requests to relieve him from these costly illuminazioni. The Senate’s replies were almost always negative. Eventually, he decided to stop illuminating the palazzo “unless the Senate specifically orders me to do so.”11

It was on account of his financial worries that, three years after arriving in Rome, Memmo still had not made his ingresso, the elaborate and very expensive ceremony during which an ambassador presented his credentials to the Pope. Memmo had calculated his ingresso would cost him at least 700 ducats, a sum he could not possibly have come up with except by means of an extravagant loan or a lucky turn at the Lotto, which he played every week. Pope Pius VI, an energetic, cultivated man, had grown fond of Memmo and his family (both Lucia and Paolina received the sacrament of confirmation from him at the Vatican), and he took a lenient view of the matter, hardly pressing his friend at all. But the issue did not cease to worry Memmo, who continued to come up with original excuses to postpone the event, hoping to drag his feet until it was time to leave for his next post.

His plan, while in Rome, had been twofold: to prepare the ground for his next and possibly last career move—which would guarantee him a respectable status in Venice despite the economic decline of the family—and to find good and possibly wealthy husbands for his daughters. He had achieved the first objective the previous year, in 1785, when, to his own surprise, he was elected to the post of procuratore di San Marco, the second most prestigious position in the Venetian government after the one of doge. “I cannot deny that I am much obliged to my Venetians,” he conceded, “not just for having contributed in such high numbers to my exalted nomination but for the warmth they have shown me.” Indeed, many who had voted for him felt he was a strong candidate to be the next doge. Memmo must have grinned with satisfaction as he watched from his crumbling palazzo in Rome events take such a favourable turn for him up in Venice. “Oh my, we might yet see Memmo doge,” he observed. True to himself, he quickly added: “Let us go slowly. I will have to see whether I can afford it, and I suspect I won’t be able to.”12

Memmo next turned to his eldest daughter’s future. Initially, he had set his eyes on Alvise Pisani, a wealthy cousin of Memmo’s on his mother’s side. He thought he had the deal wrapped up only to see his two impoverished brothers, Lorenzo and Bernardo, scuttle it for fear they would end up having to contribute to the dowry he had agreed to pay. Memmo took “the loss of this great fortune” in stride, and decided to make one more attempt at a high-profile match for Lucia. If that too failed—he said—he was going to take the less exalted but simpler course of marrying both his daughters “to a pair of Memmo cousins” from a lesser branch of the family tree, and bring them all to live under one roof at Ca’ Memmo. “They will keep the name they were born with, and they will have food on their table. For the rest, fate will provide.”13

For some time he had had his eye on Alvise Mocenigo, who had survived a difficult childhood and an even more turbulent youth to become a handsome, self-assured young man, endowed with the intelligence and the political skills necessary to embark on a promising career in government. The fact that Alvise belonged to one of the wealthiest and most prestigious Venetian dynasties made him an even more attractive choice. But it was a risky one as well, on account of the young man’s troubled relationship with his family. Sebastiano Mocenigo, Alvise’s father, was a moody, complicated man, whose history of homosexuality had caused grief and embarrassment to the family. Casanova, who met him when he was ambassador to the Spanish Court in the 1760s, writes in his memoirs that his “Greek friendships” were well known in Madrid. He was later appointed ambassador to France and he was briefly arrested in Paris “for displaying his dissolute behaviour against nature in public.”14 The political clout of the Mocenigos was such that Sebastiano, despite his tainted reputation, obtained the coveted post of ambassador to the Habsburg Court in Vienna. Empress Maria Theresa, however, put her foot down, warning the Venetian authorities that Sebastiano was persona non grata in the Austrian capital. The scandal was in the open and the Republic, which was especially sensitive to its relations with Austria, could no longer turn a blind eye to Sebastiano’s unacceptable behaviour. In 1773, the Inquisitors had him arrested for “libidinous acts against nature.” The trial brought out all the more lurid details of his personal life. He was found guilty and imprisoned in the gloomy fortress of Brescia, where he remained confined during the following seven years.

Alvise was thirteen years old at the time of Sebastiano’s imprisonment. From Brescia, his father arranged to have him sent to Rome, to study at the Collegio Clementino, a venerable boarding school founded by Pope Clement VIII in 1595. It was a lonely, unhappy time for Alvise, and though he did his best to sound cheerful, his letters to his father and to his mother were filled with the bitter melancholy of a sensitive boy far away from home—and a broken one at that. Unlike the other boarders, he did not return home during the long summers. The priests who looked after him tried to improve his spirits by taking him on an occasional trip to Tivoli or the port of Civitavecchia. His mother, Chiara Zen Mocenigo, wrote brief, monotonous letters to her son, enquiring about his health and little else. His father sent him chocolate, coffee and pocket money from prison in Brescia. The gifts were appreciated but they did not assuage the resentment that was building up in his young heart.

When Alvise was eighteen and his education at the Collegio Clementino was drawing to a close, his father wrote to tell him that the time had come “to choose a wife,” and that, “having consulted the Golden Book”—the official ledger of the Venetian nobility—he had “taken aim” at the daughter of Pietro and Morosina Gradenigo, “a family with an excellent reputation, nobly governed and very fecund.” As for the coveted bride, Sebastiano added with enthusiasm, she had “good size, good looks, good health and good manners.”15 Alvise was taken by surprise by his father’s proposition, and he slowed things up by saying he wished to come home first to see his family, and then make a decision about taking a wife. Timing was crucial in marriage negotiations, and Alvise’s attitude was not helpful. The Gradenigos looked elsewhere, and the deal quickly fell through, to Sebastiano’s irritation.

Alvise returned to Venice feeling embittered and rebellious but also very confused. He travelled to Brescia to visit his father, whom he had not seen in five years, but their meeting in the bleak prison-fortress did not bring them any closer. Back in Venice he fell under the spell of his uncle Giovanni Mocenigo, Sebastiano’s older brother and the titular head of the family. Giovanni persuaded Alvise that, for the sake of the Mocenigo dynasty, he should marry his own daughter Pisana—Alvise’s first cousin. Sebastiano, still confined in Brescia, reacted furiously, but he had little control over family affairs. The marriage was forced upon Pisana, a spirited hunchback whose heart belonged to another young patrician; but it was never consummated. Shortly after the wedding, Pisana ran away from Palazzo Mocenigo leaving this note behind:

My Alvisetto, adorable cousin, you of all people will not be surprised by my decision to leave you in order to give my reasons to a judge competent in these matters. I have voluntarily shut myself in a convent. You were well aware that I did not marry of my own free will, and you even complained about that. Now you too will be able to make your case. You will receive my petition to nullify our marriage. Please accept it with the forbearance worthy of your noble soul.16

The judge ruled in favour of Pisana, handing down a decision that reflected the growing opposition in Venetian society to marriage contracts that were enforced against the will of the participants. But Alvise did not accept the ruling with the equanimity Pisana had hoped for. Enraged by a decision that defied the will of the family and made him feel personally humiliated, he fled from Venice, “that fatal place where malice persecutes me” and in those “desperate and painful” first few weeks and months, he wandered in the fields and woods of the vast Mocenigo estates on the mainland, moving from one farmer’s house to the next in search of shelter and food. He failed to report to duty in Vicenza for his first government assignment. Instead, he travelled to Udine, and then, against his father’s specific orders not to leave the Republic, he slipped abroad, forsaking his monthly stipend. “From the age of twenty-five until my death I will devote my life to country and family,” he wrote to his father before disappearing. “I have turned twenty-one, and I have four more years of freedom. Must I forsake these too?”17 For the next three years he travelled from place to place, living on the generosity of friends and hocking the occasional piece of family jewellery he had taken with him. He was spotted in Toulon, Marseilles, Genoa, Livorno, Florence and Bologna, among other places. As promised, he made his way back in 1784. Upon entering Venetian territory, however, he was arrested and jailed in the fortress of Palma for having defied orders to go to Vicenza three years earlier. His father interceded, and a few months later the doge granted him an official pardon and he was released. Alvise arrived in Venice a changed man: he had matured, he had grown ambitious and he was determined to serve the Republic to the best of his ability. Although the sombre side of his personality still lurked in the background, he became more sociable and learnt to pursue some of the lighter pleasures of life. Very quickly, the most prominent members of the Venetian oligarchy began to take notice of him.

Among them was Memmo, who, though living in Rome, was very much in touch with what went on in Venice. He nimbly stepped in with the idea of marrying his eldest daughter to this promising young bachelor who, though penniless, was sure to inherit a very large fortune in the not so distant future. True, he had had a troubled past. “To that kind of Mocenigo, a lightheaded, inexperienced youngster, abandoned by his father and always criticised by him, I certainly would not have offered the hand of my daughter, even if he was going to become four times richer than he will,” Memmo wrote to a friend. But Alvise had grown up and changed for the better, his early tribulations having made him a stronger man. It is possible that Memmo saw in Alvise parts of himself as a young man, open to the ideas of the Enlightenment, interested in a career in diplomacy and showing every sign of wanting to serve his country well:

He has already changed his style of life and sees only good people…He continues to study methodically even at twenty-six. He is very knowledgeable about agriculture, for which he seems to have a sublime talent, and he’s not a man who is easily fooled. He seeks only the company of respectable ladies, he is generous without excess, and he is sweet and very respectful, and he cuts a good figure without covering himself with ornaments.18

Memmo moved quickly to forestall other interested parties. In early 1785, he and Alvise signed a preliminary contract without consulting with the Mocenigos. The deal fixed Lucia’s dowry at 43,000 ducats. It was, on paper, a respectable sum, in line with general expectations. However, because Alvise was entering the deal behind his father’s back, he was not likely to have any money of his own to pay for an adequate wedding, nor would he have the means to support Lucia decorously. Memmo therefore agreed—and this was the addendum that made it possible for Alvise to accept the deal—to pay Alvise 500 ducats a year until the death of his father, when he would inherit a considerable portion of the Mocenigo estate. Memmo did not have the money to honour the deal, but he did not worry. “It seems impossible that I shouldn’t find it on the basis of a signed contract…There are many rich Venetians who need to earn four per cent on their capital or the cash they keep in their jewel cases,” he told Chiarabba, his agent.19

Sebastiano was angry when he found out his only son had entered into a marriage agreement behind his back. Alvise defended his decision: “Such a noble marriage can be the beginning of a new life for me,” he explained, adding peevishly that “in accepting, I imagined I would be meeting the wishes of father and family.” Sebastiano was not moved: under the circumstances he would not give his approval, adding that he needed at least a year to reflect on the matter, all the more so since he and Alvise were still embroiled in a complicated legal tangle regarding an inheritance they both claimed. “The last thing I expected,” Alvise answered with disappointment, “was for my good father to begin a discussion about my future with all this legal talk.”20

It was a less than promising start. Memmo decided to deal with the cantankerous Sebastiano last, concentrating his effort on getting Uncle Giovanni and the rest of the Mocenigos on board. The strategy seemed to work and after a year of blandishments and reassurances, Memmo and Alvise both felt it was time to act. In January 1786 Memmo made a 5,000-ducat down payment on Lucia’s dowry to the Mocenigos; a few weeks later Alvise’s official agreement to marry Lucia reached the Memmos during their sojourn in Naples.

Word of Lucia’s impending marriage had already spread in Rome by the time the Memmos returned from their Neapolitan journey. Naturally, members of the household at Palazzo San Marco had been the first to know. Abbé Sintich, Lucia’s tutor, congratulated her warmly upon her arrival, followed by Memmo’s faithful secretary, Abbé Radicchio, the house manager, Signor Ceredo, Zanmaria the cook, down the line of maids to Zannetto Organo, Memmo’s young footman, who had been little more than a boy when they had all travelled down from Venice three years before. In her room Lucia found a pile of letters and notes from friends and relatives. To her relief, her father dispensed her from replying to every one, as it would have taken too much time away from her lessons with Abbé Sintich. But Lucia was soon overwhelmed by a stream of visiting Roman ladies, some of whom came to embrace the father as much as the daughter—according to Memmo’s own count, he was happily involved with no fewer than six of them at the same time.

All this attention unsettled Lucia. “The causes of such a triumph certainly have more to do with you than with me,” she wrote to Alvise with modesty. “How many compliments I have received! And why? Because fate has decreed that I should have an excellent gentleman like you for a husband.” Would she be up to the daunting task ahead of her? “I do not doubt you have many good qualities…I only hope that patience be among them, so that you may tolerate those defects which I will strive to eliminate as quickly as possible by following your loving advice.”21

It was not enough to feel every day the anxiety of marrying a man she had never seen; she also had to contend with the depressing thought of being unwanted and unloved by her new family. The Mocenigos’ immediate disapproval of the marriage and Sebastiano’s outright opposition to it caused Lucia much pain. She begged Alvise to be more conciliatory, to cede ground in order to find peace:

I heard about your family’s wrath, for which I am so sorry…I beseech you to use respect towards your father and your uncle so as to calm them down. Give in to some of their demands so that we may live in tranquillity…I pray to God that all these problems I have caused may be resolved before our wedding takes place.22

On 1 April 1786, a full five weeks after learning the name of the man who was to become her husband, the small portrait of Alvise she had been promised finally arrived with the morning courier. She rushed to her room “blushing,” she later confessed to Alvise, and sat there gazing at the small image: it was a portrait of him at sixteen, a handsome youth with a broad forehead, who looked mature even at such a young age. “Everyone assures me you look very much the same ten years later and this rather startles me,” she said, openly flirting with him for the first time. “I can assure you that I am very pleased with it.” Lucia was so transfixed by this image of Alvise that it took her some time to realise there was another miniature attached to it. It was a twin portrait of herself, which Alvise had had copied from the old miniature Memmo had given him, and embellished. It showed a beaming Lucia holding in her arms a bouquet symbolising their betrothal. “You could not have had a kinder thought,” she wrote back, very touched. “And the bouquet could not have been richer or more beautiful.”23 She resolved to wear the twin miniatures around her neck at the large dinner her father was planning in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland.

Meanwhile, Lucia’s portrait, which Alvise was waiting for with equal impatience, was lagging behind. She had begun to sit for Remondini, a Genoese portraitist in vogue among the Roman aristocracy, after returning from Naples. But she had interrupted the sessions because a nasty sty in her right eye had puffed up her cheekbone, slightly disfiguring her, and giving her a terrible headache. As soon as she recovered, Remondini disappeared. Memmo sent a servant looking for him, but the man had vanished mysteriously and in fact never returned. The portrait was left unfinished. Lucia, worrying she might give Alvise a false impression of her, was loath to send him a picture that in some parts did not even look like her. She finally relented under pressure from her father. She explained to Alvise:

Most esteemed spouse, there were good reasons not to send you a portrait in which much of the contour of the head had yet to be completed…I could be very sorry should I appear to be more beautiful than I am, or more ugly for that matter…But in the end what I most cared for was that it be truthful as a whole, and I think it is. My father is satisfied, except for the colour of the hair, which is certainly not mine…If only we had had time for a couple more sittings, the result would have been superior. In my haste to satisfy your desire, I have taken a substantial risk…You will observe that I asked to be painted holding a small portrait of you in my hand. It is to remind you that nothing occupies me more than the original article represented in that small frame.24

Alvise was delighted with the unfinished portrait and told Lucia how beautiful she was “with words that could not have been kinder or more obliging.” The veil that had kept them invisible to one another, adding mystery and anxiety to their long-distance relationship, had been shed. Now both of them held an image on which to fix their thoughts. Their letters became more personal, more intimate, and Lucia must have felt a very sensual pleasure as she began signing off with expressions like “Your most trusted friend,” “Your most beloved wife” or “Your loving spouse.” She told Alvise: “I want to give myself over to my husband.”25 She did not yet abandon herself entirely to her fantasies because of “the bad situation” between Alvise and his family; but Alvise’s letters, which she read in the privacy of her own room, clutching his small portrait, bolstered her confidence. He promised her their marriage would be based on love, but also on truth and loyalty, all the time reminding her that he was marrying her at his own initiative, not because of a family arrangement. There would be no secrets between them, no hypocrisy. And they would never cease to respect and to care for each other in the face of life’s tribulations. Lucia was touched by his words. “Your wisdom about the maxims one should uphold in marriage gives me great comfort,” she wrote. “It makes me hold you in ever greater esteem.”26 She dwelled on the example of her own parents:

I will always remember how, despite their age difference, and their different character, and circumstances and education, my mother and father learnt to love each other, and to be always happy together even in adversity, except, as my poor mother used to say to us, at the time of separation, when they were torn by the feeling they might never see each other again.27

The weather had warmed since the family’s return from Naples. Roman spring was bursting everywhere. From her window in Palazzo San Marco, Lucia could see the flowering wisteria climb around the large marble columns of the main loggia. In the courtyard below, water splattered gaily in a fishpond surrounded by palm trees and laurel hedges. Although Alvise was far away, Lucia felt his presence more strongly each day. She longed to be close to him, to touch him. His letters became an instrument of pleasure. “The longer they are, the longer I feel near to you,” she told him tenderly. “My feelings for you are certainly not lesser than those you profess having for me, and I cannot wait to prove it to you with greater freedom.”28

Memmo could not have been happier at the way Alvise and Lucia were getting to know each other by correspondence. His dealings with the Mocenigos, on the other hand, were more frustrating. They were raising objections about Memmo’s ability to honour the marriage contract—legitimate objections, one might add, for rumour had it in Venice that Memmo had accumulated enormous debts during his tenure in Rome. The rumours were exaggerated by interested parties, but money, as Memmo well knew, was a serious problem. “I wouldn’t want us to fall on our backside at this crucial point, making a ridiculous spectacle of ourselves and jeopardising my daughter’s future,”29 he told Chiarabba. But it was not just the money: the Mocenigos were raising issues of lineage that infuriated Memmo. There had been a Memmo doge as early as ad 979, well before the Mocenigos had even appeared in Venice! “I honestly cannot imagine what they can object to,” he said in exasperation, “apart from the fact she wasn’t born a Mocenigo.”30

Memmo had to guard himself from his own brothers, who were constantly pulling the rug from beneath his feet, making it all the more difficult for him to carve out a decent dowry from a much reduced Memmo estate. And Alvise, with all his haste, was proving a less effective ally than expected. “He is young and wants everything at once, whereas I know that on every issue I must move only if we are sure to be on firm ground,” he told his agent. Memmo conceded he was not entirely blameless, especially during his early approaches, “when I operated as if Alvise did not have a father or an uncle.” But Alvise had shown himself quite “incapable of dealing with his family,” and Memmo “absolutely” insisted on “reconciliation with the Mocenigos.”31

The deal needed more work, and Memmo instructed Lucia to return to her old routine—not exactly the easiest thing, given the circumstances. She resumed her grammar and composition lessons with Abbé Sintich, her French lessons with Madame Dupont, and her lessons of philosophy and architecture, which Memmo supervised. The days were now longer. If Lucia finished her morning classes early, she and Paolina and Madame Dupont would sometimes go out for a walk at the edge of the city, towards the Roman ruins along the Appian Way, or else in the direction of the Vatican, in the hope of catching sight of the papal cavalcade. The afternoons were usually devoted to music and singing and to social visits. The girls also took riding lessons at the Villa Borghese. Before their trip to Naples, Memmo had escorted Lucia to dinners and balls; but after receiving Alvise’s marriage proposal, he curtailed her evening engagements. Occasionally, she was allowed to go to the nearby Teatro Valle, the only theatre where the family kept a box.

Memmo seldom entertained at home for he was too mindful of the expenses. But he occasionally gave a lavish dinner to acquit himself in one go of the many he had enjoyed during the year. He had opened up Palazzo San Marco to honour King Gustav III of Sweden, for example, and he had thrown a memorable ball for the Duke and Duchess of Curlandia. Now Memmo decided to give a dinner with dancing and musical entertainment on Easter night, in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland. It was their second visit to the Eternal City. The duke had come to Rome in the 1770s with his morganatic wife Lady Anne Luttrell, much to the irritation of his brother, King George III. Back then Pope Pius VI had received the duke, but he had only agreed to meet Lady Luttrell in the papal gardens as if by chance. Now, ten years later the duke was back in Rome with his travelling court, and with Lady Anne firmly established as the Duchess of Cumberland (this time the Pope granted her an official audience). They rented a palazzo on Via Condotti, just off Piazza di Spagna, an area known as the English ghetto on account of the many milordi inglesiwho took lodgings there during their Grand Tours. The Cumberlands spent extravagant sums of money, commissioned paintings from Italian and foreign artists, and worked their way through the palaces of the Roman aristocracy.

Memmo applied himself with special diligence to give his guests an evening worthy of their rank. Palazzo San Marco was scrubbed from top to bottom. The cracks in the wall were filled in or camouflaged. For once he did not penny-pinch in brightening up the building: two rows of torches were laid out to illuminate the facade. Memmo ordered bushels of oysters and fresh fish from the Adriatic, the choicest meats, his favourite cheeses from the Veneto and the best ices in Rome. The Map Room, originally the largest room in the palazzo, was divided in two rooms. The several hundred guests were to gather in the smaller one for the reception, and then move into the larger one, the sala del camino grande, for dinner. Musical entertainment, followed by dancing, was to take place in the adjacent ballroom. Rather than hiring musicians and singers, Memmo prevailed upon his daughters to organise an after-dinner show with the help of their ballet teacher, the formidable Madame Viganò, who managed the Teatro Valle and therefore had a number of dancers and singers on hand. “God help us!” Lucia wrote to Alvise with trepidation on the eve of her show. “If only my husband were here, I would surely dance more happily than I will!”32

The evening was a great success, and a personal one for Lucia and Paolina. The Duchess of Cumberland was so taken with their ballet that she begged to see it again. As a result, all the Roman ladies asked the two sisters to repeat the performance in their palaces. If they did not come, the Marchesa Massimo warned, she would be forced to cancel her dinner for the duke and duchess! Lucia related her adventures with amusement to Alvise. For her, the high point of the evening had not been the ballet at all. “I wore your portrait upon my breast for the first time in public,” she confessed. “Everyone loved it and commented on how magnificent you looked. They even went so far as to praise your taste in the choice of the small frame.”33

The duke and duchess became very fond of Lucia and Paolina, and they took them along wherever they went. The duke only liked to dance with them, while the duchess took it upon herself to improve the girls’ halting English. Lucia was frustrated by her lack of progress in the language everyone wanted to learn in Rome. Her conversations with the duchess had only made her more aware of how much practice she still needed “to express myself better and improve my pronunciation.” With difficulty, she could get through a book in English:

But it is one thing to understand a passable amount of what one has read, and quite another to understand what the English are saying when they talk to you, or for that matter to actually speak it ourselves. The two of us haven’t got very far, and I fear we never will.34

She knew Alvise too had tried to learn English, in Venice, and had given up; but if he desired to do so, they could try to learn it together once they were married. “It’s a very difficult language, and I honestly fear I shall never learn to speak it well, but if you should have some extra time available to resume this fruitful occupation, then I will make a special effort to improve my own skills.”35

Lucia often fantasised about her future life as Alvise’s wife, and tried to imagine him in Venice by piecing together the bits of information that came her way. Apart from the letters she received every week from him, she culled useful nuggets from visitors who came down from Venice—Venetian senators who were friends of her father, for the most part, or else foreigners who had been to Venice on their Grand Tour and were visiting Rome. The conversation among these dinner guests at Palazzo San Marco often touched on Venetian affairs, with the inevitable digressions about Alvise, his past vicissitudes, his prospects as a politician—he had his eye on the position of Savio di Terraferma, the traditional stepping-stone for ambitious young Venetians embarking on a political career. Lucia was touched to hear how Alvise always rushed to retrieve her letters from the courier; about the inspired toasts he had given to her health in a number of assemblies; about the pleasure he derived in hearing people speak well about “the woman he had not seen and did not know, and yet had chosen as his eternal companion.” But she warned him not to rely too much on hearsay. She pointed out she was not a woman who sought the limelight or thrived in society:

I much prefer tranquillity, and I like to lead a withdrawn life unless there is something beautiful or worthwhile to see…so that I have never really given much attention to appearances and ornaments, nor have I endeavoured to impress people with endless chatter—the way some young ladies do, and are criticised for it.36

Lucia wanted to bring happiness “in a life that has suffered its share of misfortune” and she was ready to do her part in full so as not let Alvise down. “I will take care of my duties to make sure that this time you will not be disappointed,” she wrote, bearing in mind his catastrophic earlier marriage to his first cousin, Pisana. “I pray to God that ill fate will turn to good fortune, and that I will contribute to a happy change rather than making your life less bearable.”37

Her letters could easily have been written by someone older and wiser than a girl her age. Alvise was often startled by what he read, and in the name of that honesty that he hoped would always prevail in their marriage, he asked her whether someone was watching over her shoulder when she wrote to him. Lucia was flattered and faintly miffed. She had little experience in the art of letter-writing, having so far corresponded mostly with her aunts and uncles. When she wrote to Alvise, she drafted a rough copy to correct mistakes and preserve a record of their correspondence. That was why the letters were so neat, she confessed. Not even Abbé Sintich was allowed to help her:

I wouldn’t hide anything from my dear husband: I write them myself, and no one is allowed to read them, except my Father, who sometimes helps me find the right word, but usually has no time or patience…and will leave in place a piece of writing that I myself dislike. He always warns me not to bother him with my requests, adding it doesn’t matter if one writes badly to one’s husband.38

No amount of fine writing on the part of Lucia, however, could conceal the fact that the fruitless negotiations with the Mocenigos were taking their toll on her. Although she put on the best possible front, she admitted feeling “very afflicted” because she seemed to be “everyone’s target,” as if she were “the principal reason” for the impasse even though she was in no way at fault. “Only the steadfastness you have demonstrated so far,” she confessed to Alvise, “prevents me from feeling even more distressed than I am.”39 Her father had promised her “this painful situation” would not last much longer, but she was unsure, and she entreated Alvise over and over not to be stubborn with his family for the sake of their future well-being. “I do not doubt your efforts to give me full satisfaction. If I badger you so,” she explained to him on one occasion after he had reacted defensively, “it is only because of my strong desire to accelerate our destiny…By cultivating your family and lowering your expectations just a little, we might actually reach a good conclusion.”40

In speaking with such firmness, she was probably influenced by her father, who felt Alvise had to do everything in his power to appease the intractable Sebastiano and obtain his approval of the wedding. There was talk, in the absence of such approval, of a marriage by proxy, which meant Lucia would remain in Rome for the foreseeable future. Another possibility suggested by the Mocenigos was to go ahead with the wedding, after which Alvise and Lucia would settle in with Memmo—a proposition Memmo did not even take into consideration as it would have added a new burden on his depleted finances. “These Mocenigos will use anything as an excuse to slow things up!”41 he blurted out in exasperation.

One problem, however, was entirely of Memmo’s making. Overly confident in his ability to stage-manage the situation, he deliberately described Alvise to Lucia as less handsome than he was “so that she will find him more so upon laying eyes on him.” And unbeknownst to poor Lucia, he described her to Alvise “as heavier than she is, so he will find her less so.”42 Memmo’s deception backfired for it sparked a rumour in Venice that Lucia had grown enormously fat, and he had to stay up late at night writing to friends back home in order to undo the damage he had caused. “On the topic of my daughter’s fatness,” he told one of them, “I assure you it is pure slander generated by nothing but envy. I promise you Lucia will be the most beautiful bride imaginable.”43

The idea of going through with the wedding without the full consent of Alvise’s family worried Lucia. The hurried, semi-clandestine marriage ceremony that was sometimes mentioned as a possibility had no appeal for her. She did not want to begin her married life with a dark cloud hanging over her young family, and she urged Alvise again and again “to demonstrate his affection to people he should respect in any case, even though they are not what you would like them to be.”44

There was little to distract Lucia from the frustrating pace of events now that she was no longer allowed to go out in society much. Occasionally, Memmo took his daughter to an opera by Cimarosa, the favourite in-house composer at the Teatro Valle. Lucia accepted Princess Borghese’s invitation to a dinner al fresco on the Pincio, followed by fireworks and musical entertainment. But the moment gambling tables were brought out, she headed home with Paolina and Madame Dupont. She attended only one public event: the unveiling of the Great Bell of Saint Peter’s, a colossal work in bronze that had cost the life of Luigi Valadier, the celebrated goldsmith who created it.

Pope Pius VI had commissioned the great bronze bell in 1779, to replace the one that had cracked a few years earlier. Valadier designed what was arguably the largest bronze bell ever built. It was three metres high and two and a half metres wide; its circumference was nearly eight metres, and it was decorated with beautifully detailed friezes. The technical complexity of melting such an enormous and yet very delicate object, not to mention the huge cost overruns, finally overwhelmed Valadier. He committed suicide by throwing himself in the Tiber before he could finish it. His son, Giuseppe Valadier, completed the work within a few months. He built a wooden fortress on wheels in which the bell was transported from the foundry in Via del Babuino to Saint Peter’s Square. As it travelled across the city, the bell rang loudly, attracting cheering crowds along the way. In the atrium of the basilica of Saint Peter’s, Lucia watched Pope Pius VI bless the mighty campanone. “It is a true wonder,” she reported to Alvise, “for its size, for its sound and for all its intricate bas relief.” She saw it as a good omen. “Let us pray to God that the nasty climate hanging over us will soon change.”45

By the end of June, encouraging news arrived from Venice. Alvise had finally begun to heed Memmo’s advice to seek an accommodation with his family, and his efforts had improved the atmosphere notably. Memmo’s own blandishments to the Mocenigos and the sheer lack of solid arguments to oppose the marriage helped as well. Seizing the momentum, Memmo urged Alvise to behave towards his father “with the prudence and respect required at this moment.”46

Sebastiano’s assent to the marriage arrived at last on the morning of 1 July, nearly five months after Alvise had formally proposed. On a hunch, Lucia rushed out of Palazzo San Marco when she heard the courier Nullo had arrived at the station, dragging Paolina and Madame Dupont with her. They ran into Signor Nullo, who was coming to deliver the important dispatch in person. Breathless, they returned home and went immediately to Memmo’s apartment. “We couldn’t resist closing ourselves in my father’s room,” she told Alvise. “Some of us cried, some of us couldn’t catch their breath, some of us couldn’t say a word.” After all that had passed, Lucia had not anticipated the warm feelings expressed by her future father-in-law in his letter. “How could we not be utterly surprised at the manner with which he addressed my father, and the generous words he used with me,” she wrote to Alvise, at once relieved and elated at how the situation had quite suddenly turned in her favour. “He knew what I had gone through. Moved by delicate, humane feelings, he encouraged me with overflowing words, lifting me from gloom to happiness.” This old man, who had been so mean to her future husband and so hostile and strange to her, seemed so transformed and so clearly on her side that Lucia already felt “attached to him by the most respectful affection.” Such was her joy that even if he should again give her “displeasures” in the future, she was ready to “forgive all.”47

Lucia was especially happy to receive a warm letter from Chiara, Alvise’s mother, who had remained in the background all this time and about whom Lucia had heard only good things. Chiara wrote:

My dear child, if I could have listened only to the voice of my feelings, I would have explained long ago to you, my lovable Luciettina, the pleasure and happiness I felt upon first hearing that you might become my daughter…Now that I bring together at last my love for you as a mother with the interests of the family, I have not allowed a moment to pass before assuring you of my jubilation…and the sheer joy of expressing to you my feelings…Consider me your mother for I shall always look upon you as my daughter.48

These tender, heart-felt words were what Lucia had secretly hoped for. She yearned to find in her future mother-in-law some of that maternal love she had lost as a little girl, when her mother had died so suddenly. Chiara had wanted to let Lucia know she understood that yearning. “Surely your unequalled mother will take the place of mine,” Lucia confided to Alvise. She went even further, fantasising about how her marriage to Alvise, which had caused such bad feelings, would help bring the fractious Mocenigo family together. Was it too much to hope that they could all live together?

How wonderful it would be if the family lived under the same roof, ate at the same table…I’ll say no more. The skies have cleared and heaven is now clement with me, and I hope it will not abandon me.49

In her letters to Alvise, Lucia had always made a point of reminding him, delicately, that until matters were settled, her father remained her only guide. After receiving Sebastiano’s letter, she began in earnest her journey into the sphere of influence of the Mocenigos. “I shall do everything my husband asks me to do,” she now promised Alvise. “You will be my guide in everything.” Barely sixteen years old, she was ready “to become a true Moceniga.” She may well have felt a voluptuous pleasure in finally giving herself over to Alvise. His age and experience added to her sense of security. “The fact that you are ten years older than me,” she admitted, “is another good fortune.”50

Alvise encouraged her to think ahead about their life together in Venice. The idea of living with his parents, which Lucia had broached in a moment of enthusiasm, did not appeal to him at all. Besides, there was plenty of space in Palazzo Mocenigo for the young couple to have their own, comfortable apartment. Renovations would soon be under way, Alvise informed her, and she should send him her ideas about their living arrangements, as well as any special request she might have. Lucia, unused to this kind of responsibility, was embarrassed by all the fuss. “Apropos palacesand apartments,” she wrote back, “I tell you with the greatest sincerity that I would suffer to see too much being done for my sake.” Besides, she would always be more interested in the people living in the house “rather than in all the beautiful furniture.”51 But since Alvise had asked, she thought she might put in at least one request that was sure to make her life more comfortable: “All I really wish is to have a few small rooms de retraite just off the main bedroom, where I might write or paint without fear of messing up or dirtying [the apartment].”52

The journey back to Venice was delayed until after the summer. The Senate instructed Memmo to wait for his successor before leaving Rome. And the new ambassador, much to Memmo’s irritation, was taking his time winding his way down from Venice with his wife and retinue. Memmo had never quite gotten used to “the deadly heat that springs from the earth” during the summer in Rome, which he found “much more unbearable” than in Venice. “The air is literally on fire,” he complained to his agent, “and in order to breathe you must lock yourself up even more than in winter.”53Palazzo San Marco was surrounded by three large squares that turned hard and dry “causing everyone to eat a lot of dust.” His neighbours “tormented” him and pressed him to cover the scorched earth with gravel, like everyone else did. But that was yet another expense Memmo would not put up with, especially now that he was preparing to leave.

Society life ground to a halt in July and August. The Corso was deserted most of the day. The great palaces emptied as the Roman nobility retreated to their summer villas in the hills south of Rome, where the temperature was several degrees cooler and a pleasant breeze blew in from the Tyrrhenian Sea. But renting a villa was a luxury Memmo could not afford. “Too much money for the sake of a little coolness,” he grumbled. To alleviate the tedium of those long summer days, Memmo organised a day-trip with the girls and Madame Dupont to the waterfalls at Tivoli. He took them on a picnic by the Roman pool at Hadrian’s Villa. And he found some respite from the heat during their frequent excursions to the early Christian catacombs on the Appian Way, just beyond the southern city gate. In the evenings, Memmo gathered the few friends who were still in town for a light dinner at home, followed by ices and a little musical entertainment, usually provided by Lucia and Paolina. On one of these intimate occasions, Lucia, feeling playful, appeared among her father’s guests wearing a bracelet with an image of Sebastiano on her left wrist and one with Memmo’s image on her right wrist, and with the miniature of Alvise resting as usual upon her breast. “You won’t believe the things I sometimes put on,”54 she wrote to Alvise.

That summer the artist Angelica Kauffmann was among Lucia’s favourite companions. Memmo had commissioned her to paint a formal portrait of himself clad in the traditional red brocade robe of the Procuratore di San Marco, to take back with him to Venice. He took the opportunity to commission twin portraits of his two daughters as well, in order to have a family set. Kauffmann’s studio was on the Via Sistina, just off the church of Trinità dei Monti. A number of painters and sculptors had recently moved into the area from Piazza Farnese, and Kauffmann, then at the top of her fame, was very much at the centre of this thriving community of artists. The large house she lived in with her husband, Antonio Zucchi, was filled with sculptures and busts and classical paintings. It was a lively and welcoming haven for fellow painters and writers, dealers and travellers, and for the more adventurous members of the Roman aristocracy and the diplomatic corps. The studio, stacked with canvases and cluttered with easels, brushes, jars and powdered pigments, was at the end of the house, overlooking an unruly garden. Memmo often made the short trip from Palazzo San Marco to the atelier in Via Sistina with his daughters, and he encouraged Kauffmann and her husband to take Lucia and Paolina to visit the studios of their artist friends.

One August afternoon, the antiquarian Johann Raiffenstein joined Kauffmann, Zucchi, Lucia and Paolina, and together they braved the heat to go see the new painting everyone was talking about in Rome. It was by Jean-Germain Drouais, the twenty-three-year-old protégé of Jacques-Louis David. He had won the Prix de Rome and had installed himself at the French Academy. Some critics thought his talent surpassed that of his famous mentor. The large canvas he had just completed depicted the Roman general Marius, wrapped in a scarlet robe, as he stared down at the soldier who had come to murder him in prison after the battle of Minturno. It was a stark, powerful picture in the neoclassical style, which clearly owed a great deal to the influence of “Monsieur David.” Lucia was struck by the fact that Drouais had reached such a level of artistic maturity at his young age.*3 “The great Marius is able to confound and send away the soldier who has come to kill him with no other weapon but the sheer strength and authority of his figure,” she reported to Alvise. “The general seems to be saying: ‘You would dare to kill Marius?’ It’s a powerful image, and a very beautiful one.”55

Alvise read Lucia’s Roman chronicles with pleasure. It was a way for him to feel close to her as he travelled from Venice to the Mocenigo estates on the mainland, checking on the late summer harvests. And yet he could not help notice that Lucia still remained slightly aloof. True, she filled her letters with declarations of love and devotion to him, and of loyalty to his family, but beneath the surface of her entertaining anecdotes, she kept a reserve about herself. When he prodded her to open her heart to him she was caught somewhat off guard. She turned to her father, but to no avail. So she told Alvise that if she seemed reticent it was because she feared creating excessive expectations. Why live in a dream world while they were still strangers “and then risk falling all of a sudden from on high?” While Alvise wanted her to be more expansive, she remained cautious about expressing “those feelings which I still can’t quite explain, given that all I know about you comes from a small portrait, from the flattering reports of others, from the very interesting things that you write to me and from the good things you do.” All of this, she said,

has encouraged me to hold you in esteem and to love you and to be grateful to you. It could be that I feel even more, but I don’t know for sure as I have no experience in these matters. I hope, for many good reasons, that I will adore you, for this is the way it should be. But give me time, and if it will happen, and no doubt it will, then my deeds will tell you even better than my words.56

Lucia was startled by her own candour.

I don’t even know how I could have said as much, and I assure you that no one else has tampered with this letter. My father told me: “I don’t want to be involved in this, just speak with your heart.” So I consulted my heart, and this is what came out, and I don’t even know if it’s right or wrong…Enough now, I hope you will soon be at the end of this eternal wait and that I will have the very fine pleasure of seeing you at last to tell you in person how much I wish to be your loving and loyal spouse.57

At Palazzo San Marco signs of the Memmos’ impending departure were everywhere. “People are busy filling trunks, carrying furniture down stairs, beating nails into crates and boxes,” Lucia wrote to Alvise with excitement. “Everything now tells me I will soon be leaving.”58 On 1 October, the new Venetian ambassador finally arrived in the vicinity of Rome, and the Memmos drove out to greet his convoy in a rented carriage drawn by six horses. They moved out of the palazzo and went to stay temporarily at the house of a Venetian friend next to the Ghetto. Memmo introduced his successor to Roman society even as he tried to sell him his furniture and silverware to reduce his debts.

As Lucia was making her last courtesy rounds, she received another jolt from Alvise. How should they meet, he wanted to know. Should they plan it or did she want him to surprise her by turning up unexpectedly somewhere along the way? Lucia did not hesitate: “I choose the latter course, even if it is the most dangerous.”59 Would it be Padua, she wondered dreamily, or perhaps Ferrara? What if Alvise were to journey as far south as Bologna? The waiting game had a new element of suspense.

Memmo had wanted the return journey to Venice to be something of an educational trip for his daughters. He had planned to visit Tuscany extensively, in order to observe from up close the innovative changes introduced by Grand Duke Leopold in agriculture and public administration; he had also arranged to spend some time in the duchies of Modena and Parma. But the long-delayed departure from Rome had forced him to curtail their itinerary rather drastically, leaving only a much reduced stay in Florence. Although Memmo was anxious to join Alvise in Venice to help and advise him on the details of the marriage, he lamented the brevity of their stop in Tuscany even more than his daughter suspected. “I love Florentine women,” he wrote wistfully to a friend in Florence. “How will I ever be able to gain your lovable ladies’ confidence in such a short time, let alone have any luck with them? I’m afraid it will be the same as with the gorgeous Neapolitan women, whom I met and admired and even fondled a little, before being forced away from them at the ripest moment.”60

Before leaving Rome for her surprise encounter with Alvise, Lucia took care of her personal appearance and hygiene. She went to the hairdresser and had two teeth pulled out “to clean up my mouth.” Her wisdom teeth were also bothering her, she reported candidly, “but the dentist has assured me that they won’t play any of their usual tricks on me.”61

By early October, only one thing remained to be done before leaving. Pope Pius VI had to return Memmo’s credentials—an awkward task since Memmo had never made his ingresso and so had never formally presented those credentials. There was a further delay, just long enough for the Vatican to make its displeasure known to the Venetian Republic. But the Pope did not want this issue to mar his friendship with Memmo, of whom he was genuinely fond. He granted a long and very satisfactory audience to the whole family, which left a lasting impression on Lucia. “We were told the Pope never has such long conversations with women,” she wrote to Alvise. “He asked us many kind questions, and even spoke to me about you. I really couldn’t have wished for more.”62

In the previous nine months, Lucia had thought so much and so hard about Alvise, alone at night in bed or else gazing at his picture during the day, that he had become a very familiar presence in her life, even though his image remained necessarily blurred since she had never seen him. Or had she? The closer she came to meeting him, the more she felt she had met him before. It was a strange sensation. Was it a distant, dreamy fragment of her childhood memory or perhaps an illusion generated by her long wait? “I feel as if I will not be meeting you for the first time,” she ventured, “but I am not able to explain to you when or where I first saw you. The faster I reach you the happier I’ll be to see you, to talk with you, and to feel that happiness I yearn for—provided we will like each other…Will I find a note from you in Florence?”63

At last the Memmos left. It was the end of October and the weather had turned rainy and cold. They travelled up the Cassia, the old Roman road that was little more than a trail of mud and water, stopping the first night in Bagnaia, near Viterbo. Memmo complained about the perpetual rain even as he wrote detailed instructions to Chiarabba from his rocking carriage. Lucia was to be taken to a convent, where she would remain with her sister until the wedding. Memmo had concluded this was the most convenient solution since he would no longer be living at Ca’ Memmo, the old family home on the Grand Canal, but on Saint Mark’s Square, in one of the comfortable houses that were made available to the Procuratori di San Marco. Meanwhile, rooms needed to be prepared for the night of their arrival, relatives to be informed, food to be purchased, gondolas to be readied. “We shall be no more than twelve to fourteen for supper on our arrival as I want the girls to go to the convent that same evening. Adieu, my friend. I feel I can already touch Venice.”64

Alvise, meanwhile, had crossed the Apennines under rain and sleet to surprise Lucia in Siena, a city he loved. They met on the evening of the second day of the Memmos’ journey north. Did their first encounter rise to their best expectations? Did those expectations fall “from on high,” as Lucia feared could happen? There are no letters by either Lucia or Alvise describing the moment they had waited so long for. But Memmo made sure the event was recorded. “The bride and groom have met,” he solemnly announced to Signor Chiarabba. “And they are both happy with each other.”65The next day they travelled to Florence, where they took rooms at the Locanda Vannini, on the Lungarno. The few days Alvise and Lucia spent together in Florence were very happy. They explored the city in a state of tender inebriation, taking walks up to the great villa at Poggio Imperiale, gazing at the sculptures and bronzes in the Galleria, visiting collections of pictures.

Alvise left on a rainy morning. There were no tearful goodbyes: he slipped out of town leaving an affectionate note behind. If Lucia was hurt she did her best not to show it. She protested:

Well done, Mister spouse! You dump me right when we are having our best time together without even a word of warning? I forgive you because I understand. But it doesn’t mean your absence is less painful to me now that I have enjoyed your dearest, sweetest company…I thank you for everything, and at this anxious moment I can only wish you a safe journey, hoping God will protect you from the rain and other more dangerous hazards.

Florence seemed empty without Alvise. “It was strange to revisit some of the same places we went to without the company of my dear husband,” she wrote to him the first night they were apart. “I was assailed by such stirring memories. Enough now, when shall I see you again? It is all I can think of.” She was sharing the hotel room with her sister, the person she had been closest to all her life and from whom she would soon be separated.

Paolina doesn’t want me to write any more, she says she wants to sleep…After all that has happened, will I be able to sleep? I don’t think so. Not until I will be sure that you have safely arrived in Bologna and then in Ferrara and after that in Padua and finally in Venice…Adieu my beloved husband.66

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