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Authors: Andrea Di Robilant

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Lucia’s sudden interest in pedagogy reflected a change in her feelings about motherhood. Heretofore she had seen it essentially as a duty she had to fulfil. A fully matured woman of twenty-one, she now had a strong, natural desire to have a child. In the autumn, she left Cordovado with a new determination. She was going to do everything in her power to avoid another miscarriage, and she was going to be ready when her child was born: ready to love him, to nurture him, to raise him. She visited Doctor Calvi, a respected obstetrician in Padua. He recommended repeated immersions in cold water to fortify her constitution, so she asked Alvise to send a large wooden wash-tub directly to Le Scalette, their villa on the banks of the Brenta.

All during the spring and summer of 1791 she stayed at Le Scalette, devoting herself to her daily ablutions. “I fervently hope they will have a positive effect,” she wrote to Alvise. To increase her daily exercise, she took regular walks to the village of Dolo and to the Tiepolos and Grittis, who lived down the road. She took up riding again for the first time since her lessons in Rome at the Villa Borghese, and she asked Maria, her maid, to send her riding clothes up from Venice, including “boots, fustian trousers, scarlet bodice, black cummerbund, corset, girdle and my round, cloth riding hat.” The evenings at Le Scalette were quiet: a game of cards, a piece of music at the clavichord, the occasional
tombola
with the staff. She gently complained about Alvise’s absences: “If only you were here with me, my sweet…Do not abandon me so frequently; I never married to live in such a cruel condition.”
41

Memmo was a frequent guest that summer, checking on his daughter’s health and bringing news of Paolina, who was nursing a healthy baby girl, Caterina, nicknamed Cattina. Le Scalette was a house he knew very well. Thirty years earlier, Countess Rosenberg, then still Giustiniana Wynne, had spent a summer there with her mother and her siblings (they had rented the house from the Mocenigos), and Memmo, then a bachelor, had snuck in and out of the house to meet with the young woman he loved so passionately. Now Countess Rosenberg was dying of cancer in nearby Padua and a distraught Memmo wanted to be close to her. He visited her often, and Lucia sometimes went along, shocked to see her father’s first love so “infinitely degraded.”
42
The countess died in August, and Lucia could not help noticing how her father too had aged during the summer, often complaining about his splitting headaches, his bad circulation and the gout that tormented his feet. Although Dinda Orsini, his young lover, still provided some consolation to him, their ties were gradually loosening.

The news from France occupied much of the conversation at Le Scalette. The Constituent Assembly drafted the Constitution, but King Louis XVI, unwilling to accept the end of absolute monarchy, secretly fled from Paris and headed for the northern border. His aim was to march back into France with the help of the Austrians and re-establish his rule. But he was recognised in the town of Varennes and brought back in ignominy to the Tuileries, losing the little loyalty he still had among Parisians. He and the Queen, Marie Antoinette, were placed under house arrest, while a stream of émigrés fled from France and pressed foreign rulers to intervene militarily.

Emperor Leopold II of Austria, whom Memmo had met when he was still Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, was especially concerned about the turn of events in France because Marie Antoinette was his younger sister. He was travelling through Padua that summer, on his way to Vienna with his other sister, Maria Carolina, Queen of the Two Sicilies, and her husband, King “Big Nose” Ferdinand IV. The question on everyone’s lips was whether the emperor, who had been on the throne but one year, was going to declare war against France. “There are some here who believe he is ready to wage it,” Lucia reported to Alvise in Venice as the Senate made preparations to receive the emperor. “But others feel he will think twice about intervening as long as his sister is in the hands of the rebels.”
43
A few weeks later, Leopold issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, enjoining other European countries to restore the French monarchy with the force of arms.

During the course of the summer, while Lucia was at Le Scalette taking her cold baths, it was Alvise’s turn to succumb to the beguiling Dinda Orsini, whom he had met on several occasions in the company of his father-in-law. He courted her discreetly, obviously aware he was endangering not just his marriage but his relationship with Memmo; Dinda resisted him at first, even as she acknowledged her tenderness for him. “There is no doubt that both you and I feel something that goes beyond friendship, but I don’t want to go looking for what it is,” she said, wary of an affair that could lead to trouble if it were discovered. But Alvise pressed ahead, sending her flirtatious notes and unabashed declarations of love. “Oh God, how does one answer when you speak to my heart so firmly and obligingly,” Dinda asked, while making sure the fire of their budding passion was well stoked.

Despite his feelings for Dinda, Alvise evidently complied with his marital duties during his sporadic visits to Le Scalette because by the end of the summer Lucia was pregnant again. Among the first to congratulate her upon her return to Palazzo Mocenigo in the autumn was her mother-in-law, Chiara. “I hope your health is perfect,” she told her, adding frankly that she should “take care to do all you need in order to become a mother, thereby consoling this family which sees in you its only means of survival.”
44

Upon learning his wife might yet give him an heir, Alvise returned to the family fold, giving Lucia the kind of attention she had always asked of him. Dinda expertly withdrew from the scene, not without reminding Alvise how right she had been to resist his courtship.

I dare not imagine what you would be going through now had I taken advantage of our blind passion…My dearest Alvise, I swear to you that I have been a tyrant to myself in this story, but now that I see you happily at the side of a wife, and one so highly esteemed in our country, I am proud of myself…Adieu, my Mocenigo, and for pity’s sake burn all these letters of mine.
45

At the end of the third month the familiar pains in her lower abdomen started again and within a few days Lucia had her third miscarriage. This time the experience was physically and mentally debilitating. An air of gloom spread in the house. Her mother-in-law lamented “the doleful circumstance” that was blighting her son’s marriage and invited Lucia to seek strength in religion, “from which we must always expect the best.”
46
Lucia tried to pull herself together, but her heart was broken. At a time when she most needed Alvise, he was again running away from her. “When we are not together,” she wrote to him, “your letters are the greatest comfort to me. I have written to you every day yet I have received only one letter…Think about this. I ask that my love for you be fully returned.”
47
If Alvise had to be on the mainland much of the time, as he claimed, why could she not join him in Vicenza, in Padua, wherever he pleased? Alvise was evasive. There never seemed to be enough time.

The truth was simpler and more terrible. After the miscarriage, the “blind passion” between Alvise and Dinda, long frustrated, exploded with full force, taking on the pace of a frantic affair. Despite Dinda’s repeated entreaties, Alvise never destroyed the evidence of their secret relationship, which they conducted between Venice, Padua and Vicenza in the winter and early spring of 1792. “Tonight we cannot see each other, but I’ll be at our usual place tomorrow evening at six o’clock, I give you my word,” reads one of the fragments that has come down to us. “I beg you not to come here,” reads another. “Find the most secret alcove where we can meet, then write to me and send your note by means of our usual gondolier.” From Padua, Dinda wrote: “God knows when we shall be able to see each other again. For the time being I cannot leave and will be here for another month at least. I will keep you up to date. Please make sure no one sees my letters in your house because my handwriting is well known by all the people around us.” A month later she was back from Padua and staying, of all places, at Ca’ Memmo, from where she dashed off this note:

I want to see you. I must tell you something and you must come without fail. You can come here. Nobody suspects we are lovers and you will surely find a pretext to come. After all, it’s just a visit…Adieu, Dinda.
48

Alvise received the note at Palazzo Mocenigo as he was preparing to leave for the mainland. He wrote back saying they could meet at his house later on: Lucia would be at the theatre with her sister, Paolina. That evening, Lucia went to the theatre thinking Alvise had already left town. When she arrived, she noticed one of the gondoliers from Ca’ Memmo dropping off her sister. This is Lucia’s account of what followed, from a letter she wrote to Alvise recapping the events of the day:

The gondolier tells me he has just seen you and that you are still in Venice, in our heretofore beloved home…I inform my sister, who was already in her box, that I will avail myself of her gondolier…I fly home…What happened next I cannot even begin to repeat, and in any case we both know it well enough, even though we clearly see the matter from two different perspectives.
49

What the scene was like at Palazzo Mocenigo and how Alvise explained why he was alone in the company of Dinda when Lucia arrived—these remain unanswered questions. All we can infer is that the affair became known and that it caused the first serious crisis in their marriage. Lucia did not indulge in self-pity for it was not in her character, but in the next days and weeks she felt deeply humiliated at having to suffer in silence “unending expressions of sympathy.” Everyone had envied her marriage, she noted angrily, yet she “had been living in the most unenviable position for the last four years, nine months and fourteen days.”
50

It is hard to gauge how close Alvise and Lucia came to breaking up their marriage, or if such a possibility was even discussed. If it was, one may assume that Memmo—who was by then entirely over his own infatuation with Dinda—stepped into the fray to comfort his daughter and salvage a union he had worked so hard to bring together. Certainly Lucia did not have any options of her own as long as Alvise wanted the marriage to continue, and he did. His relationship with Dinda, as far as we know, came to an end. He and Lucia resumed their life together, but the scar on their marriage bore witness to a serious wound.

To encourage a reconciliation, Alvise organised a long summer journey through Carinthia, Bavaria and the Rhineland, all the way to Vienna. Emperor Leopold II had died unexpectedly in March after reigning less than two years. Alvise and Lucia would arrive in the Habsburg Empire in time for the coronation of the new emperor, Francis II, who was already at war with revolutionary France. Alvise was keen to stop in Vienna to study the new Austrian government up close. But there was a more personal reason for visiting the capital on the way back. Alvise wanted to get the best possible medical advice with regard to Lucia’s difficulty in carrying forth a pregnancy, and there was no greater authority at the time than Giuseppe Vespa, a Tuscan doctor whom Emperor Leopold had brought with him from Florence two years earlier and had appointed official obstetrician of the Imperial Court. If anyone was going to help Lucia give him an heir, Alvise felt, it was Doctor Vespa.

Chapter Three

VIENNA

O
n a sunny morning in mid June 1792, Alvise and Lucia left Venice and headed for the Alps. Their aim was to reach Frankfurt on the Main, deep into the Habsburg Empire, in time to attend Emperor Francis II’s investiture. They took the familiar road that led from Padua to Vicenza and on to Verona, then they turned sharply to the north, travelling along the western shore of Lake Garda until they crossed into the southern tip of the Austrian Empire. The road threaded its way along the river Adige to the wealthy city of Bolzano, and continued to climb through the quaint towns of South Tyrol, where the air tingled and the snow-capped Dolomites glistened like giant meringues rising high above the thick alpine forest. Once over the mountain pass, they descended to Innsbruck and moved on, across the green valleys of northern Tyrol and southern Bavaria, reaching Munich by early July. They had been on the road for nearly three weeks but they did not pause, continuing their northward run and covering another forty posts in five days. When they finally arrived in Frankfurt, exhausted but exhilarated by their journey, they were only a few minutes late: the city gates had just been closed as the imperial procession was already heading for the cathedral, where the bishop was to bless the emperor. Undeterred by the frowning German guards, Alvise and Lucia pleaded and haggled and brought out any number of impressive-looking letters of recommendation until they were allowed into the city through a side street, and were instantly swallowed up in the festivities.

Lucia had read in her guidebook, Caspar von Riesbeck’s popular
Voyage en Allemagne,
that Frankfurt was a rich town where Calvinists, Lutherans and Catholics lived together in bustling harmony—“the only imperial city that keeps all its splendour and continues to thrive and improve.”
1
And indeed the rich facades of the buildings, the splendid gardens, the elegant carriages, the fine clothes and even the ladies’ expensive jewels showed that Frankfurters knew “how to lay out their money with taste,” as Riesbeck put it. What Lucia did not expect to find on that particular day, in a city so far away from home, was an atmosphere that in many ways reminded her of Venice, or rather, of Venetian festivities. The rowdy crowds and the pageantry, the sheer excitement in the air: if Lucia narrowed her dark blue eyes until everything became a colourful blur, she could imagine they were celebrating a new doge or a new procuratore di San Marco. “Here, too, fistfuls of coins are thrown about, chunks of bread are handed out to the populace and fountains of wine are everywhere,”
2
she told her sister, Paolina, who had pressed her to provide her with detailed descriptions of her travels.

Despite the similarities, Lucia added, there were peculiar local customs her fellow Venetians had never seen. In the centre of the main square she and Alvise came upon a pile of wheat as high as a four-storey house. The emperor looked on from a raised arbour in the shade while an ambassador of the Electorate of Hesse walked up to the giant heap, filled his cup with grains and came back to offer it to his majesty as a token of the German princes’ loyalty to the imperial crown. After this very solemn ceremony, the mountain of wheat was given over to a frenzied mob: men, women and children threw themselves on the mound, stuffing their bags with as much grain they could get their hands on. Within minutes, all the wheat had vanished and the crowd retreated in an orderly fashion. Lucia compared “the discipline which prevails in the German throng” to the festive chaos of Venetian crowds.

Next, her attention was drawn to a simple wooden house that had been erected in another part of the square. Again, the ambassador walked up to the house and opened the front door: inside was an ox that had been roasted whole on a great big spit. The beast was dragged out into the square and cut up into a thousand pieces that were thrown to the crowd. At the same time a band of strong-armed peasants appeared from the side and tore up the wooden house with their bare hands. “Not even the foundations were left standing,” Lucia observed in amazement.

That evening, after the celebrations, she and Alvise were to be presented to the emperor and empress. Lucia barely had time to retreat to their lodgings to take a short rest and make her toilette before Mademoiselle Bertin, the celebrated dressmaker who had been in the service of Queen Marie Antoinette and was now attached to the young Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, appeared in their apartment to put the final touches to her evening dress. It was a glittering night, the first of several with the travelling Imperial Court, and Lucia enjoyed every minute of it. “I’m having great fun,” she wrote enthusiastically. The black clouds that had gathered over her during the winter were a distant memory. For the first time since they were married, Lucia had Alvise all to herself, and she was happy.

The cheerful twenty-year-old Empress Maria Theresa was half Neapolitan—her father was King Ferdinand “Big Nose”—and she immediately put Lucia at ease by recollecting in her friendly manner their previous encounter in Naples, during the Carnival in 1786. She was glad to have her company, she said, to distract her from the stiffness of her German entourage. “And she repeatedly expressed a strong desire to come to Venice,”
3
Lucia assured Paolina, mindful not to leave her young sister out of her royal banter.

Emperor Francis II was very different from his wife: haughty, cold, and, at twenty-four, older-looking than his age. He was generally considered to be less intelligent and imaginative than his two predecessors, his father, Leopold II, and his uncle, Joseph II. He was certainly more conservative than either of them, and now that the premature death of his father had lifted him to the imperial throne, he was determined to restore the monarchy in France at whatever cost—an obsession that led him very quickly to put himself and the Habsburg Empire entirely in the hands of his bellicose commander-in-chief, the Duke of Brunswick. In a sense, the French revolutionary government had made things easier for Francis II by declaring war on Austria and Prussia earlier that year. Now the two allied powers were amassing their troops along the Rhine before invading France, and the emperor planned to inspect the troops.

The day after his investiture, Francis II and his vast following left Frankfurt and sailed down the Rhine. Alvise and Lucia latched on to the imperial cortège. They reached Mainz in the evening. The city had been illuminated by thousands of torches. “I danced with the greatest pleasure at a very scintillating ball,” Lucia boasted. The next day she and Alvise were among 400 guests at a lunch given by the emperor and empress. Maria Theresa, who loved to dance, seized the occasion to declare she wanted another ball, to be held that very same night. What a dazzling whirlwind it was!

Frederick William II, king of Prussia, made an impromptu appearance among the crowd of courtiers. He too had come to the region to salute his troops before the offensive against France, and was staying in a castle nearby. Unlike his uncle Frederick the Great, Frederick William II was not much of a military man. But he was handsome, intelligent and a great lover and patron of the arts, with a special passion for music. In addition, he spoke Italian fluently, and Lucia was left swooning when he spoke to her in her own language. She later confided to her sister that she got a little carried away, rambling on in Italian with his majesty. She was even tempted to put in a good word for the new Venetian ambassador to Prussia, but fortunately bit her lip. “You know how sovereigns are,” Lucia told Paolina knowingly. “It’s always a little risky to raise these sorts of issues with them. You never know how they’ll react.”

From Mainz, the court travelled up-river to Koblenz, where 52,000 Prussian troops were encamped. A small corps of French émigrés who had fled from the Revolution had been integrated into the Prussian army, and the French officers with whom Lucia spoke grumbled and complained about being “entirely encircled by Germans.”
4
From Koblenz the imperial train, with Alvise and Lucia bringing up the rear as it were, turned south, towards Mannheim, where the bulk of the Austrian army, 75,000 men, waited for the emperor. The road to Mannheim followed “the enchanting riverbanks of the Rhine,”
5
and the landscape could not have been gentler or more pleasing. The road itself, Lucia reported, was so well kept and manicured “it rather feels like driving down a pretty alley rather than a major thoroughfare.”

In Mannheim, Alvise and Lucia took leave of their imperial highnesses, and headed down the road that follows the Neckar River, stopping briefly along the way to visit Stuttgart and Augsburg. Lucia’s trusty guidebook was never far from her. Riesbeck, an engaging traveller who had died at the age of thirty on one of his German journeys, mixed lyrical descriptions with political information, economic facts, social observations and the occasional
chronique scandaleuse
to spice things up a little. His rambling comments were never dull. About Augsburg, for example, he wrote: “Many houses are old and ugly and are built with so little attention to the rules of modern taste,” that Johannes Winckelmann, the great neoclassical art historian, “renounced living in Germany after seeing them.”
6
From Augsburg the road to Munich went through some of the most primitive parts of Bavaria, “and the country one sees from the road is entirely uncultivated.” Every hamlet along the way was full of smelly taverns and drunkards. The Bavarian peasants—this is again Riesbeck writing—were “stout, muscular fleshy and…poorly dressed.” There were “large puddles before the doors of their hovels and so they were forced to stand on planks.”
7
In Munich a packet of letters from Paolina awaited Lucia. News about their father was not good: Memmo’s circulation problems had worsened and he was confined to his bedroom, in considerable pain, surrounded by bickering doctors and a gaggle of wailing old mistresses. But there was good news as well: Paolina was expecting another child. Lucia suspected that she, too, was pregnant again, but this time she kept it to herself, choosing to wait until she reached Vienna and spoke to Doctor Vespa before breaking the news.

Paolina’s letters were filled with anxious queries about the war, and Lucia filled her in as best she could. The Austro-Prussian forces had by now begun their march towards Paris, with the Duke of Brunswick threatening to destroy the French capital if any harm was done to the king and queen. But his menaces had only inflamed the situation: an angry mob had stormed the Palais des Tuileries and seized the terrified Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

By mid August Lucia was anxious to get to Vienna and meet Doctor Vespa, but Alvise prevailed on her to join him on one last side-trip, to the famous salt mines near Salzburg, before reaching the capital. Riesbeck’s enticing description of a salt chamber helped to convince her: “Picture yourself in a hall about one hundred square feet, the walls and ground of which are composed of crystals of every earthly colour that reflect the light so wonderfully you imagine yourself to be in some enchanted palace.”
8
Leaving the salt mines behind them, Alvise and Lucia travelled through the beautiful lake district until they reached the Danube, with the Styrian hills rising in the background. They followed the river eastward to Linz and made their final run to Vienna, which they reached on 9 September. They had been on the road for nearly three months.

         

D
octor Vespa was a genial, warm-hearted sixty-five-year-old. He took Lucia under his protective wing and quickly reassured her with his blend of self-confidence and familiarity. The Tuscan doctor was at the peak of a long and prestigious career. In his youth he had studied with André Levret, a pioneering obstetrician who invented the forceps. Having returned to the University of Florence, Vespa published his influential
Treatise on Obstetrics
and encouraged the use of the forceps in Italy. Archduke Leopold of Tuscany appointed him court obstetrician in Florence, and when he succeeded his brother on the imperial throne as Leopold II, he brought the doctor with him to Vienna. After Leopold II’s death, Vespa stayed on as court obstetrician, and was now looking after Empress Maria Theresa, who was in the first stages of pregnancy.

Vespa confirmed that Lucia too was expecting a baby. She was in her ninth week and possibly in the most delicate phase of her pregnancy. He told her firmly that if she wanted to have the baby, she had better stay in Vienna under his direct supervision. “He says the climate suits me well, the quiet lifestyle would also help,” Lucia explained to her sister, “and he assures me that if I should stay here, the pregnancy would certainly reach a happy conclusion.”
9
Lucia, however, wanted very much to return to Venice, especially since her father was not well. She would stay in Vienna with Vespa until the first three months were over, and then decide whether to risk travelling south before the winter set in.

Alvise rented a house at 144 Kohlmarkt, a busy street in the centre of Vienna, and Lucia made herself a comfortable nest. She would have liked to go for strolls at the Prater, visit the porcelain museum and the gardens at the Belvedere, or take a hackney cab out to Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial summer residence that was open to the public. “But Doctor Vespa doesn’t want me to move around too much as we are approaching the stage of my last miscarriage.”
10
Only once did she defy the doctor’s ban, sneaking out one late afternoon to see Wolfgang von Kempelen’s latest invention: the wondrous Talking Machine.

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