The Grand Tour in Venice - Page 144

Venice was a city noted for its voracious
gambling, particularly around the time of
the Carnival. The first public gambling
tables in Europe were established there in
the twelfth century and in the thirteenth
and fourteenth century the fever for games
of chance was so widespread in the city
that it was found necessary to pass statutes
forbidding gambling in the courtyards of the
Doge’s Palace and in the Basilica of Saint
Mark. Yet nothing could stop the obsession
with gaming. Although playing cards were
not invented by the Venetians, Venice soon
enjoyed a monopoly on their manufacture.
The so-called ridotti (fig. 98) were gaming
places found in many grand houses, and in
the houses of the courtesans. Sir Thomas
Nugent, eighteenth-century grand tourist
and author of a classic book on the Grand
Tour, warned of their dangers:
Th eir gaming houses are called Ridotti, apartm ents
in noblem en’s houses, wh ere none but noblem en keep
th e bank, and fools lose th eir money. Th ey dismiss
th e gam esters wh en th ey please, and always com e
off winners.
Th ere are usually ten or twelve chambers on a floor
with gaming tables in th em, and vast crowds of
people; a profound silence is obser ved, and none
are admitted with out masks. Here you may m eet
ladies of pleasure, and married wom en, wh o, under
th e protection of th e mask enjoy all th e diversions
of th e carnival, but are usually attended by th e
husband or his spies.
Fig. 98 Detail, Francesco Guardi, The Foyer, 1755, oil on canvas, Venice, Ca’Rezzonico.
Differing in scale from the ridotti were the
casini. According to the eighteenth-century
grand tourist Thomas Watkins: “Casino is
an elegant diminutive that signifies a small
house of amusement. All the noble Venetians
who are wealthy have their palaces but pass
the chief part of their time in these casini,
which are generally in the environs of Saint
Mark’s place. The Saint Samuel casino is
the most brilliant in Venice. The amusement
here are conversations, cards and company”,
but we know from the Memoirs of Casanova
that casini were also put to more amorous


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