Luisa Amman (1881–1957) was the fabulously rich Milanese heiress of a cotton manufacturer.
She became Marchesa Casati in 1900 when she married Camillo Casati Stampa, but soon abandoned the quiet life of an aristocratic marriage and, in 1903, became the lover of Gabriele D’Annunzio, whom she had met at a fashionable fox hunt.
Il Vate, as D’Annunzio was known, called her Corè (the queen of hell). She was the only woman capable of astonishing him and he devoted several works to her, from Forse che sì, forse che no to La figure de cire.
During her whirlwind existence between Paris, Saint-Moritz, Rome and Venice, Luisa Casati participated in the most trendsetting artistic experiences, frequenting Robert de Montesquiou’s snobbish circle, the exotic world of the Ballet Russes with Diaghilev and Bakst, and Marinetti’s Futurist avant-garde.
She was not only immortalized in the works of D’Annunzio but also by various other writers of the period: Montesquiou dedicated three sonnets to her, which were so irreverent they remained hidden among her papers; Marinetti spoke of her in his book L’alcova d’acciaio (The Steel Alcove) written in 1918, and Michel Georges-Michel in his novel Dans la fête de Venise of 1923.
But she was not only bizarre and over the top, theatrical and chameleonic, megalomaniac and narcissistic: new studies published for the first time in the exhibition catalogue duly recognize a more consciously “artistic” aspect by tracing her activity as a collector and acknowledging the aesthetic scope of her actions and masquerades, which anticipated performance and body art.
She transformed her face into a striking mask of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, created with deep black shadows, dilated pupils glistening with belladonna, scarlet lips and dyed red hair.
She frittered away her immense fortune on outrageously spectacular parties that were written up in magazines all over the world; houses fitted out like museums; works of art, and costumes. She moved to London in the early 1930s: it was impossible for her to remain in France, where she was hounded by creditors, or to return to Italy, where her behaviour was considered scandalous by the Fascist regime.
She died in London, poor and with only a few friends, in 1957.