Venice (2004): Season 1, Episode 3 - Sex - full transcript

A great city had risen out
of the Venetian lagoon.

At first,
barely above the marshy ground.

Venice transformed over six centuries

into a city of palaces
of marble and stone.

Its great waterway, the Gran Canale,

would be one of the most brilliant
displays of art and architecture

the world had ever seen.

Under the bold leadership
of successive Doges,

Venice built up an empire
of trading posts

that spanned east and west.

But in 1575,
plague decimated the city.

Almost one third
of the population died.

And Venice was shunned
by the rest of Europe.

This is the story of Venice's
great age of Carnival,

when Venice would become the
pleasure capital of the world.

A place of unrestrained decadence
and sexual indulgence.

The age would be dominated by
two men of opposite extremes -

the adventurer and the mercenary.

The sensualist and the soldier.

The lover and emperor.

One came to define the age -
Giovanni Giacomo Casanova.

And the other came to destroy it -

Napoleon Bonaparte.

But for the moment, Venice's
greatest enemy was the plague.

Another epidemic gripped the city
in 1630, and when it subsided,

11 months later, almost
a third of Venice was dead.

But out of the mists of a dream,
an architectural vision appeared to
the Doge.

The survivors would build a great
new church -

Santa Maria della Salute -

dedicated to the Virgin Mary,

to thank God
for the city's deliverance.

The extravagance of the new church
would define the age.

La Salute is all drama.

Visual effects.

Baroque architecture was really
elaborate, very decorative.

Like a big wedding cake.

Venetian baroque would be
an assault on the senses.

About making a big impression

with most of the attention
on the exterior of the building.

The style was still classical,
but much less restrained,

embracing ornament and sculpture.

Is heightened by a great circle
of windows

flooding light into the building.

The Baroque could be for Venice
the rebirth.

The round form of the temple
represents the crown
of the Virgin Mary.

But the Baroque would slide
into indulgence,

theatre would become pantomime,
decoration would become disguise.

Buildings became overladen
with ornament and exaltation.

It would signal an age of excess.

Venetian women treated their skin
with strips of veal
to keep it supple.

They streaked their hair
with urine.

Venice was changing art
into fashion.

The angle of a fan
indicated willingness.

A beauty spot at the corner of the
eye signalled a passionate nature,

and on the throat
it was considered shameless.

Venice was becoming brazen. She
had been beautiful for centuries,

but now she knew it, and she would
attract the world to her door.

There was a flood of tourists -

aristocrats from England and France,

who came to educate themselves on
what they called their Grand Tour.

And Venice was their first stop.

Young rich Europeans came to study
Venetian art and architecture

and to learn from our long history.

But whatever the power of art,
many visitors got distracted.

They said Venetian women were
the most beautiful in Europe,

their fashion sense
the most alluring.

This was the age of the courtesan,
an era of upmarket sex for sale.

A Venetian paradise
for the young men of Europe
who poured into the city.

This painting is called Il Corso
Delle Cortigiane In Rio Della Sensa.

And it depicts the evening ritual

of courtesans cruising
along the canal for business.

The women were beautiful and
often they were clever and witty,

well-versed in music and poetry.

In all there were close
to 12,000 women for sale,

and most of these women are
forgotten, but not all of them.

One woman above all others

set the style
of Venetian art and sensuality,

elevating love to new heights
of creativity.

Her name was Veronica Franco.

But Veronica's life
did not start well.

She grew up here, in Canaregio.

Canaregio was a poor part of town,

and becoming a courtesan
was Veronica's way out.

Franco was acclaimed as one of the
most beautiful women in the world,

famous for her seductive powers.

But she grew rich from her volumes
of passionate poetry,

which became bestsellers
across Europe.

She became so famous that when
the King of France visited Venice,

he requested an evening with her.

Franco wrote a poem
to commemorate the occasion.

And even if you were not
the King of France,

you could find the art of Venetian
love around every corner.

This is a sort of guide to Venice
in the 18th century.

It's got a lot of useful
information, a lot of addresses.

In San Luca
in the street of the Colla family,

in Santangeli in front of the house
of the Malipiero family,

in San Leo, in Santa Maria Formosa
on the Rugagiuffa.

In Santa Maria Formosa
on the Calle Longa.

In San Antonio at the arch. In San
Giovanni Bragola, in Santa Trinita.

In San Cassiano... and obviously
in Carampane, the castle.

All addresses of the most desirable
Venetian courtesans.

Hello? Oh, excuse me?

We are searching for courtesans
around here. Do you know anything?

I do not, but I know a man who knows.
Where? Just around the corner.


The place of the courtesan was at
the very heart of Venetian society.

Just off St. Mark's Square, sits the most fashionable cafe of the age,

the Venezia Trionfante,
but we know it as Florian's.

The favourite haunt
of courtesans and artists alike.

Half coffee house,
half literary salon,

Florian's strange oriental

captures the mood
of mystery and excitement

that drew foreign tourists
to Venice.

Upstairs, it was whispered,
was the best bordello in town.

Downstairs, art and licence
mixed into a potent brew.

The fashion was for erotic verse,

like Giorgio Baffo's Inni Alla Mona,

Lodi Al Culo

and Gusto De Sborar.

English visitors were reputed
to be the most licentious,

but, as libertine Venice filed past,

even they had to remind themselves
why they were in Venice art.

Even the guilty realised they would
need an alibi to take home.

And new Venetian artists

would create the most elegant
souvenirs for the guilty men.

Venice was full of tourists
and their money
was opening up a whole new market.

The arts, from painting to sculpture
to music, were for sale.

And everybody wanted a piece.

The most famous musicians
were all women

all living in the city's
four church-run orphanages.

Mostly they were unwanted daughters
of courtesans.

For the sake of modesty,

they played behind iron grills set
into the galleries of music rooms.

One man was to bring Venetian music
to the world.

He was a clergyman,
nicknamed Il Prete Rosso,

for his flaming red hair,

but he would put his music not at
the service of God, but of money.

His name was Antonio Vivaldi.

Vivaldi was the son of a barber
who had played the violin

in the orchestra
of the Basilica of St Mark's.

He became head of music
at the orphanage of La Pieta.

Whereas composers had been
in the service of the church,

or a single rich patron, now Vivaldi
responded to a new market for music.

Vivaldi revolutionized music,
not with his compositions,

but by the way he sold them.

He had made music a commodity
for sale.

Vivaldi wrote more than 500
concertos and 46 operas in his life.

He claimed he could finish
a symphony in just a few days.

His technique was simple he sold
dedications to compositions

which were often just a blend of
ingredients from previous pieces.

Those who paid for a dedication

never guessed they were part
of a quick-fire production line.

Was this art for sale?

Perhaps, but it is still the most
sublime accompaniment to my city

of any musician.

Painters too would market their art
directly to tourists.

And the foremost Venetian artist
of the day was Antonio Canal.

But he became better known as...

Canaletto never won the reputation

of the early Venetian artists
like Titian or Bellini.

People thought of him as we might
think of a tourist photographer.

He didn't imagine things -
he just reproduced them.

Canaletto led a new movement in art.

He was a vedutista
a painter of views.

For the first time, the city
was the subject of the painting,

rather than just the background.

Canaletto's realism was created
with help of the newest technology.

A box that held a lense projecting
an image onto a screen...

a camera obscura.

And this is the very one
that Canaletto used.

18th-century tourists seized
on his art

as the most upmarket postcards
of the age.

But even Canaletto,
the master of realism,

allowed himself artistic liberties.

Early subtle light effects would
disappear from his later paintings,

as his tourist clients demanded
sun-drenched views of Venice.

Some even wanted views they could
never hope to see in real life.

To paint this picture
of the Gran Canale,

Canaletto must have had wings.

Or maybe he developed
his own balancing act.

Canaletto's popular appeal
made him an easy target.

But many criticisms
were nothing more than snobbery.

Canaletto was creating a new icon
for a secular age

the city itself.

His pictures would become the
world's favourite view of Venice...

...a city in love with itself.

Only one man would eclipse
Canaletto as Venice's favourite son,

and his only gift to the world
was a 12-volume book about himself.

A Venetian life devoted to pleasure.

It was entitled simply
A History Of My Life.

This man was not an artist.

He was not a poet,
not even a great thinker.

He was a celebrity.

For the tourists of 18th-century
Venice, he WAS Venice.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova.

The chief business of my life has
always been to indulge my senses.

I never knew anything
of greater importance.

I felt myself born for the fair sex.
I have ever loved it dearly,

and I have been loved by it
as often and as much as I could.

I have always found the odour of
my beloved ones exceeding pleasant.

"What depraved tastes!"
some people will exclaim.

"Are you not ashamed to confess
such inclinations without blushing?"

Dear critics,
you make me laugh heartily.

Thanks to my coarse tastes, I believe
myself happier than other men.

I am convinced
that they enhance my enjoyment.

One night in 1753,
Casanova started a love affair

with a mysterious woman
he refers to only as "MM".

Even today, we can only hazard a
guess that she was Maria Morisini.

Complete secrecy was vital.

Even by the standards of Casanova,
it would be risky.

He was breaking one of the taboos
of the Catholic Church.

Going beyond even the bounds
of permissive Venice.

The problem... and the thrill...

was that MM was... a nun!

Her great virtues were her beauty
and intelligence.

In addition to these,
my happiness was intensified
by the whiff of scandal.

She was a vestal virgin -
I would taste the forbidden fruit.

Casanova first met MM in
a convent on the Island of Murano.

But what was he doing
in the convent in the first place?

He had started going there
just a few months before,

to visit a novice
he had fallen in love with.

In his diaries,
Casanova calls her "CC".

We know she was Catarina Capretto.

Her father had put her there
to get her away from Casanova.

But Casanova wouldn't take no
for an answer.

Now Casanova was having affairs
with not one but two nuns.

Things started to get
a bit complicated.

So often things got complicated

in the aura of sexual licence
that pervaded the city.

One layer of intrigue and outrage
upon another.

The meetings took place in a room
rented by the French ambassador,

a clergyman, the Abbe de Bernis.

De Bernis had a secret of his own -

a secret spyhole.

All three of us - intoxicated by
voluptuousness and its frustrators

and transported by communal fits
of rapture -

wreaked havoc on everything visible
and palpable given to us by Nature,

openly devouring everything we saw,

and finding that we had
all three become of the same sex

in all the trios we performed.

Philosophers were saying pleasure
was the goal of life,

that religion was rubbish.

This man lived it!

He was the spirit of the age.

If pleasure was the new religion,

then the whole of Venice
was at prayer.

Everything reached a climax
with the city's annual carnival.

The carnival had begun centuries
before as a feast before Lent.

But by the mid-18th century, its
religious origins were forgotten.

The Venetian carnival
lasted for six months.

It was the first and biggest
of all masked balls.

For half the year,

all the normal rules of the world
were turned upside-down.

There was bull fighting
in Campo Santo Stefano,

bear-baiting next to the church
of Santa Maria Formosa.

In Campo San Luca they burnt
effigies of witches on bonfires.

In the piazzetta in front
of the Doges palace,

workers from the arsenal
walked the tightrope.

And of course,
Carnival goes on today.

Even now, it lasts
the whole month of February.

Events climax with a great
competition in St Mark's Square

for the best costume.

The mood of 18th-century
and partying goes on

even if it has lost
some of its magic.

Are we in Venice, or Las Vegas?

The spirit of Carnival
was born in theatre.

Venice's Commedia del Arte,

part-pantomime, part-slapstick.

There were no limits.

Outrageous and crude,
frivolous behind the mask.

Theatrical fantasy
would become Venetian reality.

And imagine, even in the audience,
they were wearing masks.

The whole of Venice was living
by the rules of the Commedia.




fondling, whistling,

booing, making love.

The mask was both liberating
and constricting.

Anonymity was guaranteed.

Often masks were held in place

only by the wearers clasping a bit
between their teeth.

But if masks made speech impossible,

they opened up a wealth of other
tantalising possibilities.

With a mask on you could do
everything you like.

You could forget everything,
all your troubles.

The mask brought the sexual licence
of secret liaisons out into the open

but kept them anonymous.

Even the rich and famous
could go unnoticed in public
and behave as they liked.

Barriers of class and wealth
vanished behind the mask,

and even gender could become a thing
of mystery and uncertainty.

Pinocchietta? Pinocchietto?

Venice was full
of intriguing possibilities.

But there was a darker side.

People imagined the place
was full of spies,

hidden behind the masks.

And while visitors could indulge
themselves without restraint,

the authorities were less tolerant
with us Venetians.

One man above all had pushed things
too far -


Someone had been watching him
all along.

A government spy.

Casanova was in trouble.

On July 26th 1755, he was arrested.

Now Casanova was taken
to the Doge's prison.

Escorted across the infamous
Bridge of Sighs.

So-called because prisoners
would sigh

as they caught a last glimpse
of Venice through the bars.

My investigation as to what
I had done to deserve such a fate

was not a long one,

for in the most scrupulous
examination of my conduct,

I could find no crimes.

I was, it is true, a profligate,
a gambler, a bold talker,

a man who thought of little besides
enjoying this present life,

but in all that, there was
no offence against the state.

In fact, Venetian justice
had gone soft -

too much drink, too many parties.

Casanova could have his furniture
brought to his room.

He could even have people over
for dinner, if he wanted,

but it wasn't enough.

The Venetian state acted like
an indulgent parent
towards its favourite child.

But this child wasn't happy
staying in his room.

As always,
Casanova had his own ideas.

And on 31st October 1756,
he made his escape bid.

He broke out of his cell
onto the roof and then, deviously,

broke back
into another part of the prison.

Thanks to lax security at one of the
entrances, he slipped out unnoticed.

But it would cost him
years of exile from Venice.

It seemed a high price,

but at least he would not be in
Venice to see the party turn ugly.

Venice had always been
a gambling capital of Europe,

the Ridotto,
the official gaming house,

had opened as far back as 1638.

But by the mid-18th century,

gambling had reached fever pitch.

Venetians and visitors alike filled
the gambling dens of the city,

but Venice wasn't making money,

and now even the families
of Venetian nobles

were blowing their inheritance.

Many of the compulsive gamblers
were women, who,

on losing, would ply their favours
just yards from the gaming table.

Financially rewarded,
they would return to play.

Sometimes us Venetians were lucky.

But more often,

riches built over centuries
vanished in a night of gambling.

And visitors to the city went home

taking the wealth of Venice
with them.

The government tried to close
all the casinos,

but nothing changed.

In fact, they made things worse.

Hundreds of new private casinos grew
up in secret rooms across the city.

And now so many Venetians
lost their family fortunes,

there was even a name for them -
they were called the Barnabotti,

because they went to live in San
Barnaba, the poorest part of town.

Even aristocratic brothers could
only afford one wife between them,

and she was expected
to satisfy them all.

Meanwhile, the hospitals of Venice
were filling up with sick people.

A strange disease had taken hold
of the city -

a sickness we call
the French disease,

the French call Italian,

the Russians call Polish.

By the 18th century,
the disease was so widespread

we had even created a special
hospital to deal with the problem.

It was called The Incurabili
the hospital of the incurable.

The disease was syphilis.

The first sign was the appearance
of boils, called chancres -

relatively painless,
but ugly and uncomfortable.

If you were lucky,
it stopped at that.

If not, the boils turned into
ulcers that ate away at your flesh.

The disease destroyed
the nervous system,
attacked the heart and lungs.

If things got that far,
death was certain.

But not before the disease had eaten
away at your brain, sending you mad.

Venetian medicine in the
18th century was a brutal affair.

Things hadn't really moved on
since the Middle Ages.

Promiscuous Venetians
would find themselves in agony

sometimes more from the treatment
than the disease.

Doctors tried to cure the problem
with mercury.

Sometimes the patients were made
to inhale the fumes,

sometimes they mixed it with brandy.

Even babies who were born
with the disease

were given mercury in their milk.

But this cure
just made things worse.

Around 20% of the population
had syphilis.

The most famous Venetian
didn't escape.

But Casanova
was one of the lucky ones.

By the time he returned to Venice

pardoned by the authorities -
he was no stranger to syphilis.

But the disease stopped short
of killing him.

I looked frightful. My skin was
yellow and all covered with pustules.

One may be consoled
if one considers such scars
were acquired during pleasure,

just as soldiers enjoy regarding
their wounds as evidence of their
virtue and sources of their glory.

By the venereal poison which was
circulating in my veins -

put me in a state which made
the doctor despair of my life.

But Venetian art
would refuse to mirror reality.

After the plague,
we had built fine new churches.

Now - in the disfiguring grip
of syphilis -

the city would produce images
of ideal physical beauty.

Who was born near Venice in 1757

and worked in the city.

Like Vivaldi and Canaletto before
him, Canova was a prolific artist.

His work was heralded

as the most sublime sculpture of
the human body since Michelangelo.

Canova elevated human flesh
to godlike heights.

These figures can never
be contaminated by disease.

Drove Canova to render
the human body incorruptible.

Even their sightless eyes
seem to say

this is art that would not look
Venetian reality in the face.

But Canova would sculpt
more and more funeral monuments.

As if even he could not escape
what was going on around him.

It was around this time that one
whole side of my family died out.

Here it is on my family tree.

They just disappeared.

Maybe some of them had syphilis.

Others joined the Venetian Navy.

It was better to die
a glorious death abroad

than to stay at home and face
what was happening in Venice.

Had been 200 years before.

Back then Venice could muster
a fleet of over 300 fighting ships.

Now the Venetian Navy had shrunk
to fewer than 20,

most of which were old
and out of date.

Venice had grown complacent.

Catastrophe was looming.

After centuries of protection
by the shallows of the lagoon,

we hadn't realised
our impregnability
had become an illusion.

Now modern enemy guns could fire
on the city from across the water.

It would prove to be the most
terrible error of judgement

in Venice's 1,000-year history.

There were new dangers in Europe.

In France,
a new era was about to begin.

Revolution would rip apart
the old order.

privilege and excess would be...


And the man who would lead
the revolution,

the man who would change
the face of Europe,

would also become
Venice's greatest enemy.

Napoleon Bonaparte.

Venice had a new Doge
to deal with the threat.

But none of the Venetians
knew his name.

They didn't even know
the old Doge died.

The carnival was on,

and the government didn't want
to interrupt the party.

The Venetian way of life was
everything Napoleon despised.

The nobles of Venice revelled
in pleasure, privilege and excess,

that the revolution had swept away.

By 1796, Napoleon's army
of 40,000 men

was ready to carry the ideals
of the revolution

far beyond the borders of France.

Napoleon would be
a new sort of leader.

Driven by ideology
as well as ambition,

he would become the first despot
of the modern age.

He survived on five hours' sleep
a night.

He was a man who thought sex
was a weakness.

And a general who had memorised
the constitution,

customs and geography
of every country in Europe.

Now his sights were set on Italy.

It was Napoleon's
first big opportunity

and he was hungry for success.

Italy was stuffed full of art,
precious relics, jewels and gold.

Enough to keep the machine of the
French revolution rolling for years.

One place had more treasures
than any other Venice.

All Napoleon needed
was an excuse to attack.

Venice looked like an easy target.

But even years of self-indulgence
had not diminished its pride.

Some Venetians still believed
we could be a great power.

Now their biggest challenge
was approaching.

Any army until the 20th century.

Every time.

On 24th April, he advanced on Turin,

forcing Piedmont to surrender.

On 15th May, he entered Milan,

and on 15th August,

he crushed a massive Austrian army
occupying Castiglione.

In the Doge's palace,
the great council was in panic.

Surrounded by the grandeur
of 1,000 years of the republic.

Looked down on
by the 117 previous Doges,

the weight of responsibility
now fell on Doge Lodovico Manin.

He had to make a decision.

Should make friends with Napoleon.

Some said she should get ready
for war.

They said, bring the fleet back
to the lagoon

and get money for an army
by taxing people.

But the remaining fleet
was not able to fight a war,

so the Doge sent messengers
to find Napoleon.

It was probably a hopeless strategy.

But if it was to have
any hope of success,

Venice needed to tread
very carefully.

Instead, we just went
on irritating him.

When Napoleon marches
across the Venetian land,

we ask him for compensation.

Then the Venetian farmers started
attacking French troops.

Napoleon said it was our fault
and he sent the Doge a letter.

"Do you think I am powerless

"to ensure respect for the
foremost people of the universe?

The massacres you have stirred up?

"The blood of my brothers-in-arms
shall be avenged!"

Venice would seal its fate
in the lagoon.

Despite Napoleon's warning that
he was not to be trifled with -

that is exactly what Venice
was about to do.

The action would focus
on the Fort of Sant'Andrea

at the entrance
of the Venetian lagoon.

Sant'Andrea -
built like a great Roman fort -

is a reminder of Venice's glory days

as a great military power
in the 16th century.

This is Venetian military
triumphalism at its very best.

Its solid structure proclaims
to any enemy force

that Venice would last for ever.

Of course it wasn't true.

Like all of Venice,
it was built on sand and mud.

But whereas the illusion
had worked in the past,

now our illusions of grandeur
would be our undoing.

On 20th April 1797, three French
ships approached the Fort.

Three ships hardly constituted
an invasion force.

They were probably seeking shelter
from a neutral power.

Decision and fired on the French.

Two ships turned back,
but one sailed on.

The commander decided to attack.

Fired on again,
the French ship raised a white flag.

But it made no difference.

The French captain
and four of his crew were killed.

Venice was really in danger.

The city was dicing with death.

If Napoleon decided to attack.

Napoleon's words
when he heard what happened?

"I will be an Attila
for the Venetian state."

Napoleon's reference
to Attila the Hun

sent a chill through Venetian blood.

Ever since Attila's attack
more than 1,000 years before,

in its lagoon.

No longer.

Now Napoleon placed heavy artillery

along the shores
of the Venetian lagoon.

Inside the Doge's palace,
there was complete confusion.

Outside casinos, theatres and
bordellos stayed open as usual -

but behind the mask,
there was widespread fear.

No one knew what to expect.

We had no choice. As the Great
Council voted to surrender to
Napoleon, they heard gunfire.

And on 17th May, 7,000
French troops entered Venice.

The Doge only had one thing
left to do.

He passed his corno ducale
and his coffieta to his assistant,

And that was the end of
the oldest republic in the world.

Taking everything of value
out of the city.

To Paris,

where it was placed in front
of the Hotel des Invalides.

Even more shocking, Napoleon
claimed the four great horses

adorning the front of St Mark's
as plunder.

They had been there since
the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

The city's ultimate badge
of identity

a reminder of both great art
and military might.

But on 13th December 1797,

they were taken down from the front
of the basilica.

The most terrible sight possible
for us Venetians.

The Four Horses were transported
to Paris

where they were hoisted
onto the Arc du Carrousel.

In the churches be seized

and all the gold in the Treasury
of St Mark's melted down.

The French stole
Venice's greatest works of art.

From Santi Giovanni e Paolo -
paintings by Veronese and Titian,

from St Mark's,
works by Bellini and Tintoretto.

Some have never been returned.

Veronese's Marriage Feast At Cana
is still in the Louvre.

The Meal At The House Of Simon
The Pharisee in Versailles.

The Musee des Beaux Arts in Caen.

In the Madonna dell'Orto, French
soldiers destroyed the golden altar,

and distributed the paintings
among themselves.

This painting
didn't make the trip to Paris.

They said it was too delicate
to transport.

It was one of the few paintings
we saved -

a vision of Hell.

Now Venice was in its own Hell.

Liberation, as Napoleon called it,

meant life under a new committee
of public instruction,

which would impose the idealism
of the revolution.

Venetian theatre was shut down,
casinos were curbed,

and masks outlawed.

There was a huge a bonfire here
in St Mark's Square

to burn all the symbols
of the Venetian republic.

The old Doge was made to perform
one last act.

Even today we feel bitter -

especially with so much art
still in Paris.

And Napoleon had one last surprise
for the city.

After he had stripped it bare,
he would give it away

as part of a peace treaty
with Austria.

In the end, Napoleon had
just used us as a bargaining chip.

It was the ultimate humiliation.

Now, no-one would care
who Venice belonged to.

The Venetians
would live in abject poverty.

This once great island state and
its people forgotten by the world.

It looked as if Venice would become
just another ruined city

from a bygone world.

But salvation would come
from an unexpected source

not from a new leader, not from an
army, but from an idea.