CicisbeoDuring this era, female mortality was high at the time of delivery.
Due to this, a number of noblemen as well as the rich merchants often married a second or third time, to very young women, the others being already married...
A simple physiological problem, taking into account the age differences, the young lady had all chances, in a so free city as Venice in regards to morals, to find pleasure elsewhere than in the arms of her old spouse.
That's how the practice of cicisbeo became common and completely tolerated in Venice.
Most often, the cicisbeo was lodged in the flat located above that of the legitimate couple.
The husband, cuckold husband, could make sure that at least his wife had only the single lover, only the single beau, who in addition also supervised her for the husband.
The neighbors were not fooled and everyone was extremely satisfied with this arrangement, including one assumes... the young wife!
Here is how, in 1765, Jérôme de La Lande describes it:
« The usage of cicisbees or Cavalier Servente (literally servant knights), is so common in Venice among the quality persons, an outraged Englishman would say that the majority of the girls get married in Venice not for love of the spouse they choose, but to have the freedom to live without restraint with their Cavalier Servente. »
Jérôme de La Lande
As Monier stated in his book on Venice in 18th century:
« In Venice, all women have a cicisbeo. Even the shopkeeper, and even the hairdresser, if you must believe the Abbot Chiari, “They would prefer be without bread than without Cavalier Servente.
And when they are of quality, they have several of them around them. And it is perhaps the presence of this friend that gives them so much audacity.
Without him, they would be less cheerful, and they would wear out fewer shoes.
Because as we read in Diario Veneto that one of them, barely married for two months, wore out, to the great astonishment of his parents and in most cases her husband, “seven pairs of shoes and two pairs of boots”, it without having been in any ball, or even in the countryside. »
But the nicest speech on Cicisbeo (here Genoese, because obviously Venetian fashion had been exported) is given to us by Ange Goudar:
“Duties of Cicisbeo”
« Cicisbeo must make itself every morning to his Lady, precisely at nine o'clock, to serve her chocolate or coffee in the bed itself.
When entering her chamber, he must take care to open windows, so that when grasping the Lady in her bed, he can see well what he does.
If the Lady asks him for a pin to put in the top of the shirt, to hide her throat, he will search for one everywhere in the flat; and though there are two or three thousand on the dressing table, he will take care not to find only one.
In case that her daughters (maidservants) are not in her room, when she wants to rise, cicisbeo will not leave her; but on the contrary will help her to get dressed.
While he attends her at the dressing table, he will stand behind her as a servant, to be within her reach to give all necessary ingredients, which enters the composition of the Genoese face.
He will present to her turn-by-turn, the white, the rouge, pomade for lips, without confusing any of the utensils of beauty.
The she is finished at the dressing table, it will give him the hand to drive it in its sedan chair, and go with her to the mass, walking in front of or next to the chair as a manservant of foot: in that way it will outstrip the holders and arrive very left breathless in the door of the Church, to introduce him some holy water.
In the evening he will drive her to the show, where he sits down with her.
In winter he will give her his sock, and put it itself under her skirts, etc...
And there are still many other instructions of the job of cicisbeo; but these are secret, and the Genoese husbands have to pretend to ignore them. »
Ange Goudar – translated by Visit-Venice-Italy from L'espion Chinois 1765
But you should not imagine that the life of cicisbeo was only happiness and pleasure, and if they believe the analysis of Molmenti Cicisbeo, he became in fact a kind of sexual slave of the Venetian ladies...
« Where sincere love was missing, the husband was replaced with the cicisbeo.
The attentiveness of the women had, as we said it, its softness and its charm; but the cicisbeismo was a job, an ignoble passion formed of negative and not very masculine qualities.
When fashion, at the beginning of the 18th century, prescribed that domestic affections were not to have spread out in public, they invented Cavalier Servente, often they even demanded them in marriage contracts.
Cicisbeo, martyrs of gallantry, slaves to the fair sex, high-strung people, swooned with love, guessed to satisfy them, the slightest wishes of their ladies, accompanied them in conservatories or in theatres to applaud some vocalist, some famous actress, and even in church to hear mass there or some famous preacher. »
Molmenti – translated from Vie Privée à Venise 1882
Back to Top of Page