Have you ever heard about “Ridotto”?
In Italian, the meaning is similar to the french “foyer” and it’s the hall of the theatre in which the audience waits during the pause from an act to another but, in Venice, it actually had a totally different meaning.
Maybe you didn’t know that during the Republic of Serenissima, in Palazzo Dandolo (Hotel Monaco nowadays) venetian people met in what was, in fact, the first casino of Europe.
The atmosphere of freedom in the ridotto inspired famous venetian painters.
For example, the ridotto and “gambling moments” in general were subjects of Pietro Longhi‘s art.
In “Fainting (The interrupted card game)” of 1744, in the middle of the scene there’s a lady, with her eyes rolled, shocked. With her dramatic reaction she flipped the gaming table and cards are all spread on the ground. We can only imagine what provoked that reaction in the elegant lady, who is immediately assisted by servants and gallants, and yet the scene fully transmits how important gambling was in venetian society… so important to cause fainting!
Francesco Guardi dedicated several paintings to Palazzo Dandolo’s ridotto, the most fashionable one of Venice. Even the famous Giacomo Casanova was an habitué and usually got his correspondence there. Thanks to the variety of details in Guardi’s works we can feel the power of this place in which privacy was guaranteed by baute and morette, the classical venetian masks. The aristocrats who had financial troubles, the so called “barnabotti“, freely showed their faces and did what the modern croupiers now do. We can find many hidden symbols in Guardi’s paintings; women holding spindle and distaff, symbol of prostitution in 7th Century’s dutch art, barnabotti who has been given little keys out of big sets of keys… those details make us understand that what happened between ridotti‘s walls was far more than card games!
Among the masked crowd of who couldn’t wait to push their luck, proving extraordinary skills in gambling and sketchy intrigues that in ridotti happened under everyone’s eyes, we too can have an idea of what enjoying a long night of leisure during the never-ending 18th Century’s Carnival meant.