dimanche 24 juillet 2016

Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen in Capri

Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen (1880-1923) purchased land in the small valley of Unghia Murana on a hill opposite the ruins of Tiberius' palace in 1903. He commissioned his friend Edouard Chimot to design a villa and hired a local contractor to build it. The construction of the villa was finally completed in July 1905 and a young construction worker selling newspapers, Antonio (Nino) Cesarini (1890-1943), whom Fersen "met" in Roma, was invited to put in place the stone with the inscription "L’an 1905 / cette villa fut construite / par Jacques / Cte Adelswärd Fersen / et dédiée / à la jeunesse d'amour."

At seventeen, the boy was in Jacques' eyes in the full glory of his youthful bloom. Such beauty needed preservation, and Jacques commissioned a number of artists to immortalize him. Nino's portrait was painted by Umberto Brunelleschi (1879-1949). The sculptor Francesco Ierace (1854-1937), whose atelier was in Naples, cast Nino's image in bronze after photos (c. 1906). A new painting of Nino (c. 1908) was also executed by Paul Höcker (1854-1910). The photo of Nino on the terrace of Villa Lysis dates from about this time. The boy is wearing a toga, with a diadem around his head and in his left hand is holding a small Nike on a globe, symbols traditionally associated with the power of Roman gods and emperors.

Guglielmo Plüschow (1852-1930) was a regular visitor, and maybe Villa Lysis was placed at his disposal as a studio. On one picture , we can see a nude young boy, resting on a sofa, with a skull resting on a pillow above his head. To the left of the photo, painting of Nino by Paul Höcker is hanging on the wall. Plüschow made many photos of Nino ; some of them have been published now including a frontal nude. Celebrating Nino's twentieth birthday, Adelswärd gave a party associated with Nino's call-up for military service : on this special occasion, he "elevated" the boy to a "soldier of Mithras". Jacques and his guest were playing parts while Singhalese houseboys, dressed as "the slaves", administered twenty lashes to Nino's bare buttocks.

Early in 1911 Nino was discharged from military service and finally returned to Capri. With the outbreak of war in 1914, Jacques was asked to present himself for military service. In the French consulate in Naples, he was found unfit for combat and was sent to a hospital to be cured of addiction, though he secretly compensated for his abstinence from opium with the use of cocaine. Nino was wounded in battle and sent to a hospital in Milan to recover. Jacques returned to Capri, his doctors having declared him incurably ill.

In Villa Lysis, he took up his old habits and spent most of his time treading back and forth between his study and smoking room. His last published volume of poetry appeared in 1921, Hei Hsiang. Le parfum noir (Hei Hsiang: The black perfume), almost entirely devoted to opium. Corrado Annicelli (1905-1984), who was more of a sly fox than a “petit faune” as Jacques called him, visited regularly Villa Lysis. On 15 October Jacques felt that his end was approaching.

"Je veux brûler ma vie sur un brasier de corps
Et, pareil au tétrarque ou pareil à l'esclave,
Mourir en étreignant le Jeune Homme et la Mort !"
(Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen, "Elagabal", in Paradinya, 1911)

He departed hastily for Sorrento to pick up Corrado and intended there to buy some new cocaine at the clandestine market, before departing for Naples. The next day Nino picked them up and took them to Capri. Jacques died after supper that same evening - of an overdose of cocaine dissolved in a glass of champagne.

In order to safeguard the inheritance, Jacques' family spread the rumor that he was poisoned by Nino out of jealousy, but the authorities in Naples lent no support to their accusations. The ashes were placed in the non-Catholic cemetery in Capri. His grave is on a hillside, opposite that of Norman Douglas, whose gravestone bears the inscription, "Omnes eodem cogimur" (We all gather at the same place). In accordance with Jacques’ stipulations, Nino received 302 shares of the steel mills in Longwy, all credits of Jacques’ bank-accounts in Paris, Naples and Capri, and all the money in Jacques’ purse and in the villa at the moment of his death. Nino also received the right to inhabit the villa, but sold this right to Jacques' sister for 200,000 lira. His portrait by Brunelleschi and his statue by Ierace were sold to a Swiss antiquarian and have since disappeared. He returned to Rome, where he owned a newspaper kiosk and a bar, and died in middle-age in a Roman hospital in 1943. Corrado became a talented actor.

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