Guasco, Ottaviano (di)

François Cadilhon


1Born in 1712, at Brischerasio near Pignerol, Ottaviano Guasco, often called Ottaviano di Guasco or Octavien (de) Guasco, was the son of an intendant of Victor-Amadeus II of Savoy. Sent to Florence to complete studies in theology and to enter the orders, ambitious and open to new ideas, the young cleric went to Paris in 1738. There he sought to mix with the persons in view. The police files mentioned by Robert Shackleton underscore “that he exercised more than one trade and was always with foreigners and ambassadors”. Thus he became friends with Antiochus Cantemir (1708-1744), minister plenipotentiary of Russia in France, whose Satires he was to translate (1749), while Cantemir for his part wanted Guasco’s help translating the Lettres persanes into Russian (the manuscript has not been found) and as of the spring of 1739 with Montesquieu. Suspected of espionage, presented by Mme Geoffrin’s friends as a parasite or adventurer after the affair of the Lettres familières in 1767 (see below), he still managed to make himself known throughout Europe over the course of a long series of voyages and proved himself to be a brilliant man of great learning. Thus Empress Maria Theresa granted him in 1751 a post as canon in Tournai, where in 1756 he published his Dissertations historiques, politiques, et littéraires. In the meantime he had become a member of the Etruscan Academy of Cortona (before 1745), an associate member of the academies of Bordeaux (1745), Berlin (1746), Toulouse and Amiens (1750), Pau and Nancy (1751). He was also a member of the Royal Society of London (1750), a foreign associate of the Paris Academy of Inscriptions and Letters (1750), having thrice won its contest, as well as that of the Florentine Academy of the Georgofili. If Grimm, close to Mme Geoffrin, judged that “Montesquieu always had that abbé de Guasco in tow, who for being a man of condition was none the less a common and boring character” (Correspondance littéraire, vol. 7, Paris, 1879, p. 391), the relations between Montesquieu and the abbé were obviously close, and he was must esteemed by Chesterfield and Helvétius. In April 1748, Guasco, who had just written a History of Pope Clement V, was able to take up living at La Brède until the year’s end so as to frequent Bordeaux society with which he was already quite familiar, but also to translate L’Esprit des lois into Italian. On 16 March 1752, the baron wrote again to Guasco: “[…] why should you not come see your friends and the château of La Brède which I have so enhanced since you last saw it?” (“ne voudriez-vous pas voir vos amis et le château de La Brède que j’ai si fort embelli depuis que vous ne l’avez vu ?”). Kept at large of Mme Geoffrin’s circle since 1754, he returned to Italy in 1761, to Verona, where he saw to the publication of Lettres familières du president Montesquieu à divers amis d’Italie ([Florence], 1767), where some harsh remarks regarding Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin were to be found. The scandal was considerable and became a real political affair. In 1768, he published De l’usage des statues chez les Anciens in Brussels. Until the end of his life (1781) Montesquieu’s son, Jean-Baptiste de Secondat, held him in high regard.


Robert Shackleton, “L’abbé de Guasco”, Actes de l’Académie de Bordeaux, 4th series, 1955-1957, p. 49-59; reprinted in R. Shackleton, Essays on Montesquieu and on the Enlightenment, David Gilson et Martin Smith ed., Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1988, p. 217-229.

Pascal Griener, “Ottaviano di Guasco, intermédiaire entre la philosophie française et les antiquités de Rome”, Roma triumphans ? L’attualità dell’antico nella Francia del Settecento, Laetizia Norci Cagiano ed., Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2007, p. 25-51.

La République de l’œil : l’expérience de l’art au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2010, notably p. 165-168.

Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, Un auteur en quête d’éditeurs ? Histoire éditoriale de l’œuvre de Montesquieu (1748-1964), Lyon: ENS Éditions, 2011, chap. vii.

Nadia Plavinskaia, “La sculpture antique au prisme des Lumières : l’abbé de Guasco et son traité De l’usage des statues chez les anciens” (in Russian), in Vek Prosveschenia (‘Le siècle des Lumières’), no. 4 (Ostankino conference, June 2010), Sergey Karp et Catherine Volpilhac-Auger ed., Moscow: Naouka, 2012.

Catherine Volpilhac-Auger, Introduction, OC, t. XIX, 2014.