Who was the real Tadzio? | Magazine Xtra (2023)

The search for the real person behind the pretty boy from Thomas Mann's novel Death in Venice

After Jeremy Willard&bulletMar 21, 2017 2:32 pm EDT

A 1912 novel by Thomas MannDeath in Venicecontains one of the most famous scenes in gay literature. The protagonist is the famous writer Gustav von Aschenbach, who suffers from writer's block and goes to stay at the Grand Hôtel des Bains in Venice.

One evening at dinner, fifty-year-old Aschenbach is alone in the dining room, waiting for dinner to begin, when he notices a Polish family at a nearby table. And, more importantly, the young son of an aristocratic family, Tadzio.

Aschenbach noticed with amazement the boy's perfect beauty. His face recalled the noblest moment of Greek sculpture—pale, of sweet restraint, with gathered honey-colored curls, forehead and nose descending in a single line, a conquering mouth, an expression of pure and divine serenity.

And his inner rhapsodizing continues from there. Aschenbach is immediately smitten by a beautiful 14-year-old girl wearing an English navy suit. During his stay at the hotel, he never touches the boy or speaks to him, but begins to observe and follow him around, obsessed (typically the neurotic Mann protagonist, who was alsocharacter traitassociated with a German author).

Aschenbach becomes so obsessed that he puts himself in danger, refusing to leave Venice even when a plague - a cholera epidemic - descends on the city.

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Mann's novella has since been turned intoopera, aballeti 1971the film of the same name, directed by Luchino Visconti with the wonderful Björn Andrésen as Tadzio.

The book became a staple of gay literature for a number of reasons — because of its homoeroticity, because it was an early work that dealt with same-sex attraction, and, at least for those aware of it, because of Mann's own homosexuality.

Nobel laureate Mann had a wife, but as his diaries eventually revealed, he had a hard time dealing with his attraction to other men (that is, mostly boys). His homosexuality (or perhaps bisexuality) is also evidenced by the subject matter of some of his works of fiction -Death in Veniceas the most famous example.

Mann's homosexuality is also evidenced by the fact that the novella is mainly based on facts. Mann himself traveled to the Grand Hôtel des Bains in Venice in the summer of 1911 and became fascinated by the magnificently beautiful boy he first noticed in the hotel's dining room on the first evening. There was also a fear of cholera, although there are some significant differences between the book and reality, including the fact that Mann was actually 36 and the boy was 10, and Mann's wife, who was also on the trip,claimed he didn't followboy nearby, but that "the boy fascinated him".

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So who was the real Tadzio? Who was this real boy that Mann saw and made such an important figure in gay literature and gay culture, almost a symbol of unrequited and intergenerational love?

Gilbert Adair traces the life of the real Tadzi in the aptly titled 2001 mini-biography.The real Tadzio.

For starters, the boy Mann saw was not named Tadzio, but Adzio (short for Wadysaw) Moes. He was born in 1900 in southern Poland in the family of Baron Alexander Juliusz Moes and Countess Janina Miczyska. His rich, aristocratic family owned several factories in Poland and lived in a large castle in the town of Wierbka.

Adzio Moes' family was in Venice that summer because the doctor (in typical old-time Thyme Doctor style) prescribed sea breezes and the game for Moes' chronic lung problems.

Who was the real Tadzio? | Magazine Xtra (1)

Adair writes that Moes, who was apparently heterosexual, was often the center of attention, and he really enjoyed it, even as a boy. Mann may have seen the boy for the first time as he walked majestically into the dining room to show off a pair of new shoes he was especially proud of. Later in life, Moes said he remembers the "old man" staring at him wherever he went that summer in Venice.


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Growing up in the time and place where he lived, Moes lived a violent and eventful life. He was a second lieutenant in the Polish-Soviet War (a conflict that lasted from 1919 to 1921), which earned him a medal for bravery under fire. In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Moes was mobilized as a reserve officer and was captured and sent to a German POW camp for six years.

When the British liberated the camp in 1945 after the end of World War II, he returned to Poland only to find that the newly installed communist government had confiscated all his family's businesses and wealth (a fate shared by much of the rest of Poland, which was also wealthy), and banned his the hereditary title of baron.

Impoverished but well-educated, Moes held a number of jobs in the years after the war, including working as a translator at the Iranian embassy in Warsaw. Moes and his wife lived in a small apartment until they worked and saved enough to buy a small bungalow in 1954.

Life would gradually improve in Poland (although it would never be like the good old days again), but because of his aristocratic background, he was under almost constant surveillance by the Communists for most of his life. They also repeatedly tried to persuade Moes to be a spy for them in the embassy where he worked (as he was anti-communist, he refused).

Mann's book, originally written in German, was published in many languages, including Polish, but Moes did not become aware of his contribution to the book until 1924. A cousin of Moes read it and noticed some parallels and brought it to Moes' attention. Moes didn't seem to care too much about that, probably too busy being rich and handsome and running the factories he took over from his ailing father.

When Visconti's film adaptation was released in 1971, Moes showed more interest. Then, in his 70s, he watched it while traveling to Paris (the communists relaxed travel restrictions a bit at the time). He didn't seem to mind being featured in the book and later film, and the film's release prompted a flurry of nostalgic letters between Moes and old friends and relatives.

There is a scene in the movie where the hotel receptionist says the name "Moes". Suddenly the world knew who the real Tadzio must have been, and German journalists visited Adzi Moes in Poland (and of course the Communist Party sent a police car to hang out outside his little house during the visit).

Moes died in 1986 in Warsaw. A few years before he died, he planned to finally visit Venice again - to bring his life full circle, in a way. Unfortunately, he was unable to go on the trip. By an incredible coincidence, Venice was once again gripped by the fear of cholera.

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Who was Tadzio based on? ›

This short book gives something of the life of Wladyslaw Moes, the model for Thomas Mann's Tadzio in his classic novella: Death in Venice .

Who is Tadzio character in Death in Venice? ›

Tadzio. An intensely beautiful Polish boy of about fourteen. He stays with his mother, sisters, and governess at the same hotel in Venice as Gustav von Aschenbach. Tadzio is pure and innocent but also aware of Aschenbach's interest in him.

What is Tadzio's real name? ›

For starters, the boy Mann saw was not named Tadzio, but Adzio (short for Wadysaw) Moes. He was born in 1900 in southern Poland to Baron Aleksander Juliusz Moes and Countess Janina Miczyska.

Was Gustav in love with Tadzio? ›

While on holiday in Venice he falls in love with Tadzio, a beautiful 14-year-old boy, and his obsession with the boy leads to his own deterioration and eventual death.

What nationality is Tadzio? ›

Aschenbach actually knows little about Tadzio, a fourteen year-old Polish boy vacationing with his family in Venice, but idealizes and fantasizes about him endlessly.

Did Tadzio like Aschenbach? ›

The only sign of his mind's inner workings is his "slightly contorted" smile, which belies his "hopeless" infatuation with himself. If nothing else, this should make clear that Tadzio is not in love with Aschenbach, and that instead he sees himself as an object of adoration, rather than as a agent of loving.

Why is Aschenbach obsessed with Tadzio? ›

Aschenbach is attracted to the boy, whom he sees as an ideal of perfect beauty. Aschenbach discovers that the boy's name is Tadzio.

Who is the most beautiful boy in Venice? ›

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is a 2021 Swedish documentary film about Björn Andrésen and the effects of fame thrust upon him when he appeared in Luchino Visconti's 1971 film Death in Venice. Andrésen was just 16 when the film came out, and was unprepared for instantly becoming an international celebrity.

What was the disease in Death in Venice? ›

Résumé Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig) was published in 1912, and written during a time when cholera as a fatal disease had made its presence felt in Italy in 1911 and caused a series of fatalities.

Who is the main character in Death in Venice? ›

The protagonist of Death in Venice is the reputable, fifty-three-year-old writer Gustav Aschenbach, a member of the upper-middle class. Aschenbach writes under a very strict schedule, working every morning for a set amount of time, but he has recently been troubled by a lack of creativity.

How does Death in Venice end? ›

The film ends with dying on a beach. Furthermore, Von Aschenbach undergoes emotional distress as he feels unrequited, and inappropriate, desire for an adolescent boy, the Polish Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen). The film's flashbacks also convey Von Aschenbach's previous suffering.

What is the significance of Venice in Death in Venice? ›

Third, Venice is a place of artifice: Left to nature, the city would be a mere lagoon; also, Venice is famous for its carnivals, at which revelers typically wear masks and other disguises. Thus, Venice represents the "dishonest" properties of art, art's ability to obscure truth and lead people astray.

Who is Gustav in Love Never Dies? ›

Love Never Dies (2012) - Jack Lyall as Gustave - IMDb.

How old is Bjorn Andresen in Death in Venice? ›

What inspired Aschenbach? ›

He had lived on an island near Venice during a cholera outbreak in 1905, which initiated the setting for the story. Then, during a trip to Venice in 1911, he read an obituary for composer Gustav Mahler, leading to the creation of his fictional writer, Gustav von Aschenbach.

What does the name Tadzio mean? ›

Tadzio is a Polish variant of the Aramaic name Thaddeus, meaning “heart.” This simple but beautiful meaning is sure to remind baby that your heart belongs to them! Judas Thaddeus was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus in Christianity, giving the name a biblical connection.

Did Thomas Mann know Mahler? ›

Death in Venice grew out of a trip Thomas Mann took to Italy in 1911, during which time he learned of his acquaintance Gustav Mahler's death in Vienna; he cut out a newspaper photograph of the composer and relied on it for describing Gustav Aschenbach.

What is the best translation of Death in Venice? ›

Lowe-Porter in 1930. There have been a couple of other attempts, made relatively recently, but Lowe-Porter's translation is the one with which most of us grew up—the definitive Death in Venice for those who can read English but not German.

Does Aschenbach imagine Tadzio's returned interest? ›

Aschenbach's interest in Tadzio has reached the point where he is not simply fascinated by the boy's beauty, but really desires him. He hopes that Tadzio returns his affections to some degree.

Is Death in Venice based on Mahler? ›

VISCONTI's Death in Venice is a European version of a biopic about the dying days of a fictional composer around the turn of the nineteenth century, based on the eponymous story by Thomas Mann, except that the composer isn't fictional, but an imaginary evocation of Gustav Mahler, whose music is borrowed for the ...

How old is Aschenbach in Death in Venice? ›

The main character is Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author in his early 50s who recently has been ennobled in honor of his artistic achievement (thus acquiring the aristocratic "von" in his name).

Why does Aschenbach not leave Venice after all? ›

9. Why does Aschenbach not leave Venice after all? His luggage is sent on ahead of him but has been misaddressed; he must stay and wait for it to be returned.

What is the hyacinth in Death in Venice? ›

The Hyacinth flower is said to have grown up out of the blood of this youth. Aschenbach assumes the role of Apollo in this myth: he abandons his "duties" and succumbs to his rapture for Tadzio. Note the allusion here to Nietzsche's Apollo.

Who is most cute boy in the world? ›

The most handsome man in the world in 2023 is the South Korean singer, songwriter, and actor V aka Kim Taehyung. As a vocalist with BTS, he represents the South Korean boy band. In Daegu, South Korea, he was born on 30th December 1995. As a member of BTS, he made his debut on 13th June 2013.

Who is the most beautiful man in the world 1970? ›

It's an easter-egg of a casting choice, because 50 years ago, that face – now weathered and gaunt but still startlingly arresting – was declared the most beautiful in the world. Björn Andrésen was 15 years old in 1970.

Who is the most handsome man in the world? ›

Most Handsome Man in the World 2023
  • List of Most Handsome Man in the World. ...
  • Kim Tae-hyung [ Age: 27 years and 4 months] ...
  • Robert Pattinson [Age: 37 years] ...
  • Chris Evans [Age: 41 years] ...
  • Henry Cavill [Age: 40 years] ...
  • David Beckham [Age: 48 years] ...
  • Hrithik Roshan [Age: 49 years and 4 months]

How did the Black Death get to Venice? ›

According to the chronicle, the plague did not migrate from the South across the Italian Peninsula, but was taken directly to Genova and Venice by Genoese plague ships.

Was Death in Venice filmed in Venice? ›

The film keeps the setting of the original book, the sumptuous hotel of Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is, of course, the Grand Hotel des Bains, Lungomare Guglielmo Marconi 17, on the east shore of Venice's Lido, though some interiors were recreated at the famous Cinecitta Studios in Rome.

Who are the red haired men in Death in Venice? ›

Redheaded Men

These three men include the man in the cemetery, the gondolier, and the minstrel.

Where is Death in Venice filmed? ›

The Grand Hotel des Bains is a former luxury hotel on the Lido of Venice in northern Italy. Built in 1900 to attract wealthy tourists, it is remembered amongst other things for Thomas Mann's stay there in 1911, which inspired his novella Death in Venice. Luchino Visconti's film of the novella was shot there in 1971.

What year does Death in Venice take place? ›

Setting. The story takes place in 1911 as tensions between Germany and France foreshadowed the coming world war.

What is Tadzio pointing at? ›

The last image of him that Gustav sees is Tadzio holding out his hand pointing somewhere in the distance, towards the sun perhaps, as if inviting Gustav to follow. And he does, he follows his 'foreign god'—as Thomas Mann calls it.

How many years left does Venice have? ›

It is difficult to predict an exact timeline for when Venice will be underwater, as the process of subsidence and sea level rise is gradual and affected by various factors. However, experts have suggested that if current trends continue, the city could be at risk of disappearing beneath the waves by as early as 2100.

How long did the plague last in Venice? ›

Venice had experienced 22 outbreaks of plague between 1361 and 1528. The plague of 1576-1577 killed 50,000 in Venice, almost a third of the population. The 1680 version of the plague was just as deadly. In just seventeen months, 80,000 people in Venice died of the plague.

Why all the masks in Venice? ›

The masks are part of the Venetian tradition. They are rooted in the territory and culture because they represent a part of the development and history of the Serenissima Republic. The masks are the symbol of freedom and transgression, they level social categories and add charm and mystery to the wearer.

What made Venice so powerful? ›

Venice became wealthy and mighty through naval trade, as their geographical position allowed the merchants of Venice to be the key middleman between the Middle East and destinations throughout Europe. It was the commercial prototype for 17th century Amsterdam and 18th century London. It was the market to the world.

How did Venice survive so long? ›

“Venice was born on water and survived on water,” says Dario Camuffo. “Water meant protection for Venetians against invaders. Instead of streets they built canals, and so from their city to the sea they could reach every part of the world. Their lives were built on water.

Is Meg the Phantom's Daughter? ›

Meg Giry is Madame Giry's daughter and Christine Daaé's best friend in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera that turned her into the main antagonist in its stage musical sequel Love Never Dies.

Is Gustave the Phantom's Son? ›

When pressed by the Phantom, Christine confesses that Gustave is his son ("The Phantom Confronts Christine"). The Phantom makes Christine promise to never tell Gustave that Raoul is not his real father.

Did Christine and the Phantom sleep together? ›

Christine and The Phantom have sex twice, the first show bare breast and buttocks, the 2nd they are under the sheets, while Ignace is watching (In the R-rated cut you do not see the 2nd and only half of the 1st). Christine wears revealing outfits throughout the film.

What did Visconti do to Bjorn? ›

Visconti was an imposing figure who warned the crew to keep their hands off the boy during shooting, then dragged him off to a gay club after filming had finished.

What is the tragic story of the most beautiful boy in the world? ›

When Andrésen was 11 years old, his mother died, about a half a year after she disappeared, never to be heard from again. Andrésen and his sister were raised by their grandparents, and his grandmother had ambitions of his becoming a star. She's the one who took him to the Death in Venice casting call in Stockholm.

What does Tadzio represent to Aschenbach? ›

Aschenbach's initial interest in the boy Tadzio is something he himself does not understand. From the very beginning, Tadzio represents pure artistic beauty. At first, Aschenbach believes that he can admire this beauty dispassionately, from a purely intellectual, aesthetic standpoint.

What is the relationship between Aschenbach and Tadzio? ›

In the hotel he stays in, Aschenbach encounters a fourteen year old beautiful boy, Tadzio. Unwittingly Aschenbach feels infatuated towards him. Since that day Tadzio's beauty is all Aschenbach thinks about. Tadzio, the beautiful boy starts to influence him very much.

What inspired Aschenbach in Death in Venice? ›

The novella's physical description of Aschenbach was based on a photograph of the composer Gustav Mahler. Mahler had made a strong personal impression on Mann when they met in Munich, and Mann was shocked by the news of Mahler's death in Vienna.

What is the story of der Tod in Venedig? ›

Death in Venice is a story about the artist and the nature of art. At the opening of the novella, Gustav von Aschenbach, while possessing a latent sensuality, exists as a man who has always held his passions in check, never allowing them expression either in his life or in his art.

What is the point of Death in Venice? ›

Through the portrayal of Aschenbach, Death in Venice contains both an affirmation and resistance of the world of antibourgeois values. It is a critique in that it presents the idea that the artist who wants recognition must stay away from life, even though that distance leads to stagnation of the imagination.

How old was the boy in Death in Venice? ›

Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion's den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti's film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty.

Did Tchaikovsky know Mahler? ›

Tchaikovsky and Mahler. It was during Tchaikovsky's first concert tour to Western Europe that Mahler fleetingly met the Russian composer for the first time: at a musical soirée in Leipzig on 16/28 January 1888.

Did Mahler read Nietzsche? ›

Gustav Mahler first came across Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy in 1891, two years after Nietzsche's mental breakdown. While Mahler admired Nietzsche's bold and polemical writing, he ultimately decided that he was not fond of the philosopher.

Did Brahms know Mahler? ›

It is when Mahler and Brahms meet and spend the rest of the evening together. That meeting was key to the future success of Mahler, since years later, and thanks to a letter of recommendation that Johannes Brahms himself wrote to Franz Josef I, Emperor (1830-1916), Mahler was elected Director of the Vienna State Opera.

Where was Death in Venice filmed? ›

The film keeps the setting of the original book, the sumptuous hotel of Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is, of course, the Grand Hotel des Bains, Lungomare Guglielmo Marconi 17, on the east shore of Venice's Lido, though some interiors were recreated at the famous Cinecitta Studios in Rome.


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