British Grand Tourists brought back a passionate love of all aspects of Italian culture. When Vauxhall Gardens opened to the paying public in 1729, it became a venue for lavish entertainments. This included the masquerade, also known as ‘ridotto’ (from the Venetian gambling salons where visitors wore masks to conceil their identities). London’s passion for masquerades was initiated by Swiss-born impresario Johann Jakob [John James] Heidegger who arrived in London at an unknown date, but who was involved in the introduction of Italian opera to the capital by 1707. He organised the first masquerade ball at the Haymarket Opera House and became the leading impresario of masquerades in the early part of the eighteenth century.
He was succeeded by Theresa Cornelys, a Venetian singer, actress, and salonnière. Her subscription masquerades were held from 1763 at Carlisle House, Soho Square. To critics, these events were undermining British social norms. They were denounced by Edward Gibson, Bishop of London, who preached a sermon against them (1724); while artists and novelists such as William Hogarth, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson condemned them as ‘foreign’ immoralities. The decline of Venetian fashions in Britain coincided with a more prudent morality towards sexual relationships emerging in the early nineteenth century.