The de Menasce family

The de Menasce family

Baron Yaqub Levi de Menasce

The de Menasce family is a Sephardic family who arrived in Egypt during the eighteenth century. The leading member of the family in the nineteenth century was Yaqub Levi de Menasce (1807–1887). Born in Cairo in 1807, Yaqub began his career in Cairo as a money changer (Sarraf) and a banker and gradually emerged as the private banker of the Khedive Ismail. He was one of the earliest entrepreneurs in Egypt to recognize the opportunities offered by European trade and, with Jacob Cattaoui, opened the banking and trading establishment of J. L. Menasce et Fils with branches in England, France, and Turkey. Beside the Alexandria and Manchester branches, the Marseille office was run by his son Moise, the Liverpool by his son Joseph and London by his son Elie. In 1871, he moved from Cairo to Alexandria, the new and permanent seat of the family. The 'de' was added in 1876 when he obtained Hungarian citizenship together with the title of Baron of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for promoting trade between the Adriatic and the Levant. His son, Béhor Levi, continued in the family's financial enterprises, but his grandson, Jacques Béhor de Menasce (1850–1916), deserted the banking profession in favour of the cotton and sugar businesses. In 1890, Jacques served as the president of Alexandria's Jewish Community and remained in that capacity for about twenty-five years. The family was well known for its philanthropy, and later generations were prominent in the arts.

 Baron Félix de Menasce with his daughters Claire and Denise and his son Jean.

The banking firm of J. L. Menasce passed to Yaqub's four grandsons, among them Baron Félix Béhor (1865–1943). Alexandria in the 1920s and 1930s was culturally the most brilliant and sophisticated city in the Mediterranean, though its true brilliance was to be found not so much at its opera or theatres but in its great houses, where families presented exhibitions, lectures, concerts and theatrical entertainments. Celebrated among these was the house of the Baron Félix de Menasce and his flamboyant wife Rosette. Here his older son George de Menace, and Claire's half brother, gave weekly piano concerts, often accompanied by like-minded friends, and also displayed his remarkable collections of late Roman ware, Roman and Syrian glass, Mogul jewelled jade, Jaipur enamel, Persian jewels, coloured diamonds, jewelled watches and automata, eighteenth century gold snuff boxes, Greek island tapestries and Turkish embroideries, fine paintings, rare carpets and Fabérgé. Some of his collections are now in the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge. His greatest passion, however, apart from music, was for Chinese works of art, especially porcelain, in which he built up a collection that was perhaps the finest and most extensive in private hands anywhere in the world.

Siegfried Sassoon, Lord David Cecil and Jean de Menasce in a snapshot taken by Lady Ottoline Morrell. ln 1922 he made the French translation of a book by the philosopher Bertrand Russel, whom he knew as a fellow member of Lady Ottoline Morrell's salon at Oxford.

Here too Félix de Menasce’s younger son Jean (1902–1973) would stay with his family on his returns from Europe where he would speak of his friendships with a wide variety of literary figures. Among them was Constantine Cavafy, whose work he promoted while he was at Oxford, publishing four translations in Oxford Outlook in 1924, and also T. S. Eliot, a friend, who called him ‘my best translator’: Jean did The Waste Land and later Ash Wednesday, East Coker and other of Eliot’s works into French. Jean was born in Alexandria on 24 December 1902. After the local Lycée Français, Jean de Menasce remained in Cairo studying at its French School of Law. Thereafter he continued his education at Oxford University, then went to the Sorbonne to study oriental languages. A cousin of Jean de Menasce was the writer and diplomat Georges Cattaui. A second cousin was the composer and pianist Jacques de Menasce. 

Claire de Menasce in costume for a 1931 review.

Claire Vincendon, standing centre, with her husband Jacques at a Finney carnival party in Alexandria. This is a detail of a photograph in Michael Haag's book Vintage Alexandria.

Félix and his wife Rosette's two daughters lived in the house as well, Denise until she married a barrister and Claire for several years after her marriage to Jacques Vincendon, who was made secretary general of the Land Bank of Egypt by Félix who was director. Claire Vincendon's passion was the theatre, which was how most other people got to know her; she acted in and designed costumes for the entertainments she staged for guests at the great rambling house on the corner of the Rue Rassafa and the Rue Menasce, where her daughter Claude was born in 1925.

 Princess Toussoun whose father-in-law Omar Toussoun was known as the Prince of Alexandria; Mrs Aly Yehia Pasha, wife of the wealthiest Egyptian cotton broker and financier; Gina Bachauer, the famous Greek concert pianist and friend of the Menasces; and Baroness Rosette de Menasce in Alexandria 1948.

The wedding of Jimmy Mawas’ parents, Denise de Menasce and Alfred Mawas, 1931. Left to right Miss Polly O’Mara, the bride, Baroness Rosette de Menasce, the groom, Claire Vincendon (the sister of the bride).

Rose Larriba, aka Baroness Rosette de Menasce (1875 -1949) was born on 9 February 1875 in Paris. Rosette had arrived in Alexandria in the 1890s, and had married a financier and one of the city’s wealthiest men, Baron Félix de Menasce on 17 October 1903. They lived in his palatial residence at Moharrem Bey neighborhood, then a posh suburb of Alexandria. It was named after Mohamed Ali’s son in law, who was the Admiral of the Egyptian fleet, and it was every Alexandrian’s dream to have a house there. Rosette's father is Cyprien Larriba (1845), a chauffeur, and her mother is Claudine de Bustos (1853), a boot stitcher.

 A ball at the Cecil Hotel, Alexandria, c. 1950

Rose de Menasce (not to be mistaken for Rosette de Menasce) at the Sporting Club, 1914. She was married to Baron Edmund de Menasce, a cousin of Baron Félix de Menasce.

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1. Jacques Paul, son of Baron Henri; 2. Jacqueline, daughter of Baron Emile; 3. Baron Eugene de Menasce; 4. Robert, son of Baron Emile; 5. Raymond, son of Baron Emile; 6. Baron Henri de Menasce; 7. Baron Jacob Levi de Menasce; 8. Baron Bohor de Menasce; 9. Baron Jacques Levi de Menasce; 10. Baroness de Menasce; 11. Baron Edmund de Menasce; 12. Baron Emile de Menasce; 13. Baron Gaston de Menasce; 14. Baron René de Menasce; 15 and 16. Mrs. Aghion and daughter Simone; 17. Adrienne Aghion, daughter of Mrs. Jacques Aghion.

Baron Elie Jacques Levi de Menasce

Baroness Elie Jacques Levi de Menasce

Baron Jacques Elie de Menasce

Alexandria residence

References and credits: Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria, 2006, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Michael Haag and Geneanet.