Re: Franco Pratesi, new publications (since 2023)

I spoke too soon, about being done with new information about playing card production in Florence, 1750-1845. Franco has a new essay, as of Jan. 20, 2024, on precisely that subject, for the period 1743-1768, this time not about the bureaucracy as much as about where games with playing cards were allowed to be played. The original, "Firenze 1743-1778. Le licenze sui giochi," is at The parts in brackets are mine, after consultation with Franco.

Florence 1743-1778. Licenses for games

Franco Pratesi


In past years I had the opportunity to study various registers of the Camera e Auditore fiscale (Chamber and Fiscal Auditor) collection of the State Archives of Florence (ASFi) and obtained quite interesting information from them. However, there were two in the series of registers that I was unable to use, also because the data seemed too confusing and irregular. These are registers No. 3017 and 3018 relating exclusively to the registration of revenues for the granting of licenses for the playing of games The first (A) concerns the years 1743-1763, the second (B) the years 1763-1778.

Now I have resumed my study, in particular because I found information about it in an important book on games in Tuscany in the eighteenth century. [note 1] In this academic monograph, Addobbati delves into the whole topic in a decidedly above-average manner, also based on ASFi documents, including the two registers that I am examining here. Indeed, Addobbati dedicates an entire chapter of his book to licenses for games, pp. 165-194. Anyone with an interest in deepening their knowledge of the topic will be able to find in that discussion a valid reconstruction of the environment, both in general and with some in-depth analysis of particular events and personages.

In my study, I have limited myself to examining the records relating to card games and reproducing a part of them at the end in the form of tables.

Innovations of the Habsburg-Lorraines

The Habsburg-Lorraine dukes found in Florence a state that had remained centuries behind. By now entrepreneurial activity, which centuries earlier had made Florence a world-class capital, had been replaced mainly by conservative agricultural ownership, in the hands of the main families and the clergy.

As regards the limited sector of our interest, games, the Medici had already tried on several occasions to put a stop to gambling, but in the eighteenth century the situation was getting out of control. Many people complained about dangerous losses of money, with understandable negative consequences, and alongside the usual reprimands from the clergy there were even pleas from entrepreneurs who witnessed the serious losses, if not downright ruin, of their employees, especially in the frequent case of young people, beginners with work and wages.

The traditional system of the Medici dynasty of granting exemptions and privileges in a chaotic manner in response to individual requests received, without precise rules and in any case without the concrete possibility of obtaining rigorous compliance with any rule, contributed to making the situation uncontrollable.

The Lorraine grand dukes committed themselves for several generations to reforming the entire administration until the famous Leopoldine reforms, which finally gave new life to the Tuscan state; in particular, they immediately set out to combat gambling, trying to set precise rules and limits. Only indicated games could be played and only in places with a new license, granted upon payment of the relevant fee.

The process of combating gambling occurred in several stages and ended, at least formally, with the law of 1773, which prohibited card games everywhere, with rare exceptions, such as the Casini dei Nobili, which were formed in Florence and in the main Tuscan cities (those so-called nobili, noble cities - in which alone some of the main local families could obtain recognition of nobility).
1. A. Addobbati, La festa e il gioco nella Toscana del Settecento, Pisa 2002.

The contrast on the part of the revenue offices

All state administration offices were required, one might say by definition, to follow any direction of the grand dukes. A nod, a barely perceptible indication, was enough for the whole machine to start spinning at full speed. Maybe this was indeed the rule, but not for card games.

In recent centuries the money in the coffers of the Tuscan Grand Duchy available for administration was increasingly reduced. In the specific case of the department of playing cards, revenue from taxes on games was an indispensable source for the very life of the office. Thus, in the official correspondence studied by Addobbati, we encounter unexpected clashes between the rigor proposed from above and the more permissive attitude of the offices, which would have looked favorably on the authorization of games such as the infamous bambara, for the evident reason that the related tax brought much more money into the office s coffers. Naturally, the result of the prolonged consultations could not end otherwise than with a decision dictated by the Grand Duke, but this only happened after an initial restraining action on the part of the offices.

The accounting units used

In examining these registers, an initial difficulty we encounter is that all taxes are indicated with a more extensive accounting system than usual: we were used to the LSd system with 1 lira equal to twenty soldi and one soldo equal to twelve denari. This system is also preserved here, but with a larger preceding unit, the scudo (sometimes also called ducat), worth seven lire.

I don't know the origin of this system, but at least two advantages can be seen to compensate for the greater complexity: the first is to reduce the size of the calculation, in the sense that 6 scudi are expressed with fewer numerals than 42 lire, and this can be useful to facilitate calculations in the case of large amounts. Even more useful is the fact that so expanded this system can facilitate the divisibility of the total amounts calculated into equal parts. The decimal system, for example, involves digits that are not divisible into exactly three parts, a drawback already overcome in the LSd system, but with scudi, perfect divisibility extends even with a divisor of 7; I don't know of any accounting system more "suitable" for this purpose.

The variety of taxes paid is quite surprising. The figures that are most often encountered, especially within Florence, are 6 scudi for minchiate and 17.3.10.- for low cards [ordinary 40 card decks]. The frequent appearance of a complex figure like the last one already seems a bit strange, and in fact the annual fee for low cards was double, precisely 35 scudi, a round figure like the others. In some cases, the annual tax was simply paid in two installments, but Addobbati suggests that many shopkeepers paid only one semester [six-month period], when there was more crowding at the tables, and in the other they did not hold games, or held them secretly.

Furthermore, especially when leaving the city of Florence, taxes were reduced in several ways. This occurred partly due to a generalized reduction and partly due to the maintenance of ancient privileges which were left to the negotiation of individual cases.

The changes over the years

Leafing through the registers we find unexpected differences from one year to the next. Especially at the beginning, the procedure was clearly being fine-tuned and the problem of the game of bambara had not yet been resolved. In fact, there were two different fees for the low card game license, one with bambara and one without. A few months later, bambara was included among the prohibited games and for a while, again in the license for low card games, it was specified that it was not included.

Next, for the permitted low card games, is the general formula of "deal games" [games in which all or most of the cards are dealt out -given to the players, mostly of the trick-taking variety]. For the territories of Livorno and Pisa, it is preferable to introduce a contract with concession holders who, for an agreed annual sum, deal with the granting and control of licenses and collect the amounts. Indeed, at a certain point this system ended up being extended to the whole of Tuscany, typically in the year 1751 (see relevant table at the end), but the result was not encouraging, and the traditional system was soon resumed.

For the Tuscan bureaucracy, 1750 is a very important year, involving all the registers and account books of the administration. In fact, in Tuscany the law changes the beginning of the year to "our" January 1st instead of the traditional March 25th. In these registers, we thus also witness clear innovations. The first months of the year, from January 1st to March 25th, now have the same year number as the following months and no longer that of the previous ones. However, for several years, the final annual balance sheet continues to be set at the end of February.

Of all the variations that we encounter from one year to the next, the most impressive is the one that we read in the second of the two registers, the one marked B. In fact, inside it, we go through the "revolution" with the victory of the rigorous approach towards games of cards, as commented below.

Annual budgets

These books are kept as revenue journals, and hence the taxes collected are recorded on the same day of payment. (For simplicity, in the tables added at the end I limit myself to transcribing only the month.) However, each year the final account is entered for the entire previous year. This happens with a few summary lines after the income for the month of February, and this continues until 1776, despite the fact that from 1750, the new year begins as today, from the first of January. In 1776 the budget relating only to the last ten months was reported, in order to match the new limit of the year. The last entry is from March 1778 and is calculated only for the first three months of that year.

We have glimpsed that there were notable changes in the laws on games during that period; correspondingly, it is natural to expect a clear change in revenue corresponding to the taxes for the related licenses. However, if you look at the following table and graph, compiled with data from the registers, the conclusion is rather unexpected. The dotted line in the graph interpolates the data and actually indicates a general decrease, but a small one, much less than we would have expected. In the following data, no sudden changes, and in particular no permanent decreases, are observed either; at most there were individual deviations from the average values which were then quickly reduced in subsequent years. Perhaps there was also some compensation between the increasing number of licenses and the decreasing individual tax.
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Information on games

We need to reflect for a moment on the games and players of the time. On the games that were played, we actually don't get much from the licenses. There were games of chance that were always prohibited - already in the time of the Medici - such as bassetta, pharaoh, and thirty-one, but these, too, were probably widespread because many game rooms were in practice inaccessible to controls. The extreme case, however, at that time was that of bambara, a game that derived from primiera (and which can roughly be considered an ancestor of poker), which created problems because it was the favorite game in every club, or at least it would have been if they had allowed it.

From what we can glean from various testimonies, we could immediately conclude that playing cards were preferentially used for games of chance. The complaints were especially against young gamblers who preferred fast games of chance. Bambara was understandably the most popular game; when it was decided to ban it, buia [current meaning = dark] was introduced, a variant that was only different enough so that its name was not present among those of the prohibited games.

It was not easy to distinguish between pastime games and gambling, especially when using low cards. Could you play pastime games of the minchiate type also with low cards? Certainly yes, and in fact in the early years, deal games were spoken of, and among these, tressette explicitly appeared, albeit rarely.

However, making sure that players used low cards only for permitted games and not for prohibited ones would have required control that was impossible due to the limited number of agents and the frequent possibility of bribing them so as not to be reported.


The oldest and most traditional game was naturally that of minchiate, which was played in cafes, but also in barber shops, and specialty shops [apothecaries, spices sellers], and private homes. In itself, it is a game very suitable for spending an afternoon or evening in the company of friends and acquaintances. The game is slow, requires reflection and patience, and is therefore suitable for older people with sufficient free time available. These characteristics merited the recognition of a considerably lower license fee, typically only six scudi instead of thirty-five, and even less if the venue was located outside the city.

However, we have a sort of demonstration of the preference of the Tuscans of the time for games of chance, starting from the same minchiate. Why did minchiate have preferential taxation? Because it was the most traditional deal game : this typology could also be present when playing with low cards, but in contrast to all the others, minchiate had the advantage of a single deck associated with that traditional game and not those of games of chance. With all those cards, you couldn't play basset or pharaoh!

However, the situation was not that simple. In particular, it can be assumed that gambling was also done with minchiate; indeed one can even think that at the time minchiate was used preferably to save on the license fee, while still allowing players to practice some new games of chance to their taste. No agent could claim to find players engaged in a game of chance if they had the typical minchiate cards in his hand.

There may have been many cases, but a precise testimony was preserved for us by Biscioni who in the additions to Minucci's notes to the Malmantile Reacquired [note 2] even gives us the rules of a couple of games of chance played with minchiate. Michael Dummett includes them among the games of his monumental book,[note 3] while they are judged to be so extraneous to the general characteristics of tarot games that in the re-edition with John McLeod they are only present in an Appendix to the second volume. [note 4]
2. (L. Lippi) Il Malmantile racquistato di Perlone Zipoli colle note di Puccio Lamoni e d’altri, Firenze 1731.
3. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot, London 1980, pp. 353-354.
4. M. Dummett, J. McLeod, A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack, Lewiston 2004, vol. 2, pp. 848-850.

The inventiveness and cunning of Florentine players were truly uncontrollable. How could any tax or police officer have recognized, for example, a sequence counted again for the score at the end of a traditional game from an identical sequence used as a combination in a poker-like gambling game? Not only the same unique cards, but even the same combination. So you could gamble in complete safety.

Other games

Probably in each individual license the various permitted games were listed; in the register in question, reference is always made to the license for the details, necessarily omitted from the summary registration of the day.

For example, the game of chess is perhaps only written on one occasion, but we certainly cannot consider it a forbidden game. Among the games of this genre, checkers never appears, although it must have had a certain following (at least in barber shops, and I am old enough to have a personal memory of this from the mid-twentieth century, when minchiate had been forgotten, even the name).

At the other extreme, among the games of chance, a sideshow game also appears. The case is very unusual, because it does not involve a cafe or similar establishment, but a type of traveling attraction which had previously required special authorization from the Fiscal Auditor himself. On 9 August 1847, Mr. Domenico Cocchi paid 100 L (14.2.-.- scudi) to allow the public to play Girello, also called Alla bianca e alla rossa - To the white and to the red - "but outside this city of Florence". Without knowing it in detail, I imagine that it was a primitive kind of roulette, which could be transported from one fair to another.

The places of games

The first substantial distinction between the places where the license for games was granted is between the premises within the Florentine walls and other locations. Inside the city, the rates were relatively uniform with few exceptions to the usual rates of 6 scudi for minchiate and 35 for low cards. The higher fee appears almost exclusively as a half-payment, whether the entire fee was paid in two parts or only the part relating to one six-month period. Leaving Florence, the fees usually appear lower and less regular, with fluctuations that are difficult to understand. Each license contained the precise terms of the concession, and therefore it is possible that there were also differences in the games allowed or otherwise, but in the registers, only "according to the license" is regularly seen, and no additional conditions are reported.

Various licenses were granted for nearby locations, such as Peretola, Campi, Settignano, Baccano (a miniscule village just above Fiesole). It is easy to imagine that in such places local players gathered with some stranger, such as a city-dweller on holiday or a professional in full "working" activity, with the intention of making large profits at the expense of people less expert in the tricks of the trade.

In the smaller Tuscan towns, compared to what we might suppose, some appear and others do not, without an apparent criterion of regular geographical distribution, up to the Tuscan Romagna, almost touching the Adriatic. Then arriving at the larger cities, we can notice the absence of Siena, but we know that in that area, control over games was reserved by ancient tradition to the local Casino dei Nobili. However, for Pisa, and especially for Livorno, we find few licenses registered because in those two territories, there were contractors who paid an annual fee to the tax authorities and directly collected the fees for the licenses they had the right to grant. This delegation of the granting of licenses was sometimes also present in occasional cases, as happened in 1761 for the Prato Academy when, as a counterpart to the fee paid, it was in turn able to grant two minchiate game licenses.

The second register, No. 3018 or B

At the beginning of the second register, there are situations quite similar to those of the first for a few years; however, shortly after, the situation changes profoundly: card games appear only as

very rare exceptions, while now the rule is to grant licenses for billiards, trucco, and other similar games, among which the spinning top is sometimes found mentioned. At the end, I have only reported the year 1774 in table form, but it can be considered representative of a situation that also occurred in a similar way in nearby years.

We have a lot of information about the technique and diffusion of billiards, but trucco has been completely forgotten for many decades. It was a kind of billiards in which, however, the balls were pushed by long mallets along certain paths on the table, with rings to cross and obstacles to overcome, which could recall similar games played on a larger scale on the ground, outdoors. The spinning top, on the other hand, is better known as an outdoor game for children. I don't know how it was played inside. The potential game possibilities vary between wide limits. At one extreme, a game of skill: two players compete to see who can make the rotation of their top last the longest. At the other extreme, one uses a multifaceted spinning top with its facets marked with numbers or colors and bets which one will land on at the end. The second type would seem to be the one favored by Tuscan gamblers of the time, but as a game of chance, it would have been prohibited.

Since there is almost no more information on playing cards, from our point of view this data could be completely overlooked. In addition to the rare cases of card game licenses, however, there is other useful information. Meanwhile, it can be verified that those who ask for the license are often the same cafes and various venues that requested it for card games. But there are some necessarily different aspects, including one of some interest, already indicated by Addobbati in his book. Mainly, it is not possible that all players who usually played cards would find the same possibility with the "new" games. If previously twenty people played cards on multiple tables in a room, now only two or four typically play billiards. What do the other sixteen-eighteen do? Are they just watching? Certainly not: they bet on the outcome of the current match, and they even commit large sums to this. So it was always gambling that won.

Florence, 01.20.2024



In selecting the years to summarize in the final tables, I based myself on a few series of subsequent years and chose other single years that seemed more representative to me. I have always set the limits from January to December, and until 1750 I did not respect the old numbering of the years (for the months from January to March). Instead, I have kept the spelling of the names of the places, even when they appear unusual today, such as reading, for example, Ponteadera or Pontadera for Pontedera. In some cases, we come across slightly curious spellings, but closer to popular pronunciation, such as Domo next to Duomo, and similar. With rare exceptions, I have not written down the name of the person who obtains the license, nor that of whoever eventually goes to make the payment on his behalf.

When I report the numerical data of the amounts paid, if it is a whole number of scudi I do not usually indicate the following zeros, i.e., I write for example 6 instead of, or, as more usual , 6.-.-. -. The tendency for these taxes is precisely to be based on whole numbers of scudi. When non-integer values are encountered, an explanation is usually also found: either it is half the tax, typically 17.3.10.-, half of 35, or it is a balance after a fractional down payment, or it is for other reasons that usually are reported explicitly in the register. Often these are adjustments (and therefore I add "adjustment" in the tables), such as the payment of a higher tax deducting what has already been paid for the lower tax. In 1747, there are figures that must be calculated differently from day to day, depending on the time remaining before the deadline, and in this regard it is easy to imagine that the assistance of an expert accountant was indispensable.

When only the address or name of the shop is found without indicating the city, it always means that it is Florence, in the registers tacitly understood. [Here m means month or months; dd - originally gg - means days, the time remaining for which the license is valid.]

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Last edited by mikeh on 18 May 2024, 10:54, edited 3 times in total.

Games Played with cards- 17th c.

This essay concerns a man famous for his card tricks. In a work done with the sponsorship of no less than the last lineal descendant of the main branch of the Medici rulers of Florence, Electress Palatine Maria Luisa dei Medici (1691-1716). He is better known for his tricks than for his writing, and in fact his account of his secrets is sometimes not easy to decipher, certainly for a non-Italian such as me, but at times even for Franco. In what follows we do our best, with the aid of some parenthetical speculation. There is at least one trick that still eludes us, the very first of the half dozen or so that Pratesi transcribed. If anyone can figure out what the secret is that he is revealing, please let us know. The original, "Guochi che si fanno con le carte ‒ nel Seicento," Oct. 16, 2023, is at

Games played with cards - in the seventeenth century

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

Searching the inventories of the State Archives of Florence, I identified a codex in the Manuscripts collection that is of great interest for my research on card games. [note 1] It is therefore worth reporting in full what we read in Inventory N/187.
Miscellany of scientific works and erudition nos. 758-797
N-786: Alessandro Capra da Montalbotto. Games played with cards. A dedication in verse precedes it, but it is not known to whom it was addressed, as the paper had been cut. It begins: "My undefeated Lord these beautiful flowers / Gathered by one who stands [reading “sta” for “sa”] on a beautiful mountain, etc. It ends: Now Happy Signore, take so much / As a humble servant can give you, / Because the immense sea does not disdain a small stream." And then: " et / Capra da Montalbotto" [Most humble and most devoted servant/Alessandro Capra da Montalbotto]. 17th century. In small octavo with gilt leaves at the cut; without page numbering. Bound in leather with cold stamping, and a coat of arms of the Palatinate (?) of the Rhine. Provenance Guiducci, perhaps coming from the Electress Palatine. [note 2]
What I imagined I would find was a kind of manual on card games, a pioneering collection of the type of those numerous printed volumes that were recurrently published, more than a century later, for the “player in conversazione [a type of club].” Anticipating news on the rules of the main card games by several decades seemed like a remarkable achievement. Even the very provenance of the manuscript is interesting and deserves further investigation.

2. Origin

Reading "provenance Guiducci" is interesting information, because it allows us to trace back to an important family archive, and to prestigious grand ducal collections, thanks to the importance of the personage Niccolò Guiducci. In the Archivio storico italiano. Nuova Serie. Tomo Quarto for 1856,[note 3] we find three pages in this regard (234-236) with everything one would want to know about the passage of the collection of these archival units from the Guiducci family to the State Archives and about the origin itself of the collection, starting from the Medici secretariat, and especially that of Anna Luisa dei Medici, Electress Palatine.
The rare abundance of papers, owing to which the Central State Archive is precious, has recently been increased due to the generosity of the noble Guiducci family. Having inherited from their elders an archive, they wanted to know the documents; and knowing that many referred to the house of Medici, they considered it a good idea to place them in the Archive that preserves the memories of the city’s sovereigns. They wanted to place them as a free gift, almost as if they interpreted the preference of that ancestor for whom these Medici papers came into their family. Because it is useful to know how Iacopo Niccolò Guiducci was at first gentleman of the chamber of Cosimo III and then spent a long time in the services of Anna Luisa, Electress Palatine, who was grand duchess in name from 1737 to 1743.[note 4]

3. General description of the type of games

As soon as I was able to consult the manuscript, it was possible to confirm the impression obtained from the Inventory: a manuscript treated like a precious object, with a prestigious binding. Unfortunately, however, the idea of being able to find the rules of primiera, hombre and even minchiate has not been confirmed at all. At first glance it is clear that these card games are something completely different and essentially involve magic tricks.
1. State Archives of Florence, Manuscripts, No. 786.
2. https://archiviodistatofirenze.cultura. ... critti.pdf
3. ... frontcover
4. Monitore Toscano No. 201, 30 August 1856 (as cited in the Italian Historical Archive).

The last straw is that more than thirty years ago I had done a demanding study on precisely this type of "card games,” although limited to printed books. [note 5] That research cost me a certain amount of effort, because today's powerful tools were not available for bibliographic research at the time. I imagine that those results would be rather easy today not only to find, but also to increase in number - which, however, is not part of my current plans. Evidently, the time that has passed since then has been enough to make me forget that when you come across texts from that era on card games, you regularly encounter "disappointments" of this kind.

However, the first opening of the book was enough to immerse me again in that environment, which I had not encountered since then. The problem is that this sector is not mine: I lack the necessary expertise to affirm that the value of the content is equal to that of the binding. I will therefore limit myself to giving a general idea and copying some "games" as examples.

First of all, it should be noted that these are not just card games, even if understood that way. There are tricks done by other means, and there are also examples that are not games, such as various “secrets,” a name which in these cases refers especially to home economics instructions, as well as medical prescriptions and recipes. The magician in question was, in short, something more than what we know today; evidently among his skills was also that of chemist and pharmacist, preparer of potions capable, for example, of relieving toothaches or making those who had difficulty urinating do so easily.

On the first page, we find the poem of dedication, unfortunately with the upper part of the sheet cut two or three centimeters from the margin, in order to eliminate the data and even the name itself of the recipient, which would have been useful to know. I can complete the lines cited in the Inventory with the complete copy of the poem.
My undefeated lord, these beautiful flowers
Collected by one who stands on a beautiful mountain
At the bang, at the sound, in good accord and ready,
Of well-composed words, facts and works
Taken from ancient or modern authors
They are not, but their birth and source is from him who offers them.
Welcomed by great Kings with a happy face
By ladies and knights, by great lords,
These are those that with a skilled hand
Are shown in a thousand and a thousand ways
And not by shrewd knowledge seen or understood,
Now here collected with courteous and human
Will, he offers you a part and unties the knots
Of his secret operations not previously evident.
Now, happy sir, take so much
As a humble servant can give you,
Because the immense sea does not disdain the small stream.

Most humble and most devoted servant
Alessandro Capra da Montalbotto
There isn't much to comment on. The author, Alessandro Capra da Montalbotto is the one "who stands on a beautiful mountain" and his mountain - only 188 meters!? should be Montalboddo, today Ostra, a town in the Ancona area, which enjoyed considerable prosperity in the seventeenth century. As a writer, both in verse and in prose, he appears very ungrammatical, but it must be recognized that for his profession
5. L’Esopo, No. 50 (1991) 67-76.

a superior literary culture was not necessary; and moreover, on the specific subject, even the various printed pamphlets of the time are written equally crudely.

Taking as valid its presentation as a personal and entirely original work, one must recognize the variety of games and secrets. We move from one trick to another, very different in terms of idea and means used. This variety contributes to giving us a glimpse of a personage with remarkable technical ability and extraordinary inventiveness. Certainly his judgment "Welcomed by great Kings with a happy face / By ladies and knights, by great lords" sounds exaggerated as well as immodest, but for us the very fact of how his book was preserved - and by whom!? - confirms the esteem enjoyed by the author.

4. Selected examples copied in full

The game of guessing how many points will be under 3 piles [monte for montone] that will be made by a third party. You take a pack of primiera cards numbering 40 and tell the third party that he can shuffle the cards as much as he wants and that he will secretly make piles of cards, i.e., [in each pile] counting the first card for what it is [and going on counting] up to 15, understanding that the court cards say ten, and all the other points by what they are, and counting the first card for what it is, as I said, and all the other cards as one, up to 15 [for each pile], and after having made the 3 piles, let him give back the cards that remain, and secretly you count the first card as nine, whatever it is, all the other following cards as one, so many cards will be, counting the first as nine, so many points will be under [i.e., the sum of the points of the bottom cards of] the 3 piles.

[Added Later:It took us a while to figure out how this trick is supposed to be done; without the interpolations added in brackets above, it is fairly unclear. The "third" puts a card on the bottom of the first pile. Let us say it is a 7. If so, he adds 8 more cards to that pile to complete it. He goes to the next pile. Let us say a Queen is the bottom card. He would add five cards to complete that pile. Let us say the next is a 3. He would add 12 cards to that pile. Then he gives the remaining cards to the Magician. Since 9+6+13 = 28 cards have been used, 40-28 = 12 cards remain. Giving the first of these remaining cards 9 points, there are 11 more cards at 1 point each, and 9+11 = 20. So he "divines" that the bottom cards add up to 20. Since that is what 7+10 + 3 adds up to, he has "divined" correctly. There is one additional proviso, however. If the total points of the bottom cards are 8 or less, there won't be enough cards to provide the Magician with any remainder.

The wagering game is done with 3 rows of cards as seen below. You will make the said 3 rows of cards 3 cards per row so that one touches the other, that the 3 rows are nine cards 3 per row and you will hold 3 in your hand which are twelve, and you will tell a third that you want to add the 3 cards, and make 4 cards for each direction, you will place one on top of the other as you will see below which will be 4 for each side both straight and across, keeping in mind that this is a wagering game to bet on, because when you see it you learn [the trick].

The game of 3 Kings is done with 4, that is, one is placed on top so that no one knows, and you will show 3 and say that you want to place one above, one below, and one in the middle, and that by raising them once you want to make them fall all 3 together, and this proceeds from having secretly put one on top, the third thinking that you have done it with 3 and you have done it with 4. And it is necessary not to do it more than once; the same can be done with 4 aces or other cards as long as they go with 4 things.

The game of making one King be taken instead of another. You will have half a King of Hearts [i.e. the top half of the card cut in half], and you will place it over the head of any other King of the cards and with your two second fingers you will cover the border of the half King, but the half King is with the head towards the ground [i.e. so that the “third” will not naturally grab it by the head]; and showing it in the face of the third, say to him, which King is this? Everyone will say, the King of Hearts. Making him grab him by the feet, he will think he is taking the King of Hearts and will take another King which you will have placed under the half King of Hearts.

The game of sticking the tip of a knife into a card which a third will have taken out. You will have a deck of cards all of one sort, that is, all aces or all kings or whatever other sort you want, and in front of the deck there are two different cards to make it clear that the cards are not all of one sort, and you will tell a third person to take out one card and then after taking it out to put it in the deck, and shuffle without looking in the deck, and after he has shuffled you will take the cards back into your hand by telling the third person to put the tip of the knife inside the deck, so that he will place it on the back of the card that he has taken out, and having put it [the knife] in the deck which, due to everything being of one sort, he cannot put it in another place, and it is a most beautiful game.

The game of showing a deck of cards, there not being any primiera or accompanied cards and then shuffling the cards and having the third person cut and place the cards 4 by 4 on the table in two parts five sets of 4 by 4 [i.e., 2 rows, 5 piles, 4 cards per pile] and revealing then the cards will be 10 primieras of 4 things each. You must first select the 10 primieras, that is, all the 4 aces, the 4 twos, the 4 threes, the 4 fours, the 4 fives, the 4 sixes, the 4 sevens, the 4 Jacks, the 4 Queens, and the 4 Kings dividing them into two sets, and then you will begin to take a card for a primiera of whichever side you want, one on top of the other as long as there are cards that, looking in the deck, there will be no primiera stacked together, by letting whoever wants cut the cards, and then starting from the bottom, in each of the 2 things, you put the cards one by one as you did the first time, 10 primieras will come out, and it's a most beautiful game. [It appears that a primiera here includes a four-card hand of four of a kind, usually called a “chorus,” as well as one with all four suits. If so, perhaps he means that the deck, after being shuffled, should be arranged so that it forms two half-decks five fours of a kind each. He has omitted that the fours of a kind all have to follow the same order of suits; the trick won't work otherwise. Then, if each half-deck is cut by the “third” and dealt into five piles of four, dealing from the bottom of the deck as the writer says, each pile will have four cards in all four suits.]

The game of guessing what someone will have with 3 dice, that is, how many points: you give 3 dice into the third party's hand and tell him to roll once and count how many points he gets, and then turn one of the 3 dice upside down, whichever he wants, and Count that point turned over together with those rolled the first time, and roll the same die that you turned upside down again, and see how many points you will have scored in all, leaving the dice on the table without moving them, and say you that you want to guess all the points he rolled in those three times. I say that the points he will have rolled in 3 times will be seven more than what you see on the table.

The secret is to play a prank on any person by having them wash their hands and face with clear water; and once dried their hands become as black as coal. Take the fresh skins of unripe walnuts [when unripe, these cover the shells], give them a soak, and then distill them in an alembic, like rosewater, which will make clear and odoriferous water, which when washing the hands and seen with said water will become black as coal, nor will it be removed by washing with water, but well with hot vinegar, rubbing your hands and face with a piece of wool will remove the blackness and return the flesh to its original state.

5. Conclusion

It is easy for me to conclude that the discovery of this manuscript did not bring any useful information in the area of my research on playing cards. Certainly, something can be concluded about the value given to the manuscript. First of all, by the author himself, who would have compiled a collection of original games, without copying them from the specialist literature already abundant in those years, even with popular printed brochures of very few pages. It seems probable that the binding, so unusually rich, was commissioned by the Electress Palatine herself. In short, we are faced with a work considered not only original and interesting but almost precious. However, another matter is to insert this text into the specific literature and check, game by game, whether we can talk about a development of the sector or just a repetition of known tricks, possibly introducing only variations in the procedure. For this part of the judgment I am not able to intervene, but perhaps my presentation will attract the attention of some scholars of the subject. In short, for an exact evaluation of what is contained in this book, a sequel will be needed, written by an expert in the specific sector.

Florence, 16.10.2023

Note added Feb. 9, 2024: Interpolations (in brackets) have been added to the account of the first trick, to make clear what must be done, as well as a fuller explanation which follows, also in brackets. Without the interpolations, it is easy to misunderstand.
Last edited by mikeh on 18 May 2024, 10:56, edited 3 times in total.

Two 17th century poems on minchiate, part 1

Please note that the previous post has been amended to explain more fully how the first trick is done. How to make it work had eluded us for a few days. It is a matter of interpreting the author's words in a particular way that is not obvious on first glance.

Franco found two 17th century poems on the subject of minchiate, the extended Florentine tarocchi game and deck using 97 cards instead of the usual 78. The poems make reference to various cards and strategies in the game. Not wanting to deprive the reader too much of the pleasure of discovering these details, I simply refer the reader to Most are obvious; but note in particular the terms "versicole" and "sminchiare." A versicole is a special combination of cards for extra points. And the object of "sminchiare," the playing of one's high trumps early in the game, is to capture a succession of high trumps, down as far as the 28. That gains the team doing so so a large number of points, to the extent that three or more in sequence are captured.

For the more difficult or downright unclear passages, of which there were many, I have relied on Franco's judgment or guesses. Remaining mistakes are on me. Comments in square brackets are mine, for this translation. The notes can be found at the bottom of each page of Franco's pdf, the page numbers for which are in the left margin. (The Italian original, "Due poesie del Seicento sulle minchiate," at, put the "Notes on the Poems" at the end of the essay.) For some reason the Forum software wouldn't allow me to put all of the essay in one post, so there are two. The translation also appears on my blog of Franco Pratesi essays, at ... hiate.html.

Two seventeenth-century poems on minchiate

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

In this study, I present two unknown poems by a seventeenth-century Florentine poet forgotten by everyone. These are testimonies on the game of minchiate at the time, and this fact alone makes them of interest, because pieces of information on this game become numerous only in the following century. For this reason I transcribe the two poems from a manuscript and comment on them briefly. On ancient references to minchiate it is rather rare to find the author's name indicated; not only that, for the numerous books of the Rules, even when the authors are cited, I had to do extensive research to obtain some information on their lives. In the case in question here, we are fortunate enough to know exactly the author's surname, Porcellotti, and doubt only exists regarding his baptismal name between Sebastiano and Bastiano.

2. Porcellotti Bastiano or Sebastiano

I thought that Sebastiano was the baptismal name and Bastiano the name modified from common use. To my surprise, I verified in the registers of those baptized in those years in Florence [note 1] that Bastiano was indeed the most frequent name at baptism, much more than Sebastiano. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate our Bastiano or Sebastiano in these records. More than one explanation can be considered. The first is that it is there and you haven't noticed it. The second is that he was registered without a surname. In fact, perhaps half of the (Se)Bastianos still do not have a surname and are registered only with their father's name and profession and their grandfather's name. In this specific case, the difference between having the surname Porcellotti and not yet having it does not seem huge. A third possibility is that our personage was not born within the city walls and therefore would have been baptized in a parish church in the Florentine countryside. However, to make us prefer the name of Bastiano there is a poem (in the same manuscript of interest for minchiate) in which the poet complains about bearing that very name, common among the common people.

On Porcellotti's life we have some useful information from short ancient biographies. Thus, from the Internet repertoires we can find Giulio Negri's [note 2] Istoria, in which we read the following.
Sebastiano Porcellotti. Florentine by origin, soldier and captain by profession, friend of Mars and the Muses, he handled the sword and the pen with equal reputation. His facetious and conversational genius made him loved by everyone, serving as a very joyful entertainment for all, with his very pleasant rhymes, which also made him dear to two Supreme Pontiffs, Alexander VII and Clement IX, great Protectors of the Virtuous, and to many Cardinals. He was living in 1670. Delight of Florence and the Courts of Rome. Many of his poems are in the hands of various people, and quite a few are in the possession of a Florentine academician. Also read is one of his sonnets written to Cardinal Panciatichi while Porcellotti was ill. They remind us of Him as a civilized modern Writer: Gio. Mario Crescimbeni, in Book 4 of Volgar Poesia; Le Notizie Letterarie, e Storiche dell Accademia Fiorentina, in the first part.
In one edition of Crescimbeni's book, I only found the information that he was living in the year 1670, but in a subsequent expanded re-edition, there is other useful information.
BASTIANO Porcellotti. Florentine, engaged for some time in Arms; and obtained several noble military positions. He made the journey to Jerusalem; and then stopped in Rome; and since he was very devoted to pleasant poetry, he compiled two volumes with a style more simple than artificial, and much purified in language, whose originals are preserved
1. ... gistri.asp nos. 19-22.
2. G. Negri, Istoria degli scrittori fiorentini, Ferrara 1722, p. 495.

in the Ottoboniana. He was very welcome in the Roman Court, and Pope Alexander VII especially favored him. employing him in the Government of Frascati, as can be seen from his same Rime mentioned above. He died an old man in Rome and is talked about in the reports of the Florentine Academicians.[note 3]
In the last reference to the Florentine Academy, there is the following other short biographical note, plus a copy of a sonnet, which I neglect.
Bastiano Porcellotti. The Laws of Poetry are not so severe that they do not sometimes leave the field open to its followers, so that they can explain their ingenious jokes in verse, to relieve themselves from the hardships of this life; and at the same time sweeten those bitternesses that daily arise from worldly events in human hearts. Of this group was Capt. Bastiano Porcellotti, who not only brought relief and enjoyment to himself, but also attracted the Curious with the grateful sound of his pleasant Rhymes, which fall into the hands of various people in large numbers [of copies]: and one of our Academicians has many of them. He had no small servitude with Clement IX, Alexander VII, and other Supreme Pontiffs; as well as with various Cardinals, and particularly with the Most Eminent Panciatichi, to whom he wrote the following Sonnet, while Porcellotti himself was seriously ill.
However, on the dates of his life and activity we can find more abundant and precise information directly in his verses (starting from Ms. Ashb. 614 used later) than those found in the biographies noted. Meanwhile, in his poems he quite often addresses two popes who, fortunately for us - as we can better use them to define dates - remained on the papal throne for few years: Alexander VII from 1655 to 1667 and above all Clement IX, only from 1667 to 1669; but this was already known from the biographies cited. However, more precise ideas can be found here and in particular in two useful cases: a sonnet entitled: "To Bella Donna, who sleeps. the Author a student in Pisa in 1620," and a sonnet, among the last poems of the manuscript, which will also provide us with information on minchiate, in which he declares that he is seventy-four years old.

3. Soldier Porcellotti

The scant biographies that have come down to us speak in agreement of his dual activity as soldier and poet. One would say he was a soldier first and then a poet, because most of his compositions appear to have been written at an advanced age. We are interested in him as a poet, and I will add something about how his work has been handed down to us later, before presenting the two poems of interest for minchiate. Here I try to provide some information on his activity as a soldier. From the little information available, it seems that he was a personage who would have been better placed in military activity one or even two centuries earlier, when leaders and captains of fortune were the order of the day. Certainly for several years, he held the position of lieutenant of Frascati, and we find his poems asking various people for support in his candidacy to obtain that position, and then for it to be renewed. But this is rather the result of previous military activity.

In the catalog of the Library we read: "war of Milan, war of Castro, surrender of Porto Lungone, war of Lombardy, etc.," but we must add his personal participation in battles in much more distant locations, such as that of Leipzig against the Swedes ("here the said Piccolomini marched at the head, accompanied by many volunteer knights, his comrades, among whom was Count Ghessilieri Bolognese, and Sargeant Major Porcellotti Florentine"),[note 4] and also in Flanders following the imperial army; the relevant dates should in any case be in the 1640s. I must admit that a Florentine who joins the imperial army as a volunteer knight reminds me a little of Don Quixote. But perhaps I am very wrong, and it would not be surprising, because we have even less information on Porcellotti's military exploits than on his poems.
3. G. M. Crescimbeni, Dell' istoria della volgar poesia. Volume quinto, Venice1730, p. 195.
4. G. Gualdo Priorato, Dell' historia del conte Galeazzo Gualdo Priorato parte terza. Nella quale si contengono tutte le cose vniuersalmente occorse dall anno 1640 fino all anno 1646, etc., Venice 1648, p. 165.

4. Manuscripts with poems

It seems that no printed editions of his poems exist, except for some taken from manuscripts by various authors and published centuries later. As a poet, he was certainly appreciated by his contemporaries, and confirmation can be found in the presence of his compositions in around ten manuscripts. As a rule, it is a couple of poems in a collection of numerous others written by various authors. However, there is a favorable circumstance in the fact that he himself preserved entire books with his own poems. The two original manuscripts in the Ottoboniana Library, mentioned in the biography cited earlier, have either been lost or are now in the Vatican Apostolic Library, where that library is preserved today without as yet appearing in the digitized catalogs. However, ancient copies of a probably different original book can be found in two important Florentine libraries, the Medicea Laurenziana (Ashb. 614), and the Nazionale (Panciatichiano 243). Both are manuscripts with the poetic compositions of a single author, our very own Porcellotti. They are not identical copies, and the two poems that interest us are present only in the Medicea Laurenziana copy.

To access these libraries and consult the manuscripts, I had to renew my expired cards, and for the bureaucracy it is a great advantage that the computer memory keeps track of previous visits, even if distant in time. On the manuscript in the Nazionale there is no study in the files; on that of the Medicea Laurenziana there are now only five visits by two readers in recent and very recent times: three times by Francesca Mazzanti, the librarian who in the years 2018 and 2019 did the most useful work compiling the detailed cataloging, and now twice a certain Franco Pratesi.

In short, about Ms. Ashb. 614 not only are there no published studies, but there were not even any scholars who bothered to take a look at the content: how can Porcellotti appear in any recent history of the poetry of the time, if no specialist has read his poems? Now it so happens that of all these poems I am essentially interested in two, which I transcribe below, and they do not interest me for their poetic value, if any, but only as testimony to the game of minchiate. (That is, they are able to exploit Porcellotti , but not to honor him.)

5. Transcription of the two poems discussed

[The footnotes for the poem begin again at 1; to distinguish them from the others, I give them a different color. The corresponding notes are at the bottom of each page, with the page breaks and numbers as in Franco's pdf.]
(f. 49r) To Signore Bandino Panciatichi
In praise of Minchiate

The multitude of fools is infinite,
___It's new to me that I hear blame
___Of the delightful Game of Tarocchi. [note 1]
I begin to examine a little,
___And I'm sure they will find out soon
___How bad they are to criticize.
Is there a more modest game in the world,
___And more pleasing to both sexes, [note 2]
___More useful, entertaining, and honest?
What do you think the wise Muses
___Do at Parnessus? [note 3] Do they laze around?
___It would really be an expressed insult.
You don't need to think about it anymore:
___They all, together in agreement with Apollo,
___Do a quarter [note 4] of Minchiate after lunch.
Indeed they wear them as a brief [note 5] around the neck.
___Dante, Petrarca, Pucci, [note 6] and Boccaccio,
___None of them is with playing sated.
So in this way I am pleased with it,
___And however difficult [note 7] it may be,
___I embrace every opportunity to learn it.
It's all proportion and symmetry,
___And the versicoles are nothing else,
___But a sweet concert and harmony. [note 8]
You have the sounds of thirds and fourths,
___Of fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves,
___Even tenths, if the boom is pleasing.
There is [harmony] in bold dissonances,
___Like that Uno, thirteen, and twenty-eight
___And Fool, and Trumpets, if you want deep [sound].

(f. 49v) But this corrupt century of ours,
___So addicted to vice, doesn't care
___For a virtuous and learned pastime.
Is not Minchiate a reading
___Of all manner of Philosophy?
___A study of drawing and painting?
One who delights in Astrology,
___Finds there the stars, Moon, and sun,
___And will do an anatomy of their aspects. [note 9]
A Geometer will be able to do more, if he wishes,
___With the square, Scales, and Compass,
___To measure the size of the whole World.
I use it sometimes for fun
___To keep all my thoughts intent,
___And speculate on some difficult passage.
There the Elements are pure and mixed,
___There all the species of Animals,
___And the origin of the four winds.
The moral virtues are also there
___With their Hieroglyphs and Mysteries,
___And the crowd of Liberal Arts.
I'll leave it to good Arithmetic
___To quarter the zeros [note 10] if she can,
___Hoping to improve it greatly.
Rhetoric then teaches Allegory
___With decorum and Gradation,
___And the figure is still Metonymy.
Not lacking perfect imitation,
___Is that silent Poetry [note 11] that is the Tarocchi,
___Composed with judgment and invention.
And if it ever happens that someone joins me
___Who is bold in blaming,
___I immediately give him the evil eye. [note 12]
1. Only in Florence could playing Tarocchi be identified with playing Minchiate.
2. For being in the seventeenth century, the presence of women at the game table is quite a novelty; it will become more common in the following century.
3. Modification of Parnassus for rhyming purposes.
4. A game for four. Indicative of the manner of play.
5. Here the poetic flight is high: the brief was a kind of small medal-shaped sachet, with something sacred inside, kept around the neck as a blessing, to keep ailments and demons away. Nothing wrong in the fields of religion and even poetry, but difficult to imagine with literally 97 large playing cards. Maybe the Muses were giantesses?
6. Antonio Pucci (Florence, c1310 1388); in our schools no one associates him with the other three.
7. You have to admit that this is a difficult game.
8. He is able to find pleasant sounds associated even with those versicoles that appear irregular.
9. It is not clear whether it refers to a concrete custom or it simply presents a possibility. Surely, later there will be no doubts.
10. The common idiom is not about zeros but about splitting hairs. For the zero, there is the cut zero [meaning zero with no uncertainty, as though even less than zero].
11. Poetry without words: a card is like a verse, and similarly related to its neighbors, without the need for rhyme.
12. Today it would be said that he gives him "dirty looks."

(f. 50r) Doesn't that ignorant, stupid man know
___That it is a mirror of human life
___Filled with endless learning?
I always avoid him, and it seems strange to me,
___That he does not know its value and its advantages:
___To be a man one cannot be vain in the mind.
Armed in the Field four Kings go out
___With their Cavalry Guard,
___Ready for illustrious works and egregious deeds;
The queens come in, in company
___With a retinue of Ladies and Maidens
___Followed by infantry squadrons.
Such beautiful things have never been seen,
___Uniforms, clothes, customs, [note 13] golden weapons;
___How worthy they are, being compared to those.
There you learn to command armies [note 14]
___Deploy Horses and Squadron the Infantry
___Do Marches, Halts, Battles, [note 15] and retreats.
Discard all the locals
___Those who do not know the finest art,
___Take ground, and advance forward.
Think of nothing else but the harm of others,
___Shouting ruthlessly, kill, kill,
___And win with snares and deception.
Now with Swords, now with Sticks and Mace
___Use military stratagems,
___And bravely gain the Plaza.
To have the conscience of Corsairs,
___To steal, murder, and loot,
___To cleverly deprive others of Cups and Coins.
And when the enemy approaches
___Tighten your steps and go into hiding
___And cut off their roads and paths.

(f. 50v) If a King advances badly armed,
___With the eviction of his [forces] [to grasp him] strongly,
___And soon to have him imprisoned.
If the queens enter the field by lot,
___In spite of the scepter and the command,
___Without any mercy reduce them to death,
And with barbaric and execrating style
___To be cruel against the Moon and the Sun
___And to challenge [note 16] the star from time to time.
Harder words would be lacking
___To those who wallow in the waves of Parnassus,
___To praise its merits, speak, whoever wants;
Now you see, whoever tears down such a
___Virtuous and beautiful Game is wrong,
___And how crazy are people in the world.
But everyone who has brains must
___Cause with care and diligence
___That the Father and the Brother learn it. [note 17]
At the time that certain Monsù [note 18] were introduced
___To Florence [note 19] in the Conversations,
___The Women had no knowledge of it.
I want to infer that it is thirty years and more: [note 20]
___With them we only played Staffetta [note 21]
___And most of the time Pelacchi. [note 22]
Today much honored and respected, is one
___Who knows how to sminchiar par excellence,
___I swear, up to tipping the hat to him.
And know, for your intelligence,
___That no one will ever know about economy,
___If he doesn't learn it, have patience.
It is not this whim or fantasy,
___And the effect will make it clear to you:
___It is the doctrine of the Wise Ones, and not mine.
13. The customs that can be observed in a playing card are not many; perhaps the attitudes, the poses.
14. In this digression, which insists on the combative aspects of the game, one seems to read a comparison with chess, often equally praised.
15. The term for marches is certainly obsolete, but it was also used in prose; an example can be read in the previous quote about the battle of Leipzig.
16. Challenging with bravado (Treccani).
17. He incites "missionary" action in the family and, understandably, does not speak of mother and sister.
18. Arrival of foreign personages and fashions from France.
19. This term [for Monsieurs ], attests more than any other to the origin of the poem in triplets.
20. In the mid-seventeenth century, conversations as we know them from the following century were not yet widespread. But minchiate could already enter palaces and academies.
21. The GDLI [Grande Dizionario della Lingua Italiana] cites a passage by G. B. Andreini (early seventeenth century) in which staffetta [relay] is indicated together with banco fallito [failed bank] and separately from primiera. So it would be called a game of chance. However, the context requires simple games, even too easy.
22. It seems it was some kind of game of goose. The name derives from peeling or stripping of the money played.

(f. 51r) It then teaches you how to handle coins,
___That if you give them without thinking,
___You will surely lose them.
Not to be tight, and so stingy,
___ But sometimes to let go,
___Which are singular tricks and subtleties.
Only that it is, it remains for me to show,
___Helpful, delightful, and honest,
___But in Tullio's De Ofizj [note 23] it appears clearly.
I don't want to go deeply with you into the text,
___I assume you have read it
___With the arguments and everything else.
What do you think, that the world is limited?
___Answer me in grace, if you love me;
___In what respect do you have it, in what concept?
Is it not true that, if you consider it well,
___Really nothing else than it is
___Original can be said of a pack of minchiate.
My Muse would never finish,
___Who wants to live without toil and pain,
___And lay aside every joke and bizarreness.
Suffice it to say that it is a sphere [note 24] that contains
___Popes, Kings, Monarchs, and Emperors
___With their places, as suits them.
Cattle, Rams, Geldings, Donkeys, and Bulls
___With how many kinds of brutes there are,
___Crabs, Fishes, Centaurs, Eagles, Goshawks.
There are many other natural Bodies,
___Woods, Plants, Shoots, flowers, and fruit [note 25]
___Valleys, Hills, and Seas, royal Rivers,
Death, Devil, Hell, Heaven, and all
___The Hodgepodge of people and animals,
___How much beauty and ugliness is scattered down here.

(f. 51v) If I had strength equal to my desire,
___I would consume weeks and months
___To count their immortal qualities.
Blessed be our Quaratesi, [note 26]
___Who alone in this world can boast,
___To have all his days well spent.
To tell the truth, he doesn't fish too much at the bottom,
___But if Ubertin were to be disillusioned, [note 27] by the same token,
___You would see him happy and cheerful among us.
They are all my Friends and dear Masters
___That take pleasure and great satisfaction
___ In each one learning to play well.
This Lord has made a will
___And an across-the-board committal of Faith
___Of all his possessions, by what I hear,
And he disposes, that the heir be one,
___And this one alone should wear the ribbons;
___Otherwise, he will leave them [the possessions] to a hospital.
But he explained more, that the inheritance touches
___Those, who with goal and judgment
___Will enjoy always playing Tarocchi [and no other game]
Tell the booksellers that as a public service
___To bind them [the cards] with the Codices and Digests;
___They will certainly give a hint of prudence.
And you, Signore Panciatichi, [note 28] should
___Parade your study of Minchiate :
___Oh, what great credit you would acquire!
All the brigades would run there,
___You would give great pleasure to the Courts,
___Maybe you could improve the revenue.
You would enjoy universal applause:
___I have no doubt at all that you would have it,
___Like the other leading Lawyers.
23. De Officiis, Cicero's last philosophical work, much appreciated by the Fathers of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages. Numerous manuscript copies are preserved, and it was the second most printed work, after the Bible.
24. The Sphere was understood as the Earth if not also the cosmos.
25. It would read fruits. I corrected it to respect the rhyme.
26. The friends' surnames seem Florentine, confirming Florence. Not only that. The whole environment speaks to jurists and lawyers, not unusual for challenging games.
27. would disillusion, would lead to reason.
28. It would seem that "Signore" Bandino Panciatichi was not yet a cardinal.

To be concluded in the next post.
Last edited by mikeh on 18 May 2024, 10:58, edited 10 times in total.

Two 17th century poems about minchiate, part 2

Continued from previous post. It is still the first poem, with the second starting at 172r. Again, notes to the poems are in red, notes to Franco in blue, and comments in brackets mine, for this translation.

f. 52r [no indentations of lines in the original at this point]
If you do not understand it, speculate:
Is this World born and maintained
With anything other than minchiate?
To tell you more is not suitable;
But if there were any Sicilian,
He would [crush] you thoroughly.
It's time to finish, little by little,
Because otherwise you would get annoyed,
And I would appear too inhuman,
By removing and taking away many pretexts,
Give everyone report of this Game,
So that it is clear to everyone.
Although I talk of it a lot, I say little about it,
And never stop remembering [note 29]
To Friends, Relatives, in time and place,
Monk, Friar, Priest, or Secular,
Day and night, at all hours,
Let them cheerfully engage with sminchiare:
Do it with grace, and do it from the heart.

(f. 172r) Having lost at Minchiate.

Please hear, Lord, my misfortunes;
____After ten years I play [note 30] Minchiate
____And lose quickly, quickly in two turns, [note 31]
____With great disappointment, twenty-seven Crazie.[note 32]
Wherefore I, who have been through the Alsaces, [note 33]
____And have many provinces walked,
____Am left as the laughing-stock of the Comrades:
____I know that the Stars are not satisfied.
Fortune, do your worst to me; you know,
____Already seventy-four have sounded,[note 34]
____I have little left for escaping trouble.
The literati say that you are blind,
____When you beat me, you never make mistakes,
____And you see more than a hundred enlightened
________Comforts [pieces of advice?] of senseless [people, i.e. fools];
Tell me, while you are a Woman, do you not despair,
____That you will never be the same to me as yesterday?
________But I hope it comes true
He plows through the waves and sows in the sand,
____One who founds his hopes in the heart of a woman.
6. Comment and conclusion

I have already included some information on the author and his activity previously. Now I just have to conclude by adding something about the two poems relating to game of minchiate. For us, the greatest value of the poem in triplets, In praise of Minchiate, is its date. We are in fact towards the middle of the seventeenth century, when the fashion for minchiate in the courts and "conversations" [private clubs] of half of Europe had not yet developed from Florence and Rome. If you are looking for something more specific about the rules of the game, such as a manuscript or printed book exclusively dedicated to the topic, you need to wait until the next century. In the seventeenth century, the main sources were Minucci's Notes to Lorenzo Lippi's Malmantile Racquistato and literary quotations such as Malatesti's Quadernari delle Minchiate. [note 5]

Unfortunately, this poem in triplets does not add anything important about the technique of the game, at least explicitly. However, something interesting can be read between the lines. Then the hint that women had liked the game for some time becomes important. For women to be able to appreciate the game, it cannot be assumed that in Florence it was still practiced habitually in public baths or barber shops. [note 6] Playing in pairs is better, both for the decorum of the environment and for the greater ease of finding help from more experienced companions for learning. An even more explicit confirmation is obtained from the second poem, as indicated in the notes.

Another knot to resolve, partly connected to the previous one, concerns the distinction between the developments of the game that occurred in Florence, the cradle of minchiate, and those occurring in Rome, a city with many more centers within it (in addition to the numerous noble families, one must consider the fact that not only the pope but practically every cardinal had his own court) and more external relations. The many foreigners who traveled through Italy usually stayed in
30. More than the distance in time, we would need to read the distance in place, perhaps from Florence to Rome, or rather from Florence to Florence.
31. This is a technical term that clearly indicates a four-player pair game. A round ends when everyone has played a paired game with everyone else, in rotation.
32. The crazia was a coin of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (and not of the Papal State) with an initial value, in the late sixteenth century, of five quattrini. The value of a crazia changed over time but still remained quite low; even 27 crazie shouldn't have been a huge figure.
33. Presumably when he participated in the Flanders War.
34. This is not enough for us to infer the date; in fact, we do not know the year of his birth. But we can think of him as a student in Pisa in 1620 and as a soldier in foreign countries almost halfway through the century.

5. M. Dummett, J. McLeod, A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack. Lewiston 2004, p. 324.

Rome longer than in Florence. It is generally assumed that it was from Rome and not from Florence that minchiate conquered the European capitals.

On this question, Porcellotti lends himself, if desired, to the defense of both hypotheses. From his poems, he appears as a frequent visitor to several cardinals in Rome and even two popes: that is his main environment, and even when he spends entire years in Frascati as a lieutenant, the city he contrasts with the countryside is usually Rome. On the other hand, in the chapter he explicitly talks about Florence, and not only about the present situation of the game of minchiate, but also about what had happened in the last thirty years. The same friends with whom he plays minchiate appear to be Florentines and would seem to be legal professionals including "Signore" Panciatichi, who we find in the reports, it would later be said, as a cardinal. His poems are preserved in Florence today because the people to whom he addressed the copies of his manuscript book were Florentines, and it cannot surprise us that in the Nazionale's Panciatichiano Collection, in addition to the aforementioned manuscript, there are others with some of his poems.

A contribution on the question can also be found in the second poem under examination. From the information collected, we know that Porcellotti spent the last years of his life in Rome until his death. This sonnet is one of the last compositions of the manuscript and we read that the poet was seventy-four years old. We therefore immediately think of the Roman environment, where, however, minchiate had a notable flowering... later. Thanks to the ten-year interval and his loss of good fortune, it would instead end, applying a little imagination, with a Florentine repatriation among his old friends: one would understand how finding himself playing minchiate could represent a logical and spontaneous commemoration. One would understand even better the fact that a gambling loss, even if of a relatively modest amount, could put the repatriate in serious embarrassment.

In conclusion, it seems that the Florentine Porcellotti, living as an old man in Rome, informs us about the game of minchiate in Florence. If, however, someone else imagined differently, and considered Rome the venue of the game, at least in the second case, the locality would change, but not the time, which still remains significant. The dates are uncertain; especially the first, which could date back to the mid-seventeenth century, while the second could already be close to the last quarter, so much so as to resolve the question of the four-player game in the seventeenth century, left open (on p. 344) in the authoritative reference text cited above in note 5. The discussion is based on the fact that, in the history of the game of minchiate, one of the points not yet precisely defined is the transition from a game with three or four players, each player for oneself, to the form that then became prevalent, of a game between two opposing pairs. Approximately, the first way is considered valid until the seventeenth century, and the second starting from the eighteenth century, when "conversations" became widespread.

Minchiate had been played in Florence for a couple of centuries, and this testimony by Porcellotti confirms the game of four in pairs already towards the middle of the seventeenth century; this result comes as a significant development for that discussion. However, Nazario Renzoni reminds me of an old testimony [note 7] according to which this was precisely the way of playing common in Florence, indeed also in Prato, already in the mid-sixteenth century, and it is that variant in four with opposing pairs which then spread to Rome and from there to many European capitals.

Florence, 09.24.2023
7. The Playing-Card, 16 No. 3 (1988) 78-83;
Last edited by mikeh on 11 Feb 2024, 12:20, edited 2 times in total.

Naibi for sale among the crockery

Well, it's nice to know that somebody's out there. Thanks, Ludophone. No idea about minchiate players.

Now another, dated Feb. 2, 2024. The original is "Ponsacco 1421. Naibi in vendita fra molte stoviglie," at As typically (but not always), comments in brackets are mine. Franco was a big help, but any errors are mine. The page numbers in Franco's original are in the left margin, and the notes are at the bottom of each. The title explains what it is about very well. I would add only that the essay is also of interest for what he did not find in these inheritance registers. However, this result is already somewhat superseded by a subsequent discovery, not yet, at this writing, on So stay tuned.

Ponsacco 1421. Naibi for sale among much crockery

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

Finally, a kind of event happened to me that can be explained by the saying that "The mountain gave birth to a mouse." In this case the mountains are in the State Archives of Florence: the registers of the section Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato, and in particular No. 152, at ff. 213v-217v.

This magistrature had been established in 1393 with the aim of protecting minors whose fathers had died without appointing a guardian, by assisting them with the administration of inherited assets. Usually a trusted person was found who followed the practice by administering the assets locally under the final control of the magistrates of minors. After the initial inventory of immovable and movable assets, and the long lists of current debits and credits, the economic situation was often updated taking into account the changes that had occurred in the meantime.
My research had as its main objective the discovery of evidence on naibi and trionfi in Florence in the first half of the fifteenth century, and here I report on the first of these discoveries: two packs of small naibi in a shop selling various goods, especially hardware and crockery. However, I also have the intention of continuing the discussion with the possible implications of what I have not found - in this and other registers of the same series - because I believe that useful indications can be drawn from them.

2. The general context of the discovery

In the registers in question, the locations encountered are within Florence or in the Florentine countryside. In this specific case, the places of interest are Morrona and Ponsacco, not only very far from the Florentine center but also in a rather unexpected direction, right on the border between the Florentine and Pisan territories, practically halfway between Volterra and Pisa. The notable proximity to Pisa explains that during those years there were several skirmishes and battles in the area due to the expansion of Florence and the Pisan counterattacks. Our German shopkeeper had a house and a shop in both places, about a dozen kilometers apart; in Morrona he also had land and animals. Evidently, the shopkeeper had settled in the area for some time with his family.

Morrona today is a Pisan village in the municipality of Terricciola, but it is located on a hill in a dominant position (even if the relief is not high, less than 200m above sea level), and this explains its history which dates back to the Etruscans. In the Middle Ages, it was a fortified town, and its castle was at the center of battles between Pisans and Luccans, between Ghibellines and Guelphs, and therefore, understandably, with the Florentines.

Ponsacco, a larger plain town but also fortified with walls and castle. Even around the castle of Ponsacco, there were repeated skirmishes with assaults and sieges by the Florentines, who managed to gain control of it from 1406 to 1494 and therefore practically for the entire fifteenth century. The year that appears in the inheritance registration in question is 1421.

3. The inventory of the shop

Upon the death of the shopkeeper Currado di Giovanni della Magna [of Alemagna, i.e. Germany], the magistrates of minors took care of the inheritance, according to their office to protect heirs with insufficient protection. The procedure involves initially drawing up an inventory of all movable and immovable assets, as well as all current debits and credits. The household goods present in the two houses and two shops are also listed. For our purpose, only the inventory of the Ponsacco workshop (then Ponte di Sacco) is of interest, and I transcribe it below. [For the transcription, see Franco s Italian original, online. Instead, here is our attempt at translation, which, however, is sure not to be right all the time.]
In the shop behind said house
4 oil jars with 6 or so small jars of oil inside. (The oil was sold to Mona Nobile)
19 empty oil jars with 1/2 jar of slurry (?) inside

2 barrels for containing fodder.
22 spade poles.
1 seat pad.
1 chiavarina [iron stake?].
2 basins full of zolfanelli [a primitive form of matches].
1 lib. [a kind of container?] for oil, broken.
1 earthen kind of funnel for barrels
1 grain shovel.
1 dining table with feet.
1 female donkey.
1 marrone [extra-large hoe].
1 ax with handle.
1 botticiello [small barrel] holding 4 barili [barrels, also a measure of volume] of barili inside [?]
1 old and ragged mule strap.
2 tunela [?] jugs, 1 broken.
1 basket with 30 lib. [unit of weight similar to the pound] inside of old iron.
10 loads of firewood.
1 empty basket for oranges
1 small basket with handle, broken.
1 shoe bench.

In the shop in front
1 old chest with 1 lock.
1 old table with feet.
1 old eating table with trestles.
More pieces of table hanging around the shop
1 empty basket.
9 spade poles.
2 cane sieves [?] to sift grain.
1 spade with handle.
4 containers [?] of tuna and sardines.
1 flax-crushing machine.
1 grain shovel.
1 packsaddle and 1 old and wrecked saddle.
1 bridle with foal crownpiece.
1 pair [paio] of half-sized scales.
12 cane ox cages.
10 hoops for small barrels
5 bushels of flax seed in 2 bags.
1 pair [paio] of children's clogs.
1 old reaping sickle.
72 black and white earthen pots.
24 strainers for tano [?] and small basins.
3 large basins.
29 wooden spoons and ladles.
18 earthen containers or small basins.
90 white painted earthen bowls.
5 earthen basins with grime [?] inside.
20 small earthen bowls.
12 earthen cutting boards.
2 packs [paia] of small naibi.
9 large painted low basins.
2 large earthenware basins.
40 large and small pans.
2 empty small baskets
1 broken earthen funnel.
24 large and small earthen jars.
2 majolica jars with butter and turpentine inside
1 pot full of spindles.
2 large basins for gelatin.
11 wrecked spindles for spinning.
More wood for the shop.
5 rows of glass cups.
77 pounds of thick and thin new rope.
4 black earthen trays.
13 black earthen lids

I transcribed the final j with i. I've hesitated about dividing words, especially when it's just moving a space like dami etere / da mietere, cho lmanicho / chol manicho, dassedere / da sedere, essottile / e ssottile, daffanciulli / da ffanciulli, and similar. In the inventory, you come across words that are not read, others that are read but not understood, objects of forgotten use; in short, there are several uncertain points.

Zolfanelli were a primitive type of matches formed, according to the Crusca [in that academy's Vocabulario], from a hemp stalk "dipped in sulfur from both ends." The marrone was a large hoe used to remove deep soil. Guncho today would be written giunco [cane, reeds], etc. Finding a donkey, if it existed, among these goods in a shop (in any case in this specific case better compatible with a warehouse) would be a strange but not rare event.

Aside from the uncertainties of reading and interpretation, all things that can be considered secondary for us, there is a very important fixed point to highlight. Today we wouldn't even know what to call this shop, because it combined goods that would be found in different shops, hardware, ceramics, tools, crockery and kitchen objects, tools for country work, and others. The fundamental fact for us is that precisely in this kind of bazaar we find the two packs of small naibi.

It is not at all the same as if we had found playing cards in a dry goods shop (like those of the silk weavers of Florence [note 1] or even in a private home. These decks were put there to be sold if a buyer appeared, and their position among various crockery items demonstrates exactly their rather low value, less than what we could have expected in such an early era for their diffusion.

In a subsequent register of the same archive, No. 154, we find an update of the same inheritance, at ff. 170v-177r. We are now in 1423, and the related inventory still includes long lists of debtors, but only a part of the household goods from the previous register (the naibi are also absent). The heirs are specified as the two-year-old son Lorenzo and "Mona Nobile, mother of said child and now wife of Antonio di Michele da Morrona and now living in Ponte di Sacho." The parish priest and another inhabitant of Morrona are still managing the assets on behalf of the magistrates.

4. The sources studied

Following what has been communicated so far, I felt the usefulness of continuing to illustrate this same research, broadening the overview to also include the cases in which it was unsuccessful, that is, practically all except the one presented above. In fact, even the absence of testimonies can provide useful information on the diffusion of playing cards at the time.

The research is based almost exclusively on inventories of household goods found in the homes and shops of deceased people who left children in need of the assistance of the magistrates of
1. F. Pratesi, Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence. IPCS Papers No. 7, 2012.

minors. In this research, I examined the following registers, as indicated in the ASFi Inventory N/60.
151 Sample inventories and revised data, 1 Oct. 1413 ? 20 Mar. 1417
152 As above for the neighborhoods of Santo Spirito and Santa Croce, 1 Oct. 1418 ? 20 Mar. 1422
153 As above for the neighborhoods of Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni, 1 Oct. 1418 ? 20 Mar. 1422
154 As above for the neighborhoods of Santo Spirito and Santa Croce, 1 Oct. 1421 - 20 Mar. 1425
168 Sample of inventories and revised data for the Santo Spirito and Santa Croce neighborhoods, 1432 - 1439
169 As above for the Santo Spirito neighborhood, 1439 - 1454
170 As above for the Santa Croce district, 1439 - 1454
171 As above for the Santa Maria Novella district, 1439 - 1454
173 As above for the Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni neighborhoods, 1467 - 1475
186 Inventory list, 1464 - 1510
The registers in question are large format books, folios measuring 41x29 cm, thickness from 8 to 15 cm, in short, double the size, in all three dimensions, compared to a thick book today. The number of folios varies, usually around three hundred, but they reach five hundred and correspond to twice that number of pages. In reality, the thickness would also suggest a higher number of pages, but it must be taken into account that each of these sheets had a decidedly greater thickness than what we are used to.

For each inheritance registration, several pages are reserved, some filled immediately, others gradually later, others left blank. In the end, there are just under a hundred files contained in one of these registers. As mentioned, in these inheritance practices, the pages with the inventory of household goods (which are not always present) represent the part of almost exclusive interest to us, which significantly reduces the pages to be examined carefully. Sometimes we encounter homes with few rooms and furnishings, but there are also large buildings, with several pages dedicated only to household goods. However, one should not think that this is little data, because all the objects, even the smallest, present in the home and possibly in the shops of the deceased are examined room by room.

In the end, it must be clear that searching these very long lists for any gaming implement is equivalent to looking, as they say, for a needle in a haystack and really requires the patience of a Carthusian, or at least of a pensioner. What made the insistence on continuing the research possible in the face of practically non-existent results was the importance of the issues at stake; here I am only considering card games, but there is also a further interest in board games, for which contemporary evidence is similarly incomplete.

5. Questions opened

Before discussing which games we were likely to find evidence of, a digression on terminology may be in order. In any case, the context remains that of the implements necessary for the game, because only of such objects is it possible to identify some traces.

For card games, there are no complex problems. It is certainly not a problem to eventually encounter naibi written as naibj, or replaced during the fifteenth century by the corresponding term for playing cards in use to this day. The problem can only arise in the corresponding attributes, if present, because in other documents naibi are found as small [piccoli], large [grandi], middle-sized [mezzani], halved [scempi], doubled [doppi], classy [fini], folded-back [rimboccati], favored [avvantaggiati], and second-rate [dozzinali], terms some of which have a meaning that is difficult or impossible to reconstruct. [note 2]

We know that we shouldn't look for a pack [mazzo] of naibi, but a pair [paio]. This determination is not of much help, because there are many objects registered with the premise of one or more pairs, and not only of the "normal" type such as scissors, socks, gloves, or boots, but also of the most diverse kinds, such as springs, andirons, sheets, and so on, including terms for tools for particular techniques whose use and meaning have been lost. If you then move from naibi to triumphs (and you could encounter some results of

much interest, especially for early times), the context will be enough to determine their use for the game.

However, it remains to be clarified what can be expected from the research. Above all, it remains to be understood how widespread the naibi and, later, triumphs, were, and for the latter if there remain traces of a use prior to the first date known so far of 1440, found by Thierry Depaulis. Already encountering its frequent distribution, even in the poorest homes, would be a sure indication. Furthermore, the commercial value of playing cards at the time is also not clear, because very different prices were encountered.

Findings of writings that expose the details of the games that were in vogue at the time, and, with a few exceptions, even their names themselves, are to be excluded here. We therefore only search for any objects related to the game, namely playing cards. This is where the specific type of game comes into play. If it was children who played, then such players could be found in every home. In other words, if naibi were educational decks, we can expect examples of them in almost every home; if, however, they were only used for gambling, we expect to find specimens only in houses and shops that could organize gambling dens, possibly clandestine ones.

Predicting the possible house-to-house distribution therefore requires that the playing cards be associated with one of several possible types of games, and it may then be useful to dedicate a parenthesis to a summary review of the various possible uses.

6. Parentheses on the different card games

Educational games. In many histories of games there is a quote from Morelli [note 3] in which the recently introduced naibi are appreciated as useful teaching tools for children. Such testimony is very rare, because more often one finds condemnations of games, and their negative aspects are highlighted, but it is widely understandable. A first "instructive" application can in fact be that of adding small integers, as are present in playing cards and necessary to count in many common games. Or even, without a specific game, using the cards directly as numbers. Another important application is one that still has a large following - so much so that entire original decks designed just for this game are sold, Memory Game Cards - in which the aim is to associate identical cards face down in a group, revealing them in pairs and winning them when they discover two alike.

Houses of cards. Again in a predominantly children's context, cards can be used to form houses of various sizes. I have in mind an entire book dedicated to this topic, [note 4] which as a rule is not found in current manuals on card games. The advantage of such a game is that it adapts to every age of the child, from minimal houses to constructions that require skill and a steady hand.

Pastime card games. This has been the most widespread application over the centuries. It is an opportunity to meet up with some friends and spend a few hours together, forgetting the worries of everyday life. They can typically be played at the tavern with a drink at stake, or even with the family. Any objective of the game can, if desired, be made to transform an innocent game into gambling, but in this sector these are rather exceptions.

Gambling games with cards. In every era cards have been used for gambling. What varied, depending on the times and places, was above all the control by the government, sometimes tolerant (also in view of the possible revenue into the public coffers), sometimes very rigid. In the early fifteenth century, there were certainly no places like modern gaming establishments, but if we find traces of this use of cards it is above all among convictions for prohibited gaming.

Magic tricks. This is a separate sector that has always had some followers. For a couple of centuries, starting from the sixteenth century, if in a library catalog we find a book with the title Card Games it was in practice "explanations" of magic tricks. In this case, the players
3. Istoria fiorentina di Ricordano Malespini coll aggiunta di Giachetto Malespini e la Cronica di Giovanni Morelli, Florence 1718, p. 270.
4. U. Niedhardt, Kartenhäuser einstürzende Neubauten, Reinbeck in Hamburg 1993.

are reduced to one, who performs in front of the spectators in a living room or a booth. The spectators are shocked not only because they couldn't do the same, but also because they don't even understand how that trick is possible. For these games, special or rigged decks are often required, which can be expected to have limited diffusion.

7. Answers not found

Based on the previous considerations, I expected to find playing cards in different types of homes and to be able to deduce some concrete hypotheses on the use of the cards and the type of games. Instead I found, after a long time, only one answer, and I communicated it above. Aside from what can be deduced from that finding, and that's no small thing, it also served me as "authorization" to now also comment on the absent results, i.e. the largely unexpected negative outcome of the research.

Sometimes, in research, it happens that an experiment that has a negative outcome ends up proving very useful, to the point of causing one to change the theories that had given rise to the experiment. In our case, we are not in those conditions, and the lack of results does not provide us with precise information, but only bases for further discussions which still remain rather uncertain. However, I see a big difference between playing cards not found and the same ones not searched for: if I look for them and don't find them where they could or should be, this is already a result worth discussing.

For example, in almost every house there were children and teenagers; if the naibi were used by them, I should have met a few "pairs" in so many such homes researched. If, however, the naibi were used in gambling dens, to encounter them it would have been necessary to have an inventory of one of those gambling dens. The ideal would have been to find the inventory of the shop of a playing card manufacturer, but I haven't found one yet; I only found dealers like the silk weavers already mentioned, with account books in the Ospedale degl'Innocenti, or this German shopkeeper from Ponsacco.

A possible explanation for the absence of the naibi, and then of the triumphs, from the inventories was suggested to me by an expert scholar of the period. According to him, if they really were valuable objects (and at least for the first examples of naibi and triumphs this would seem quite probable), the residents could have moved them before the magistrates arrived to have the inventories compiled. In fact, this explanation is not convincing to me, because there are many homes in which objects of gold and precious stones are recorded, which certainly had a much greater value than any deck of cards and which would also have been easier to make disappear within a suitable time.

Considering the systematic absence of playing cards in the household inventories, the opposite hypothesis appears more plausible, that is, that they were considered of no value. With some exceptions, this could be understood, because everything leads to the conclusion that a deck of cards has a short life: the nature of the material, the dimensions of the object, the extreme ease with which a card can be torn or lost in the game (and you usually can't find games to play with an incomplete deck).

In the absence of specific indications, we can think of various intermediate cases of the value of playing cards between very high and practically zero. From other sources, we know that the cards could be produced at different levels of quality and prices, even significantly different, starting from the extraordinary specimens produced for the great lords. It is not certain that decks of medium-high level cards were not present in the homes of several Florentine citizens. But if we don't find them registered, the conclusion seems to me to be that, once used, they thereby lost all their commercial value.

If we are not convinced by the hypothesis of playing cards that are present but remain absent in the registers, we must reach a different conclusion. Perhaps then playing cards didn't really exist in the private homes of Florentines, either in the city or in the countryside. To find them, you should then simply look for them in taverns where any local group or traveler could find decks of cards available, new as well as used, or in the inventories of specialized shops, obviously starting from those of the playing card manufacturers, or at least of retailers. Why then did we find the two decks from Ponsacco's workshop mentioned above recorded? Because that was merchandise for sale, new decks, with a commercial value to them, even if very small.

8. Conclusion

After long research, I happened to find the presence in 1421 of two packs of small naibi in the middle of a shop where the most varied goods were on sale: hardware, pottery, kitchen and work objects, for both home and business, etc. The locality, Ponsacco, was in a territory that was then Florentine but long disputed with Pisa, a much closer city. Already this unpredictable group of goods, together with the unexpected location, can serve to reconstruct some routes in the diffusion of playing cards in the first half of the fifteenth century. However, it must be considered equally important that no other registrations of playing cards were found in the numerous inventories examined. Possible reconstructions on the distribution of playing cards in various homes and shops have been discussed, but other findings are needed for decisive confirmation in one direction or the other.

Florence, 02.02.2024

Last edited by mikeh on 18 May 2024, 10:59, edited 2 times in total.

1426: Naibi in a large family

Here is a follow-up to Franco's previous 2024 essay on Florentine inheritance inventories, that posted immediately above, "Firenze 1426. Naibi in una grande famiglia," dated Feb. 12, 2024, and translated from This one gives the significant result - even if only in one case out of countless inventories he examined - of finding naibi, i.e. playing cards, in a home, and not only that, in a part of the list dominated by children's items. If so, what games would these cards have been used for? Franco does not speculate, but there was certainly diritta, a trick-taking game in which the object was to accumulate points; in that way, it could help one's addition skills. There was also vinciperdi, also named torta, where the one who had the least points won. But I at least have to wonder if there were other educational games, even ones with special decks whose names didn't matter to the persons doing the inventory: VIII Imperadori, or Marziano da Tortona's game of the gods, or even a primitive sort of trionfi. Well, the door is opened a little wider to such speculation, perhaps.

Here again, the page numbers of Franco's pdf are indicated in the left margin, and footnotes are at the bottom of the corresponding page. Franco's help in this translation has again been invaluable. The errors are on me, and if anyone finds one, please let us know.

Florence 1426. Naibi in a large family

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

The present study can be considered a continuation of the one already communicated, in which I presented two packs of naibi found in the inventory of a shop in Ponsacco in 1421. [note 1] I can refer to that study for the context of the research, the typology of the material studied and various related issues. Also in this case, they are in fact inventories of household goods compiled on the occasion of inheritance, by the magistrates of minors.

I can now resume, shortly after, the communication of the results of the research because I finally happened to find a pack of naibi inside a private home, something that seemed the most natural in the world, but which I only managed after the examination of countless inventories of household goods preserved in the first half of the fifteenth century in houses and shops in the city and countryside of Florence.

The family concerned is one of the Vecchietti circle, among the most noble in Florence, and therefore it is useful to preface some information on the history of the family and on the specific situation corresponding to the era of the documents studied.

2. General information on the Vecchietti family

The Vecchietti family was one of the oldest and richest in Florence. I believe that, as happens with other families of that level, today it should be considered extinct, but in the past it left notable traces. Of the long history of the family, we would be more interested in delving into the situation in the years 1420-1430, and I will add some information about it later. Unfortunately, however, if you look for information on the family in the usual repertoires, you only find information from previous or later centuries.

The Vecchiettis, who arrived in the city among the first great families, made their fortune through trade but also suffered setbacks, such as during the defeat of Montaperti, with the consequent burning of their homes in the center of Florence. They recovered and rebuilt the family homes in the gonfalone [subdistrict] of the White Lion, district of Santa Maria Novella, right in the city center. It was a group of houses that occupied a rather large area on the north side of Via de' Ferravecchi (now Via degli Strozzi).

Those houses were partly demolished in the sixteenth century to make way for the family palace built by Bernardo Vecchietti, [note 2] which, with alterations, is still standing and used as a luxury hotel. [note 3] With the arrival of the Piedmontese in Florence, now the capital of Italy, the area was rebuilt from scratch and various Vecchietti buildings were lost, such as the church of San Donato dei Vecchietti, the Vault, and also the Vecchietti Crucifix. The Via de' Vecchietti remains in its place, but nothing remains of its ancient appearance.

Well-known figures of the family in the fourteenth century include Captain Marsilio di Vanni who also traveled to the East, and then in the sixteenth century Bernardo, who hosted and protected Giambologna and Marsilio, who was an esteemed advisor to the Medici and Pope Gregory XIII.[note 4] Perhaps the most famous members of the family were, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the two brothers Giovanni Battista [note 5] and Girolamo, [note 6] who, however, were born in Cosenza and traveled extensively in the East, as far as India, also on behalf of the Church.
2. ; ... uselang=it
4. M. Vannucci, Le grandi famiglie di Firenze, Rome 1993, p. 460.
5. ... ografico)/
6. ... ografico)/

3. The Vecchietti families in Florence in 1427

Since the dates of the documents of the magistracies of the minors of specific interest are 1426 and 1429, it is natural to look for information on the family in the first Florentine catasto [property registry], the famous one of 1427. [note 7]
[Please note that reproduction of the above image is prohibited.]

There, too, we find that the eldest son Francesco was already head of the family at the age of fifteen. In the following table, I report the data on the composition of the family, with the age of each member, as shown in the two inventories of the magistracy of minors and, in the center, of the catasto.
The mother Maria appears only in the catasto and not among the heirs. His sons Tomaso and Domenico can be assumed to have died around 1427, with evidently greater uncertainty for Tomaso. Ruberto and Ginevra must have been twins (they are listed one after the other in the inventories, unlike the catasto, which lists, as in the table, the female after the males). There are some inconsistencies in the recorded ages, especially for Tomaso and Matteo, but not only them; evidently we were still very far from our digitalized registries.

As far as we are concerned, if the family played cards, the average age of the family members would confirm that the type of games were educational, or at most pastime.

Further information is obtained from the catasto of 1427. There are thirteen registered Vecchietti families, of which six belong to a single person, as shown in the following table, extracted from the catasto data. [note 8]
7. ASFi, Catasto No. 77, cc. 75v-77v (Register entitled: Campione del Catasto dei Cittadini. Quartiere S. M. Novella Gonfalone Leon Bianco 1427 – microfilm Catasto bobina 141).
8. ... qlform.php


It is not clear whether the name Marsilio, which appears six times as father [on the right] of a head of the family [on the left], was attributed to a single person, or perhaps to two. The two Iacopos present could have been grandfather and grandson if 79 had really been Corrado's age, but as it happens, this database uses 79 for an undetermined age (and would indicate 81 for 79 years). Then one should check that it is not the same father Iacopo. Bernardo, son of Vanni, could also have been a brother of Iacopo, whose legacy we are studying.

These families were residents in the same gonfalone of the Golden Lion but it is not certain whether they all lived in the family homes next to one other in Via de' Vecchietti and Via de' Ferravecchi. We could do more research on these family circles, but all in all the information found on the family of Francesco alone, head of the family at fourteen, is sufficient for us.

4. The documents studied and the inventories of interest

In the following list, taken from Inventory N/60 of the State Archives of Florence for the section Magistrato dei Pupilli avanti il Principato (Magistracy of Minors before the Principality), all the archival units examined after the previous study are indicated.
Among these, I will focus only on the data of interest in our context of naibi. The first inventory of household goods encountered in the registration of the Vecchietti inheritance [note 9] contains, at the end, what is transcribed below in the second column of the table. This inventory is different from the majority of
9. ASFi, Magistrato dei Pupilli avanti il Principato, N.165 cc. 91r-98v.

others in that it does not correspond to a list of household goods compiled by successively passing from one room to another, after listing all the objects found inside. Here, however, it is a summary inventory of the household goods left in the home without division into the various rooms.
[Again please note that reproduction of the above image is prohibited.]

Also, based on previous experience with the naibi of Ponsacco, mentioned at the beginning, I thought that a more detailed inventory could have existed in previous years, and in fact, I then found one in the registration of the same inheritance from three years earlier. [note 10] Unfortunately, even in this case, we are faced with an overall inventory drawn up by the administrator, or actor, appointed by the magistrates of the pupils. I have transcribed the final part of this, which is of interest to us, in the first column below.
10. ASFi, Magistrato dei Pupilli avanti il Principato, N.159 cc. 257r-267v.

The comparison of the two inventories presents us with some surprises. We expected a much smaller number of objects in the 1429 inventory, because usually some were dispersed or sold in the meantime. Instead, practically all those from 1426 are found here; the copied part of the inventory is missing only a guarnello [tunic]. On the other hand, several more details and even new entries appear in the most recent inventory, which is truly unusual. It would seem that in both cases the copying is done in a slightly different way from one or two previous inventories. What is important for us, however, is that the item of interest, the “pair” of naibi, appears in both cases, and also together with the objects mainly used by the boys.

5. Discussion about the “pair” of naibi

It seems necessary to discuss this very isolated pack of naibi a little. In fact, it must be recognized that with this simple deck, the situation has already changed a little. In the previous

discussion on the naibi found in Ponsacco, many possible reconstructions remained open on the use of naibi at the time and on how further discoveries would be necessary to better define the situation.

In addition to the possible justifications for the failure to find playing cards in homes in Florence and the surrounding area, already discussed in the previous study, another requires comment. Perhaps the cards are not found in homes simply because they were prohibited, and therefore were possibly kept hidden and, if necessary, were destroyed before being found and inventoried.

From what we know from those years, or shortly thereafter, there were prohibited card games, mainly the gambling game condannata, but not a prohibition on playing cards as such. For playing cards, both production and trade are documented in Florence; [note 11] in those days, strict and complete prohibitions could not exist, and if by chance they were still in force, they were not respected. By now, naibi were no longer almost unknown objects, as in the early years, when they were assimilated to dice in the prohibitions. In particular, the traditional game of diritta (documented, for example, as early as 1420 in Milan) [note 12] usually appeared as a permitted game not only as a non-gambling game, but also thanks to an already long tradition consolidated over decades.

Another question I have not discussed in depth is a personal one: how many decks of naibi could have been recorded in these registers without my noticing the corresponding line of the inventory? In this regard, I can even hazard some predictions, or percentages. Despite some vision problems typical of age, I have now recovered ten-tenths of it (at least with my left eye and with light glasses). So, let's say that at most half of the entries about it escape me: if I see ten, maybe twenty; if I saw one, there will be two; but at school they taught me that if you double zero you get zero, and this was until now the depressing situation for the packs of naibi present in countless private edifices. Let's be clear, extending the deductions that can be drawn from a single deck found to the entire context would require that, instead of identifying one out of two, I saw a hundred, but I refuse to admit such a marked deficiency in attention or vision.

However, one really does appear to be much greater than zero: having found one deck of naibi in the house of a noble Florentine family allows us to almost completely exclude the use of cards for gambling, at least in this case. In a family with young children, the only question left is whether the whole family was playing, or just the children. As it happens, the naibi appear at the end of the inventory and right together with the boys' clothing items.

I can admit that it is not proof; I can admit that, statistically speaking, we lack the basis for any valid conclusion, but I like to deduce that a single deck is guiding the hypotheses towards goals that can hopefully be confirmed.

6. Conclusion

In the study illustrated here we encounter a pack of naibi in the house of a noble Florentine family, the Vecchiettis. We are in the 1420s, and after much research, naibi had only been found in the shops of a few retailers, never yet in a private home. This fact contributes to the importance of the discovery (which for me was like winning a challenge or bet), but it is not sufficient to resolve the related questions on the presence - or better, the absence - of playing cards in private homes, in a time still being not too far from their initial diffusion. To argue that at the time, naibi were not used for gambling games in a prevalent, if not almost exclusive, manner, it would be useful if other evidence were found of the same kind as the one reported here.

Florence, 02.12.2024
11. F. Pratesi, Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence. IPCS Papers No. 7, Norfolk 2012.
12. « Au commencement fut la diritta, » L'As de Trèfle, N. 51 (1993) 4-5;
Last edited by mikeh on 18 May 2024, 11:02, edited 3 times in total.

Re: Two tarocchi poems newly transcribed/translated

This translation is of "Trionfo e Lamento: Tarocchi in Vaticano," dated Sept. 5, 2023, in Italian at In the original Italian, it contains transcriptions of two 16th-century tarocchi poems, both already known here and extensively discussed (see Franco's footnote 3 below) but only in regard to the trump order implied in each and not transcribed. In the Italian original, Franco presents full transcriptions of each. In this translation of Franco's essay, with his considerable help, I present them in English translation. It was not easy!

Here again, the numbers by themselves in the left margins correspond are the page numbers of what is below them of Franco's original. The footnotes are at the bottom of the corresponding page. Comments in square brackets are mine.

As far as the content, what I found interesting was that the author of the first poem treats the bagattino as an artisan rather than an illusionist. It makes me wonder what the card looked like for him. In the second poem, it is unclear which he is.

Triumph and Complaint: Tarot in the Vatican

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

The first tarocchi appropriati [appropriated tarot – tarot subjects associated with given personages] I came across was the Triomphi de Troilo Pomeran, and I described it together with the Barzeletta nova, also from the Veneto region; [note 1] since then, about forty years have passed and many things have changed. Other tarocchi appropriati have been found, and experts have often used them, especially to discuss the order of tarot cards in different times and places; I limit myself to indicating a reference that years ago was quite complete; [note 2] today, entering "appropriati" as a search term on the discussions on Tarot History Forum, you get something like 134 entries as a response! [note 3] The procedure for bibliographic research has also changed a lot since then: in those days one could not even imagine the development of digitized catalogs, inserted into the Internet, with data received from an ever-increasing number of libraries and archives.

My study of the history of card games has proceeded intermittently, with long pauses; at least twice, I thought I had closed research in the sector forever, and then with some surprise I found myself starting again. Lately, this "phenomenon" has occurred to me again, probably thanks to my "discovery" of the progress in the digitization of catalogs. I was used to visiting the ancient collections of numerous libraries and archives in person; now I can have them near me via e-mail.

One of the latest catalogs I consulted is that of the Vatican Apostolic Library. I found some items of interest there, particularly on the tarocchi. I had no idea whether they had already been studied or not, precisely because I had lost contact with the progress of research in the sector for some time. I then asked Ross Caldwell to update me, and I learned that my "discoveries" had actually been known to experts for about ten years. Evidently, my consultation of the digitized catalogs had not been a pioneering operation.

After having noted that all the major experts in the sector have discussed the topic, I can limit myself to the main references on the two poetic compositions taken into consideration here from the sixteenth-century manuscript Vat. Lat. 9948: 342, Triompho delle nobili donne di Cesena (Triumph of the noble women of Cesena) and 313, I tarocchi, dove uno si lamenta della sua inimica (The tarocchi, where one complains about his enemy); fortunately, a digitized copy of the manuscript is available online. [note 4] Andrea Vitali included both compositions among those discussed by him. [note 5] An extensive discussion, in which the most authoritative experts participated, took place in the Tarot History Forum. [note 6] However, I have not found a transcription of the poetic compositions in question.

I know well that the greatest usefulness is that relating to the tarot order, already extensively described and commented on. On the other hand, going back from here to the Cesena environment to identify who the women "sung" in the Triompho were and finding other information about them is a task of little interest, and not only for the history of playing cards. The same, or almost, for the author of the Lamento. Despite everything, I thought that the transcription of these two works could be useful to someone who has difficulty reading the manuscript, and I got to work.

2. Transcription from the manuscript

I tried to maintain the handwriting of the text, regardless of the numerous error reports from the Word checker, which I had never seen so busy. I only took the liberty of
3. search.php?st=0&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&keywords=appropriati
6. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1160&p=18795&hilit=Cesena#p18795

using a capital letter for all the verses, because it seems to me that this was also the author's intention (with his numerous omissions, however). Understandably, I may have misread some terms, but overall for a more fluent reading - and to find the words in the dictionary for those who need them - the writing could advantageously be modified with more "convenient" corrections; for example, an easy first change would be to replace all j's with i's. Another notable step forward would be made just by "correcting" the simple or double consonants; similarly for the accents.

[For the verbatim transcript, see Franco's Italian original. What is presented here is a translation into modern English - not an easy task, due not only to archaic words found only in Italian-Italian dictionaries (if then), but to flexible word order, which is seen also in English poetry but much more extensively here. Moreover, subjects of verbs are often merely implied, and some possessive adjectives have uncertain antecedents. In Italian, "suo" and "sua" are masculine and feminine depending on the noun that follows. In English, whether it is "his," "her," or "its" depends on locating the right antecedent. And it doesn't help that there is minimal punctuation (supplemented by me somewhat in the first poem). So translation is inevitably interpretation. I hope we got most of it.

In the first poem, the second through eighth lines of each eight-line stanza are indented to the right. Since the 23 stanzas are well separated from one another, preserving this indentation by means of ___ before all but a few lines did not seem important. The second poem, however, is in 22 tercets (triplets) not separated, so I put in right indents for the second and third lines of each.]

(f. 331r) Triumph of the Noble Women of Cesena
made to signification of the tarocchi

Let those who want sing the bloody deeds
Of proud Mars, and the honored laurels:
Write who wants how Jupiter descended
From heaven, forced by stranger loves.
Say whoever wants, how Apollo once took
A shepherd’s form, and of his sweet ardors:
I will sing of these beautiful women,
Who vanquish all the stars with splendor.

_____Angelo The Lady Bianca of Bagno
The first is Bianca, who in beautiful sculpted
Eyes holds Love’s quiver:
And it seems that so much grace overflows in her
That it fills every soul and every heart with joy.
She has written on her brow, infirm mortals and fools
Born to bear pain and grief,
Don't make any desire to love me,
Because I am all intent on my Angel.

_____(f. 331v) World M. Lucretia Romanini
Life-giving Lucretia appears, whose health
Is so good that it amazes everyone on earth;
And prescribed on her brow, she holds virtue,
Which shows the hearts a continuous war;
Let all languages remain silent,
For when speaking of her every mortal often errs;
Having to bear such a heavy burden,
With the right hand holding the World.

_____Sun M. Giulia Masini
Here Giulia appears, in whose presence
You can see written Love and gracefulness,
Rare virtue, knowledge, high intellect,
Grace that seems today to be without equal:
Pleasure jokes with her, and she has delight
Imprinted on her forehead, and she seems endlessly
To want to say, without me, the great planet
That defines the hours does not distinguish itself.

_____(332r) Moon M. Veronica Bucci
Spring in the heart, honor in the eyes
Grace on the face, and hope in the mouth,
Lace in the hair, where in sweet error,
We see Love moaning for his love,
Piteous effect, and chaste and holy ardor
In Veronica appears; indeed, whoever holds
The triform goddess [Hekate] as insignia leads
Those they deign to love at the extreme hours.

_____Star M. Silvia Bertuccioli
Everyone who looks upon and contemplates intently
The beauty of Silvia remains happy
And one can well say that a paradise on earth
Is with her, without her pain and torment.
With her eyes she calms the sky with laughter
To remain makes everyone intent to gaze at her,
Then she says, don't be surprised that I'm beautiful,
That's what my benign star wants.

_____(332v) Lightning [Saetta, also = arrow] M. Ippolita Beccari
Never tired of shooting arrows at people
Ippolita comes full of flames;
In whose brow there is so much burning fire,
And in her eyes, which you can barely see.
(She seems to say) if my sudden burning
Brings to you mortals torment and pain,
It only proceeds that I was chosen by heaven
Lightning [Folgore] of Jupiter or rather arrow [Saetta] of love.

_____Devil M. Laura Masini
I carry an evil spirit in my forehead
As you see, it doesn't come from me,
Laura said, wherefore I urge each one
To never break his firm faith:
Because to the proud Enemy, rightly or wrongly,
It demonstrates the badness that only evil possesses.
But if he does not harm me, let him not harm you,
Because he is my business, and I am not his.

_____(333r) Death M. Isabella Venticelli
Here appears the generous and beautiful
Woman who already adorned the city of Manto [i.e. Mantua]
I say the very honest Isabella
For whom Amor lives in anguished tears.
O my wicked, O my perverse star
(She seems to say), if I am so beautiful,
Yet my wicked fate has granted me
To bear dark Death as insignia.

_____Justice M. Margherita Masini
Of a graceful purple color in sight
Margherita comes out beautiful and kind,
At whose appearance every soul afflicted and sad
Changes its bitterness into a sweet style.
Her grace with beauty mixed
Makes every rough and cowardly heart gentle,
And she holds, to make herself
To the world unique and worthy,
The justice of heaven for her true insignia.

_____(333v) Traitor M. Francesca Cappa
The great light of the sun, serene and clear
Is called light because it lights and shines,
And with its light down here one learns
The great virtue that descends from its rays,
Such of Francesca is the rare beauty.
Rare beauty that vanquishes and takes everyone,
And inflames with treacherous eyes
In one time a thousand souls and a thousand hearts.

_____Time M. Cornelia Budi
Cornelia appears, in whose beautiful eyes sits
As much strength of love as reigns among us,
And that it is true, honest love in her wise
Thoughts can be seen at all times.
Of as much good Nature can give heir to,
She [Nature] has made her on earth, and says that [if] you want more
From me, daughter, I deliver you to time,
Which without, you will never be able to be on the beat.

_____(334r) Wheel of fortune M. Faustina Toschi
Faustina comes, for whom shines
However much virtue there is from the Ganges to Tile [Thule]
True principle where my tongue takes
New object of love and new style.
Thus her beautiful eyes light up every vile soul,
And she makes every harsh, proud one humble with her words,
So much so that nothing can harm her,
Since she holds fortune by the hair.

_____Triumphal chariot M. Caterina Gaulagnini
On a triumphal chariot with a thousand scattered.
Trophies around comes haughty Caterina:
In whose beautiful eyes makes now sojourn
All the beauty that spring can show.
And to do insult and scorn to Love,
She has a graceful host of Nymphs with her;
And it seems that she says in a humble and pious voice
I have vanquished Love. This is my glory.

_____(334v) Fortitude M. Alexandra Mori
After her comes with sweet accents
Kind Alexandra, and she seems to say,
At my speaking, all the winds are stilled,
And every mortal toil endures for me;
Love follows me and with ardent sighs
Says my flame is nourished only in you
I am fascinated by your beauty
And give you fortitude as insignia.

_____Temperance M. Diana Pasolini
My chaste desire, the firm desire
That I have to follow my longed-for Goddess,
Tempers the desire that often makes me want to love
Against the desire created within my heart.
I don’t want love to push or take me away in any way
From my honor; so said to herself
The life-giving Diana, and demonstrated outwardly
Tempering with temperance the arrows of Love.

_____(335r) Love M. Ludovica Fiorà
The pilgrim’s habit lights up my heart
Lights up my soul and consumes my heart.
So much that my tired life gives itself up to it,
Lodovica said, full of love,
My heart does not desire or take any other cure
If not to do my husband honor,
Overcome by the virtue that nestles within him
I have taken Love as my [master?] and guide.

_____Pope M. Margherita Fantauzzi
Here is Margherita's true example,
Example true that amazes Nature:
Love, I don't know if in your sacred temple
Soul may receive purer than she.
This one does not cause torment, nor cruel havoc,
But true faith which lasts forever.
And that it be true of the great Shepherd in her,
The carved imprint has the god of all the Gods.

_____(335v) Emperor M. Portia Pasolini
The superb insignia of the fifth Charles
Given to him in the world by supernal Jupiter
Imprinted in Portia sits and worthy of herself,
Appears happy and doesn't know to go elsewhere.
Every other care, every other thing it disdains,
Nor by chance does it ever move,
And seems to say, Charles, do not presume
That I look at him, but only into Portia's lights.

_____Empress M. Livia Marri
Envy she will not make, nor jealousy
That I am not the Livia I used to be.
Say, please, whoever wants, and humble and pious,
I will always be, and devoid of all pride.
My happy and longed for company
I keep as a guide, nor want anything else:
It can make me happy at all times,
And of the world and of the sky empress.

_____(336r) Bagattino M. Orsina Gottofreddi
At Night, in the day, the day loaded with stars
I make appear, with every industry and art,
Things of form to be so beautiful
Which seem to have most of the sky.
Someone will say that I make bagatelles,
But he is foolish and ignorant in this part,
Orsina says: it is my destiny,
Which makes me do what Nature cannot.

_____Matto M. Elisabetta Bertuccioli.
Cruel Love does not have among his followers
A Woman who can compare to this one,
I say about this one, for whom it never seems
Heavy to follow love, but vigilant and prompt
She shows herself and says in a sweet and gentle tone,
I am Elizabeth, nor does it bother me,
This insignia of the Fool, because I make
Him go mad, and often others.


(307v) The Tarocchi: where one complains
about one's enemy

Top: Copy from the [Signore] Brunor' Tampescho
my patron

The more ardent love grows in me
__Virtue my enemy, the more I become
__Crazy in loving you, alas, at all hours
I make bagatelles without ingenuity
__It's like a fairy tale to the vulgar and I realize it
__And it makes me indignant about it myself
I care nothing about the world, what is still worse
__Everything seems ugly to me and you Sun only beautiful
__And I still rave about whether it's true
I'd even like to hear some just news
__That reason gives to those who always crave it
__So be as just as you are beautiful
Not wanting to wait for the Angel to call
__One of us and tell me come
__I highly suspect a worthy cause for those who love
Only when I look at you do I become happy
__You are the first sun, it is the second
__Now hurry up with this net of yours
(308r) O old moon that give light to the world
__In the dark, murky, misty night
__Bring the wicked desire of this one to the bottom
I want to tell you now without fear
__My ancient star that in beauty
__Surpasses you and has great fortune
With so much impetus, never with much harshness,
__Never shot a lightning-bolt from high to low
__Just as I come to you with great sweetness
The Devil isn't so low
__As I am every hour alone thinking of you
__And I will stay (?) for you cold and slow every hour
I go desiring death every hour
__For life being so bitter for me
__And this happens for banishing me
I don't want to hang myself but I want a rare
__Death if you won’t give me comfort
__Which lets my fame be clear to the world
Like a ship I am that would want
__To take port against various winds
__And the old man its patron [owner?] is upset about it
(308v) This cruel wheel follows neither the planets
__Nor the winds, but makes fun
__Of those who are crazy but were prudent
Of body here strength has no place
__In abonio (?) how much I have longed for and do long for
__But patience is needed little by little
This high god of love, the more I call him
__And I beg him and I implore him and I ask him
__Alas, to let me possess what I love.
Answer he gives me not if not by singing
__He goes on a chariot for his amusement
__And poor me I'm thinking about it
Tempering suits me these days of yours
__I know love well but I can't
__Do it so soon, or maybe I'll do it later
If indeed the Pope or the King came upon him
__This god of love who is blind and naked
__Would defeat him with just one shake
If the emperor were much more cruel
__Than was ever that cruelty of Nero
__Love would conquer him: now I conclude here
Whoever wants him, love, makes his prison.
3. Discussion and comments

As stated in the Introduction, both the Triumpho and Lamento have already been studied and discussed in depth with regards to the order of the tarot subjects, and therefore for this, which is the most significant element, I refer to the literature already cited. I have few points left for some comments.

A first comment on the Triompho concerns these women from Cesena. They are all indicated as M., probably Madonna - or in any case a similar term - except for the first, indicated as Lady. Her origin, or perhaps her family, could then be of interest: from Bagno; I believe that it is precisely Bagno di Romagna (today in the Cesena-Forlì province), a town and spa that was also quite popular at the time. While Cesena then belonged to the Papal State, Bagno di Romagna was located in the Tuscan Romagna, within the Florentine Republic and then the Grand Duchy. In short, she must have been a country lady, but one who seemed to have a higher social status than her companions from Cesena. Of the group of women, I can only observe the presence of three with the surname Masini and two with the surname Pasolini, which seems to indicate a rather limited circle of acquaintances. I can't imagine anything else, at least for the moment.

What can be said about the poetic work? Not much here either, after so many years that I no longer do my schoolwork. There are very few points that struck me. One is that our poet manages to turn to advantage even the tarocchi symbols that would have more easily distinguished an ugly and unpleasant woman. An indicative example can be the Traitor, in which the woman is praised in everything, and the “betrayal” appears only at the end, fleetingly in her traitorous eyes. Above all, there is a kind of refrain that could make our Giacomo Leopardi turn in his grave. Do you remember? “The Sun hurts me, which between distant mountains, / After the clear day, / As it falls, disappears, and seems to say / That blessed youth is failing.” Here, this poetic Par che dice [seems to say] is found four times, and the author cannot have taken it from Leopardi.

Finally, I would like to add a couple of technical observations on the tarocchi, and in particular on the World and the Wheel. “Having to bear such a heavy burden, / With the right hand holding the world.” The world held in the right hand seems to indicate a card set simply in the same manner as a King or Queen holding the symbol of their role. But to correspond to the "heavy burden,” a sphere of small dimensions would not be enough, as one can see, but rather one should think of something more realistic and weighty, like the world that is observed in many tarocchi decks, and in minchiate under the Angel's feet - but that's another card. In the Wheel, the detail of Faustina grabbing Fortune by the hair is interesting: this could also indicate a reference to a particular detail present on the corresponding card, but in the tarocchi, Fortune possibly has an active and not passive role.

Moving on to the Lamento, I find even less to add. The spelling, if possible, is even more incorrect than the Triompho, according to our scholastic criteria. The fundamental information is that of the single card indicated more or less explicitly in each triplet, but this is now established and already discussed extensively; other than this I cannot extract any other useful information from the few sentences present.

However, the figure of the author is interesting, because this time it is a well-known character: "Brunoro II Zampeschi (Forlì, July 1540 - Forlimpopoli, May 1578) was a man of arms, captain of fortune, Prince, Count, Governor of Crema and Dalmatia, Dux (Duke) and Plenipotentiary Governor of Candia, Sovereign Lord and Perpetual Pontifical Vicar of Forlimpopoli, Lord of Giovedia, of San Mauro and of Tomba," as we read in Wikipedia together with other important information. [note 7]

The most surprising thing is that this gentleman from Forlimpopoli (coincidentally only about fifteen kilometers from Cesena) was mainly a leader who passed from one military enterprise to another. Despite this, and despite the fact that he lived only thirty-eight years, we find news of

his literary works, such as L'Innamorato, printed in 1565. On his literary activity, as well as on the three dialogues of this work, useful information can be found in a recent reissue.

If one thinks of using Zampeschi's biography to date the Lamento, it can be considered logical that the copying took place while the author was still alive; then the only uncertainty remains of whether it was one of his first or last poetic compositions, with a possible leap from the early Sixties to the second half of the Seventies; in short, only about fifteen years before or after, but with - in this case - little probability for an intermediate value.

I can conclude with an opinion on the transcription: there are some uncertain words that can be clarified later, but this is not the main problem. In fact, I fear that those who could not decipher the manuscript and were waiting for a transcription will still have to wait for a future version in the current language, unless they are quite familiar with the Italian language of the past, and with its freer orthography.

Florence, 05.09.2023

Re: Franco Pratesi, new publications (since 2023)

Franco Pratesi wrote, MikeH translated:
My study of the history of card games has proceeded intermittently, with long pauses; at least twice, I thought I had closed research in the sector forever, and then with some surprise I found myself starting again. Lately, this "phenomenon" has occurred to me again, probably thanks to my "discovery" of the progress in the digitization of catalogs. I was used to visiting the ancient collections of numerous libraries and archives in person; now I can have them near me via e-mail.
Well, that's rather good to all of us, that Franco Patesi came back to some activity with the theme playing cards and that we have Michael, who is an useful translator for his texts. Big thanks.

See also ....
viewtopic.php?f=8&p=26477&sid=96a3172c0 ... cf8#p26477
I've made some lists in the library ....

Re: Franco Pratesi, new publications (since 2023)

Please note that I have given one of Franco's recent essays a thread of its own, at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=2733, because I had an idea that I would want to pursue the topic further myself. Having done that, I return to this thread to post more of Franco's recent work in translation, starting with his number 8/06, "Pontormo 1479. Carte da gioco nella casa di un merciaio," posted Feb. 22, 2024 at As usual, comments in square brackets are mine, numbers in the left margin by themselves are page numbers of Franco's pdf, a new one at the start of each page, and footnotes are at the bottom of the page. I have consulted with Franco and benefited from his corrections and observations.

Pontormo 1479. Playing cards in a haberdasher's house

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

This research took place in the State Archives of Florence (ASFi) and was based on two archival units, a book of notarial records [note 1] and a book with the statutes of the municipality involved. [note 2] In the first element, I was informed of the presence of playing cards in an inventory of various goods; in the second, I looked for traces, in the same locality, of the first local laws on games.

2. Pontormo or Pontorme

We find sufficient information on the location involved in this study even in Wikipedia. [note 3] More information can be found on a website of the municipality of Empoli, [note 4] or in two academic lectures from the late nineteenth century, [note 5] of which a digitized edition is available online. [note 6] Today an independent town of Pontorme no longer exists, as the whole village has been incorporated inside the boundaries of Empoli.

The first doubt to resolve is whether the name should be written correctly with an o or an e at the end. The correct name is certainly Pontorme, as it took its name from the bridge over the Orme stream. However, the fact that its best-known citizen, Jacopo Carrucci, one of the main exponents of Florentine mannerism, is universally known as Pontormo, from his place of birth, leads us to maintain that name here too, which we also find written like this in the documents of the time.

The ancient castle of Pontormo was located along the important road from Pisa to Florence, and starting from the castle it was precisely along the road that the village developed, surrounded in 1365 by the city walls, equipped with six towers. While traces of the walls are preserved today, the towers and the famous castle were definitively demolished in the eighteenth century, preserving only the ancient thirteenth-century bell on the new bell tower of the parish church.

A fresco by Giorgio Vasari in the Salone dei Cinquecento of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence gives a glimpse of the walled town; other representative images—including a few plans and schematic reconstructions of the old town—can be found for Pontorme in Wikimedia Commons and Google Images.

The walled citadel was very close to that of Empoli, and so together with Monterappoli a league of the three municipalities was formed that lasted for a long time. The economy, even later, was based on the kilns for the production of ceramics and on the profession of transporting, which was in great demand because in that marshy area subject to frequent floods it was necessary, depending on the seasons, to have the means and skills to allow passengers and goods to transit both on land and water.

In recent times the village underwent a long decline, then saw a slight improvement thanks to braid makers employed in the production of straw hats, while today activity essentially depends on how much nearby Empoli has prospered, which has grown to the point of incorporating the old village, which had been independent for centuries, within the territory of the city.

3. Games in the municipal statutes of Pontormo

In the past I had searched the Statutes of the Autonomous and Subject Communities [section of the AFSi in search of local laws on games; I then included the main results I found in a
1. ASFi, Notarile antecosimiano, 16831
2. ASFi, Statuti delle comunità autonome e soggette, 640.
4. ... torme.html
5. L. Rigoli, Lezioni due sopra il Castello di Pontorme, Empoli 1890.
6. ... navlinks_s

book dedicated to this historical period.[note 7] From Inventory N/9 of this section, it appears that two books with the town's municipal statutes are preserved, N. 640, Pontormo 1414-1525, and N. 641, Pontormo 1532-1767. I haven't consulted the second because it starts too late for our purposes. But No. 640 covers the time interval we are interested in, and therefore I have taken it for examination.

This book was not included in my past selection, and therefore its examination could bring us further useful information on the laws on games, and card games in particular. But what is found is not very interesting. In two extended versions of the statute, the traditional chapter on the prohibition of games is presented, without naming carte or naibi and without going into detail except for the various penalties for the players as well as those who manage the activity of the game and even the spectators.

In the book, there are few complete or almost complete versions of the statute, but many partial revisions with modifications and reforms to the individual sections. Understandably, parts of the book bound together were very different in terms of the type of paper, including some in parchment, and in handwriting that ranges from easily readable to almost indecipherable. Above all, in this case, the collection of the various texts does not follow in correct chronological order, which complicates the study a little.

The first variant of the statute, which opens the book, is from 1443 and was evidently chosen as the main one because it is the most readable and complete. At ff. 25v and 26r we read the section De pena ludentium et ludum retinentium. The penalty is 20 lire for those who play the game of zara (ad ludum zardi), as well as for those who lend the materials, for which dice and boards and any other object are indicated (among which one can only imagine playing cards), while for those who watch the game without participating, the penalty is reduced by half.

A similar section, with greater differentiation in punishments, can be found in f. 67r, in the statute dating back to 1414: no one may play the prohibited games, the penalties are 2 lire for those who watch the game, 5 for those who play during the day and 10 if at night; 10 lire during the day and 15 at night for those who manage the gaming environment; 5 lire to whoever supplies dice, and whoever lent money for the game is not entitled to restitution; 5 lire to anyone who blasphemes God and the Mother Virgin Mary or some Saint of Paradise.
ASFi, Statutes of the autonomous and subject communities, N. 640 f. 67r,
(Reproduction prohibited)

7. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nella repubblica fiorentina, Ariccia 2016, pp. 129-136. [These pages, in the book in Italian, appeared in English in The Playing Card 18, no. 4, 1990, pp. 128-135, as "Early Laws on Card-Playing in Towns under Florentine Influence," now online at]

This association of the game with blasphemy is found in various places and at various times, to the point of remaining the one punishment stipulated even when various games are permitted: not only will blasphemy always remain condemned, but the corresponding penalties will be greatly increased. I reported an example for minchiate in 1477 in Cortona [note 8]: that game was permitted, and therefore we would not have had the information that Bartolomeo di Giovanni da Vaglia played minchiate for months in Cortona if he had not also blasphemed and been sentenced for that and only that.

Unlike other municipal statutes, I have not noticed here any brief further reform in this regard, with clarifications of the games or variations in the relative penalties and the like. Evidently the main concerns of the citizenry in gradually reforming the statute, in addition to the organization of the government and municipal administration, concerned the control of water, with the numerous streams that required regulation and careful and frequent surveillance. The territory was subject, in fact, to frequent floods which constituted on the one hand a scourge for the crops and on the other a job opportunity for a significant fraction of the citizens, who lived by working as local transporters of goods and passengers, in order to ferry them by water in the area when it was not passable by land.

4. The inventory of goods

Still in the ASFi, we now move on to the section Notarile antecosimiano [notarial records before Cosimo, i.e. Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany]. As regularly happens in these large books of notarial registers the writing is difficult to read. The language itself is more often Latin than Italian. My classical high school diploma was in 1959, still a good year for that, and Latin still creates no difficulties for me, but I must admit that in paleography, I lack an adequate university-level basis.

When these notaries write lists of people's names, or even lists of objects, as in this case, they try to make the text more readable. If I had leafed through the entire volume, I would have been able to locate this inventory, along with a few other pages with lists of people, while all the "normal" pages are practically indecipherable to me.

Incredibly, there are scholars who read these pages as we read a printed book. One of these, who knows what I'm looking for, pointed out a "useful" inventory to me. [note 9] This is the inventory of household goods found in 1476 in the house of a haberdasher [American English: dry goods store proprietor], the late Luca di Antonio di Pontormo. I reproduce and transcribe the final part below, which is of interest to us.
ASFi, Notarile Antecosimiano, 16831, f. 78v, detail.
(Reproduction prohibited)

8. L'As de Trèfle, No. 52 (1993), pp. 9-10;
9. ASFi, Notarile Antecosimiano, 16831, f. 78v.

1 chest with drawers at the guardian in Florence
6 pieces of silk fringe . . . of several colors
7 pieces of wide silk ribbon of several colors . . .
10 pieces of assorted wide silk ribbon of several colors
40 arm’s lengths [braccia] of silk cord of several colors
40 arm’s lengths of ribbon of several colors
40 arm’s lengths of yarn cord of several colors
6 oz of silk for sewing of several colors
30 arms’ lengths of fringe of thread and 30 of silk of several colors
12 pounds of yarn of several colors
4 new charnaiuoli [note 10] without straps
200 brass and silver eyelets?
2 dozen of playing cards [charte da giuchare]
1 dozen of parchments
2 dozen of mirrors in wood and 2 dozen dolls [note 11] out of the wood
Of course, two dozen of cards can't just be 24 playing cards! These are, as in other cases of this kind, two dozen decks. Among other things, it often happened in those centuries that only a dozen decks had a price expressed in whole numbers, of florins or lire. Having a reserve of 24 decks of playing cards for the haberdashery indicates that the trade in such items was quite abundant at the time.

Another significant fact for us is that carte per giocare, even if it has been in use for some time, is already commonly said for playing cards, as it is still used today after more than half a millennium. Probably the term Naibi, which had arrived a whole century earlier, was even forgotten. It remains a bit of curiosity if the name change had also accompanied some changes in the cards themselves. One could in fact imagine that the naibi coming from the East had been adapted to local customs with modifications to the material and figures, until obtaining a new model recognized as standard.

Another useful and clear piece of information, however indirect, concerns the value attributable to playing cards. and it comes from the goods listed together: there are many objects of trivial haberdashery, without any appearing of superior value.

5. Conclusion

Two documents from the municipality of Pontormo, the village from which the famous mannerist painter took his name, were examined: the chapter on games in the municipal statutes, in two versions separated by thirty years in the first half of the fifteenth century, and an inventory of objects of haberdashery from 1479.

The typical prohibition on gambling appears in the statute, but without any explicit information on card games; the relative pecuniary penalties in the two statutes are considerably different: the first more differentiated, the later more burdensome.

In the inventory, however, we are interested in the presence in the list of two dozen decks of playing cards, a notable quantity, especially considering the limited size of the town. From comparison with the goods found together, there is an indirect but reliable confirmation that the playing cards were, at least then, completely ordinary objects, with small commercial value even when new.
10. Old fashioned term for game bags.
11. The word doll [bambola] refers to the glass of a mirror without the frame.

Florence, Feb. 22, 2024