Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Feb. 12, 2024: Florence 1426. Naibi in a large family

 Here is a follow-up to Franco's previous 2024 essay on Florentine inheritance inventories, that posted immediately previously to this one. The new one below, dated Feb. 12, 2024, is 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.

As usual in these translations, 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 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.
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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).
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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.
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;


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