Saturday, May 18, 2024

April 13, 2024: Minchiate, a field too vast for the Academy

 Here is the translation another find of Franco's, from the same Biblioteca Moreniana as in his preceding notes: "Minchiate, un campo troppo vasto per l’Accademia," This time there is a mention of a hitherto unknown minchiate designer, which Franco's sleuthing makes it not too hard to trace to a known minchiate. If you want to try your luck yourself, save the comments that I've added at the end (in my own voice) until you've done so.

The comments in brackets are mine, but they are mostly based on Franco's answers to questions I put to him for clarification. In this case, there were so many footnote so far away from the text they were commenting on that I decided to insert them at the end of every two paragraphs, or one if there were a lot. That will make it easier to jump from text to note and back.

Minchiate, a field too vast for the Academy

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

Recently I had the opportunity to present an academic talk on card games preserved in the Biblioteca Moreniana in Florence.[note 1] In the same library, there is another similar speech, or rather a "cicalata," this time dedicated to the game of Goose.[note 2] I thought I would find useful information on the origin of this popular game, also because it seems that the first known reference dates back to Francesco I de’ Medici,[note 3] but in the end, it seemed to me useful to transcribe only the part of the speech that concerns, again, playing cards.

We do not know the author, date, or even the academy in question. It seems, however, that the era is that of the eighteenth century, perhaps the first half. The game of Goose had already been the subject of an academic discourse, and the author of the current Cicalata [as these burlesques were called: Jabber] criticizes the approach and proposes to intervene again on the subject. However, in preparing the outline of the speech, he finds many reasons for hesitation among various alternative games to illustrate, and the part that particularly interested me is that on card games, especially minchiate. In a nutshell, I find many features of this traditional game and its practice recalled, as well as some information on the side of great interest, such as, in particular, information new to me of a pack of Florentine historical minchiate.

2. The text

I reproduce below a detail of the text and transcribe the part of interest below. Image Florence Moreniana Library, Palagi [section], No. 65, Fasc. 8. Detail
(Reproduction prohibited)

1. https://cittametropolitanafirenze.05505 ... -moreniana;
2. Biblioteca Moreniana, Palagi [section] No. 65, Fasc. 8.
3. G. Dossena, I giochi da tavolo. Milan 1984.

.. . I was heartened when my vast mind suggested to me the Game of Pelacchiù;[note 4] I had already made up my mind to trace its origin from the Parsnip Islands, [note 5] or from the Molucchas Islands; but the writing in the book on which I founded my opinion was so battered and faded that after I had slipped away, and almost lost my eyes in it, I could not distinguish whether it said either Parsnips, Crumbs [Molliche], or Molucchas; a gnat leapt at my nose, and I tore that little book in rage; for I was anxious to make a sure and not dubious discovery, and I did not wish to understand fireflies for lanterns around such matters deserving to be treated with care.
And then it was, academicians, that I, as if roused from a deep lethargy, raised my head, and, all cheered and laughing, I said to myself: Why am I here uselessly wasting time, lye, and soap [note 6] around certain games which are nothing more than games and amusements of shop-assistants and runaway boys, whatever his very subtle chirping Encomiasta [speech of praise] on the beautiful game of Goose might want to pretend to prove to the contrary [note 7] If I, too, have the itch to jabber away [cicalare] about the dignity and nobility of some game, why don't I choose that of Primiera? [note 8]

4. A. Milano, “Giochi su carta,” in Come giocavamo, Florence 1984, pp. 21-24. Game with dice similar to Goose.
5. A legendary location, as if from the ends of the earth.
6. He adds time to the lye and soap that are associated in the idiomatic expression.
7. It refers to an earlier talk given in the Academy, which I do not know.
8. The first had lost some of its prestige due to the laws against gambling, but it had also been a game appreciated by high society.

And if I don't like this, since Francesco Berni wrote a Chapter in praise of it, [note 9] why do I not take into my own hands the rules and chapters of the game of the Three Sevens, [note 10] which were printed in this City in the last year, that is to say, in the year of a century that is the most enlightened, the which is ours? For if I have the pleasure of doing myself honour, [why] do I not soon read this golden book, and after having studied it well, make some additions, or some erudite and well-reasoned commentary, and then recite it before my fellow Academicians in order to amuse them profitably and gracefully?

It is also known that the Librettine [note 11] were put in ottava rima [eight-line rhyming stanzas] by a certain I don't know who, who made much credit for himself with the Literary Republic; I too, therefore, could reduce the Chapters of the Three Sevens into tercets, and read three or four of them at our Academy, making them serve as a Cicalata, as Dr. Lorenzo Bellini practiced [note 12] in an excerpt from the Academicians of the Crusca, to whom, having to talk after dinner, he read a great passage from his Bucchereide? [note 13]
9. Capitolo del gioco della primiera [Chapter of the game of Primiera], Rome 1526, Venice 1534.
10. In Lensi's Bibliography there is listed at No. 20 an unobtainable Chapters of the Muscovite tresette, of 9 pages, undated. This is probably just a later variant, but there are no convincing alternatives.
11. The first book used in school to learn arithmetic as a child was called the Librettine.
12. ... ctionary)/
13. The Bucchereide di Dr. Lorenzo Bellini, Florence, 1729.
Thus I discoursed with myself, and I had almost made up my mind to this work when the game of minchiate clouded the idea I had conceived: it pretended to be preferred over any other game. [note 14] Capers! I was sorry for this, and this new theme for the Cicalata put me in great confusion and broke three strings of my chitarrino [small guitar].

That reflection, that I had to explain the origin of this noble game, [note 15] and that being obliged to rediscover the true meaning of so many tarocchi, [note 16] I am bound to raise myself in imagination to the empyrean Heaven, [note 17] and to enter with thought into the houses of so many Planets, [note 18] into that


14.Reasonable claim only for Florence.
15. It would not have been easy to explain the origin, even if it was less distant then than from today's perspective.
16. Only the top forty cards were called tarocchi. There are several authors who are still committed today to trying to explain their "true" meaning.
17. Traversing all the skies to the highest.
18. I think he means as Planets the twelve signs of the zodiac.

reasoning of the verzicole declared,[note 19] the murdered Popes,[note 20] the hanged Kings,[note 21] the dead airs,[note 22] the little-esteemed virtues, [note 23] a madman who is seldom lost and who counts more than the Sages, and enters into everything, [note 24] saying, in short, that he counts as a Sixth Pope;[note 25] that there are others who always give cards;[note 26] that there are some who never pay the remainder:[note 27] that there are many who are afraid of the thirteen [note 28] and few of the Devil:[note 29] that, finally, there is no lack of people, who, promising themselves in every scuffle sure victory, then return with trumpets in the sack.[note 30] All this, in short, and many other things more, which I had to say in speaking of minchiate, made me sweat at my temples, and shiver down to my tail-bone, and put me in such apprehension, and frightened me so much, that I could not see, I went totally out of my mind, I found myself startled and thought I was almost falling down from a heart attack. The subject was beautiful, there is no denying it, but the field was too vast; and I, because of the shortness of time, saw myself squeezed between a door and a wall.
19. Verzicole are specific combinations of three or more cards that are counted before, during, and after the end of the game, earning points.
20. The Papi are the lowest tarocchi and therefore can easily be captured by higher numbered tarocchi, even if the latter earn fewer points.
21. One rule of the game dictates that the king must be played, losing it, in response to the suit led, if a tarocco has been put on the table. [Here is how John McLeod explains the rule on his site: “If on the first occasion that any particular suit is led a player trumps and a later player to the trick holds the King of the suit, they must play the King to the trick.”]
22. The Aire are the five highest tarocchi, but captures can naturally occur within this series as well.
23. The seven virtues have the numbers 6-8 and 16-19, and are therefore allocated quite low in the sequence.
24. The Fool counts 5 (more than the wise, i.e. probably the Papi, who count 3), and if it ends up in a hand won by the opponents it can be replaced with a worthless card. It can also be added to each verzicola to increase its score.
25. Pope Six does not exist, the series ends at 5; it means counting as nothing [as something that does not exist].
26. A frequent conservative tendency of not taking a trick so as to postpone playing high cards.
27. A remainder is the unit of payment and is reached with 60 points; In a game, you can win and lose multiple remainders.
28. Card No. 13 of the minchiate is Death.
29. The Devil is 14, so only a third of the way through the sequence, and it's not a tarocco with points.
30. In analogy to the popular saying "le pive nel sacco" [with disappointment for not reaching the desired goal]. The Trumpets are those sounded by the Angel, the highest card of the tarocchi, which would correspond to No. 40. It guarantees the winning of the trick in which it is played, but not that of the game.
O, do you see what it has cost me in travail and sorrow to think of a subject for the Cicalata. I was at risk of putting my skin on it [i.e., dying]. Fortunately, I drove away this thought of minchiate with such fury; and although I was reminded of the historical minchiate [note 31] devised by Doctor Angiolo Maria Ricci,[note 32] also that modernly invented, if I am not mistaken, by a good French author,[note 33] even that name of minchiate raised me so much out of order and disconcerted, that I did not even want to know about these, whether smelling or burnt; and I said between my teeth the Ave Maria of the Bertuccia [note 34] for having entered with my thought into the thicket, into the labyrinth, into the mess of Games.

31. This is probably the most important piece of information for us in the whole thing: I don't know this version of the cards.
32. Information later.
33. This engraver perfected his craft during his seven years of work in Rome. His mid-seventeenth-century French minchiate is well known, but it does not seem very plausible that it had become popular in Florence. Unless it is the well-known book with figures of cards, C. O. Finè de Brianville, Jeu d’armoiries des souverains et etats d’Europe, Lyon 1659.)
34. To say the Barbary macaque's Hail Mary was to blaspheme between one's teeth.

3. Comments on the text

As stated, the text examined is not an entire academic discourse, but only a part that could be considered secondary. However, this part is of some interest for card games, and mainly for minchiate. The author emphasizes various aspects of this traditional Florentine game, both basic and detailed. To begin with, one encounters the claim that it is a noble game, a rare attribute for card games and usually reserved for chess.

In addition, some problems soon arise that are impossible to solve, and in particular how one could reconstruct both the historical origin of those cards and their intrinsic meaning.

However, even in the uncertainty about the comprehension of these cards, it is clear that they are not just any products but objects of high quality, even with references to the high heavens. In short, having to talk about it, one cannot avoid discussing high-level philosophical and theological questions. One even forgets that, after all, it would be a game.

But even if one "descends" into the typical game environment and listens to the players engaged in their game, one again encounters numerous other difficulties. Here, it is the practice of the game that presents problems, and the technical expressions used by the players certainly do not help one comprehend it.

One will encounter words that are very clear in their everyday meaning, but that in the practice of the game become terms of technical jargon. Then there are also words used only in the game and incomprehensible in general, such as verzicole, which in fact we find several times referred to as versicole.

In the end, the author sees the presence of all these difficulties as a justification to change the subject and discuss a different game more thoroughly. This is evidently only an excuse, also because in the author's own language, unusual and typical local idiomatic expressions recur one after the other; but the difficulties listed are not fictitious, so much so that they are the same ones still debated by experts today. On the contrary, for us there is a bit of regret that even in an era not too far from the origin of the game, the answers to the questions indicated had already been lost.

A positive result of this unknown presentation of the game remains, however, and it is important: in fact, the hunt for Angiolo Maria Ricci's historical minchiate opens! In this regard, I can only provide a kind of introduction, with some information about the character and a direct confirmation.

4. Angelo Maria Ricci (Florence 1688-1767)

We can begin with the portrait of Ricci, engraved in copper by Sac. Antonio Pazzi, his pupil, who was grateful for the teaching and encouragement he received.[Note 35] 
 Image Portrait of Angelo Maria Ricci. From the Book of Note 35
35. Dissertationes Homericæ habitæ in Florentino lyceo ab Angelo Maria Riccio ... Volumen tertium. Rome 1741.

On the life and works of Ricci, who was a priest, professor of Greek, and academician of the Crusca, we already find detailed information in its Biographical Dictionary.[note 36] We are lucky enough to find other traces in the Moreniana Library. For now, we find his presence in a vast collection of personal information about the members of the Crusca Academy preserved in the Palagi section.[note 37] Unfortunately, the entry dedicated to him only contains a letter in which Ricci recommends keeping secret the document sent containing his biography.

On the other hand, in the Bigazzi [section], we find two handwritten versions of his autobiography, one of which would seem to be the sequel to the other;[note 38] for us, the first is enough.
ImageFlorence, Biblioteca Moreniana, Bigazzi [section], no. 282. Frontispiece
(Reproduction prohibited)
If we wanted, we could extend our knowledge of the personage beyond that obtained from the Biographical Dictionary, adding details about his life, career, and professional production, but this is a commitment that I think should be postponed until someone has tracked down his historical minchiate.

The autobiography is written in clear professional handwriting, but in Latin, and this would not be the worst of evils. In fact, I can't attribute to an insufficient knowledge of that language (mother or grandmother of the one I speak) the fact that it took a bit of effort for me to look for a trace of minchiate. To tell the truth, I had little confidence in finding simple playing cards mentioned, even if with them he would have committed himself to depicting historical events or personalities. And yet evidently the fact was not to be kept silent, and the author himself also speaks of it, towards the middle of his autobiography.
36. ... ctionary)/
37. Biblioteca Moreniana, Palagi, 382.R.
38. Biblioteca Moreniana, Bigazzi, 282 and 282bis.

Image  Florence, Biblioteca Moreniana, Bigazzi [section], no. 282. Detail of f. 28r
Ludum Minchiatarum, quas vocant, historicarum depictis figuris, subiectisque explanationibus excogitavi, quas vel in tabulis duabus explicatas, vel in folia fugitiva iisdem archetypi Ludi Legibus discretas ad eruditam animi relaxationem adolescentibus proposui. Iis vero elementa historica Regnorum Assyrii, Persici, Graeci, atque Romani compendio collegi.
[I invented a game of Minchiate – as they call it – with scenes depicted and explanations underneath, which I proposed separately to young people for an erudite relaxation of the soul, either on two big sheets or in [normal-sized] loose sheets, with the same rules as the original game. With these, in effect, I summarily collected the historical elements of the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman kingdoms.]
So the information in the cicalata was correct for real! The author even talks about two different versions of his pack of minchiate. One version is clear: printing on [normal-sized] loose sheets, and the uncertainty is only whether it is made of thick paper or, more plausibly, of normal paper to be glued on cardboard before cutting out and packaging the playing cards. Also, it seems to me, there is uncertainty as to whether the cards are to be sold already cut out or on the loose sheets. The big sheet version could be the same, but divided into only two sheets [i.e., with 49 and 48 cards each].

The four ancient kingdoms seem to correspond to an original way of distinguishing the four suits of the cards. But we can only speculate about the transition to the final deck of cards, as well as about the spread and use of this game. of which all information was lost (at least to my knowledge).

5. Conclusion

A part of interest was presented for the playing cards of an eighteenth-century academic "cicalata" in which the game of minchiate is also briefly discussed. In form, it is a good document in the Florentine dialect of the time, with many popular and idiomatic expressions.

Of special interest is the news of a pack of historical minchiate designed by Angelo Maria Ricci, priest and professor of Greek. The date is not indicated, which can be assumed to be in the thirties of the seventeenth century. In an autobiography of the author we read that he had proposed these, with information on the main kingdoms of antiquity, for the "erudite relaxation" of young people.

So, while the description closes, the hunt is on for the hitherto unknown pack of minchiate. Good luck!

Florence, 13.04.2024

Translator's addendum to the above:

I remembered seeing such a minchiate described by Stuart Kaplan (Encyclopedia of Tarot vol. 2, pp. 257-261), mentioning the four suits as the four "monarchies" and the rest. He says that the deck can be dated to 1721-1731, based on the tax stamp and signature, that being when Anton Giovanni Molinelli had the concession. He says the inscription on the unnumbered card in the deck reads "engraved with the assistance of C. Migelli." The back design is a crown above an escutcheon and Maltese cross. The cards are wrapped from the back to form the border decorated with dots. He adds that some of the dates in the historical texts are from a pre-Gregorian calendar. I don't know if that helps date the deck or not.

I also recalled a page in Christie's 2006 auction catalog of the Kapaln Collection. (I've seen it online, too, but it seems to be down at the moment.) The catalog is in "Ask Alexander" via my IPCS membership, where I can download it. It reads, p. 101:
Minchiate of Ancient History, circa 1725, Florence, Anton Giusepppe Molinelli, 90 of 97 cards, includes 34 trumps (lacks XXI, XXII, XXIX to XXXI, XXXVIII), and 55 suit cards (lacks 8 of coins), copper engravings in black except trumps XXXIII to XXXX in red, square corners, wrap around spotted paper edges around each card, trump XXXII has black stamp monogram of MGM between two lions beneath the Florentine lily and signature in brown ink of Anton Giuseppe Molinelli, holder of the playing card concession from 1721 to 1731. Trumps are full length-figures, Roman numerals, extensive Italian text, describes historical places, persons, events and objects including, for example, I Tower of Babel, II idolatry, III Semiramis, V Zoroaster, VI Amazons, XXIII Ulysses, XXXX Rome, etc. Suits are full length figures, Roman numerals, Italian titles and descriptions devoted to ancient nations, swords relate to Greece, batons to Rome, cups to Persia and coins to Assyria, suits of cups and coins are yellow tinted, one index. The deck was designed by A. Pazzi with assistance of C. Mogalli as evidenced on the unnumbered card, Statua Vedutada Nabucco. Backs are wood block printed crowned coat of arms of the Medici family. Size 4 in. (10 cm.) high, 2 3/8 in. (6 cm.) wide. Slightly worn, a few minor worm holes. Kaplan II, 257-261.
By Franco's information about the portrait, Pazzi would have been the engraver, perhaps also responsible for the drawings from which the engravings were made. The text and conception, from Franco's investigation, would appear to be Ricci's, not previously credited that I can find. Christie's has a few low-resolution pictures. Image

But where do they get the information that Molinelli was publisher as well as tax collector? And for that matter, where does "A. Pazzi" come from? Is it on the card?

There is also information on Gallica, with a high-resolution set of scans, but just of trumps 1-32 and no other cards: ... k=171674;4. They say:
Title : [Série des atouts d'un jeu de Minchiate istoriche] : [jeu de cartes, estampe] ([Exemplaire incomplet avec dos aux armes de Médicis])
Publisher : Anton Giuseppe Molinelli (Florence)
Publication date : 1725
Relationship : Notice de recueil :
Relation : Appartient à : [Collection Georges Marteau. Recueil. Cartes à jouer]
Relationship :
Type : image
Type : still image
Type : engraving
Language : Sans contenu linguistique
Format : 32 cartes à jouer : gravure à l'eau-forte ; 10,1...
Format : image/jpeg
Format : Nombre total de vues : 65
Description : Ancien possesseur : Marteau, Georges Edgard...
Anton Giuseppe Molinelli's signature, with tax stamp, is on card XXXII, Aratro, ... 63.highres.

Unfortunately they don't say where the "publisher" information comes from, or the date. Perhaps it is from Mr. Marteau, the well-known collector and playing card manufacturer (he headed Grimaud for a time).

Reading more about the Molinelli family of card makers and concession owners (often simultaneously), I see that Giambattista Monzali, The Playing Card 50:1 (July-Sept. 2021), says on p. 21, about Anton:
In the first example, together with the signature of Anton Giuseppe Molinelli affixed to the XXXII triumph (Aquarius) are the initials AGM placed between two rampant lions and surmounted by a lily as a symbol of the stamp Fig. 19. This stamp and signature remained in effect for three contracts from 1721 to 1735.
Yes, we can see the stamp on the Gallica image. This extends the range that Kaplan gave by 4 (or 5?) years.

But is it accurate? Monzali tells us that Anton Guiseppe died in Sept. 1731, after being awarded the contract through 1735. The concession passed to his sons, Monzali says (p. 20), Gio Francesco Gastone Molinelli and Pietro Xaviero Molinelli, "who do not change the stamp. Only the name of their uncle, their will tutor G. Domenico Molinelli, is signed." If "is signed" implies Domenico's signature, this contradicts what Monzali himself says on p. 21. The signature on the card clearly reads Anton Giuseppe Molinelli. I leave the matter there.

I have one more comment. Ricci does not seem to have been the first to have had the idea of assigning the four suits to the four empires. John of Rheinfelden (1379 or 1428, depending on which argument you accept) writes about such a deck, assigning one of to each of the suits of a moralized 60 card game. He called them monarchies, because of his suits only went up to kings. Arne Jönsson writes, of Johannes' suits (“Card-playing as a Mirror of Society. On Johannes of Rheinfelden's Ludus cartularum moralisatus,” In O. Ferm & V. Honemann (Eds.), Chess and Allegory in the Middle Ages, 2005, pp. 359-371, on p. 370):
As regards the four suits, they represent, in Johannes’ opinion, four kingdoms, namely the four successive world monarchies, Babylonia, Persia, Macedon (or Greece), and the Roman Empire. As his symbol the Babylonian king has a man’s head, the Greek king has bells, and the Roman king an eagle. Johannes tells us that he does not understand the Persian king’s symbol.
An 1847 allegorization of minchiate summarized by Andrea Vitali at speaks of the four suits as representing the same four "empires," as he now calls them. The author, also of Florence, probably was influenced by Ricci's deck, but the four ancient empires, each conquering the one before, seems to have been a tradition of sorts.

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