Saturday, May 18, 2024

April 20, 2024: Florence 1783. The mystery of the Devil.


Here now is "Firenze 1783 ‒ Il giallo del Diavolo," As usual, comments in brackets are my additions (in consultation with Franco) for explanatory purposes. Numbers in the left margin correspond to those of his pdf. I have a few comments afterwards.

Florence 1783: The mystery of the Devil

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

This note is part of a long series dedicated to card games and playing cards. In this case, the cards involved are few and perhaps none of them are real playing cards, neither the Devil's card nor the few others present together. In fact, these are only images of playing cards painted on two letters of invitation that a gentleman unknown to us sent to a Florentine couple about whom some information can instead be found. The locality involved is Baccano, which in this case must be identified with Via di Baccano, in the old center of Florence.

In short, we have two letters of invitation, we have the recipients, we have the place of departure of the letters and of the announced reception. However, we do not have complete information on the sender of the invitations, apart from the name of Devil with which he identifies himself, which, however, is very stimulating in itself for undertaking a "police" search to try to track him down.

2. The two letters preserved

I reproduce and transcribe both letters directly. Image    First letter from the Devil
Florence, Moreniana Library, Palagi [section], No. 359, Ins. [Insert] 11, f. 1
(Reproduction prohibited)

Our very vicious associate,
The Devil got it wrong this time. He believed that by often coming into your hands he would cause you displeasure. Let this Beast be sufficiently convinced of His Poor ability while he has still not managed to penetrate the future. The visits he made to you at night are exchanged for a day of pleasure. Hence the proverb is very true that the Devil is not as bad as he is painted.
Therefore on Sunday 12 1783 at the first hour of the afternoon you are awaited, our most vicious Associate, with your Consort, in the usual residence of Casa Ferrini to enjoy the table prepared for you by the Devil, who himself has bothered to invite you.
Expect a Devil's lunch: don't make yourselves wait; goodbye.
House number 15
The Secretary of the Devil depicted
ImageSecond letter of the Devil
Florence, Moreniana Library, Palagi No. 359 Ins 11, f. 2
(Reproduction prohibited)
Our very vicious associate,
Next Sunday, the 16th of February, the Devil wants to come to table again, in the usual House placed in Baccano, because it seemed to him that he had postponed the well-satisfied Conversation, and now he yearns for it much more, because these Baccanali days are consecrated to him, and he is more in fashion than before. But he would not like to be seen, because we must know that he worked much less than last time, as a consequence he is thinner, in view of which he thought of taxing everyone's purse in an equal portion, to provide himself with a little fodder to fatten up, and thus by putting on meat he hopes to make you happy, to send you home well fed.
The Secretary
In His name at your feet now here it is
That I place the memorial, and also himself.
Now you make it so that he doesn't remain dry,
Because in that case he will come after me,
And he will tell me that I am the cause
And that I didn't express myself politely,
Because I'm a certain stupid Ambassador,
That I didn't know how to explain his desire well;
The recreation will go to waste
We will be left with dry teeth, you and me.
From House No. 15.
With the help of a perpetual calendar, the full dates of the two Sundays come out as January 12 and February 16, 1783, five weeks apart. The addresses of the two letters are similar, with the only difference that the wife’s name Francesca (who was also invited in the text of the first letter, without mentioning her name) appears only in the second, next to that of Giovanni Felice Mosell

3. Information about Giovanni Felice Mosell

If tracing the sender is a rather difficult task, finding information on the recipient is relatively easy. He was in fact a fairly well-known musician, son and brother of musicians active in Florence in important positions. Let's be clear: internationally, they are always second-rate musicians, but locally, they made notable careers. We do not find our Giovanni Felice in the great Dizionario Enciclopedico Universale della Musica e dei Musicisti [Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary of Music and Musicians] of the UTET, but he appears as follows in its Appendix
Mosel, Giovanni Felice. Italian violinist and composer. (Florence, 1754 - ? , after 1812). He studied violin with his father, who had been a pupil of Tartini, and made his debut as a child in his hometown, where he later perfected himself with Pietro Nardini. He was a member of the orchestra of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and, upon the death of his teacher, in 1793 he succeeded him in the role of director, holding the position for some years. In 1812 he was director of the Teatro della Pergola; afterward, we have no further news of him.
To frame Mosell in the environment it may also be useful to read what Gandolfi writes in one of his studies on the Grand Duke's musical chapel.
Pietro Leopoldo (1765-1790), always intent on the serious cares of the Kingdom and of useful reforms to the State, could only slightly concern himself with music; however, he did pay a few distinguished professors of that art for his services. One of them was the famous Pietro Nardini from Livorno, a delicate and pleasing violinist representing the Padua School in Florence, who included among his best students Giovanni Felice Mosell and Luigi Campanelli, who succeeded him in the office of First Violin and Director to the Sovereign. [note 1]
Among others, some documents preserved in the State Archives of Florence [note 2] are of some interest, with payments to the court musicians paid by the court in the early seventies: rarely one or the other of the three Mosells (Antonio, Giovanni, and Giovanni Felice) is present in the periodic performances at the main churches of the city, but all three regularly participate in those held during public lunches.

The situation will change later with Ferdinand III, but our Mosell maintains a prominent position.
1. R. Gandolfi, “La Cappella Musicale della Corte di Toscana.” In Rivista Musicale Italiana, vol. 16. 1909, pp. 506-521.
2. ASFi, Imperiale e Reale Corte, 5434.
3. S. Gitto, “La collezione musicale di Palazzo Pitti (1): il catalogo del 1771.” In Fonti Musicali Italiane, vol. 17, 2012, pp. 175-192.

Ferdinando III dedicated particular attention to the musical life of the Florentine court: in 1792, he reformed the entire Royal Chapel and Chamber following the “Proposition of the new establishment of music and of the employees to serve there,” suggested by the then chapel-master [i.e. orchestra director] Salvatore Pazzaglia. A detailed comparison table describes, in economic and artistic terms, the differences between the “Ancient State,” i.e. the Leopoldian years, the “Proposed New State,” and the “New Rectified State,” i.e. the new structure approved by the Grand Duke, thus giving us a series of important pieces of information on the management of palatine music in Florence in the ten years that divided the Habsburg government of Pietro Leopoldo from the Franco-Bourbon government of the Kingdom of Etruria. The document describes in detail the renewed court music sector through the hiring procedures, obligations, and tasks of the musicians, the fees and their names - to whom. contrary to past customs, a single instrument is entrusted. The list of orchestra musicians appointed in 1792 is reported from this document.
Bowed instruments
First Violin Pietro Nardini with pension
Second Violin Giovan Felice Mosell
More violins

More information on Mosell's musical activity can be found in various places, including some printed and manuscript scores. More than fifty entries appear under his name as an author in OPAC SBN [on this digital entity, see], but these are mostly librettos of operas in which he was orchestra director or first violin.

Much more remembered than any detail of his professional activity, is however an episode that speaks of him in particular, discussed in several books, even with the reproduction of the related documents: [note 4]: his sale in 1793 of a Stradivarius violin, which was part of a precious set of five stringed instruments that had been given to Ferdinando dei Medici. Mosell is usually harshly criticized, even in older writings, [note 5] for having sold this instrument, of which he was only the custodian; but we also read some defenses, such as the following.

Even if it would be easy to align with the widespread lack of consideration towards Mosell - who sold the instrument for fifty sequins to a rich English gentleman in 1794 (see V. Gai, The instruments..., p. 25 f.) - it would not be honest, objectively, to draw any conclusive negative judgment, given that the very well-founded doubt always remains that the first court violinist had become, through a previous grand ducal donation, the owner of the precious Stradivarius instrument. [note 6]

The subsequent transition from the grand ducal orchestra to a stable position in the Teatro della Pergola (where he had also previously conducted the orchestra) is easily explained by the arrival of the French government in Florence and the removal of the court, but the fact that he remained there for many years as director can indicate his notable practical and managerial ability in addition to his purely musical technique. Among other things, from the titles present in OPAC SBN, he would appear in his usual role as first violin and director of the orchestra also in the spring of 1814, with the performances of L'ambition delusa [Delusional Ambition] and L'Italiana in Algiers [The Italian woman in Algiers].
4. V. Gai, Gli strumenti musicali . . . Florence 1969; M. Branca, Il Museo degli strumenti musicali. Livorno 1999.
5. C. Gervasoni, Nuova Teoria di musica, Parma 1812; F. Sacchi, Il Conte Cozio di Salabue. London 1898.
6. Antichi strumenti. Florence 1981.

Unexpectedly, no traces of this important final activity at the Teatro della Pergola were found in the Archives of the Academy of the Immobile; also, in the Inventory [note 7], we find only one, and only once, in 1817, the last descendant of this family of musicians of Lorraine origin, Egisto Mosell. But if it is true that there are no traces of them in the Inventory, it seems impossible to me that there aren't any in the minutes of the meetings and in the recordings of the performances; it would be enough to search more thoroughly.

4. The identity of the Devil

What do we know about the Devil? The professional comments on the handwritten letters indicate these characters as "merry-makers," which suggests a jovial environment. In fact, on the cover of the fascicle we read the following.

N. 2 Curious invitations "from the Devil" to Gio. Mosell, "very vicious member" of an association of merry-makers who met at table during the Carnival of 1783. At the top, the figure of the devil is badly painted between two playing cards.
Maybe. The Devil, however, is not a stranger between the two cards because in fact his figure, although "poorly painted," represents a tarot playing card, and in particular a card of minchiate, given that we are in Florentine territory; to confirm the attribution with certainty we read the number XIV which corresponds precisely to the devil of minchiate. But wanting to indicate it like this, flanked by two numeral cards, it should have been associated with those of clubs, swords, coins and cups, instead of the more recent French suits. The two associated cards are two pairs of sevens, which are also the highest cards in primiera. (The first card would be the Seven of Coins, the most important card in the games of the Scopa family; but we are not certain that those games were already widespread, particularly in Tuscany. [note 8])

Were perhaps sacrilegious rites also celebrated around those dining tables? Were perhaps the playing cards used for some fortune-telling type of use? We cannot know, although the choice of the devil as a mask and the mention of insufficient reading of the future (lack of ability while he has not yet managed to penetrate the future) leave us with some suspicion for now.

The only valid clue to further the research is that this Devil writes from his home, Casa Ferrini in Baccano, where he invites guests. The number 15 of the house certainly cannot be verified with the numbers on today's streets, but, as far as Baccano is concerned, in this case it is Via di Baccano near Calimala, a few steps from Piazza del Granduca (the current Signoria).

Where Calimara ends, the Via di Baccano ends, perhaps from the bacchanal, if it is true that in ancient times bacchanalian games were played there on carnival days. But it was also thought that this name came from being a place full of traffic and much frequented by shop assistants. It was already called Via de' Cavalcanti, because this family had their home and loggia there. In some of Baccano's shops, Bernardo Cennini had his workshop, and the Medici their counter. [note 9]

The Devil was perhaps a lover of music; he was certainly a fan of playing cards. Unfortunately, these are very weak clues, but the surname Ferrini remains an important clue to his identity,. Therefore I carried out some surveys in the Gazzetta Toscana, with good results, which make it clear to us that nothing diabolical or sacrilegious appears in that company.
Last Saturday a new literary Academy was started under the title of the Faticanti [Laboring] with a very select concourse of nobles and virtuous people in the salon of Signore Ferrini located in Baccano, whose opening was made by Signore Abate Catani with a well-reasoned,
7. L’Accademia degli Immobili, ed. Alberti, Bartoloni, Marcelli. Rome 2010.
8. The Playing-Card, Vol. 24 No. 1 (1995) 6-12; No. 2, 56.
9. P. Thouar, Notizie e guida di Firenze e de’ suoi contorni. Florence 1841. On pp. 473-474.

and erudite dissertation followed by other poetic compositions that were interspersed with
by beautiful musical pieces. [note 10]

The present season of Advent, being appropriate for the academic amusements of these “Faticanti” Gentlemen, was given on Sunday evening in the salon of Signore Giovacchino Ferrini, one of the members of the said Academy, with chosen others and numerous contributors to an Academic Conversation of Poetry, Sound, and singing, where members Gio. Mosel, [note 11], Brocchi, and Giuseppa Fineschi, distinguished themselves, and some arias were heard with great pleasure, excellently sung by a certain gentleman Babbini Tenore, who is passing through here on his way to Bologna. The instrumental and vocal concerts and the extemporaneous poetic faculties, no less studiously refined by art, form a completely harmonious and varied entertainment, which is only typical of the Florentines, and which is at the same time interesting and attractive. There is no place for doubt that this Academy, which has not been founded for even a year, and which is still nascent, so to speak, will soon reach the eminent level of the other similar ones established here, which form the ornament of our City. [note 12].
To frame this Academy of the Faticanti within the Florentine academic environment of the time. an overview such as the following may serve.
The Academies are in large numbers in Florence. The famous Academies of Crusca, Fiorentina and Apatisti have their residence in the same place. In addition to these Literary Academies, there are many others which serve during Lent to provide some entertainment to the Nobility and Citizens of both sexes.
They are known under the names of the Ingenious, the Harmonious, the Laboring [Faticanti], etc., etc. Only the first of these enjoys the honor of Royal protection. All the others have simple approval from the Government. Their meetings consist of some little arias and duets performed by good musicians, in concerts with all sorts of instruments, and other similar things; the entertainment is interspersed with poetic compositions, where everyone is free to recite, and which serve to give a convenient rest to the teachers of singing and sound rather than forming the main object of the Festival.
You cannot enter without a printed ticket, on which is written the name of the Academician who distributes it, and the person for whom it is intended: some are reserved for foreigners of rank, who ordinarily still pass without the ticket, especially when they have been recognized and distinguished by the Ministers of their Nation resident in Florence.
The Ladies participate elegantly dressed, and for a singular use in Lent in such circumstances a richness and magnificence is flaunted that is overlooked in Carnival through the incognito of the mask.
It seems at first sight that these Academies of simple entertainment have acquired greater credit than those that were established for the growth and splendor of letters and sciences. [note 13]
As can be seen, information was found, in particular on music, and we also met either Giovanni Felice Mosell in person or at least one of his brothers. In short, the mystery of the sender of the two letters has been solved without a shadow of doubt, and all that remains is to add something about the Devil, that is, as we have seen, about Giovacchino Ferrini.
10. Gazzetta Toscana N. 13 p. 50 (01.04.1775).
11. Without the double name he is probably a brother of our Giovanni Felice.
12. Gazzetta Toscana No. 13, on p. 197 (16.12.1775).
13. ... ll_Ital/E-

Searching OPAC SBN with his name, numerous publications appear. In reality, only one seems to have been compiled by him as the author, while the others were printed with Ferrini, who appears as a publisher, bookseller, and stationer, with a shop in Piazza del Granduca.

I would limit myself to examining his moral-poetic work, [note 14] from which I copy the chapter dedicated to games. It's logical to feel curious to hear an opinion on the game directly from the Devil, instead of the usual preachers.

This is what must be observed in games.

With an illustrious Lord it is not allowed to
___Set up a game; just play when
___He commands it, or he himself has invited us to the game.
When playing, do not show greed
___To gain from it: this indicates
___Baseness of spirit and cowardice.
Whoever doesn't have a sweet and yielding nature
___It is fitting that he abstain from every game
___For whatever inconvenience may follow.
To discover whose character you desire,
___Or his virtues to know, or his vices,
___Let Cards, or dice, as they say, be given into his hands
Continuous attention must be applied, and not without
___Very accurate keeping to the order [i.e. following the rules] of the game
___And never losing through complacency.
And this so as not to seem stupid, and again
___To demonstrate to the one with whom one plays,
___That he is honored with all possible care.
If joking at all times is little
___Commendable, it will be thereafter very little
___Plausible to make fun of any in the game.
To either sing or whistle is uncivilized
___In the game, and also in a low voice, like
___The habit when someone is idle.
Neither with your hands nor with your feet to play
___Is given, with the feet to go beating the ground,
___And with the fingers to play the tambourine.
If the game is Ball, and if one is occupied
___With Trucco, or Ball, or Maglio,
___Keeping dirty postures with the body is not suitable.
If any despondency in the game happens,
___As often happens, not rudely does one persist,
___But complacently one recovers and gives in.
To sustain a kick or a blow, one lets the case
___Faithfully be reported, and in peace, and that decided,
___One appears to remain satisfied.
Because everything in the game sweet
___And peaceful must be: making oaths
___Is a cowardly thing, and it is a grave sin.
They still sin, and already the great Chrysostom
___Said it, speaking of games___
___That there are mixed [with it] blasphemies and thefts and fights.
Once the stake is won, civilly
___Let it be collected without much heat,
___But with all sweetness, and coolly.
If someone failed to place the bet,
___This should not be said to him: one must only say:
___It seems that all the Bets are not placed.
When the bet is lost, so let it be given
___Quickly to those who want the money, and never
___Wait for it to be requested by the Winner.
It is a mark of a well-born spirit
___Quickly to pay what is owed in the game,
___Without showing difficulty and restraint.
It is also still of a generous spirit
___Not only in the game, but in everything else
___To be ready to pay without delay.
Two things make a man lose credit.
___The Persian says: one is to be a debtor,
___The other is to deny the creditor the debt.
If someone is playing with you
___Much greater, if losing hurts him,
___Continuing the game is civility.
If fate shows itself against us,
___To withdraw from the game is praiseworthy,
___And to manage with our own strength.
It's a risk to encounter mockery,
___And I still despise those who do [by continuing to play] out of complacency
___What their state [losing what little they have] does not allow them.
If anyone goes into anger in the game,
___One must not make retorts to his words;
___But pity him in his transports.
If it is a Lady, this is done much more;
___Everything must be accepted on the good side
___And have for her respect and civility.
If anyone comes higher [socially] than you and has an itch
___For the game, you must be ready
___To withdraw and give the place up to him.
14. G. Ferrini, La gioventù istruita nel buon costume, 2nd edition. Florence 1792 (1st ed. 1787).

Playing with discretion is done like this:
___There is still another precept in the game;
___That you don't have to play every night and every day.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, it is written:
___There is a time for the Dance, and a time for the Game,
___But there it is also prescribed the time to pray.

If you were looking for a trace of the devil, you just can't find it here; indeed, just read the end of the chapter to understand that we are on the other side. I have been interested in the question because of the Devil's link with playing cards, and since this link has not yet been confirmed, I think I will present other information. Perhaps the only link with what we have seen so far is the Via di Baccano.

5. Final digression on Girolamo Cocchi

So far, no explanation has been found for the connection between the Devil and playing cards. A different possibility is that Girolamo Cocchi was somehow involved with the Devil. If we look for a personage with this name in the usual online repertoires, we find one (indeed more than one from the same family of Bolognese printers) involved in the printing of popular prints, and no connection with our environment can be glimpsed.

However, I had met a Girolamo Cocchi while studying the licenses granted in Tuscany for gambling in coffee shops, barber shops, academies, and other establishments. The connection with playing cards is strengthened by the fact that it is he himself who goes to the Stamp Office in Florence to pay the tax due to authorize the game in his shop. . . in Baccano. [note 15] At the time I thought that it was in a place by this name near Fiesole, but now it is clear to me that it was instead in the center of Florence, right where the Academy of the Laboring met.

Here we are at the main indication for making Baccano smell of some devil odor among the playing cards. Another Girolamo Cocchi also appears, whom we also find involved in Florence with gaming licenses. His position is very different: it is not of a business owner asking for a license for his shop, but a contractor with whom the Royal Tax Office, and in particular the Tax Stamp Office, has signed a concession contract in the eighteenth century to grant licenses, upon payment of an annual fee. [note 16]

Searching more deeply in the archival documents, I concluded that the two characters were the same person. But how could a simple shopkeeper obtain the contract for all the licenses in Tuscany? The answer is easy: he wasn't just a shopkeeper! The Girolamo Cocchi who showed up to pay a high tax to allow the playing of low cards in "his" shop in Baccano was certainly the same one who showed up to pay the tax for "his" shop in Sdrucciolo di Orsanmichele, also completely in the city center, and even a shop in Prato.

Furthermore, a Gaetano Cocchi is found with the same function for the Arcadia [Academy] at Canto alla Macine, who then appears for the Baccano workshop to replace Girolamo, perhaps a brother or father. In short, these Cocchi, and Girolamo in particular, were professionally involved at a high level with playing cards in multiple locations in the city, including Baccano. Now we know that this Girolamo Cocchi could not have been the same Devil, already identified with certainty, but it seems to me that he could at least have belonged to the same company of "merry-makers" if, as happened in other academies, playing cards were also used during members' meetings.

Florence, 04.20.2024
15. ASFi, Camera e Auditore Fiscale, N. 3016 and 3017;
16. A. Addobbati, La festa e il gioco nella Toscana del Settecento. Pisa 2002, p.178.

Translator's comments:

The corresponding minchiate card can be seen at ... 96-0501-41, a "Poverino" deck whose tax stamp on card XXVII Aries indicates that it is from the period 1780-1800. The particularly feminine, or at least effeminate, appearance of the Devil is characteristic of woodcut minchiates of this period from Florence. What is different is the direction of his/her stride, left instead of right, and so a mirror image of the actual card. I suspect an arcane significance to this change, in particular a kind of reversal of the expected negativity. My speculation is that the two 7s are associated with luck, as in dice games, with in the first invitation black associated with bad luck and red with good. So it is in the interest of the recipient to accept the invitation. The second invitation then reverses this association, perhaps to dare the recipient to come anyway, as the first intimation was simply a joke. Of course, I have no way of knowing if this speculation is true.

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