Saturday, May 18, 2024

March 27, 2024: Florence ca. 1720. Minchiate and knights without cavalry

This note is translated from "Firenze circa 1720. Minchiate e cavalieri senza cavalleria,", about a game of minchiate in which tempers and objects fly, among so-called nobles. As elsewhere here, numbers in the left margin are the page numbers of Franco's pdf, notes are at the bottom of each page, and comments in square brackets are mine, for purposes of clarification, after consulting with Franco.

Florence circa 1720. Minchiate and knights without cavalry

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

The present study is in direct connection with two previous ones. The more recent one has in common the Lords of the Casino di Santa Trinita, one of the three companies of Florentine nobles that existed before the formation of the local Institute of Nobles; in that study I managed, with some difficulty, to find traces of the game that the nobles used to play.[note 1] Here [in the present study], too, we can see another with such results. The second study,[note 2] however, has in common with this one the fact that even a traditionally "quiet" game like minchiate could become the subject of arguments between personages worthy of the utmost respect. That study was based on documents preserved in the Riccardiana Library and which had already been partly discussed in my first study of interesting information on the history of playing cards, which dates back almost forty years.[note 3]

After a long time, I find a similar document in the Moreniana Library,[note 4] which could be considered a section of the Riccardiana if it were not that the two libraries (which have a concierge, reception, and reading room in common) are managed by different administrations: Riccardiana is state, Moreniana is municipal.

The manuscript in question, Moreni 335, is a voluminous collection of various materials with the title Scritture cavalleresche, presented as follows in the catalog:

335 Cart. Sec. XVIII, mm. 335x225. Carte 512, piĆ¹ 4 innum. agg. in princ. Composto di 8 inserti legati in Volume e fra loro divisi da copertine bianche agg. modernamente.

[335 Paper, 18th cent. 335x225 mm. 512 Folios, plus 4 unnumbered at the beginning. Composed of 8 inserts bound in volume and divided among them by white covers added modernly.]
We are interested in file IVc on legal matters and in particular its final pages, which contain two documents on an event that happened around a minchiate table, which I will transcribe in full below.
IV. c Francesco Maria Strozzi, Reports and opinions (350a - 379b).
1. Writing in support of an opinion given by the Ab. Pier Andrea Andreini on the duel (350a - 354b).
2. Report on a chivalrous opinion given in the case of Vitali and Centurioni (356a - 359b).
3. Opinion in the case of Dazzi and Papi (360a - 361b).
4. Differences that occurred between a Lady of the Ciardi house and one from the Porcellini house. Exposition of the fact signed by Lorenzo Porcellini.
5. Opinion on a foreign case sent (to Strozzi) by the Sig. Fiscal Auditor (364a - 365b) with the date 15 March 1722.
6-7. Question between March. [Marquis] Venturi and Cav. [Knight, or Sir] Bartolini due to card playing (376a - 379b): explanation of the fact sent to Strozzi by March. Cosimo Venturi. [note 5]
The nearby folios contain legal opinions of Francesco Maria Strozzi, an expert on the subject, on various cases that had been brought to his attention in the years around 1720. From this, we derive the authority of the personage, whose competence was evidently appreciated in many different cases. The only information I found about him is that he was also a member of the Academy of Graphic Arts,[note 6] but I can admit that I did not consider it necessary to conduct in-depth research on the matter.

Unfortunately in our case we do not find the decision, the final and decisive opinion on the dispute, but at least we can read two different versions of the fact of interest to us, first in a letter sent to Strozzi by one of the protagonists, then in a summary of the fact compiled by the expert himself, based on personal investigations and interviews.
1. [translated at viewtopic.php?p=26392#p26392]
2. Rassegna storica toscana, 39 No. 1 (1993), pp. 181-191;
3. The Playing-Card, 15 No. 2 (1986) 29-34;
5. I manoscritti della biblioteca moreniana, Vol. 1, fasc. XIV Florence 1911, on p. 429.
6. ... sco-maria/

The two documents are written in fairly clear handwriting (a couple of uncertain readings are indicated in quotation marks) and contain not only the month and day but also the time of compilation – unfortunately, the year is missing. From the documents preserved together, however, the date can be limited to an interval between 1715 and 1725.

2. The letter from Cavalier Venturi

The letter sheet contains the following address on the reverse.
In hand
Of the illustrious Signore Count Strozzi
My Most Respected Signore Signore Patron

/c.376r/ Florence on February 20th at 3pm
At the time, Signor M.e [Marchese = Marquis] Bartolini, surprised by the disgust of seeing one card less, and in the need not to count the points, particularly in a game that was very advantageous to him, Signori Cav. Naldini, and Cav. Venturi counted their cards, and having adjusted their values, Cav. Venturi turned around. to Sig. M.e Bartolini to also count with him what was necessary: when Sig. Cav. del Rosso said to Signore M.e, count the Verzicola first, Sig. M.e replied in anger it counts 60. 70, and turns to Cav. Venturi, who was about to score, said out loud. Oh, he doesn't want to give me credit for what counts for me. Replied Cav. Venturi, Say how much it counts, to which the Signore added, You make fun [of me]. Replied Cav. Venturi, it's your turn to say how much it counts, say how much it counts, and instead of receiving an adequate response, he was heard to reply: Oh, it's a gambling den game, I didn't think I was playing in a gambling den: having heard it, Cav Venturi, offended, immediately replied If you are speaking to me you are lying, and seeing Sig. M.e throw the Cards, he replied with the Candlestick, and putting his hand to his sword he stood in sight of Sig. M.e, and they were separated.
I Cosimo Venturi affirm.
3. The recapitulation by Francesco Maria Strozzi

This document completes the previous one, adding useful details for the reconstruction of the event (although sometimes it is not yet clear, at least at first reading, who does what, and whether there are one or two swords drawn). The sheet is folded into two columns, and after the heading, two lines into the left column – everything else uses only the right column.
/c. 378r/ Bartolini and Venturi
Florence on February 20th at 7½ pm
On the evening of Thursday 16th of the current month of February, Sig. Cav. Naldini, Sig. Cav. Marco del Rosso, Sig. Cav. Cosimo Venturi, and Cav. Bartolini; on the right of said Bartolini followed Sig. Cav. Marco del Rosso, Sig. Cav. Venturi, Sig. Cav. Naldini playing Minchiate in the Casino; it happened that the Fola was put up for auction as usual and was bought by said Bartolini from Sig. Cav. Marco del Rosso, who united said Fola to Bartolini’s own Cards, acknowledged his 75 of Verzicola, which was placed on the Table, seen by the Signori Players, and the Game began, at the end of which Bartolini found himself with one less Card [typically due to a mistake in exchanging cards with the Fola] and was subjected to that punishment entailed by the common use of said Game [i.e. nullifying all his points for that hand].
Due to this inattention, Bartolini could not help but be annoyed at the stupidity he had committed, as he took the rest of the cards that were being played and threw them under the table, saying that he no longer wanted to use them. While /c. 378v/ the two Sig. Cav. Naldini and Venturi were counting their cards, said Bartolini requested that they please hurry because he didn't know where his head was, that once the hand was over he didn't want to play anymore; Cav. Bartolini observed that Sig. Cav. Naldini had adjusted his account and put into account the Verzicola counted by him at the beginning, and Bartolini asked Cav del Rosso for [credit for] the last trick, believing he had made it, but by the Sig. Cav. mentioned here, he was told he hadn't gotten [credit for] the last, because he hadn't taken the last, and Cav. del Rosso asked Bartolini to take 3 Resti [the amount of 60 points fixed for a game] and to give them to Sig. Cav. Naldini, [and] as [soon as] he [Del Rosso] advised him [Bartolini], he [Bartolini] did so.
Observed by Bartolini that Sig. Cav. Cosimo Venturi who said nothing in the said accounts, Bartolini said, Sig. Cav. Cosimo maybe my first verzicola doesn't count? In answering him, you didn't ask me; I would have served it /c.379r/ it's not up to me to remember. Bartolini replied, I didn't think to play [i.e. that I would be playing] in gambling dens, because it seems to me that there is too much rigor.
The resentful Cav. Venturi asked Bartolini if he was speaking about him, that he was surprised, and continued with other resentful words; Bartolini replied in general that he did not intend to offend anyone, and only that it seemed to him that there was too much rigor.
Cav. Cosimo again with resentment pressing him for a greater declaration; but Bartolini calmed down at this with the hope that here the Heat that is usually brought to the game would end. Bartolini's silence was not enough for the said Sig. Cav. Venturi, who was amazed at him, which said Venturi reproached, I don't know if he's mocking me; You say, if you are speaking about me, why do you lie about it; Bartolini replied that Men of Honor did not lie, the Cav Venturi replied, that he lied as much as one could ever lie with one's mouth full; As soon as Bartolini understood this way of speaking /c.379v/ he took the cards and threw them at Mr. Cav. Venturi, and in the same Act Bartolini rebutted the lie, getting up from his seat, having thrown said Cards, he took out his Sword, and was held back by those around him, and moving away, he saw a Candlestick in the Air thrown by Cav. Venturi, who saw him with Sword in hand, towards whom Bartolini went and being prevented by the Knights he put back his Sword, and having passed into other rooms and being sequestered, he was accompanied to his own House.
4. Comment on the two documents

Ultimately the fact in question is not very extraordinary. We know that while playing a game you can get excited to the point of losing control, it can happen. Indeed, it happens precisely when one is no longer able to participate in a game. . . for fun; that is, it could be said that if any game becomes so "serious" that it leads to furious arguments, it can no longer be considered a game. (Something similar happens in some ways when assets are committed in the game rather than little or no money, but this is an even different case.)

However, in the case in question there are some aspects that make the fact worthy of note. Perhaps the main one is that those who come to blows are not country villagers, who were used to making their own arguments with their hands before or instead of with their tongues. Instead, they are Florentine nobles, knights who are playing in an environment reserved specifically and exclusively for them. The grand ducal laws themselves took this situation into account: while in taverns and private gatherings there were strict prohibitions to be respected and also police inspections and denunciations, it was considered offensive to subject nobles to similar controls. It was taken for granted that such personages could and would exercise the necessary self-control so as not to give rise to scandals, brawls, or riots. Instead, here they are all knights, but evidently some lacked chivalry.

But it's not just the personages that are interesting. The type of game is also of interest, the traditional minchiate game. If it had been the game of Pharaoh, it would have been better understood that arguments could arise between the players, but minchiate is basically a game of pure leisure for staid people, perhaps even older ones. In the eighteenth century, the games that were fashionable, especially among young people, were faster and had a notable gambling component: the grand dukes of the Habsburg-Lorraine house later had to work hard to place increasingly strict limits on the use of cards for gambling games.

Finally, our attention inevitably focuses on the weapons used in the clash around the gaming table. There even appears a drawn sword! It is indeed a real weapon, which we could also have imagined absent in that exclusive environment. Furthermore, improper weapons appear, and among these, we understand that a heavy candlestick thrown with force could have caused serious injuries if not dodged in time. But for us, who are interested in playing cards, it is ultimately the use of cards as projectiles that ends up representing the most curious detail.

It is not the first time we have encountered a "game" of this kind, even if it is never described in the manuals dedicated to all possible card games. There are children's games (at least when there were children who played with figurines) based on throwing figurines, with figures of footballers or other well-known characters: the game consisted of collecting those figurines and then winning some from your classmates by throwing them further away from the launch line, or closer to a predetermined target. If one had played with playing cards in this way, one would have had to find a correspondence between cards won and other prizes as substitutes, because an incomplete deck of playing cards remains incomplete even by increasing it by a few scattered cards.

In any case, associating a playing card with its being thrown is rather instinctive, precisely due to the suitability of the material for this use. In this case, the protagonist basically controls himself enough: first, he throws the cards under the table (almost as if it were a classic warning shot) and only later, as the dispute continues, does he throw other things directly at the opponent, as had happened in the case of the previous study cited [of n. 2], when "the four cards, fluttering slightly, flew over the head of Sig. Buoninsegni, who dodged every blow by bending," and also then, coincidentally, it was high-class people who were playing minchiate.

5. Conclusion

Two documents on a gaming accident that occurred in the Santa Trinita Casino were presented and discussed. What makes the fact of particular interest is that [1] it was played in an exclusive environment reserved for a small company of Florentine nobles, and [2] the game was that of minchiate, two conditions not easy to connect with cards and even a candlestick taking flight, or with a drawn sword.

Florence, 03.27.2024

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