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Vespasiano da Bisticci (1421 – 1498), extracts of his "Biographies"

Vespasiano da Bisticci (Fiorentino) (1421 – 1498) was a Florentine humanist and librarian.

He was chiefly a dealer in books, and had a share in the formation of all the great libraries of the time. When Cosimo de' Medici wished to create the Laurentian Library of Florence, Vespasiano advised him and sent him by Tommaso Parentucelli (later Pope Nicholas V) a systematic catalogue, which became the plan of the new collection. In twenty-two months Vespasiano had 200 volumes made for Cosimo by twenty-five copyists. ...

He had performed important services for the diffusion of classical authors when Nicholas V, the true founder of the Vatican Library, became pope. He devoted fourteen years to collecting the library of Federico da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, organizing it in a quite modern manner; it contained the catalogues of the Vatican, of San Marco, Florence, of the Visconti Library at Pavia, and even that of Oxford. ...

Vespasiano had only a mediocre knowledge of Latin, and he is one of the few writers of the time who acknowledged it. He left a collection of 300 biographies, which is a source of the first rank for the history of fifteenth-century humanism: Vite di uomini illustri del secolo XV, published by Mai, Spicilegium Romanum, I, Rome, 1839; and by Frati, Bologna, 1892. ...

I checked the limited online editions of these biographies of Vespasiano da Bisticci for references which might touch our theme "gambling, playing-cards, games". It contains nothing about playing cards directly, but has a few interesting passages. Of special interest should be the statements about Alfonso, king of Naples, which possibly explain, why there are no early playing card notes in Naples, but also the notes to about Giannozzo Manetti (1393-1459) have merits for specific reasons for the understanding of Italan prohibitions.
The sources are The Vespasiano Memoirs: Lives of Illustrious Men of the 15th Century by Vespasiano Da Basticci (Translated by Emily Waters, William George, Published 1997) for the English translation and as a possibility to control the Italian edition of 1859 Vite di uomini illustri del secolo XV scritte da Vespasiano da Bisticci.

  • Alfonso the Magnamious, King of Naples 1442-1458 (more info)

    Source: XII. — In ogni cosa dimostrò la sua Maestà e la virilità dell'animo suo, e la sua innata bontà. Usava dire ispesso, a dannare il giuoco, quanto egli é pernizioso, e da essere detestato e dannato. Narrava che, sendo in età d'anni diciotto a Barzalona per le feste di pasqua di Natale, giucando una sera, aveva perduti circa a cinque mila fiorini. Avendogli perduti, chiamò uno suo cameriere, e disse che gli portasse danari. Portonne, e giucando cominciò a rivincere, e rivinti tutti quelli che aveva perduti, e tutti quelli che avevano coloro che giucavano. Avendo il re questo monte di fiorini innanzi, disse che ognuno istesse fermo; di poi disse al cameriere che gli arrecasse il lihric- ciuolo di nostra Donna ; e arrecatolo, lo fece aprire; di poi vi giurò suso con tutt' a dua le mani, giurando e promettendo a Dio e alla Vergine Maria, che mai più giocherebbe. E cosi osservò insino al di che mori. Di poi si volse, e disse a quegli che v' erano presenti : acciocché ignuno di voi creda che questo io lo facci per avarizia; cominciò a pigliare quegli fiorini colle mani, e dargli intorno a tutti quegli che avevano giucato con lui, in modo che gli distribui tutti. Fatto questo atto si generoso, disse a tutti quegli che v'erano: io conoscevo, che se io m' avevo a avviluppare in questo giuoco, egli era cagione d'impedirmi lo 'ntelletto, e non potere pensare a cosa ignuna che fusse degna; tanto era lo 'mpedimento che mi dava; e per questo mai sarà uomo, che mi vegga giucare. Questi sono i principi degni, ne' quali sono tante laudabili condizioni!

    Shortened translation: "He strongly condemned gaming, denouncing it as pernicious. He used to tell how, being then 18 years old, he was in Barcelona during the feast of Nativity and, happening to play one evening, he lost some 5 thousand florins. After he had lost them he called one of his chamberlains and bade him to fetch some money. When he was brought he played again and began to win, so that in the end he won back all he had lost and likewise all the money of his fellow-gamesters. With this heap of florins before him, he bade everyone keep quiet, and then bade the chamberlain to fetch the little book of Our Lady, and this having brought, he opened it and then and there made oath, with both his hands on it, swearing and promising to God and the Virgin Mary that he would never play again; a promise, which he kept to the day of his death."

    In the proceeding of the story Alfonso gave all the money back and "no man shall ever again behold me at the gaming table."

    There are some connections known from Alfonso to card playing, but not to Trionfi cards and also surviving Trionfi cards from this southern Italian region are missing (beside some cards from the castle Ursino with unclear origin). Probably one has to assume, that Naples stayed outside of the early Trionfi card development - Naples is far in the south of Italy, so the distance from the North Italian centers of card production might explain this condition. But Alfonso influenced the Italian festivities, called in singular "Trionfo", and of course some of his relations to other persons inside the Trionfi story are of importance.
    • 1428: Miguel de Alcaynis and the sons of the painter Bartolome Perrez, all from Valencia, received a commission from Queen Maria, wife of Alfonso the Magnanimous, to draw, paint and finish off a pack of cards. At the same time, the queen sent payment for the paper that would be necessary. (Simon Wintle)
    • 1434: Queen Mary (already referred to under 1428) is recorded as having received a small box with a very beautiful pack of cards, offered to her by the mercer Miguel de Roda. (A mercer was formerly a dealer in small wares, although later became a dealer in cloth or silks). (Simon Wintle)
    • 1435: "Duke Filippo (= Filippo Maria Visconti) is said to have frequently played cards with his royal captives (= Alfonso of Aragon and his brother) and on at least one occasion to have lost heavily. Unfortunately the Milanese archives fail to contain any description any description of the playing cards, so we do not know if they were trionfi cards or simply a four suited pack without trumps." (Kaplan Encyclopedia II, p. 84) The passage of Kaplan, in the case it is true, contradicts the above given promise of Alfonso. noted by Bisticci.


    • Ferrara, major city in the Trionfi card production, has only one single entry, in the period 1444-1449, when Lionello had been married to the daughter of Alfonso of Aragon, also there is nothing about Trionfi or playing cards for the wedding in 1444.
    • We've no notes about playing cards in Naples in the time of Alfonso of Aragon (1442 - 1458) and also for the court of his son Ferrante we've to wait till the year 1473 (first note of Trionfi in Naples in 1473, 1474 and 1482 in the time, when the daughters start to marry) (Dokument 32, Dokument 33 and Dokument 37).
    • Other Italian cities inclusive Rome also start late with Trionfi cards and are generally rare with playing card documents.

  • Archbishop Antonino (= "St. Anthony of Florence") (more info)

    Source: "One afternoon, after officiating at the church of S. Stefano, he passed by the loggia of Buondelmonte, where he overthrew the tables at which some gamesters were playing, and there was not one of those fellows who did not bend the knee to him and looked not ashamed at having been caught gambling."

    This is the same bishop Antoninus, who wrote 1457 about playing cards in his Summa Theologica, fol. 1740. p. 2. cap. xxiii. col. 315. " Circa hoc capitulum notandum primo quod ludus aleae secundum Guillelmum intelligitur omnis ludus, qui innititur fortunae, ut ludus taxillorum. Et idem videtur de CHARTIS, vel NAIBIS, quamvis sit ibi aliquid industriae, principaliter tamen est fortunes. Ludus autem scaccorum non est fortunae; sed industriae. ... Ludus etiam pilae non est fortunae sed exercitii." And further on, col. 326. Defactoribus et venditoribus alearum, & taxillorum & CHARTARUM seu NAIBORUM, sucorum sertorum seu coronarum mulierum capillorum capitis, &c. (quoted from "Researches Into the History of Playing Cards" by Samuel Weller Singer, p. 25, - source)

  • Pandolfo Pandolfini - Statesman, became commissioner of Andrea Castagno for a series of "Famous Men"Source: "He hated gambling, which he rated as time wasted"

  • Francesco del Bennino - Statesman with rude methodes, honoured by Bistecci (which tells something about Bistecci) Source: "Instead of passing his time uselessly as others would over gambling and vanities, Francesco would always, during his daily work, and at dinner, and at supper, cause to be read to him either Giovanni Cassiano, or the sermons of S. Efrem, or some other devotional work."

  • Bartolomeo De' Fortini - statesman with soft methodes Source: "He succeeded so well with his pleasant counselling that in a short time most of the people gave up their idle habits and gambling and civil broils and took up some useful work."

  • Giannozzo Manetti (1393-1459)

    Source"He condemned the worthless and the sluggards. Gamblers and gaming he hated as pestiferous abominations."

    "Giannozzo was governor of Pistoia and, as at Pescia, would accept neither gift nor tribute. He kept more servants and horses than the law allowed. The place was given to gaming; indeed the people thought of little else. Hating this vice as he did, he resolved to put an end to it as long as he was there, and to effect this he issued a proclamation that whoever should play any forbidden game should be taken and treated with four strokes with a rope. Moreover, he fixed a fine which every offender would have to pay, wherefore during his time of office gaming ceased."

    Giannozzo Manetti wrote about the history of Pistoia: Chronicon pistoriensis [Historia pistoriensis], in Rerum italicarum scriptores, a cura di L. A. Muratori, vol. XIX, Milano, 1731, coll. 987-1076, probably written 1446 - 1447). Pistoia had 996 households in 1442, Manetti's work started Oktober 1446. (Source) Pistoia interestingly is located ca. 30 km in NW-direction to Lucca and so nearer to the dangerous "gambling North of Italy".

    An interesting side aspect of Giannozzo Manetti happened in 1443: "On his return to Florence he was drawn for the Assembly, and about this time Messer Lionardo of Arezzo died (1443). The Signoria decided that his memory should be honoured in every possible way. It was decreed that the custom of delivering a funeral oration should be revived and Giannozzo was charged with this duty and that he should be crowned with laurel after the ancient custom. To these obsequies all the illustrious men of the city came to his coronation. Many prelates attended, as the court of Rome was then in Florence, and Giannozzo delivered an oration worthy of the subject, and they crowned him with a laurel crown, a custom which had not lately been observed." (source). The revival of the title "poetus laureatus" appears in relation to the strong development of Petrachism and the Trionfi-movement. Interesting is espcially Bisticci's note "... they crowned him with a laurel crown, a custom which had not lately been observed."

  • Cosimo de Medici - well known

    "Both at his villa and in Florence he spent his time well; taking pleasure in no game, save chess, of which he would occasionally play a game or two after supper by way of pastime. He knew Magnolino, who was the best chess player of his age." (source) Chess was allowed, games with fortune aspects were prohibited. We meet the same political understanding of games as with bishop Antoninus. Generally: This aspect already appeared in the laws of of Emperor Charles IV and it indirectly lived with the Savoyen law "Men are only allowed to play cards with women" (1430) and even still existed at the court of Galeazzo Maria Sforza ca. 1470: Men played chess and cards were for women - perhaps also for kids.

  • Vittorino da Feltre - famous teacher in Mantova

    "He allowed his pupils to play fitting games, and the sons of the gentry were required to learn riding, throwing the stone and the staff, to play palla jumping and all exercises good for bodily training, permitting them these recreations after they had learnt and repeated their lessons." (source). Occasionally in Tarot discussions the argument is used, that cards were used by the educators of the youth very early. In the description of Bisticci cards are not mentioned in this function.

    (Huck Meyer)

Alfonso of Aragon
promised not to gamble

Cosimi di Medici Played only chess

Archbishop Antoninus
"Ludus autem scaccorum non
est fortunae; sed industriae.
(Chess is not gambling)

Aristotelis work with
notes of Manetti's hand

Pistoia, 997 households, was 1446 a nest full of gamblers