by Franco Pratesi, 15.08.2012


This note reports one further mention of playing cards and Trionfi in the account books of the Cambini family, kept in the Archivio dell’Ospedale degli Innocenti (AOIF). These account books have been carefully studied by several researchers; in particular, Sergio Tognetti, university professor, has been the author of a whole book, in which many data from these account books have been reported and discussed.(1)
I asked for his opinion on the presence of any trade of playing cards in these books and he answered that he did not remember having found any playing cards mentioned there, and concluded that my search was like looking for a needle in a hay-stack.(2) The same judgement, with exactly the same saying, has been suggested to me later on by other professional scholars, who had performed similar researches.
I had already searched in this series of books, however, because these Florentine merchants were among those mentioned for their imports into Rome by Esch in his study.(3) First, I found nothing in these account books;(4) then, in a German book on Florentine painters(5) I read the reference to an old article,(6) in which Trionfi and playing cards had been found - a half century ago! - precisely in these books, with other art objects sold by Cambini. I thus wrote another note(7) for informing card historians about these old data.
Somewhat surprising was the fact that all the packs traded had been produced by one and the same painter, Filippo di Marco. Just in one entry "simple" playing cards were recorded, while most mentions were for Trionfi, seemingly the cards most looked for at the time.
Now, after examining the account books of other merchants,(8) I have again taken up the study of Cambini’s ones, in the hope to find new data of our interest.

1. Searching further entries

I first examined a small part of the Trionfi quotations already reported by Corti and Hartt.(6) I could thus check that these records really existed. However, the word Trionfi was often written in a way that required an expert eye to read it, and, moreover, it was only incidentally present in some lines of records, which mostly were devoted to different goods. My impression, as soon as I verified them, was that I would probably not have been able to find these useful records, without the exact indication given by the previous authors mentioned.
Except for card experts, it is not evident that the word Trionfo could correspond to playing cards. For instance, we can find the same Italian word associated with a typical centre-piece for fruits or cakes. Even if we limit the term to any representation of triumphal subjects, other substrates could have been employed instead of paper cards, mostly wooden tables, such as were used for cassoni or small boxes. In other words, a Trionfo could be any figure with a triumphal subject, painted anywhere, as a decoration.
Not surprisingly, authors who found Trionfi in Cambini books did not realise that they were just playing cards. This misunderstanding was present in the first article(6), but it was repeated in a more recent review(9) of documents kept in the Estranei section of AOIF that are of great interest for the history of fine arts.
For us, the meaning of Trionfi is clear, and we are thus very interested in finding any entries of this kind in the many books kept. It was obvious that finding further entries of our interest would have been much better than verifying entries already found long ago, even if only recently brought to the knowledge of card historians. I have thus selected further books to examine, and leafed through several of them. I could not avoid repeating to me, in front of every further book, that I really was searching for a needle in a hay-stack.
To better explain my situation, I have to admit that leafing through account books without finding any useful entry is for me far from an exceptional case. It is instead the rule in the last months, in which I have "studied", if using this verb is acceptable in this case, dozens of account books of various merchants, without finding anything of our interest. I am thus getting accustomed to search much and retrieve little or nothing - I can accept this work, after all compatible with the activity of a retired person.
Cambini were however among the most efficient exporters to Rome, as indicated by Esch,(3) and their sale of Trionfi made by Filippo di Marco had already been communicated.(6) These should have been hay-stacks full of needles, comparable or even better than the books of Lorenzo di Bartolo and Matteo di Zanobi.(10) I have thus been much disappointed not to find a lot of "our" records in these promising Cambini books.
Up to now, I only found one useful entry, in one account book. The book is described as follows in the AOIF catalogue: «Ricordançe M» 09/12/1461 - 24/12/1462 "Relativo a merci acquistate e vendute su varie piazze nazionali ed europee e a memorie di promesse e contratti attinenti, di Francesco e Carlo di Niccolò Cambini".»(11)

2. The only one entry found

After a long search, I could pin down an entry of our interest.(12) I feel that some time will pass before I search again in Cambini books, after finding there the following small needle. Let us examine it in some detail.

[In a few places I transcribe as "e" a letter that one could easier read as "i".]

Richordo chome insino adi 19 di febraio 1461 [this date refers to February 1462 in our modern counting] che noi ricevemo nel maghazino da Tomaso di Santi sceglitore? di lana queste chose che apresso esprimo?

6 dozine di scharselle di chuoio
3 scharselle choperte di veluto
5 dozine di paia di charte
8 dozine di trionfi
10 dozine di palle grosse scempie
5½ dozine di ghonfiatoi
4 charnaiuoli a picholi
20 dozine di palle a lesina? sechondo che disse Tomaso di Santi

A? di detto si messono le sopra dette chose in una chassa e mandamola a Vinegia a Girolamo Chorboli.

What a scarsella is should already be known to readers of Notturno’s performance.(13) It was precisely in his scarsella that Castalio, one of the players, was keeping his pack of Trionfi:

«Tacete i n’ho trovato una più bella
Vo che faciamo de triomphi un gioco
Chio gli ho qui apunto meco in la scarsella.»

Thus, a pocket or a handbag. Six dozens of them are in leather, three further similar items are coated with velvet.
Then we have five dozen card packs and eight dozen Trionfi. Ten dozen big balls follow (scempie I imagine is associated to a single shell, instead of a double one) with sixty-six gonfiatoi (I suppose they were the corresponding pumps, but am not sure). Then, carnaiolo is an obsolete word for carniere, the term now in use for a game-bag. Maybe a "piccoli" was a smaller version, suitable for feathered game.
Twenty dozen balls follow. I am not sure of having correctly read the word lesina. If it is correct, then its English corresponding word is awl, a tool actually used in manufacturing leather products. Secondo che disse Tommaso di Santi, according to his suggestions.
On the same day, the items mentioned were put in a box and sent to Girolamo Corboli in Venice.

3. Discussion and comments

On the packs made by Filippo di Marco and sold by Cambini(6) I wrote the following comment: «These were items commissioned for export, together with several other costly art objects. Incomparably much more, and cheaper, card packs were by then produced for local purchase and use by common people, triumphs included.»(7) Here we apparently have some specimens of the latter category: even if no price is indicated, it is clear enough from the contents of the shipment that these were ordinary packs of cards and Trionfi.
The destination of Venice has a certain interest, because we have little information on the local trade of playing cards at the time, even though Venetian cardmakers apparently were well-organised and ready to protect their products from foreign imports. (The importance of the Venetian production will become better known, and more evident, in the following century.)
It is not clear for us, on the other hand, which was the particular utilisation of these items by Corboli. In particular, the quantity is somewhat intermediary, too small for a big trade, but at the same time by far too great for a personal use.
It could thus be useful to know something more about the receiver of these cards. Actually, we are fortunate enough to find him mentioned many times in Tognetti’s book.(1) He appears to have been a merchant out of the ordinary; to begin with, he was a Florentine who did not belong to a family of merchants, as was the rule in similar cases. Coming from a rather low status, he had been selected nevertheless as the main Cambini agent in Venice, for all kinds of trade, including great financial operations.
Let me copy a relevant paragraph from Tognetti’s book.

«Dalla Serenissima verso Firenze affluivano grana greca e cotone siriano, allume e tele, ma anche schiave tartare, piombo, vetrerie, argento silimato, cuoiame tedesco, rasce. Nel complesso tuttavia i quantitativi erano modesti; praticamente nulli quelli esportati dalla Toscana verso la capitale veneta, la quale era ancora, per gli uomini d’affari fiorentini, un polo essenzialmente finanziario. Per i Cambini, anche negli anni sessanta, dirigeva un notevole traffico di lettere di cambio Girolamo di Francesco Corboli, a cui era intestato non solo un normale conto corrente, ma anche una serie di ‘conti a parte’ su cui transitavano rilevanti somme, oggetto di particolari operazioni finanziarie; decine di migliaia di fiorini venivano annualmente addebitate e accreditate sui suoi conti con il banco ed é molto probabile che il Corboli fosse in rapporti d’affari anche con altre ditte fiorentine.»(1)


It is certain that also rich bankers and merchants, as the Cambini really were, were involved in the trade of playing cards; this fact may be useful for obtaining, in particular, new data on the early spread of Trionfi. The account books of these merchants have been kept, at least in part; however, finding playing cards recorded there is not a frequent occurrence. In this case, I could only add to the few data already known the shipment of a box containing various goods to Venice in 1462, with – of our specific interest - sixty packs of playing cads and ninety-six of Trionfi.


  (1) Sergio Tognetti, Il banco Cambini: affari e mercati di una compagnia mercantile-bancaria nella Firenze del 15.secolo. Olshki, Firenze 1999.
  (2) Sergio Tognetti, Personal communication, December 2011.
  (3) Arnold Esch, Economia, cultura materiale ed arte nella Roma del Rinascimento. Roma 2007.
  (4) Franco Pratesi: Early Playing Card Export from Florence
  (5) Werner Jacobsen, Die Maler von Florenz zu Beginn der Renaissance, Dt. Kunstverl., München 2001.
  (6) Gino Corti, Frederick Hartt, The Art Bulletin, 44 (1962) 155-167. Weblink, Jstor article.
  (7) Franco Pratesi: 1453-1458 Florentine triumphs by Filippo di Marco
  (8) Franco Pratesi - Overview
  (9) Richard A. Goldtwhaite’s contribution in: Lucia Sandri, Gli Innocenti e Firenze nei secoli. Studio per Ed. Scelte, Firenze 1996.
(10) Franco Pratesi: Naibi sold by Silk-Dealers and Franco Pratesi: 1431-1460: Naibi aquired by Silk-Dealers
(11) Istituto degli Innocenti
(12) AOIF, Estranei 12640 c. 117v.
(13) Franco Pratesi: 1521 Notturno revisited

Editor's note: We gave in the earliest version of this text the year "1461". Thierry Depaulis paid attention to the condition, that the old 1461 February 19 is in our time counting method 1462 February 19. Thanks for the correction.
Actually 1461 February 19 would be nowadays something like "28th of February" (thanks to the 10 omitted days in 1582, as ordered by Pope Gregory XIII), but then likely everybody would be confused. In old Florence the new year started at 25th of March, not, as nowadays, at 1st of January.

Franco Pratesi refers with his important new detection in this article to two different research questions:
1. What happened in Venice with the Trionfi cards?
2. When started mass production of Trionfi decks?

Venetian Trionfi card developments

The above picture shows Iacopo Antonio Marcello, the early hero of Venetian Trionfi card development. It was once made either by Andrea Mantegna or Mantegna's friend Girolamo da Cremona and it decorated a manuscript, which Marcello sent as a present to Renee d'Anjou, possibly in the year 1452. It was dedicated to a knight order "of the Crescent", which Renee d'Anjou had founded in 1449, and Marcello (stood for Venice) and also Marcello's friend Francesco Sforza (since Spring 1450 duke of Milan) were members of this order.
The famous Michelino deck (called a "Trionfi deck" by Marcello), object of our interest, had been another earlier present from Marcello to Isabella de Lorraine, wife of Renee d'Anjou. We don't have pictures of the Michelino deck, but only the description of Martiano da Tortona. But we have still this manuscript for the knight order, which was focussed on St. Mauritius, a saint for soldiers.
Details of the Venetian Trionfi card situation follow in the Appendix.

96 Trionfi decks exported to Venice

Available early documents of the Trionfi card development shows not numbers like "96 packs" as in the Cambini document. The highest before the year 1462 (the new Cambini document) were "one dozen" and in one single case it was 13 Trionfi decks, all from the aquirement lists of the silk dealers.

  • "Uno depintore", 12 Trionfi decks for 9 soldi each at 1452-06-22, totally 96 soldi
  • Antonio di Dino, 12 Trionfi decks for 14 soldi each 1452-07-29, totally 126 soldi
  • Antonio "vochato il Chico[?], dipintore", 12 Trionfi decks for 9 soldi each, and one Trionfi deck for 20 soldi at 1452-11-16, totally 116 soldi
  • Giovanni di Domenico, 12 Trionfi decks for 9 soldi each at 1453-06-28, totally 96 soldi
  • Cetina[?] "fa i naibi", 12 Trionfi decks for 9 soldi each at 1453-08-31, totally 96 soldi
  • Antonio "dipintore tra forzenai", 12 Trionfi decks for 9 soldi each at 1455-08-31, totally 96 soldi
  • From the text of Arnold Esch we have the report "...fino al 1464, nei registri doganali viene menzionato ancora con ogni ben di Dio: “merce minute di Milano”, tele di Costanza, stamigna francese, bonette, triunfi ( “para 309”, “para 24”) ed altre carte da giocare, cimbali, “20 pugnalli indorati”, 2.130 pugnali" and other high numbers in the import registers for the city Rome, so with this time 1464 we have high number of Triunfi card deals, which create a sharp difference to the earlier known trade with low numbers of decks. The difference let us assume, that either a new wave of great interests in Trionfi decks occured or a difference in the production methods possibly lowered the price.

    Notes to the text

  • Review by historcooperative.com
    of Sergio Tognetti: "Il banco Cambini"

    Sergio Tognetti deserves a great deal of credit for compiling a history of a fifteenth-century Florentine bank and for attempting to tie the details of that story to the larger themes of early modern business and social history. The subject is interesting, too, because it concerns an enterprise belonging to a relatively minor family in Florence. So Tognetti's story is also that of the "new men" who emerged from the crucible of the fourteenth-century crisis and whose ventures were emblematic of the troubled, halting recovery from the great disasters that the fourteenth century had brought to Florence, Italy, and Europe.
    Tognetti's narrative straddles business and social history as it traces the fortunes and the misadventures of the various branches of the Cambini family. One branch chose the way of artisan entrepreneurship, in the linen trade of the family's progenitor. Another chose the riskier but potentially more profitable way of banking enterprise, and it initially prospered from involvements throughout the Italian peninsula and other areas in Europe. That international connection, however, ultimately proved fatal to the Cambini bankers as a liquidity crisis in their Portuguese branch forced them into bankruptcy in 1482.

  • The Florentine merchants Francesco and Carlo Cambini appear in "The Economy of Renaissance Florence" by Richard A. Goldthwaite (2011).

  • Girolamo Corboli, the "man in Venice", appears in "Andrea del Castagno and His Patrons" by John R. Spencer (1991).

  • Side bar pictures and text added by Lothar Teikemeier

    Appendix - Article in Preparation by Lothar Teikemeier

    ... Notes about Trionfi card development in Venice and at Venetian territory during 15th century

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