The Note of Decembrio

Pier Candid Decembrio, the secretary of Filippo Maria Visconti, wrote short after the death of the duke in August /September 1447 a biography of Filippo, himself being at the occasion in Ferrara at the court of Leonello with the intention to work as diplomat for a peace treaty between Milan and Venetia in the recent war (as long as Filippo lived) already since an 1/2 year. Decembrio was drawn in the revolutionary changements inside Milan, which did lead to establish the shortliving Ambrosian republic, but he finished his work already around September 1447 and did sent it to Leonello for revision.

Decembrio was as Filippo's secretary in an unclear manner the follower of Martiano da Tortona (probably not immediately). When he returned to Milan from Ferrara after the death of Filippo Maria Visconti, he became a leading figure in the new republic, but he had to pay a high price later, when Francesco Sforza conquered the city in 1450 (Decembrio had worked on the side of the defenders). Decembrio stayed banned for the rest of his life. Decembrio is known by various surviving manuscripts, his tombstone notes 127 scriptures, between them biographies from Filippo Maria Visconti (mentioned below), Francesco Sforza and Sforza's opponent Niccolo Piccinino and a Vita Francisci Petrarchae, many translations from Greek to Latin, between them the Ilias and Platon's republic, Diodor of Sicilia, Xenophon and Aristoteles. Most of his texts still have the state of being "unedited".

The deciding passage about a card game, which had the proud price of 1500 ducatos, in the "Vita de Filippo Visconti" is translated by Michael Dummett in this way:

"He was accustomed from his youth to play games of various kinds ...
and particularly that type of game in which images are painted, which
delighted him to such an extent that he paid 1500 gold pieces for a
whole pack (ludum) of them, made in the first place by Marziano da
Tortona, his secretary, who executed with the utmost diligence images
of the gods, and placed under them with wonderful skill figures of
animals and birds."

The passage appears in chapter 61 of an Latin edition of Decembrio's text from the year 1781. We've prepared the complete text in an online-edition for further research of the person of Filippo Maria Visconti: The work of Decembrio is a major source for Filippo's life (here our online edition). Compare also the collection of Ross Caldwell to the situation from August/September/October 1447 in Ferrara. A specific problem exists with the early translation of Decembrio's Latin text in Italian language at an unknown time (ca 1460 - 1470 ?) by Polismagna. in Ferrara. Polismagna used the term "Trionfi" for the Michelino deck, but Decembrio didn't (Polismagna used the term "Trionfi").

Decembrio's own biography - together with that of his family - has some aspects which throw a specific light upon the conditions of the production of the Michelino deck. Filippo Maria Visconti behaved quite modern, when he made Greek gods to playing cards motifs. The Decembrio family mirrors the early invasion of Greek in Italy, before it actually happened. Pier Candid Decembrio had the role of an early Marsilio Ficino (the young boy, who was educated in Florence to translate Platon later), the talented young man with Greek education, but he appeared a little too early and he had to suffer for it - his life had money difficulties.

Time Line of the Decembrio family

1352 - 1360: Petrarca in the service of the Visconti brothers. Petrarca already shows interest in Greek literature, but it's more to theme of Petrarca's friend Boccachio. In 1455 - 1474 Petrarca works at his poem Trionfi.

? 1350 - 1370: The birthyear of Uberto Decembrio, Pier Candids father, is unknown. His birth place is Vigevano. Later in Pavia Uberto married Caterina Marazzi, the daughter of a famous physician named Maracio and 4 sons are known of this marriage: Modesto, Pier Candid, Paolo Valerio, Angelo Camillo

Around 1390: Uberto is acquainted to Peter of Candida, later pope Alexander V., and becomes secretary to him.

Peter of Candia, also Pietro Philarghi (or Filargo), born c. 1339, on the island of Crete (called Candia then - but this birth place is in dispute, as there are arguments which point to the "hamlet of Candia in Lomellina, south of Novara"), elected as pope Alexander V. at 26 June, 1409; died at Bologna, 3 May, 1410.

In the farspread version of "being born in the island of Crete" Peter of Candia was a beggar's son taught by a Capuchin friar, from whom he received an elementary education and under whose guidance he became a Franciscan in a Cretan monastery. Cause of his splendid abilities he was sent to Italy and got opportunity to study in Paris and Oxford. He became involved in the begin of the Great Schism 1378/1379 and followed the party of Urban VI.. Some time after this he entered the service of Giangaleazzo Visconti in Milan and was used as tutor for his sons and as ambassador, becoming bishop of Piacenza in 1386, of Vicenza in 1387, of Navoya in 1389 and finally Archbishop of Milan in May 1402, that means he became in the course of time the "second" great man of Lombardy right after duke Giangaleazzo, who showed all signs of becoming soon a king of Italy. The story of success, true for both men, Giangaleazzo and Peter of Candia, took an abrupt end already in September 1402, when Giangaleazzo suddenly died - a death, which was suspected to be caused by the poison of a Florentian priest. The Milanese stability broke to pieces soon. Peter of Candias career proceeded, however, in 1405 he was made cardinal and in 1409 a pope - or counterpope - for 10 monthes only. Again it was suspected, that he was poisoned, in this case the suspicion searched the enemy in Baldassare Cossa, who became his folower as pope.

Uberto Decembrio was secretary to this "Greek" pope in the time, before he was pope. As already noted above, it seems unsecure, if Peter of Candido really was of Greek origin, but there is some logic in the assumption, cause Uberto Decembrio in his development showed a great interest in Greek literature - which might be due to his close involvement with this man.

1394: Uberto Decembrio in his role as secretary is active at the emperor's court in Praha in the interest of the Visconti to get the title of duke for Giangaleazzo Visconti from the Emperor Wenzel. (183. Hortis Attilio, La città di Praga descritta da un umanista nel MCCCXCIX. - Due lettere di Umberto Decembrio a Coluccio Salutati, pp. 439-451).

Just reflecting this situation: The interest of the Visconti for the title duke did need a genealogical presentation of the Visconti family as fundament. So we see some years later (1403) Michelino da Besozzo really paints this genealogy (which later did lead - perhaps - to the Michelino deck) - as a consequence of this earlier actions in 1394.

1399 (or 1392): Pier Candido Decembrio is born in Pavia by Caterina Marezzi, daughter of a famous physician named Maracchio, after the first born brother Modesto. He got his name Pier Candido (or Pier Candid) just in the honour to the above mentioned Peter of Candia.

1400: The great Greek scholar Manuel chrysoloras, after teaching 3 years in Florence from 1397 - 1400, resides and teaches in Pavia with the great Visconti library, probably he is occasionally also in Milan and other surrounding cities from 1400 - 1403. It seems, that the enthusiastic Uberto becomes his major follower. In 1402 Uberto works with Manuel chrysoloras on a translation of Platon's Republic, the text is finished later by Pier Candido Decembrio in 1439 (or earlier ?). Uberto and chrysoloras communicate via letters in the later time till the death of chrysoloras (died 1415 in Constance as messenger of the Greek emperor).

1402: Giangaleazzo dies and the political change causes much trouble in Milan. Probably as one of the results of this change chrysoloras leaves Pavia in 1403.

1404: Uberto gets functions in the Visconti administration and leaves the service of Peter of Candia.

May 1411: The condottieri Facino Cane imprisons Umberto Decembrio, the secretary of the current duke Giovanni Maria Visconti. The family of Decembrio flees to Genova and has help from the Doria family, the dukedom of Milan is now more or less under control of Facino Cane.

May 1412: The new duke Giovanni Maria is assassinated and Ficino Cane dies at the same time. Filippo Maria marries Beatrice de Tender, gets enough money to hire troops and surprizes the sons of his uncle Bernabo Visconti, which already feel as new dukes of Milano.

? 1415 - 1418: The much younger brother Angelo Camillo is born.

October 1418: The new pope Martin V., elected at the council of Constance, is at a visit in Milano on his journey from Constance to Rome. Uberto Decembrio appears as important orator.

1419: Pier Candido enters the service of Filippo Maria Visconti.

He starts in the same year to continue or complete Virgil's Aeneid, but he abandoned the project after only 89 lines. The project was proceded later (1428) by Maffeo Vegio's book-length treatment of the same material. Vegio knew Decembrio personally, and in spite of the fact that Decembrio accused him of plagiarism, they maintained a friendly correspondence.

Decembrio's youthful attempt, which missed the energy of the later writer, probably must be seen in the context, that Decembrio had just entered the service of Filippo Maria, and that Aeneas was regarded by the Visconti genealogy as an ancestor of the Visconti. This specific genealogical interest might be suspected to have caused the theme of the later Michelino deck.

In the following years Uberto is known for various literary activities. Pier Candid seems to stand in the shadow of his father and also of his older brother Modesto (father Uberto dedicates a work to his oldest son Modesto).

1424: Pier Candid marries Caterina Bossi - two sons die quickly (? - these notes are missing in other biographies, perhaps an error, compare the following). In the next years a series of familiary death cases change the situation rapidly: 1424: the mother dies and brother Paolo Valerio, 1427 father Uberto and 1430 brother Modesto.

Pier Candids role in the "second row" of the family and his private involvements (young marriage, in the case, that it is true) raise doubts about Decembrio's informative position about the matters in the years 1424/1425. Decembrio for instance doesn't note the triumphal activities of Filippo Maria Visconti in the year 1425.

1424/1425: Assumed production time of the Michelino deck. Uberto Decembrio belongs to the persons, which believe Michelino da Besozzo to be the best artist of his time.

1425, June: Trionfo of Filippo Maria Visconti

1427: Father Uberto Decembrio dies.

1430: Death (?, see 1424) of mother Catherina Marazzi and brother Modesto. Decembrio now has responsibility for his youngest brother Angelo Camillo, at this occasion perhaps 15 or less years old.

1430 or 1432: Angelo Camillo, before educated by the famous teacher Gasperino Barzizza (dies 1431) in Milan leaves to Ferrara for studying medicine from Ugo Bensi and letters frm Guarino da Verona. He stays at least till 1438. The both brothers build a living link between Ferrara and Milan, which in the time under Niccolo III. d'Este reassured good political connections between Milan and Ferrara. Angelo Camillo is called later one of the major humanists of the Leonello court.

1435, October: Decembrio is in Dijon as diplomatic visitor of the imprisoned Rene d'Anjou. Rene has become heir to the throne of Naples and - for just this moment - is the ally of Filippo Visconti, who soon changes sides and releases the captured concurrent of Rene, Alfonso d'Aragon.

1438/1439: In the follow up to the council of Ferrara/Florence Pier Candido is active in text translations, probably as a part of the general manuscript fever, which starts in this years. It's said, that Angelo Camillo is helpful in these matters.

1441: Pier Candid leaves hard words about his younger brother Angelo Camillo, attributing to him youthful arrogance and ungratefulness.

1444: The condottieri Niccolò Piccinino dies. Orazione apologetica by Pier Candid Decembrio.

1446/1447: Angelo Camillo active in Milan.

1447: Pier Candid (again) as diplomatic guest at the court of Leonello in Ferrara, working for peace between Venezia and Milan in Milanese interests.

Filippo Maria dies (August) and Pier Candid writes the biography (August/September). It seems, that Angelo Camillo returns to Ferrara and stays till 1450.

Angelo Camillo should have been already active to write his major work De Politeia Litteraria, in which he involves dialogues between the Ferrarese Signore Leonello and his teacher Guarino. Leonello as sponsor of the work died 1450 and Angelo Camilla ended the text much later in larger dimensions in the year 1463, dedicating the work to Pius II.

1448: Pisanello manufactures a medal with the portrait of Pier Candid.

1448/1449: Pier Candid is active in the Ambrosian republic as diplomat (especially at the French court, also in Rome), one French source even uses the title "president of the Milanese republic" for him - this is not mentioned for instance by storia di Milano.

1450: Francesco Sforza conquers Milan. Pier Candido leaves Milan (?). Angelo Camillo has a journey to Saragossa (Spain) in spring, but is called to be present at the death of Leonello in October 1450 in Ferrara. He leaves to Naples in the service of Alfonso d'Aragon, where he stays till 1458.

ca. 1450 - 1455: Pier Candid in the service of the manuscript collecting Pope Nicolaus in Rome, he appears also in Milan and Naples.

1455 - 1458: Pier Candid also in the service of Alfons of Aragon, following his younger brother. After the death of Alfonso of Aragon Angelo Camillo leaves for Spain. Pier Candid tries various things to become established either in Naples, Rome, Ferrara or Milan, but has difficulties.

1462: Pier Candid Decembrio, then in Ferrara, writes Vita di Francesco Sforza, especially with the intention to get excuse from the duke.

1465: Angelo Camillo returns from Spain, but loses many manuscripts from foreign and own hand in France. New difficulties between Pier Candid and Angelo Camillo in Ferrara. Angelo Camillo gets a diplomatic mission and "disappears". Pier Candid, already rather old, stays in Ferrara. He has contacts to Niccolo da Correggio, the later poet and his mother Beatrice d'Este, also to Tito Vespasiano Strozzi, persons, which are either near of the Trionfi situation in Ferrara 1441 or Matteo Maria Boiardo.

1473: Pier Candid gets trouble with Galeazzo Maria Sforza cause the Vita di Filippo Maria Visconti. Perhaps this reflects the translation from Polismagna, which might have been done around this time.

1477, 12th of November: Decembrio dies, short after returning to Milan. His tombstone notes 127 works, that he is said to have written. He centered on historical texts , under them also a Vita di Petrarca. Also a translations of the Ilias and other Greek texts.

Decembrio mirrors in his life interests, which appear also in the Michelino deck and are suggested to be the content of it: Petrarca and Greek mythology.

Picture from Decembrio's Bestiarium

Picture from Decembrio's Bestiarium

"Petrus Candidus (1399-1477) created
wondrous beasts, often giving
them subtle human characteristics. "
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