Notes about Imperatori Decks in Ferrara (1423 - 1452)

Exerpts about "Imperatori decks" from: Adriano Francesschini: Artisti a Ferrara in eta umanistica e rinescimentale. Testimonianze archivistiche. Parte I dal 1341 al 1471. Translations by Ross Gregory Caldwell.

First Note 1423 - of great importance

(compare our Imperatori chapter) The first entry about Imperatori decks is from a Computisteria entry of the Camera Ducale Estense for 1422-24. As Franceschini edits it, it is lines 137ff. under the letter "i".

1423, adi VIIII de octobre
Giovani Bianchin de havere per uno paro de carte da VIII imperadori messe d'oro fino che elo fé vegnere da Fiorenza per Madona Marchexana, le quale have Zoexe famio de la dicta dona; costono fiorini 7, nove, e per spexe da Fiorenza a Ferrara soldi 6 de bolognini; in tuto valgono
..... L. XIIII.VI. de bolognini

Io Giovani Bianchini scripsi adi soprascripto
1423, on the day 9 October Giovanni Bianchini to have for one pack of cards of VIII Emperors gilded, which was brought from Florence for Milady Marchesana (Parisina d'Este), which Zoesi * (name of the servant) servant of said Lady had; priced 7 florins, new, and for expenses (of the transport) from Florence to Ferrara 6 Bolognese soldi; in all valued
….. L. XIIII.VI. Bolognese

I Giovanni Bianchini wrote it on the above-written day.

* Zoesi or Zoese, the servant of Parisina, is later involved in the tragedy of Parisina. Frizzi tells: "It happened one day that a servant of the Marquis, named Zoese, or, as some call him, Giorgio, passing before the apartments of Parisina, saw going out from them one of her chamber-maids, all terrified and in tears." Zoese detects the love affaire between Ugo and Parisina by requesting the weeping maid and reports the case to Niccolo III. Then the dark destiny takes its run.

This is apparently the only note about Imperatori cards until 1443-44. It is the only note, which gives a small hint ("VIII Imperatori cards"), how this specific type of deck differed from other playing card decks and also from the farspread Karnöffel game.


Six short entries from 1443

Then six short entries appear, from which 4 are clearly related to Imperatori-decks, 2 are likely to refer to Imperatori decks cause of context and price. In our analyses we saw a relation between Trionfi productions and Imperatori productions - Imperatori productions seem to have followed Trionfi productions. This gives reason to the suspicion, that the Trionfi production - which seems to have been related to real Trionfo events - increased the inerests in Imperatori cards. In the case of this entry we have the reason for a Trionfo festivities with Leonello becoming Signore of Ferrara in January 1442, the production of accompanying Trionfo decks in February 1442 and summer 1442 and the interest in Imperatori decks in 1443. The action of the Trionfo we couldn't identify. Perhaps it was only a projected Trionfo, which never was realised. The decks were naturally produced before the real event, they were part of the show. When life decided, that the Trionfo didn't take place (perhaps the reason, that we don't find any note about it), the decks existed already. In the case of of the "missing" Leonello-Trionfo it might perhaps suspected, that Leonello wished to avoid the envy of his more powerful neighbours and finally neglected this specific form of idleness for his own person (which - on the other side - probably was not a cheap investition. Filippo Maria Visconti was duke, he was in rank higher than Leonello, he was "allowed" to have aTrionfo. The marriage of Bianca Maria and Francesco Sforza in October 1441 was also a "very high event" - Bianca Maria was the daughter of the duke. Alfonso of Aragon, King of Naples, with his Trionfo in 1443 had also not a problem. But Leonello was only "Signore of Ferrara" and - perhaps - having a Trionfo of his own would have meant to grasp for the stars and this might have been easily interpreted as aggression. His brother Borso in 1452 had a Trionfo, but was made at the same opportunity made duke of Reggio and Modena by Emperor Frederick III.

From Adriano Franceschini: Note d'archivio sulle carte ferraresi in Ludica 2, p. 170-174

c. 10v - 1443: "147. Carte da Inperaturi per uxo de li chavalieri
L. (=Lire) --, s (soldi) 12, d(=denari)-- lo paro

c. 11v - 1443: "24. Carte da Inperaturi depinte da lato roversso
L. --, s. 18. d -- lo paro"

c.12, 1443: "206. Carte de Inperatore mezane dipinte da lato roversso
L. . s. 12, d. - lo paro"

c.13r, 1444: "24. Carte da Inperatori depinte da lato roversso ale devixe del Signore
L. --, s.12, d.--  lo paro

c.13r, 1444: "206. Carte depinte al dito modo, non cossi belle.
L. -, s. 12, d. lo paro."

c.13v,1444: "190. Carte pizole da zugare per cavalieri
L.--, s.3,   --- lo paro

c. 10v – 1443: "147. Emperor cards for the use of the knights
L.-, s. 12, d.- the pack."

c. 11v – 1443: "24. Emperor cards painted on the reverse side
L.- , s. 18, d.- the pack."

c. 12 – 1443: "206. Middle (?) Emperor cards painted on the reverse side
L. – s. 12, d. – the pack."

c. 13r – 1444: "24. Emperor cards painted on the reverse side with the device of the Lord
L. -, s. 12, d. – the pack."

c. 13r - 1444: "206. Cards painted in the similar way, ...
L.-, s. 12, d. - the pack".

c. 13v – 1444: "190. Small playing cards for the knights
L. - , s. 3, the pack."

Last entries about Imperatori decks after March 1450

This entries follow the reappearance of Trionfi decks in Ferrara after an pause of 8 years in March 1450, just at the right time to correlate with the Trionfo of Francesco Sforza in Milan in the same month. Leonello attended this Trionfo as a guest and it seems, as if these decks were intended as a special present for the new duke of Milano. Again it sems, as if the procuction of Trionfi decks increased the interests in Imperatori decks.

The Debits and Credits for 1450 records on 28 July of 1450 (Franceschini 1993, 647h)

Maistro Piero Andrea de Bonsignore de avere adi XXVIII de luglio lire due de marchesani per sua fatura de havere depinto para doa de charte da Inperaduri da zugare, grande, da lato drito, e dal roverso depinte a schachiti, a soldi XX de marchesani per paro, per uxo dela sala delo Illustro nostro Signore
.......L. II. 
Maistro Piero Andrea de Bonsignore to have on XXVIII day of July two lire marchesane for his job having painted two packs of Emperor playing cards, large, on the front side, and on the back painted checkered, at XX soldi marchesane per pack, for the use of the chamber of our Illustrious Lord
……… L. II.

The Computisteria, Memoriali 3 (M) for the year 1450 records on lines 114ff., 29 of August (Franceschini 1993, 645t) -

Illustro nostro Signore, al suo capitolo, de dare adi XXVIIII de agosto lire due marchesane, per lui a Magistro Pedro Andrea de Bonsegnore per sua faticha de havere dipincto para dua de carte da imperaduri grande da zugare dal lato drito, et dal lato roverso schachate, a soldi 20 marchesani lo paro, per la sala del Illustro nostro Signore
... L. II.
Our Illustrious Lord, to his chapter, giving the XXVIIII day of August two lire marchesane, for him to Magistro Pedro Andrea de Bonsegnore for his job having painted two packs of large Emperor playing-cards on the front side, and on the back side checkered, a 20 soldi marchesane the pack, for the chamber of Our Illustrious Lord
… L. II.

The Guardaroba 33 of Credits and Debits (N), for 1452, records on 11 February (Franceschini 1993, 688a)

Maistro Piero Andrea de Bonsignore de avere sino adi XI de febraro per sua merzede de avere fato una pignata de negro, havuta la roba da la spenderia, zoè libre doe de vernixe liquida et quatro de raxa, fatone la dita pignata de negro per mandare al Mantoano a Sauolo per stanpire charte da Inperaduri da zugare, per uxo delo Illustro nostro Signore; chome apare mandato signato no._____; lire una, soldi diexe de marchesane
................. L. I. X.
Maistro Piero Andrea de Bonsignore having on the XI day of February for his expenses in having made a black pot, having a dispensing thing, that is to say two libre of varnish liquid and four of [raxa], making the said black pot to give to the Mantovano at Sassuolo for printing Emperor playing-cards, for the use of Our Illustrious Lord; as appears mandate signed no. _____; one lira, ten soldi marchesane
…………….. L. I. X.

(Note: the meaning of "raxa" is unclear)

Würzburg 1443 - 1455: The only note of the Imperatori game outside of Ferrara/Florence appears in Würzburg: According Schreiber 1938 (p. 52) Paulus Wann (lived mostly in Passau ca. 1420-1489) in his "Tractatus de contractibus" reports about a card game, that was played in the time of Fürstbischof Gottfried IV. (1443 - 55) during the Fasching time and which showed blasphemous tendencies against God and the Holy Virgin: "Et notandum vidi in Herbipoli, cum ibi essem ... Ille tempori Vaschangali (Fasching) unus quidam ibi ludens ad cartas ludum vocatum imperatoris, cum blasmephemaret deum et beatum virginem, captus fuit". Schreiber adds in a footnote: "Cod. lat. man. 4695 S. 37 und Code. lat. 12730 S. 56b der Hof- und Schlossbibliothek in München."
Other (later) notes refer to Ludus caesarum or Keyserspiel or Königsspiel or Karnöffel (if all names really refer to a similar game, is still an unsolved question).

Michael J. Hurst in his Collected Fragments of Tarot History gives the following information:
  • c.1454 Ferrara, Italy.
    "... records state that Borso d'Este played at cards: 'of the Emperor' (dell'imperatore) in Ferrara around 1454." (Betts 321; GT 191.)

    Imperiali game
    - added 2010

    Very late in our research it was noted, that a game "Imperiali" existed, which possibly had a connection to the earlier Imperatori game. I give the oldest note (the research about this hadn't been very careful till now). The earliest note might be the source for Julia Cartwright:

    Beatrice d'Este, Duchess of Milan, 1475-1497, p. 205-207, by Julia Mary Cartwright
    The summer months were spent in the Castello of Pavia, [Page 206]where Beatrice nursed her husband in a slight attack of fever, and afterwards received a visit from her father and brother. They arrived on the 25th of August, bringing with them a troop of actors to perform the Menæchmi and some of the other comedies which had pleased Lodovico [Ludovico Sforza il Moro] so much at Ferrara. Duke Ercole [Ercole d'Este, Batrice's father] himself, as usual, took keen interest in these theatricals, and before he left home sent to borrow two complete Turkish costumes and turbans from the Marquis of Mantua, in order to supply deficiencies in his actors' wardrobe. Three days after his arrival, Borso da Correggio, a young nephew of Niccolo [Niccolo da Correggio, poet and theater organisator], who had travelled to Pavia with the duke, sent the following note to give his cousin Isabella [Isabella d'Este, Beatrice's sister] the latest news of her family:

    "Most illustrious Sister and honoured Lady, "We arrived on the 25th at Pavia, and were received by these excellent lords and ladies with the usual formalities. We find both of the duchesses well and happy, one of them, indeed — her of Milan [Isabella of Aragon, wife of Giangaleazzo Sforza] — expects the birth of another child shortly, but our own duchess [Beatrice herself] is as gay and joyous as ever. On the 27th the comedy of "The Captives" was acted, and the performance went off very well. To-day "The Merchant" is to be given, and will, I hope, prove equally successful. To-morrow we are to have a third. Our way of living is as follows. Early in the morning we go out riding. After dinner we play at scartino, or else at raising dead men and l'imperiale, and other card games, till it is bed-time. The players are, as a rule, the Duke [Ludovico il Moro] and Duchess of Bari [Beatrice d'Este] together, Ambrogio da Corte, and some third man, whoever may happen to be present. Today your father the duke, Don Alfonso, and Messer Galeaz Visconti are playing at pall-mall against Messer Galeaz Sanseverino, Signor Girolamo Tuttavilla, and myself. The Duchess of Milan does not join us in these games, and only appears at the theatricals. The Duke of Bari [Lodovico] is more devoted to the duchess than ever, and is constantly caressing and embracing her. My lord your father is altogether intent on the comedies. When they are ended, hunting-parties will begin, and we shall all be ready for the quails."

    These amusements were unexpectedly interrupted by the news of Duchess Leonora's [Eleanor d'Aragon, Beatrice's mother] serious illness, a gastric affection which ended fatally on the 11th of October.

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