The Letter of Jacopo Antonio Marcello

The letter, written in Latin by Marcello in November 1449, informs us, that in the year before Marcello was in the camp of Francesco Sforza in leading role with the Venezian troops around Milan, fighting together with Sforza against the Milanese Ambrosian republic. From other sources we know, that Marcello served as provviditore, a role, in which he had to distribute money to the army, arrange certain matters and to report the Venezian senate and spread the orders of the senate. He was not really a general in battle, but he presented the long arm of Venezia probably better than anybody else in the camp. To the senate Marcello was specialised on Sforza, cause the senate knew about personal good relations between Sforza and Marcello, "friendship". Sforza prefered Marcello, already in 1442 Marcello worked as specialised Sforza ambassador and the senate used Marcello to control and spy the great condottieri (probably there were other Venezian eyes, which controlled Marcello).
Scipio Caraffa arrived in the camp from France, bringing with him news from Isabella and Rene d’Anjou (we could identify Scipio Caraffa recently as a Venezian diplomat in 1446 at the French court). From other sources it is known, that Marcello became acquainted to Rene d'Anjou through Francesco Sforza in 1449. Earlier I wrote "1442, or earlier", but I was in error, and recent access to the text of Margaret L. King. The Death of the Child Valerio Marcello. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Pp. xviii + 484 + 20 halftones. ISBN 0-226-43620-9 reached the information, that Francesco Sforza wrote a letter to Rene d'Anjou in February 1449, in which he introduced with warm words Marcello to Rene d'Anjou, telling about a great addiction from Marcello to Rene d'Anjou. The resulting friendship became a great one and did lead to many presents from Marcello's side to Rene d'Anjou, probably starting with the Filippo Maria Visconti's card play.
One might suspect, that the begin of this friendship were "diplomatic interests" on Venezian side, Venezia wished just at this time the energies of Naples occupied with a fresh war with Rene d'Anjou, but somehow real friendships developed, at least Marcello claimed at the end of his life, that Rene and Francesco were close friends, and that he regretted very much, that Venezia turned against Sforza's interest in late 1449. Between Marcello and Rene developed in the course of time a literary relationship.

It happened, that during Caraffa's visit Marcello got a present, a pack of Trionfi-cards ( ex eo ludo quem triumphum apellant cartae ). Immediately Caraffa was rather engaged to induce Marcello to send this card deck as present to Isabella, Queen of Lorraine, and wife of Rene d'Anjou. We assume, that to Scipio Caraffa this deck type seems to be a complete novelty and that he doesn't know Trionfi decks till this time - which might mean, that this play was at least not known in Venezia, at least not in the way, that everybody knew about it.

Marcello was enjoyed about the idea, but considered the deck being one of a lower quality, not worth to be in use by a queen (not well enough pictured and engraved; neque enim pro regio fastigeo ornatae et excultae esse videbantur ; "engraved" may indicate a printing process, used in manufacturing playing cards, - examples of this are known from contemporary German decks but not from Italian decks). Marcello starts to look for some artists, who are expert in these productions (solertissimus harum rerum artifex).

On his research Marcello became aware, that Filippo Visconti, who died shortly before, had invented a certain new and very fine kind of triumphs ( novum quoddam et exquisitum triumphorum genus ). Filippo is famous to Marcello for inventing objects in various fields (the text indicates invention of " maximarum rerum ", greatest things, most important matters).
In our research we asked the question, by which source Marcello heard from the deck. It didn't seem impossible to us, that Marcello was informed just by the Vita Filippo Mariae Visconti of Decembrio, who finished the biography in September 1447. The Venetian senate should have had an immediate interest to get access to the text (it was a political text of some dimension) and surely Jacopo Antonio Marcello in his special function was one the first, who should have learnt about details, his function demanded "knowledge about the enemy".

Marcello realizes, that this is the deck, that he shall look for. We don't know, if Marcello's exaggerates the difficulties he had to make the present look greater than it was, but he "thinks day and night" how to get book and deck out of the great disorder of all the earlier possessions of the duke (from other sources we know, that after Filippo's death the Milanese citizens in their aim to build up the Ambrosian republic had stormed the Visconti-castle and destroyed it more or less completely; Francesco Sforza did build the Castello Sforzesco at the same place, when he became duke). Information could only be received by enemies, but at last and with some good fortune, Marcello has reason for highest and undescribable satisfaction, he gets both, book and deck. " Nothing is impossible wishing to honour his lord and prince ."

In a short description Marcello relates to the game: 16 celestial princes and barons, 4 kings leading the orders of 4 different birds. Filippo gave the scheme to a scholar and expert in astrology to describe the game (the name Marziano is not noted by Marcello) and ordered the famous Michelino da Besozzo to picture the game in a most original and decorative way (From his later activities it may be assumed, tat Marcello was an expert in art; later for instance Mantegna worked for him).

Book and cards and letter go to the hand of Giovanni Cossa (Rene d'Anjou's friend and probably in diplomatic function at a visit in Monselice) with the order to bring them to the queen, also included are (diplomatic important) regards to the husband and also those superior cards ( adiunxi et eis cartes ilias superiores ). (In this Latin sentence "et" is not a problem, it can be translated as "also" or "too", the unusual position in the text is often observed. " Superiores " is a problem: One interpretation might lead to the conclusion, that there are higher cards, absent in the original version, now required to complete the deck. In this case Marcello did send one updated pack, formed by new and old cards. More probable looks the interpretation, that "superiores" could be understood as "mentioned above" and refered to the pack of Trionfi that arrived in the camp and was not good enough for the use of a queen. In this - probable - case Marcello send two packs.)

Ironically the date of sending gives "Monselice, in the ides of November." In Monselice is in 1449 since younger time the home of the Marcello-family, which became in the later century rather important in Venezia - and Monselice lies near Padua far in the east of Milano, quite the opposite direction of the address of Isabella, which was in the west (with thanks to Ross Gregory Caldwell: “Isabelle of Lorraine lived in the Chateau of Launay, near Saumur (in the Loire region) from August of 1449 until her death on 28 February, 1453”).
So Marcello at least didn't really haste to send his parcel, perhaps it's a simple truth, that he hadn't much difficulties to get the deck, but took the opportunity to elaborate a nice story to make the deck look very romantic - such things were favoured especially at the court of Rene d'Anjou and Marcello did know that (and from other sources we do know, that he is suspected to write in a little exaggerating manner, being also a poet in his soul - similar to Rene). However, as mentioned above, Marcello didn't send the original book but a copy, perhaps cause the reason that the original text was in bad condition. This repairing action he could have hardly done in a camp of soldiers, so eventually this is the reason for the "letter from Monselice".

The situation at the "ides of November" in Monselice is very specific. Rene d'Anjou made a diplomatic approach to Venezia for alliance in recapturing Naples in late 1448. At the 24th February, 1449, Francesco Sforza replied to a request from Rene, that he might engage militarically in the same matter. Sforza points to his momentary alliance with Florence and Venezia and that he could not act without them, but assured him of his loyalty. He suggests - in the letter - to send an ambassador to Florence and recommends Jacopo Antonio Marcello "Il est des plus affectionnes a votre Majesty, et jouit d'un grand credit dans tous les conseils de la republique de Venise".

This seems to be the starting signal for the relation between Marcello and Rene, from this information they were not acquainted with each other before. In late February 1449 (the time of the letter above) Sforza and Venezia fought in alliance, and the "friends" Francesco and Marcello are together in the same camp. The cooperation becomes weaker in the course of the year, Venezia starts to prepare alliances with the stressed Ambrosian republic against Naples, not serving Sforza, whose interest is the occupation of Milan and who was promised help by Venezia earlier. Naples declares war in June, and Venezia becomes clear to Sforza end of September. Marcello explained later, that he personally didn't like the treatment of Sforza, but had to follow the order of his state. A famous poet, Janos Pannonius, made even a short rime about Marcello's psychic conflict (poet's often write, what the money-giver wants, Marcello was a famous sponsor). Marcello left the scene then, an order of the Venezian senate of 15th October didn't reach him in time, probably on his way to Monselice, where he is . at 8th of October. Sforza showed, as it seemed, after some reluctance obedience to the orders of Venezia, but turned back to his aim at 27th of December 1449, cheating back Venezia, reattacking Milan. He reached his goal at 25th of February 1450, against Milan, against Venezia (the Venezian ambassador was cut to pieces by Milanese citizens at that opportunity). Sforza's action was surprizing to all political observators, it wasn't imagined before, that he could risk to turn against the two powerful states at once.

In 1449 (unclear date - of course after the letter of Francesco Sforza in February) Marcello got the "Praefectura Maritima" from Rene, the reason for the "first present", the playing cards of Filippo Maria Visconti, was given with that. The story, as Marcello tells it (which might be a diplomatic-romantic story just to make the present look more worthful as it already was), should have taken place late in the year - if one believes it. Marcello already had opportunity to get the deck in winter 1447/1448, already then he was in militaric function near to Milan.

We don't know, what is true and what fiction in this letter, it's a letter of a diplomat. But likely should be, that Marcello got the deck in 1449.

The political situation at these ides of November 1449 is similar unclear. Nobody imagined, what Sforza would do in near time.

Marcello became a well respected man in the 50ies and 60ies of 15th century, especially honoured by artists and humanists, cause it seems, he had a lot of money to spend for their productions (Biography). The doge of Venezia in the year 1474/75 was a man with the name Marcello, later other members of the family became famous Venezian generals. Probably our Iacopo Antonio did his part to secure the later influence of the family. Monselice stayed centuries in the possession of the family. The castle can be visited nowadays (more informations to Marcello in his biography, including a link to Monselice and its castle). Compare also our considerations to the question: what happened to the deck after 1449 and the biography of Rene d'Anjou

Very interesting it is, that Marcello is willing to use the term "New kind of Trionfi" for the deck of Filippo, which is quite far off that, what is generally (and especially in our modern eyes) be considered to be a Tarocchi-game, differing in the number of the cards and differing in the motifs - which rather definitely means, that the relation between playing card decks and the term "Trionfi" is more or less undefined in the time of Marcello.
This means: When in 1442 in Ferrara and around 1450 "Trionfi" are manufactured and bought, we don't know, how the relevant objects looked like and we don't know, how many trump cards were in these decks.

This conclusion is of some importance for the theory about the 5x14-deck.

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