Letter of Iacopo Antonio Marcello
- written to Isabella, Queen of Lorraine, in November 1449

To the Fairest and Most Noble Queen Isabelle,
Jacopo Antonio Marcello humbly commends himself.

Last year in the territory of Milan, when I was in the camp of the very great and illustrious general Francesco Sforza, I was in charge of the troops of our most illustrious republic, which he had sent as reinforcements while together we were waging war against Milan. At that time it happened that Scipio Caraffa had just returned from the region of Provence. While I was most pleasantly and courteously discussing with him about the best and happiest condition of the most serene king, your consort and my only and very observant lord, by some chance, certain cards of this game which is called "Triumph" had been offered and given to me as a present. When Scipio saw them, being a thoughtful and diligent man, he said earnestly that your Majesty would be verymuch pleased by them: and he urged exceedingly and immediately that they should be sent to youat the first opportunity. Thus indeed he affirmed that, after you have given your attention to religion, and to the royal duties and concerns (by which great things, such as yours, are usually managed), you will have some free time. By means of these pastimes, you might restore and revive in some measure your mind, wearied by many and different thoughts. On account of this fact, in his opinion, nothing more pleasant or agreeable could be brought to you. But these particular cards I regarded as unworthy of so great majesty (as indeed they did not seem made and decorated at a kingly level). In the desire of being satisfying to you, and being concerned for your spirit and study, I diligently set to work inquiring into how someone among the class of most highly skilled artisans of these things might be found. With the thought of such an enormous undertaking anguishing me vehemently, while pressing on in that business with all my resources and, as they say, with all my heart, I came to know that the most distinguished, illustrious Prince of Milan had thought out a certain new and exquisite sort of triumphs, being, as he was of everything, at one time the keenest in the invention of all the greatest things. I would briefly explain them now to you. They were indeed sixteen celestial princes and barons, to which were added four kings presiding over different kinds of birds. Afterward he gave the plan of this entire game to someone most learned among men, most expert in both the stars and the heavens, to be set up and described. Nor with this was that Prince content, being provided with a great spirit and highest ingenuity: he summoned Michelino, the finest painter, another Polycletus of ourtime, that he should paint this entire game with greatest artifice and ornament. Therefore by the highest Prince was this invented: such great elegance as this being worthy to be known by your majesty. Having abandoned my previous intention [of searching for a painter], I exclusively applied to this thing all my care, thought, industry, study, spirit, and mind. To this I exerted all of the keenest ingenuity, this I started to pursue night and day: by which means, after the death of the former prince, I might obtain [the game] for you. Indeed, for a long time it was difficult for one book and deck of cards to be able to be found among the furniture, so much of the riches and splendours of the Duke being scattered as well as destroyed in the disturbance. And even more difficult because I would not have been able to investigate and to know about those things in any way whatsoever, unless I had depended on the enemy himself. Truly, as I myself was persuaded, nothing is so arduous, nothing so difficult, that it should not be able to be thought out, discovered,accomplished and fulfilled, by the best and most faithful soul for his Lord and Prince. Thus I laboured, thus by all means it was striven for, until (the thing I so greatly longed and desired) I had both the book and the cards in my possession, more by good fortune than by the strength of my ingenuity. I leave to you, fairest Queen, to judge how pleasing and precious that was to me. For my part, by no speech, by no words, would I be able to convey it. This book, these cards I greatly prize, will be carried by Giovanni Cossa to be given to you. Also attached, the cards mentioned above, although they are by far unequal to your Boundless Highness; but the splendour of your dignity, the power of your royal majesty, the dignity of your most august empire is such that by your authority you can light up the most obscure, bring the lowliest to nobility, raise up the abject and prostrated, and extol them in heaven. Indeed, thanks to those [humbler cards] that your authority and majesty will honour, it happened that I carried out the search for those that are more splendid. Otherwise they could deservedly condemn me, unless they will appear to be accepted with your customary mercy and kindness. I beg therefore, your Majesty, Fairest Queen: do not judge and evaluate my gift, [which is] not so beautiful as I wished, but my dedication and my efforts. And as often as you will restore the mind wearied by the highest labours by means of this game, and you will revive your spirit by this new Italian invention, so many times remember to your husband, the most sacred King, this poor kingdom: wretched, ruled by oppression, abject, lost, daily longing, requesting, imploring for its king, its protector and parent.

From Monselice, the day before the Ides November (= 12th of November) 1449 ... Jacopo Antonio Marcello

(First published in 'The Playing Card', vol. 33 no. 2 (Oct.- Dec. 2004), pp. 111-126)(web translation updated 2021)

Queen Isabella 1434,
accompanying Emperor Sigismondo

Monselice still exists
and also the Palazzo dei Marcelli

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