Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Taroch in Milan in the XVIth century

On a Cheribizo and a manufacturer of playing cards


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, June 2013

Despite the pestilence of 1576, which procured to the city of Milan considerable damage, thanks to the will and the extraordinary energy of the Milanese, prosperity indeed returned home. Proof of this is an anonymous semi-popular short poem which describes the gifts of agriculture and the products of trade and industry that benefited the city.


This small work, consisting of eight unnumbered sheets (93 x 145 mm.) and purchased at a Roman bookseller for the collections of the Biblioteca di Brera Nazionale [Brera National Library] (marked 14.16. A 20/2), is entitled Il Cheribizo. Somario de tutte le Professioni & arte Milanese, Con diversi Sonetti in lingua rozza e Un' Eco [The Cheribizo. Summary of all the Milanese Professions & arts, With various Sonnets in uncouth language and new] (Milano, Giuseppe Meda, 1624). The year of printing does not coincide with that of its drafting in as much as the composition makes reference (v. 7) as still living an engraver Annibale Fontana who died in 1587 (1).



                                  Frontispiece of the Cheribizo as shown in the article by Novati (see Notes, n. 1)

By "uncouth" language we are to understand the rustic bergamasco [of the Bergamo region] village vernacular, more digestible and understandable than the pure dialects of the Milanese territories. Elia Zerbini in Historical motes on the bergamasco dialect (2), rightly observes that the "bergamasco" in compositions and particularly in comedies, where non-bergamaschi authors make some character speak it, resulted in a hybrid language that resembled very little the true bergamasco vernacular. He adds that the same bergamaschi poets of this XVI century did not use the dialect of the city, but rather the "rustic" one of the Valle Brembana, perhaps taking as an example the  Milanese poets, who at that time imitated the uncouth language of the valleys of Bregno and of Intra, or of the Venetians who used rustic Paduan, or pavan».


The Cheribizo is presented as a new document. adding to the numerous works composed to worthily celebrate the wealth of the city of Milan, of which the first is undoubtedly the Carmen de Mediolano civitate (eighth century), which boasts the merits of the Milan Lombards, continuing with the writings of Bonvesin de la Riva, Pier Candido Decembrio, del Torre, del Moriggi, and others still.


The hagiographic exaltation of Milan is described by a youth in love with a country girl named Tonia whom he brings to see the city. But of little importance are the monuments and the historical memorials that the youth seeks to show the girl: she remains amazed and dazzled by the material prosperity and abundance, things that move her excessively. While to the Cathedral not even one verse is dedicated, there are enumerated, one by one, the fifty-eight inns of the city, that make Milan a rival not only of Bologna "the fat" and of Padua "that passes it", but also of the Land of Scansafatica [the Lazybones], also called the Country of Cuccagna [Cockaigne]. After dishing out to the readers the names of all these places of delights, where one triumphs, enjoys and never gets old: "There one is far from all troubles / Annoyances, anxieties and work / There one is neither hot nor cold / Where a man never grows old", the youth takes Tonia to the market where everything that every glutton dreams of eating is for sale.


Writes Francesco Novati, who made an ample examination of this poem (3): «Certainly, along with the exercise that follows the footsteps of the celebrated Sloth, the anonymous author does not neglect passing in review even the whole industrious and active population, who sweat in the workshops to temper the weapons, to make the clothing, to spin and to weave the gold and silk, to pierce the needles, to shoe the laces; but, at bottom, all his predilections are for the grocery. And the true conclusion of his whole discourse is the same one that left, in the form of a proverb,  the mouths of those who, forced from curiosity or from need, contributed on the banks of the Olona [the river that runs through Milan]: "Only in Milan do you eat"»(4) .


Coming to the text, at a certain point we find an almost interminable list of all the trades of Milan at the time: among these also manufacturers of [regular] cards and tarot (v. 189):


e chi fa calzador, e chi sonai,

chi fa cart e taroch, e chi di dad,

chi fa le invedriate, e chi di redi,

chi fa manganador, e chi balon,

chi partis l'or fina e chi fa saz,

chi bat l'or da filà e chi foiet;

etc, etc


"And who make shoes, and who rattles,

who make cards and tarot [cart e taroch], and who dice,

who make stained glass windows, and who nets,

who stretch linens  [with irons], and who balloons,

who separate fine gold and who taste the gold, [technique used to know its grade]

who beat the gold [so that it can be made] into thread, and who into sheets,

etc, etc "


We do not have secure names of manufacturers of playing cards in Milan in the period of the Cheribiczo’s composition, i.e. before 1587, apart from a certain Caimo who later on, between 1640 and 1660, who bought the "The business of the manufacture, sale and introduction into foreign states, of  playing cards" (5). Hence it is believed useful to cite "Paulinus de Casteleto", who was mentioned in the Bullettino dei Civici Musei Artistico ed Archeologico di Milano [Bulletin of the Artistic and Archaeological Civic Museums of Milan] (III, 3, p. 17), in an article regarding numerous playing cards of the XVth, XVIth and XVIIth centuries traced to the Sforza Castle. Among them is a two of coins with his name printed on it, along with the date 1499 (6).

                                                                         Due di denari

Novati, in the course of his research at the Archive Notarile of that city, brought to light two notarial deeds relating to that manufacturer, the first stipulated in 1513 and the second five years before, called Rogiti [Deeds] Birago by the notary that drafted them (7). That of 1508 concerns the signing of an agreement for an exchange of matrices for printing playing cards that Paulinus undertook with a certain Gaspar de Bexana, and the second, of 1513, was contracted with a Bartolomeus de Puteobonello, living like Paulinus at Santa Tecla, to give greater impetus to his company.


Because these notarial deeds, reported in full by Novati in his article referred to in note 6, were never followed by dates for the prints, we consider, emphasizing what already been written by the celebrated scholar "liking to extend a not useless contribution to the history of what could be called the Milanese book industries", republishing them here as a return to us from the scholar.


Imbreviatura mei Jo: Marci de Birago filii domini magistri Gabrielis p. e. p. s. Marcelini.

          MV octavo indictione XIIIª (sic: supra secunda) die mercurij octavo mensis novembris Paulinus de Casteleto filius quondam Jacobi p. h. p. s. Tegle Mediolani parte una et Gaspar de Bexana filius quondam domini Steffani p. c. p. s. Andree (?) intus mediolani parte altera.
          Voluntarie etc.
          Et omnibus modo etc.
          Fecerunt et fatiunt infrascripta pacta et conventiones inter dictas partes attendenda etc. sub pena etc. bona fide etc. in hunc modum vide licet.
          Imprimis quod dictus Paulinus teneatur et obligatus sit dare et seu mutuare tot de illis formis quas habet et habebit dictus Paulinus pro stampando cartas pro ludendo ad omnem requisitionem dicti Gasparis et eas forma (sic) sic mutuatas dicto Gaspari postquam ipse adoperavit et quod non voluerit amplius de illis adoperare et seu stampare. Quod tunc et eo casu teneatur et obligatus sit restituire in illis statu et gradu prout erant tempore quo mutuata erunt dicto Gaspari sub pena infrascripta. Et dictus Gaspar teneatur et obligatus sit dare et numerare dicto Paulino de presenti libras octo imper. quas dictus Paulinus confessus fuit recepisse etc. a suprascripto Gaspari ibi presenti etc. qui dit etc. et etiam Gasparinus (sic) teneatur et obbligatus sit dare alias libras octo imper. Ad festum nativitatis domini nostri yhu Xpi proxime futurum. Et hoc pro gaudimento dictarum formarum per dictum Paulinum dicto Gaspari ut supra.
          Quare dicte partes promiserunt etc. atendere etc. sub pena florenorum viginti quinque valoris sold. XXXII pro floreno dandorum et solvendorum per partem non atendentem alteri parti atendenti etc. nichilominus etc.
          Renuntiando etc.
          Et cum pactis executivi etc. vivissimo etc.
          Datum in Brolleto novo communis Mediolani presentibus pro notariis Jacobo de Birago filio dni Antonii p. t. p. s. Eufemie intus Mediolani et Marco Antonio de Coldinariis filio dni Girardi p. c. p. s. Carpofori intus Mediolani ambobus etc.
          Testes Io: Angelus de Cantono f. q. magistri Gullielmi p. v. p. s. Victoris ad theatrum Mediolani notus; Symon de Grasselis f. q. d. Jo: Andree p. r. p. s. Nazarii in brolio Mediolani et d. Antonius de Birago f. q. dni Petri p. t. p. s. Eufemie intus Mediolani omnes etc.


Imbreviatura mei Joh: Marci de Birago filii quondam domini magistri Gabrielis
           p. c. p. s. Marcelini Mediolani.

           MV XIII indictione prima die lune decimo mensis Januarii.
           Bertolomeus de Puteobonelo filius quondam domini Mafei p. h. p. s. Tegle Mediolani parte, et Paulinus de Casteleto filius quondam domini Jacobi p. h. p. s. Tegle Mediolani parte altera.
           Voluntarie etc.
           Et omnibus modo etc.
           Fecerunt et fatiunt infrascripta pacta et conventiones etc. bona fide etc.
           Imprimis quod dictus Bartolomeus teneatur et obligatus sit dare et consi­gnare ditto Paulino omnem quantitatem cartarum, pro ludendo, cartonos et pa­piros pro fatiendo de illis cartis pro summa et usque ad summam et val­lorem librarum centum sexaginta duarum et soldorum decem imperialium, prout apparet ex lista una per dictas partes facta et deposita penes dominum Joh. Antonium de Marliano de voluntate dictarum partium. Et hoc per totam diem crastinam proxime futuram. Et item dictus Bertolomeus dimitere et re­laxare apotecham unam et de loco uno posteriori de quibus dictus Bertolameus est investitus a Bernardino de Turate una cum aliis bonis ad annos novem incepturos in festo sancti Michaelis proxime preterito citra et amodo in antea ad computum respectu tantum dicte apotece et loco posteriori florenorum quadra­ginta valloris sol. XXXII imper. pro floreno, solvendorum pro medietate dic­tarum partium, videlicet Bertolomeus flor. viginti et dictus Paulinus alios flor. viginti omni anno durante presens (sic) instrumentum. Et dictus Paulinus teneatur et obligatus sit accipere dictas cartas et ut supra pro pretio dictarum librarum centum sexaginta duarum et soldorum decem itnper. prout in dicta lists continetur et exercendo amodo in antea (1) dictam artem fatiendi dictas cartas et ut supra. Et quod de lucro et delucrum sit communi (sic) inter eas partes et comuniter dividatur. Ed hoc quibuslibet tribus mensibus in quibuslibet tribus mensibus dictus Paulinus teneatur et obligatus sit reddere bonam rationem de lucro et delucrum que (?) exierit de dicta carte in quibuslibet tribus mensibus ut supra. Et ipse partes sint ad suum beneplacitum de tribus mensibus in tribus mensibus habeat durare presens instrumentum pactorum et non prout dicte par­tes (sic) placuerit. Et que res seu carte descripte in dicta lista ut supra dictus Bertolomeus retinuit et retinet in se dimidium dictarum cartarum et ut supra pro securitate crediti sui.
          Et quod in fine presentis dictus Paulinus teneatur et obligatus sit restituere ditto Bertolomeo totidem de illis cartis pro pretio prout in dicta lista continetur pro antedictis libris 162. sol 10˚'' imp.
          Renuntiando etc.
          Quare promisserunt etc.
          Et cum pactis executivis etc.
          Insuper dicte partes iuraverunt etc. habere ratum etc. et non contravenire etc.
Actum in brolleto nova communis Mediolani presentibus pronotariis Martino et Marco Antonio fratribus de Coldirariis filiis quondam domini Girardi p. c. p. s. Carpofori intus Mediolani notis etc.
          Testes suprascriptus dominus Joh. Antonius de Marliano filius quondam domini Jacobi p. c. p. s. Carpofori intus notus; Petrus Jacobus de Birago filius quondam Antonii p. t. p. s. Eufemie intus Mediolani, Albertus de Montorfano filius quondam domini Donati p. h. p. s. Tegle Mediolani omnes etc.

 Here is superimposed in (an)


- See: Francesco Novati, Milano prima e dopo la peste del 1630 secondo nuove testimonianze ", [Milan before and after the plague of 1630 according to new testimonies] in "Archivio Storico Lombardo” [Lombard Historical Archive], Milano, 1912. The anonymous Cheribizo document was reported in full by Novati.

2 - Work cited in the  text, Bergamo, 1886, pp.. 33ff.

3 - Francesco Novati, op. cit,, p.11.

4 - Francesco Scotus in his Itinerario d'Italia [Itinerary of Italy], Padova, Mattio Cadorini, 1654, on p. 66 writes thus: "È cosa meravigliosa di veder la gran copia, che quivi si ritrova delle cose per il vivere, et altri bisogni; et tengo per fermo che in nessun'altra parte d'Europa vi sia tanta quantità di robbe da mangiare et che con più basso prezzo si vendano, sicome in questa; laonde si dice per proverbio. "Solo in Milano si mangia" (It is a wonderful thing to see the great copiousness which is found of things for living, and other needs; and I hold firmly that nowhere else in Europe is there so much stuff to eat and sold at a lower price than here; wherefore it is said as a proverb, "Only in Milan do you eat").

5 - Collezione Gride 12/256, Milano, Biblioteca Trivulziana.

6 - See: Francesco Novati, , Per la fabbricazione delle carte da giuoco in Milano sugli inizi del sec. XVI [For the manufacture of playing-cards in Milan about the beginnings of the XVIth century], in "Historical Archive Lombardo", Anno XXXV, Serie Quarta, Fasc. XVIII, Milano, F.lli Bocca, 30 giugno 1908 [June 30th 1908], pp. 434-438; and Alberto Milano, Carte da Gioco Milanesi dal XV al XX sec. Storia, Fabbricanti, Curiosità [Milanese Playing cards from the XVth to XXth centuries. History, Manufacturers, Curiosity] (Il Meneghello, Milano - Il Solleone, Lissone), catalogo della mostra presentata presso la Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense dal 22 al 30 settembre 1980 [catalog of the exhibition presented at the Braidense National Library September 22-30 1980], p. 10.

7 - These acts follow an additional one dated 1494 concerning an agreement stipulated with a young man of the city who was supposed learn how to paint cards at the magistry [magister] Paulinus. Reported from: Alberto Milano, op. cit., p. 10.