Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry WING MS ZW 635. F 842
Giacomo Franco
Giacomo Franco Letter
Venice, August 1619

Go to Transcription
Go to Manuscript page 


This document is a holograph letter written by the printmaker Giacomo Franco in 1619.  It is a single sheet of paper that was folded into a small square, with edges that are still quite clean.  The handwriting is an extremely neat and rounded italic, often with distinctive changes in ink saturation on the tops of taller letters.  The “Q” of “Questa” that begins the body of the text has a long, elegant tail that swoops down and frames the entire left side of the letter, curling under at the bottom to point to the closing and signature.

Giacomo Franco was the illegitimate son of the printmaker Giovanni Battista Franco, who was known as “il Semolei.”  Giacomo adopted his father’s trade, specializing in prints of the habits and lifestyles of Venice; his Venetian prints are his most well-known works.  In this letter to the “most serene prince,” Franco is clearly trying to impress with his penmanship as well as the traditional flattery when making a gift to a potential patron.  The set of prints from 1619 that is most likely the subject of this letter is held by the British Museum.  One of the prints has a dedication on the upper left corner: “Al Francesco Maria II feltrio della Rovere Duca d’Urbino Giacomo Franco DD 1619.”  Francesco Maria II, as the letter’s “most serene prince,” makes some sense because Franco discusses Urbino in the text, noting that it was in Urbino that his father met his mother, thus making Giacomo the “vassal” of this ducal prince to whom he is sending a print of “the unconquered armada of the Most Serene Republic of Venice” as a gift.

The first 1619 print displays a large Venetian armada on the sea, with several different kinds of ships, some with labels underneath them - most of the ships are large with two or three masts, and they take up the entire sheet of paper with only a thin blank margin.  The second and third prints are on a narrower vertically-oriented piece of paper, with a few different types of ships drawn in two columns with some fine detail, and neatly labeled in what appears to be (based off of the holograph letter) Franco’s hand. 


Corsiva di mano di segretario (1619), legata, inclinata a destra, caratterizzata dalla uniformità delle aste alte (b, d, h, l) di medesima lunghezza, concluse da bottone o inchiostrate; ugualmente le basse (f, p) sono concluse da un tratto obliquo eseguito in un sol tempo.
Da notare: la grande Q iniziale la cui coda si estende sino al margine inferiore inquadrando il testo; l’uso che varia a second della posizione di s di forma maiuscola (iniziale: r. 8: servitù, supplico) o corsiva (interna: r. 6: posso, esserle, vassallo).

Selected Bibliography:

Digitized item also accessible here.