Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS 5A 27
Book of Fortune
Italy, between 1600 to 1699

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Recreating the experience of the Book of Fortune, a genre popular beginning in the late fifteenth century, this anonymous seventeenth-century Italian manuscript is one of only a handful of late examples extant.  The condottiere Lorenzo Spirito (1426-1496) produced the original manuscript and printed book in Perugia around 1482.  Fifty editions in several vernaculars followed into the seventeenth century.  Although the present manuscript copies no edition exactly, it draws on images and language from Italian printings, the final one of which appeared in 1557.  Unable to acquire a printed edition some fifty or more years later, it seems the owner of the Newberry Library manuscript opted to commission, or even make their own.

Indeed, the full title, Libro delle Sorte, fatto per spasso, _or Book of Fortune, made for fun_, may refer to the creation of the volume as well as its intended use as a game.  The three dice hastily sketched below the title demonstrate the tools required to play with the book inside.  The calligrapher omitted the traditional woodcuts used on the opening pages, but seems to have left room for another hand to fill in the delicate grisaille animals and zodiac figures.  They are fully surrounded by the more schematic ink renderings of dice and dials in later charts.  These recognizable figures (the Moon, Venus, Cancer the Crab, and so forth) help the reader follow a path stemming from their choice of one of twenty questions about life, love, and happiness.  A guide from a group of ancient Roman kings then leads on to one of the pages where the three dice are rolled.  Depending on the random outcome, the next stop is a specific spot within a wheel of mystical rivers, and when they follow the stream, the reader finally arrives at the answer to their question.


Corsiva (sec. XVII fine) usuale, rapida.
Da notare: h priva del tratto inferiore dell’asta (32, r. 1: hai); r iniziale tonda e alta (41, r. 2: ricco); s che lega dal basso con lettera seguente (37, r. 2: sicuramente; 39, r. 2: se).

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