March 29, 2005

Mitelli’s Games

I’ve already written a couple of entries about the Bolognese graphic artist Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718), but wanted to add a third to highlight one specific aspect of his work: that of game-design. Mitelli designed and published dozens of card-games, dice-games and board-games…

Detail from one sheet of Mitelli's 'Il gioco di Tarocchini' etchings.


Detail from one sheet of Mitelli's 'Il gioco di Passatempo' etchings (1690).

I mentioned previously that Mitelli had produced a deck of tarot cards, Il gioco di Tarocchini (‘The game of Tarocchini;’ see the first of the two images above). Besides this tarot, Mitelli designed at least one other card-game, Il gioco di Passatempo (where passatempo simply means ‘pastime’) The second of the details above shows two of the forty cards from this game, where half the cards are Trionfi (‘trumps’) representing the virtues, and other positive traits; and the other half Cartazze, (‘bad cards,’ I think) representing the vices, etc., which are of lesser value in the game.

Detail from Mitelli's etching 'Il gioco delle Monete' (1692).

The preceding image is a detail from a board-game: Il gioco delle Monete—‘the Game of Coins.’ Click on the detail to see the game-board in full. The rules of play are printed at the bottom of the page: sadly, my Italian isn’t good enough to venture a translation. While the coin-game is played with two dice, Mitelli designed a number of games to be played with three, such as the two that follow, Il Gioco Importantissimo del Fornaro (‘The Very Important Game of the Baker’), and Il Gioco dei Mestieri (‘The Game of Trades’).

Detail from Mitelli's etching 'Il Gioco Importantissimo del Fornaro' (1692).


Detail from Mitelli's etching 'Il Gioco dei Mestieri' (1698).

Of particular historical interest is Mitelli’s 1712 Il Gioco Nuovo di Tutte le Osterie (‘The New Game of All the Hostelries’), a board game where each square represents one of Bologna’s inns or eating-houses. Every osteria is represented by its sign, under which Mitelli has noted a particular speciality of the establishment. For example, in the details that follow below, we see that L’Orso was known for its Buon Vin Dolce ‘good sweet wine,’ whereas L’Angelo was noted for Buone Sfoglie ‘good pastries.’

Detail from Mitelli's etching 'Il Gioco Nuovo di Tutte le Osterie' (1712).


Detail from Mitelli's etching 'Il Gioco Nuovo di Tutte le Osterie' (1712).

As before, my source for these images was my copy of Le Collezioni d’Arte della Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna: Le Incisioni; Vol. I., edited by Franca Varignana. Click on the details above to see the images in full.

Posted by misteraitch at March 29, 2005 07:30 PM

I think that the Trionfi from Il gioco di Passatempo are probably triumphs of the virtues (like Petrarch's Triumphs) and not 'trumps'.

Those are fascinating images, thanks for posting them.

Posted by: alexandre on March 29, 2005 07:11 PM

You may well be right Alexandre, although Florio, in his 1611 New World of Words, defined trionfo as a triumph, a joy or gladnesse, that is, a solemne pomp or shew at the return of a Captaine for some victory or conquest gotten. Also a trump at cardes... I’ve mentioned the double meaning of trionfi before, in connection with the so-called Mantegna Tarot.

Posted by: misteraitch on March 30, 2005 08:24 AM

yes, i realize that now. i checked and 'trionfo' still refers to the twenty-two illustrated cards from the tarot game in current italian. here is the entry from the garzanti dictionary: "trionfo: [...] 8 ciascuna delle ventidue carte figurate del gioco dei tarocchi."

seeing those two definitions, i wonder if the tarot card was called a 'trionfo' because it represented the triumph of a virtue in the first place. unfortunately, i don't have access to an italian etymological dictionary right now.

as for 'trump' in the context of a playing card, the american heritage dictionary confirms that it was formed from an alteration of 'triumph'.

still, interesting stuff !

Posted by: alexandre on March 30, 2005 08:54 PM


Thanks for the CD.
Next week I'll make a post about your marvellous on-line journal.

Yours sincerely

Leia Beigler

Posted by: Leia Beigler on April 10, 2005 07:40 PM
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