Is the Bologna cartomancy sheet pre-1770?

A few months ago I noticed another perspective on the dating of the Bologna cartomancy sheet: the claim that it is pre-1770. If so, it would probably not have been influenced by Etteilla, whose book's first edition appeared only in 1770. Even the "Abrege", which probably corresponds the "Petit Etteilla" published in Le Bohemien, 1802 edition, probably was not published until 1771, even if Etteilla wrote it earlier.

The pre-1770 claim is by Rita De Tata, then on the staff of the Biblioteca Universataria di Bologna, in Antichi Giochi e Tarocchi a Bologna, edited by Biancastella Antonino, Morena Poltronieri, and Ernesto Fazioli, copyright 2014 by the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (BUB), p. 77. In the preceding paragraph she discusses the origins of cartomancy, of which she says "le prime attestazioni di questa sembrano risalire al massimo alla seconda meta del XV secolo" (the first attestations of this seem to date back to the second half of the 15th century).. based on "testimonianze indirette o letterare" (indirect or literary evidence). However "la prima formalizzazione teoria di una tecnica predittiva basata sull'use dei tarocchi e generalmente data al 1770, quando l'occultista francesa Jean-Baptise Alliette (1738-1791) pubblico un trattatello sul modo di 'fare le carte'" ( the first theoretical formalization of a predictive technique based on the use of the tarot and in general dates to 1770, when the French occultist Jean-Baptise Alliette (1738-1791) published a treatise on the way to "do the cards").

It is the next paragraph that is of our interest:
Le regole per l'interpretazione delle carte espose da Alliette nelle sua opera sono molto complesse a non si possotto certo paragonare al sommario schizzo delineato in questo foglio volante probabilmente dalla mano della stesso Ubaldo Zanetti che lo possedeva: in questo caso infatti ci si limita ad attribuire un significato a determinate figure del mazzo italiano di tarocchi, si tratta di corrisponenze abbastanza intuitive, visto che, ad esempio, alla figura del carro viene associato il viaggio, mentgre il sole simboleggia il giorno. Tuttavia la tetimonianza è interessant, in quanto il foglio è sicuramente anteriore al 1769, anno della morte di Zanetti, e quindi puo consituire una conferma del fatto che in Italia la pratica della cartomanzia fosse già largamente diffusa a livello popolare prima dell'uscita dell'opera di Etteilla.

(The rules for the interpretation of the cards exhibited by Alliette in his work are very complex and certainly cannot be compared to the summary sketch outlined in this loose sheet, probably by the hand of Ubaldo Zanetti himself who owned it: in this case, in fact, it is limited to to attributing a meaning to certain figures of the Italian tarot deck, it is a question of fairly intuitive correspondences, given that, for example, journey is associated with the figure of the chariot, while the sun symbolizes the day. However, the testimony is interesting, as the sheet is certainly prior to 1769, the year of Zanetti's death, and therefore can be a confirmation of the fact that in Italy the practice of cartomancy was already widespread at the popular level before the release of the work of Etteilla.)
De Tata is somewhat misleading in her characterization of Etteilla's 1770 work: in the first place, it did not use the tarot deck, but rather that of piquet, with 32 cards, the 7s through 10s and Jack through Ace of the ordinary deck. So while the parallels to the trump meanings are of little or no significance, those are not at issue, related to Etteilla in 1770: it is only the cards that the two documents have in common that are of concern. Moreover, the divinatory meanings Etteilla gave to the cards were in fact quite as straightforward as those of the cartomancy sheet, even if the art of producing a reading may not have been. (On these points, see my previous posts in this thread.) Also, I would observe that her first claim about the handwriting is that it is "probably" his; somehow that gets elevated to "securely" (siguramente) in the conclusion. Finally, her claim that Zanetti actually owned the sheet is in doubt. Other documents in the same folder have dates after 1769 on them, as Franco Pratesi observed in the 1980s.

This is confirmed in a catalog of the BUB's holdings (which also includes the rare book collections of other libraries), online at (open to the page in which the cartomancy document is listed) ... 2up?q=4029

All the same, De Tata is the leading authority on Zanetti, having written the major study of his life and work, All'insegna della fenice: vita di Ubaldo Zanetti speziale e antiquario bolognese (​1698-1769). (Zanetti was by trade an apothecary, and "all'insegna della fenice" was the name of his shop.) Moreover, 4029 does contain documents dated 1760; so the cartomancy document could be prior to 1769.

Although no expert on such things, I still want to look further at the evidence.

The folder in which the document is kept has the number 4029. As can be seen, there are numerous subfolders in 4029-R, going from A to R, some of which have documents later than Zanetti's death year of 1769. in 4029-E, which pertains to "Meemet in Negroponte," a tragic-buffo Venetian opera, there is the year 1772; then in 4029-L6 there is a "Descrizione della scossa di tremuoto sentitasi in Bologna la sera del 23 novembre 1779"; and 4029-Q has a "Viaggio di Antonio Montefani da Bologna a Milano, Genova e Torino nell’anno 1771." Moreover, in this Inventori those works possessed by Zanetti have the label "fondo Zanetti". 4029 has no such label.

I emailed Rita De Tata herself about why she thought Zanetti had owned the cartomancy document, and the handwriting question. She replied that she no longer worked for the BUB (she now works for the Archives). Maybe there was a miscommunication. I suppose I can write again.

So I am left to speculate on my own. There is then the issue of the handwriting. In the brief note I have cited here she provides no example of Zanetti's handwriting to compare with that of the cartomancy document; even in her quite long book on Zanetti she has only one, and it is of his printing (i.e., with clearly separated letters), not his longhand. The two specimens have no resemblance that I can see. I would display them to you, but I am not sure whether it would count as "study", which is allowed, or "publication", which is not, without permission. So instead I will just give it as an attachment you have to click on to see. Perhaps such links are not picked up by Google Images. In any case here is the page from De Tata's book (p. 67) in Zanetti's handwriting.

And a comparison with the beginning of the cartomancy document:

I looked through the Inventori for manuscripts known to be in Zanetti's handwriting. What I found was his diary, BUB ms 3884, which has the word "autograph" next to the entry (as well as "Fondo Zanetti). I asked the Biblioteca Universataria di Bologna (BUB) to scan for me 2 sample pages per year for its last ten years, which they did promptly for a reasonable sum.

Comparing the handwriting, between the diary and the cartomancy document (let me for convenience call it the CD), the overall impression is that of a different hand. I have from 1758 to 1768, but it is hard to make out anything from most of them: he was writing for himself. But it is true even when the writing is somewhat legible, as in 1765 and 1766. Below, 1766 is above, 1765 in the middle, and a section of the CD in the middle..

In the CD's letter "d", the vertical line is looped around, not so the diary. The lower loops on the "g" on the diary extend further down than those on the CD. The capital "B" has no vertical line at all in the CD. And the capital "D" is hardly a "D" at all in the CD, as opposed to the 1965 (lower) diary entry (see the word "Donna" opposite and a little above the scratched out part).

So even allowing for the different purpose - for oneself as opposed to others - I would think the writers were different. On the other hand, there are also similarities. I am no graphologist. And I don't know Italian handwriting. If anyone knows graphology or Italian handwriting variations, I would welcome their comments.

I also asked the BUB for the manuscripts in 4029 with dates on them, just to be sure the Inventori was right. It was. Also, 4029-G, a group of pages in code, partially decoded, had one page with a small note attached to it, both in code and deciphered, dated 1774. So that folder, too, is after 1769.

I also asked for the other manuscripts with the "R" after the "4029": the cartomancy sheet is labeled "ms4029-R", but there is also an "ms4029R-1" and an "ms4029R-2"; the Inventori groups them all in 4029R, distinguishing them only by descriptive title. The first is a "frammento di una lettera che si pretende scritta da Parigi ed inserta negli avvisi di Normandia" (fragment of a letter allegedly written in Paris and inserted in the notices of Normandy). it is in Italian, three pages long, in very different handwriting from the cartomancy document. There is a year associated with this document, in that a small sheet on which someone has written the "R1" has on the other side (along with CXIX, which seems to have been what 4029 was originally called) bleeding through, the years 1783 and 1784 in Roman numerals. Probably that is when this document was catalogued. Below, I have reversed the scan from right to left for better legibility of what is on the other side.

The other, R2, is also three pages, also in Italian, called "Dell’ordine dei Franc Maçons" (Of the order of Freemasons; in front of Maçons, Franc would mean "Free" and not "Frankish", i.e. French). Its handwriting is less distinguishable from that of the cartomancy document. The document is about the history of Freemasonry in England, starting with Henry VI. Then it mentions places it was prohibited or existed on the continent: by Holland, on the Iberian peninsula, by the papacy, Naples (existing), and Austria (existing). 1766 is the last date in this text.

Below I have juxtaposed the top and bottom of page 1 of that document, the "Ordine", with the same section of the CD that I showed before:

In this case, the handwriting is not that different between the two. In particular, the letters I called attention to before - d, D, g, B - are shaped similarly in both. Even though there are some differences, it is believable that the writers of the "Ordine" and the CD are the same. I so far have not found other pages in 4029 for which this is true. But I am no graphologist, just stumbling my way as best I can.

So Franco's link between the cartomancy document and Freemasonry, that of assocation by being in the same folder, is reinforced by the handwriting, as well as, in separate documents in clearly different handwriting, at least an alleged connection to Paris. (There is also, in 4029-L5, a letter in French, for a further relationship to that country, or at least that language. The handwriting is in a style that I recognize, from receiving letters from French people, as characteristic of France and similar to that of R1.)

Another consideration is a psychological one. In 1748-1749 Zanetti had spent over a year in jail and prison, after being arrested on charges of possessing prohibited reading material. The encylopedia Treccani in its entry on Zanetti, basing itself on De Tata's book, relates how after an anonymous complaint the police arrested him, searched his house, and confiscated material. What they found was ( ... rafico%29/)
satire in versi e scritture ritenute offensive della buona fama di dame e di cavalieri della città, ma soprattutto lesive del governo cittadino. Una di esse, alludendo al legato Giorgio Doria, recitava: «Che Cardinal coglion regge Bologna»; in un’altra il vicelegato era qualificato dell’epiteto di «Vera faccia d’impiccato»; una terza si apriva con le parole «Governo ecclesiastico di Bologna che disgrazia maledetta» e si concludeva «Quella anch’io tengo nel c...». In un’altra scrittura si invitava ironicamente chi avesse ritrovato il cervello perduto dal legato a portarlo all’Opera dei mendicanti, dove verrà esposto «in un camerino per curiosità» (Archivio di Stato di Bologna, Torrone, 8108/3, f. 95; Frati, 1907, pp. 81, 84 s.).

(satires in verse and writings considered offensive to the good reputation of ladies and knights of the city, but above all detrimental to the city government. One of them, alluding to the legate Giorgio Doria, read: "Che Cardinal coglion regge Bologna"; in another the vice-legatee was qualified with the epithet of "True face of one hanged"; a third opened with the words "Ecclesiastical government of Bologna what a cursed disgrace" and ended "That too I keep in the c ...".In another writing, whoever found the lost brain of the legate was ironically invited to take it to the Opera dei mendicanti, where it will be exhibited "in a little room out of curiosity" (State Archives of Bologna,Torrone , 8108/3, f. 95; Frati, 1907, pp. 81, 84 s.).)
Coglione, the usual spelling, is a vulgar expression for "stupid person".

Zanetti overcame this disgrace, since many nobles and literati supported him, and in fact maintained his already notable civic position in the city:
Fu eletto per tre volte tribuno della Plebe, la magistratura cittadina competente per i problemi annonari, nel 1741, 1748 e poi nel 1755;

(He was elected three times as tribune of the People, the civic magistracy with jurisdiction over rationing problems, in 1741, 1748, and then in 1755;)
Can we expect that a man with such experiences and recovery, a good Catholic and confraternity member, yet no doubt with lingering animosity on both sides, would risk it all by implicating himself in divination and Freemasonry (illegal in the papal states)? The political situation may have been different in the 1760s than in 1748, yet it could change at any moment.

So while I cannot refute De Tata's contention that the cartomancy document is pre-1770, I think her grounds are quite shaky, and that the evidence points at least as much in the other direction.

Re: Is the Bologna cartomancy sheet really pre-1750?

I have one more testimony indicating that the handwriting of the cartomancy sheet is not Zanetti's. Lorenzo Cuppi in "Tarocchino Bolognese: Due Nuovi Manoscritti Scoperti e Alcune Osservazioni - Parte II", The Playing-Card 30, Number 4 (2003), p. 191, says:
Riguardo a questo manoscritto vorrei osservare brevemente che esso si trova tra manoscritti del 1760 e che la sua grafia è talmente moderna che può sembrare ottocentesca.

(Regarding this manuscript, I would like to remark briefly that it is found among manuscripts from 1760 and that its handwriting is so modern that it may seem nineteenth-century.)
I would think that Cuppi, having examined many manuscripts by then, knows his handwriting styles. If it is so modern, then it would not be by Zanetti, who would have learned how to write in the early 18th century.

It is true that Cuppi nonetheless insists that the information on the cartomancy sheet is from that earlier period, as he goes on immediately to say (pp. 191-192):
Quello però che è più importante osservare è che il manoscritto menziona una fantesca di coppe e una fantesca di denari. Queste due figure femminili erano state sostituite, nei mazzi bolognesi, dalle rispettive maschili intorno al 1730. Io penso perciò che il manoscritto sia una copia di un gioco divinatorio più antico che doveva essere stato praticato almeno a partire dal primo quarto del Settecento, cioè ben prima degl'inizi della cartomanzia francese.

(What is more important to note, however, is that the manuscript mentions a maid of cups and a maid of coins.These two female figures had been replaced, in the Bolognese decks, by their respective males around 1730. I therefore think that the manuscript is a copy of an older divination game that must have been practiced at least since the first quarter of the eighteenth century, that is, well before the beginnings of French cartomancy.)
However if the female figures still continued throughout the 18th century (see post 1 of this thread), this argument does not work. One might wonder instead whether the manuscript had been written at its earliest in the late eighteenth century by someone of a fairly young age, if it looks nineteenth century. Since the label on the folder has the date 1784 printed on the other side, it probably would have been before then. Also, it would be after 1766, since the handwriting is similar to that of the account of Freemasonry with that year mentioned. The handwriting suggests someone contemporary, even in age, with the young Saint-Sauveur of the 1770s.