Le Sorti di Francesco Marcolino di Forlì.

Venice, Francesco Marcolino da Forlì, 1540.


FIRST EDITION. Folio. pp. 207 (i). Italic letter, occasional Roman. Attractive woodcut t-p with arch, landscape, people discussing a globe, a fortune-telling book, and cards, fine woodcut portrait of Marcolini within architectural border with grotesque ornaments on verso, over 8000 handsome detailed illustrations of playing cards, over 100 fine woodcut portraits of female personifications and ancient philosophers, attractive printer’s device within architectural border with foliage to last l., decorated initials. A few marginal spots or minor stains, a very good, well-margined copy, crisp and clean, in handsome contemporary Venetian morocco, double gilt rule to outer edge, outer border with large gilt fleurons to each corner, gilt pointillé, stars and fleurons in alternating rectangles, panel with double gilt rule border, large gilt fleurons to upper and lower edge, small gilt fleurons to each corner, panel surrounded by single gilt rule border, stars to upper and lower edge, centrepiece with two gilt interlacing squares. Spine in seven compartments, single gilt rule border and fleuron to each, divided by single gilt rules, gauffered edges black and gilt. Some very skilful restoration, possibly regilded, probably recased. Early French ms. inscription to front pastedown. In folding box.

The very handsome C16 binding can probably be traced to the workshop of the Venetian Anton Ludovico Flander (de Marinis II, 2269, 2467, 2469, 2485), who produced several bindings for Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle.   

Very good copy of the very rare first edition—fresh, clean, and in fine impression—of this renowned and superbly illustrated fortune-telling book. Francesco Marcolini (d. 1559) was a printer and publisher in Venice, acquainted with Pietro Aretino, Francesco Sansovino, and Titian. ‘Le Sorti’ belongs to the successful genre of the ‘libri di ventura’ inaugurated by Lorenzo Spirito’s ‘Il libro delle sorti’ (1482), and followed by Sigismondo Fanti’s ‘Triumpho di Fortuna’ (1527), and Paolo Danza’s ‘Il libro novo della sorte’ (1536). Unlike most of its predecessors, ‘Le Sorti’ addressed not a popular audience used to reading astrological almanacs but a sophisticated readership interested in a subtler and more intricate approach to fortune-telling as an intellectual game, reinforced by a wealth of emblematic illustrations. Like all its predecessors, it was included in the index of prohibited books for its focus on astrology, and sank into relative obscurity.

Dedicated to Duke Ercole d’Este as a ‘pleasing invention’, ‘Le Sorti’ is an ‘interactive’ book. The proem explains to readers how to prepare their set of cards and pick their initial query (concerning men, women, or both). Through a guided subtraction of cards from the set, each query (e.g., ‘will he who went away return?’) directs the player to different sections (e.g., Desire, Fear); following the order of the cards on the table, the player will eventually land on the page of an ancient philosopher. There he or she will find, for each combination of cards, a rhyming triplet written by the poet Ludovico Dolce, providing an (often tongue-in-cheek) ‘oracolar’ answer to the original query—e.g., ‘You will wade in wives up to your knees / One will make you rich and you will roll in money / The other will treat you like a fool’. As it engages with the only too human, half-sceptical desire to know the future, ‘Le Sorti’ remains highly entertaining to date.    

The handsome illustrations, praised by Giorgio Vasari, were produced by Giuseppe Porta (author of the fine mannerist t-p) and other artists including the Tuscan Francesco Salviati. The classicising woodcuts of virtues, vices, and types of fortune are considered a stepping stone in Renaissance allegorical imagery. Inspired by the humanist tradition of hieroglyphs and emblems, ‘Le Sorti’ applied this to the playful world of fortune-telling games, allowing interpretations that did not necessitate substantial erudition. The variety of personifications, their sources and styles are stunning: whilst many, like Consiglio and Occasione, were drawn from the late medieval and early C16 traditions, several others, like Esilio, were devised purposely for the book. These images were reprinted separately and influenced the work of painters like Paolo Veronese as well as Cesare Ripa’s famous iconographic manual, ‘Iconologia’ (1603).   

Only Yale, Harvard, and NYPL copies recorded in the US.

BM STC It. p. 415; Sander II, 4231; Essling II.ii, 670; Mortimer, Harvard Italian C16 II, 280; Brunet III, 1408: ‘Il est fort recherché à cause des fig. gravées en bois. par Jos. Porta Garfagnino qui le décorait.’ E. Parlato, ‘Le allegorie nel giardino delle “Sorti”’, in Studi per le ‘Sorti’. Gioco, immagini, poesia oracolare a Venezia nel Cinquecento, ed. P. Procaccioli, Treviso, 2007, pp. 113-38.


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