One sheet, 20.5 x 29.5cm, paper, autograph letter signed 30 March 1496, 16 lines (plus signature), Latin in a very neat, humanistic italic, brown ink, paper wafer seal and docket to verso, some spotting and light browning from seal, watermark of a bird encircled from Ferrera, probably early C15 (Briquet 12.118).
The letter is addressed by Adorno to the ‘Brothers and Friends of the Antiani of Genoa’. The Antiani had been instituted in Italian cities since the 13th century as representatives of the plebian class, an updated version of Roman tribunes. Adorno asks that the Antiani grant pardon to Thomas Beti, whose ‘excellence’ Adorno hopes to ‘make well known to strangers’ as well as ‘brothers and friends’; Beti is described as a ‘ready speaker, eloquent in persuading’ and powerful in negotiation.
Agostino Adorno was appointed governor of Genoa in 1488 by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who gained control of the city that year. Although the Adorni were one of the most powerful merchant families, Agostino’s appointment began a period of crisis for the former republic. Sforza used Genoa to bolster his own forces in the first of the Italian Wars (1494-98) against Venice, and by encouraging Charles VIII of France to invade Italy set the groundwork for an alliance that would result in the invasion of Milan.
The year this letter was written, Sforza’s overthrow was already well under way, and with it the Adorni’s exile. Since the 14th century, there had been a struggle for power between Genoese aristocrats and the rising mercantile class, which Adorno obliquely refers to in this letter when he speaks of a ‘stirred up republic’ (republica versatus) that has distracted attention from Thomas Beti’s cause. Gian Luigi Fiesco, a prominant Genoese aristocrat, encouraged French invasion. In 1498, Louis XII invaded and captured Milan, and when his forces entered Genoa no resistance could be mounted because Adorno had diverted his forces to Milan at Sforza’s command. When Adorno withdrew from Genoa, Fiesco took over and for the first time since 1339 the aristocracy was back in charge.
Malleson, Studies from Genoese History. Coles, “The Crisis of Renaissance Society Genoa 1488-1507, 17-47.