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May 07, 2021

Acquisition: Francesco Marcolini, "Le Sorti intitolate giardino di pensieri"

Francesco Marcolini, "Le Sorti intitolate giardino di pensieri"

Francesco Marcolini, Le Sorti intitolate giardino di pensieri…, 1540
bound volume with woodcut frontispiece, author portrait, and 100 woodcuts designed by Giuseppe Porta
overall: 32.8 x 23.8 cm (12 15/16 x 9 3/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
The Ahmanson Foundation and Edward E MacCrone Fund 2021.2.1

The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired a rare first edition of the lavishly illustrated 16th-century book of fortune-telling Le Sorti intitolate giardino di pensieri (1540), published by Francesco Marcolini (c. 1500–c. 1559). One of the most important printers in Venice during this period, Marcolini’s editions are admired for their design, typography, and beautiful illustrations.

The century’s most famous book of fortunes, Le Sorti [The Fortunes] was the first to make predictions using playing cards instead of dice. The reader chooses a question from a list that is separated into three categories: for men, for women, and for both. The question then refers the reader to one of a hundred graphic folio pages. Each page features either a personification of a virtue or vice or an ancient philosopher––there are 50 of each kind––surrounded by paired playing cards. After selecting a pair of cards, the player is directed to different page and another pair of cards, which offer an aphoristic answer to the original question. The questions and the answers were devised by the celebrated humanist and theorist Lodovico Dolce.

The lavish woodcuts in Le Sorti were designed by Giuseppe Porta (c. 1520–c. 1575), called Porta Salviati because of his training with the Florentine mannerist Francesco Salviati. The elaborate frontispiece depicts a group of men and women using the book in a garden, a reference to Marcolini’s own garden, where intellectuals and artists regularly gathered. A portrait of Marcolini appears on the verso. The book not only established Salviati’s reputation in Venice, but also marked the advent of a central Italian style, which helped determine the course of Venetian art and influenced such luminaries as Tintoretto and Veronese.

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