New on the shelves: Venetian decrees

Lion of St. Mark

Cataloging is now complete on a significant addition to our Italian statute collection: two bound volumes containing 204 Venetian “Parte Presas”, dating from 1574 to 1655. A “parte presa” is an individual decree issued by the Council of Ten, the Senate (Pregadi), or other legislative body of the Republic of Venice. All of the decrees in these volumes have individual records in our online catalog, MORRIS. Close to half of them are the only copies in WorldCat.

With a couple of rare exceptions, almost all of these decrees bear an image of the Lion of St. Mark (Venice’s patron saint) on their title pages. They are typically brief, consisting of a single folded sheet producing a 4-page leaflet. Lengthier decrees appear in pamphlets of 8, 12, 16, or even 24 pages. A few were published as broadsides. The Venetian government officially promulgated these decrees by posting them in a public place. In many of the leaflets, such as the one shown below, the colophon states the date and place where the decree was posted, in this case “le Scale di San Marco & di Rialto,” the stairs of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge.


It is unusual to find collections of these decrees in their original bindings, as these are. In the past, some book dealers unfortunately broke such volumes apart to sell the items individually. These two volumes have a high percentage of decrees dealing with criminal law, on topics such as banditry (banditi), dueling, blasphemy, smuggling, and vagrants (vagabondi). One concerns jailhouse snitches. Quite a number are regulations of firearms (archibusi, or arquebuses, and pistoli). Others concern economic regulation including taxation, coinage, cashiers, and debt. Several apply to Venice’s far-flung possessions, such as Verona, Istria, Dalmatia, and Albania.

Aside from their subject matter, the decrees are interesting as examples of job printing in the city known as the printing capital of Europe. The printers include Francesco Rampazetto, an important music publisher. Giovanni Pietro Pinelli is remembered today as a printer of opera librettos. The Pinelli family also published Greek liturgical books for Orthodox churches in the eastern Mediterranean. Their government printing contracts provided a lucrative and steady income.

With the cataloging of these two volumes, our collection now has 272 Venetian parte presas, as well as another 93 from Florence and dozens of broadside decrees from Milan, Turin, Casale Monferrato, Venice, Palermo, Bologna, Rome, Parma, Verona, and Udine.

Thanks to our rare book cataloger, Susan Karpuk.

– MIKE WIDENER, Rare Book Librarian
















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