Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Ragusan connection

In 1561, the first book of secrets attributed to a woman, the Secreti della Signora Isabella Cortese was published in Venice. In Renaissance Secrets, I claim she was a fictitious author, but didn’t explain why. Now I want to set out the evidence behind that judgement.

No details about an actual Isabella Cortese or her life have ever emerged.

Instead three men--Giovanni Bariletto, Curtio Troiano di Navò and Mario Caboga—can all be connected to this edition. Links between them stretch from Venice to Ragusa (Dubrovnik) to Brescia.

Bariletto was a printer/publisher who came to Venice from the Riviera di Salò on Lake Garda around 1550; his imprint “at the sign of Prudence on the Stagnaria” appears from 1559. That year he published a book of secrets entitled Della summa de'secreti universali in ogni materia parte prima […] di Don Timoteo Rossello.

Curtio Troiano di Navò was his brother-in-law. He is described as a “book merchant” and printer/publisher operating in Venice “at the sign of the Lion”. Like Bariletto, he was a fellow Brescian who had moved to the city. Though his father Troiano had passed the firm “at the sign of Prudence” onto Bariletto he nonetheless retained a hands-on role. Significantly, it was Curtio in 1560 that applied for print privileges for the Secreti of Isabella Cortese, for the second and third parts of the Secreti of Timoteo Rossello and an expanded edition of the Siennese metallurgist Vannoccio Biringuccio’s (1480–c.1539) Pirotechnia.

Curtio Navò dedicated his third edition of the Pirotechnia to the Archdeacon of Ragusa, Mario (o Marino Caboga). The dedication states that all three editions been “embellished and amended” by Caboga and reveals that the dedicatees of the first two editions were fictitious. Navò himself is documented trading in books in Ragusa in 1559 and 1560 so a Ragusan connection between the two men is highly probable. 

Significantly, both the Secreti of Isabella Cortese and the Secreti of Timoteo Rossello are dedicated to Caboga.

“The identity of both books is manifest. Their form, style, background reveal the same source, the same origin” (Armand Baschet and Félix-Sébastien Feuillet de Conches 1865). Future scholarship could build on this fundamental insight. My own working hypothesis is that these two books are printers’ compilations and that both authors are fictitious.


Della summa de'secreti uniuersali in ogni materia parte prima di Don Timotheo Rossello si per homini & donne, di alto ingegno, come ancora per medici, & ogni sorte di artefici industriosi, con molte galantarie ad ogni persona gentile accommodate (In Venetia, appresso Giovanni Bariletto, 1559).

Della summa de'secreti uniuersali in ogni materia parte prima [-seconda], di Don Timotheo Rossello si per huomini e donne, di alto ingegno, come ancora per medici, e ogni sorte di artefici industriosi e a ogni persone virtuosa accommodate (In Vinegia: per Giouanni Bariletto, 1561).

I secreti de la signora Isabella Cortese ne' quali si contengono cose minerali, medicinali, arteficiose, et alchimiche, et molte de l'arte profumatoria, appartenenti a ogni gran signora. Con privilegio (In Venetia, appresso Giouanni Bariletto, 1561).

Pirotechnia. Li diece libri della pirotechnia nelli quali si tratta non solo la diuersità delle minere, ma ancho quanto si ricerca alla prattica di esse: e di quanto s'appartiene all'arte della fusione ouer getto de metalli, e d'ogni altra cosa a questa somigliante. Composta per il s. Vannuccio Biringoccio, nobile senese. [Venezia: Curtio Troiano Navò], 1558, title page (In Vinegia: per Comin da Trino di Monferrato: [Curtio Troiano Navò], 1559, colophon). The dedication is dated 15 April 1558.

Horatio C.Brown, “Privilegi veneziani per la stampa concessa dal 1527 al 1597." Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Mss. Ital. Cl. VII, 2500-2502 (12077-12079). The original privilege copied by Brown is in Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Senato, Terra, r.42, 1559-60, Speciales Personae, c.148r, approved on 17 August 1560.

Claire Lesage, ‘La litterature des "secrets" et I secreti d'Isabella Cortese’, Chroniques italiennes, Université Paris III, 1993.

Corrado Marciani, ‘Troiano Navo di Brescia e suo figlio Curzio librai-editori del secolo XVI’, La Bibliofilia, 73 (1971), disp.1, 49-60

NB Further links between Bariletto and Curtio Troiano can be found in Il fiore della retorica di messer Girolamo mascher mantovano (in Vinegia: per Giovanni Bariletto, 1560). This includes a papal privilege granted to "Curtio Troiano mercante de libri venetiano" (May 1560) and privileges obtained by Bariletto from the Venetian Senate for this book and Il Luminare maggiore translated by Pietro Lauro (29/07/1559). The dedication by Pietro Lauro to Andrea Babali in this work (1559) states this was at the urging of Curtio Troiano. Like the Caboga/Kaboga, the Babali/Bobaljevic were a leading Ragusan patrician family. Giacomo di Andrea Baballi, a merchant is documented in Venice from 1558 : six years later, the eighteen-year-old Veronica Franco gave him full custody of yet her unborn child in her first will: see Margaret Rosenthal, The Honest Courtesan: Veronica Franco Citizen and Writer in Sixteenth Venice, n.46, p.293

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I've been researching (or trying to research) Isabella Cortese as an important Venetian woman, but I've been stymied over and over by the lack of biographical information on her. Your entry helps to explain why she is so hard to describe; you provide a plausible explanation. May I ask what are your sources? I've looked at the books by Eamon and Moran plus a few websites but keep hitting a brick wall. I'd appreciate any direction you can offer.
    Kathleen Gonzalez