Identifying the mysterious printer of Italian Prognostications

By Matteo Fadini |

In the Trent Civic Library collection there are 80 unique sixteenth-century books.  Today’s post focuses on one of them: a pronostico ­– a pamphlet containing astrological predictions. The book, by Tommasino Girardelli, was Pronostico dell’anno M.D.LXVII. di Tomasino Giradelli da Trento, sopra le quattro stagioni dell’anno, con il raccolto del presente, & con la dichiaratione del pronostico dil famosissimo messer Antonio Torquato; qual narra li maravigliosi avvenimenti che hanno da incorrere, fino l’anno. 1580, stampato in Novara [without year]. A digital edition is freely available online (T 0 op f 168).

Edit16, the national bibliography of Italian 16th-century books, ascribes the edition to Francesco Sesalli, the only printer operating in Novara in those years. The Pronostico contains two predictions: the translation of a prophecy written in 1480 (but related to occurrences until 1580) by Antonio Torquato, addressed to Mátyás Hunyadi, King of Hungary, and a prediction of Girardelli concerning the year 1567. The book ends with these words: Di Pavia alli 3 Novembre, terminato per l’anno 1567 (“from Pavia, 3rd November, completed for the year 1567″), so we can assume that the edition was printed in the last months of 1566 or in the early days of 1567.

Prognostication date, detail
Detail on the date.

Sessali was a pioneer of printing in Novara. He printed 18 editions before 1566, but his types are completely different from the ones of the Pronostico.  Furthermore, this edition has a woodcut illustration on the title page that is the same found in two other astrological editions, both printed in Trent in 1638 and in 1681.

Who was the author, Tommasino Girardelli? His name appears in three other astrological pamphlets, and in two cases he names himself “cavallier di Rodi” (“Knight of Malta”). After some research in the Roman Conservatoria Magistrale del Sovrano Militare Ordine di Malta (“Archive of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta“) and in the National Library of Malta it seems that Tommasino Girardelli was not a knight of Malta, as his name never appears in the lists of knights of the order. Girardelli does name himself “da Trento”.  That is a surname existing in the area of Trent, but no information is available for a Tommaso or Tommasino in the middle of 16th century. Perhaps “Tommasino Girardelli” was from Trent, but he opted for a pseudonym for his astrological works.


“This edition has a woodcut illustration on the title page that is the same found in two other astrological editions.”


Closer bibliographic inspection provides further clues. A watermark can be distinctly viewed in the inner margin of the second leaf.  The same watermark can be found in other books printed near Trento in Riva del Garda in 1562. Thus, we know the paper was from the Trent area, the author was also probably from Trent, and the woodcut illustration appears in two other editions from Trent.  Therefore, we can assume that this book was also printed in Trent. Unfortunately, we cannot find an active printer in Trent in those years; from 1564 to 1583 it seems that no one printed in Trent or in the vicinity. On the other hand, in this same period Giovanni Battista Dalle Chiavi, a papermaker, and Domenico Mazzoldi, a bookseller were both active in Trento. Together, on 5th January 1558, they sent a petition to Cristoforo Madruzzo, prince-bishop of Trento to establish a printing company.  Madruzzo granted the privilege, although no books seem to have been printed by Dalle Chiavi/Mazzoldi.

Returning to the Pronostico, we can infer that the compositors were not especially able.  They had a  double “ss” ligature, but they rarely used it, employing two individual “s” types instead (the first high and the second little shorter or vice versa).  The hyphenation was not very accurate either, and the spaces before and after punctuation fluctuate. All these typographical errors are evidence of low skilled workers, as might befit the workers of a new printing house.

Prognostication, Detail on typography
Detail on typography

The Pronostico was by an author from Trent, printed on paper from Trent, included a woodcut illustration also used in Trent, and the only known copy is in the Trent Civic Library.  All of these points suggest the edition was likely printed in Trent by Dalle Chiavi and Mazzoldi – the only copy of a unique edition for these printers.


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Matteo Fadini is a postdoctoral fellow in Italian Philology and Book History at the University of Trento, he has worked on the STABAT project and now he coordinates the project “About the Council: The Promotion of the Ancient Collections of Trentine libraries”. He worked in St Andrews with the Universal Short Title Catalogue in 2016.


All images used with permission of the Trent Civic Library.




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