publisher colophon

171. Seal of Angelo

Dimensions: 16 mm. Impression.

Location: Gonzaga Archives, State Archives of Mantua, F. II. 8, b. 2397, c. 28.

This small seal is attached to a letter, also shown here and dated January 28, 1462, in the same way as No. 170. The device appears to be a shield, half of which is either badly stamped or broken off on the matrix. The circumference of the seal seems to have been rimmed with even-spaced beads. The letter comes from Lendinara, which is in the province of Rovigo, a small city south of Padua. Angelo the Jew at Lendinara, brother-in-law of Salamon from Governolo in the province of Mantua, writes to Ludovico Gonzaga. Angelo remembers that a few years earlier Master Giovanni from Padua had erected a building for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the duke of Milan, into which he installed a mechanical device with the sun, the moon, and the planets rotating in their orbits, but lacking the eighth sphere, that is, the orbit of the last planet.* Angelo states that he has a friend, an astrologer and mathematician, who could build a similar device in three years which would include the eighth sphere. He recommends his friend to the Marquis and suggests that the latter contact him.

Vittore Colorni has filled in the details. Salamon, brother-in-law of Angelo, was the son of Diodato (whose Jewish name must have been Mattathias) from Padua, the father and son operating a bank-loan business at Governolo. Salamon must have been well-known, or Angelo would not have named him in his letter.

A key question is whether this Angelo is the Angelo Finzi of No. 170. Colorni states that his first inclincation was to think so, especially since Finzi was a friend of the astrologer and mathematician Bartolomeo Manfredi, who built a somewhat similar device to the one described here in the marketplace of Padua, but Angelo Finzi lived from 1460 on at Viadana, not at Lendinara, and Manfredi is known from other sources to have been already known at the Gonzaga court at the time of this letter. Colorni therefore decided that these were two different Angelos. These objections do not seem overriding to the writer. Viadana and Lendinara are close to each other, and Finzi might easily have maintained a residence in both or moved between the two for business reasons. He may not have known that Bartolomeo Manfredi was already acquainted with Ludovico Gonzaga.

Kreutzer from Ulm, Württemberg, 1624–25.

Recommendation from Mantua, January 28, 1462, sealed by Angelo. Gonzaga Archives, State Archives of Mantua, F. II. 8 b. 2397, c. 28.

These medieval Italian Jewish communities were very small, and their monied elite even smaller. The conjunction of place, time, and name seem more than coincidence, an impression reinforced by the fact that both Angelos were interested in and intimate with the details of astronomy. Even the fact that the letters were written within two years of each other but are stamped with different seals is not conclusive. The Hungarian Jew Jacob Mendel, a figure almost contemporaneous with Angelo Finzi, sometimes used different signet rings in the same period, as we have seen, and the same was true at Pisa. The writer thus tends to think that the two Angelos were the same person.

The seal attached to this 1462 letter is similar to one of Simon of Günzburg stamped on a document from 1582, located at the Frankfurt-am-Main archives. Here again, this small Italian Jewish seal anticipates those used a century later beyond the Apennines. Another striking aspect of this letter is its modernity. A Jew, a banker under the protection of a Renaissance prince, writes to a ruler in intimate fashion suggesting that he contact the writer’s friend to get him to build a model of the planetary movements. Such a letter would be unimaginable in any other Christian country at that time, with the possible exceptions of Castile or Aragon. As Cecil Roth remarks (Roth, 1959), the degree of Jewish emancipation and integration into Italian society in the fifteenth century was beginning to anticipate the modern age, though the process was to be choked off by the regression of the Catholic Church in reaction to the Reformation.

*Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had not yet been discovered at this time.

*Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto had not yet been discovered at this time.

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