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The Disinfected Mail Study Circle (DMSC)
Member since Aug 18th 2020
Apr 30th 2023
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Search for Content by Giorgio Migliavacca
Apr 30th 2023
Various Authors - “Seuchen und Handel – Epidemie e Commercio”. Bolzano, November 2022 - in Italian and German, paperback (8¼” x 10½” – 27 x 20 cm), 151 pages, full colour. €15 + postage. For orders contact Dr.
This volume is Notebook number 12 of the Bolzano Mercantile Museum in collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce; its main purpose is to explore the various aspects presented by the splendid exhibition "Epidemics and Commerce" inaugurated on 16 November 2022 at the Mercantile Museum of Bolzano which will remain open until 9 September 2023. A decidedly commendable initiative also for having extended the opening of the exhibition to almost ten months. The curator of the exhibition is Helmut Rizzolli who is valiantly assisted by the brilliant collaboration of Dr. Elisabetta Carnielli.
Visitors will notice that the horrendous advent of the plague and subsequent pandemics spurred the authorities of Bolzano to try their hand at limiting the consequences on the population and on local and transalpine travelers and traders whose contribution to the local economy was decidedly appreciable in the sixteenth century. In fact, Leandro Alberti in his Description of all Italy confirms that "one of the main characteristics of the city of Bolgiano was precisely that of being the crossroads of traders from most of Europe". Bolzano had gradually achieved this notoriety starting from the dawn of the second millennium, so much so that in the thirteenth century we find evidence of Bolzano's fame as a focal point for setting up regular international fairs. For such a development, a suitable and well-articulated legal regulation through statutes was needed as well as the granting of special benefits and advantages.
These coveted concessions were granted by the princes of the house of Habsburg. In 1635 the Archduchess Claudia de' Medici, at the time regent of Tyrol, bestowed a mercantile privilege by establishing the new Bolzano Fair, In 1633 Claudia established the mercantile magistrate of Bolzano, which later found a place in the mercantile palace. After some tune up, in 1635, the mercantile privilege or regulation was published with a bilingual text also because Italian was the lingua franca for European trade. For his part, historian Claudio Marsilio seems to suggest that the failure of the Verona fairs could be partly attributable to the currency exchange deals held in Bolzano; moreover, according to the admission of the same author, Bolzano's efforts were concentrated on the importation of goods which enjoyed solid demand in the major cities.
Michl Ebner, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Bolzano, points out that "the exhibition and the accompanying catalog focus on the close relationship between trade and epidemics of the past".
Maurizio Rippa Bonati guides us into the world of travel and the related health risks for travellers: "yesterday as today, there were diseases that caused particular concern far away from what we can generically define 'home'..." The author introduces the reader to a vast and exhaustive literature on travel including postal guides among which those of Ottavio Codogno stand out; among other things he observes that "until now less attention has been paid to the movements of merchants, often protagonists of a periodically repeated commute, which could be defined with a neologism such as 'peregrinatio oeconomica.'” This important essay by Rippa Bonati provides unexpected details even for those who have done research and studies on the effects of epidemics on commerce and travellers, including those of historical and literary standing: "Still Montaigne, having arrived in the Po Valley, observes that 'without bills of health we received in Trento and confirmed in Rovereto we would never have entered the city [Verona]’".
Federico Pigozzo tells us about the origins of the Black Death and its impact on the trade routes that at that early stage connected China to the Black Sea and Samarkand and Buckhara to the Mediterranean. After rescuing the Genoese brothers besieged in Caffa, they headed towards the homeland shores, infecting Constantinople, Messina and Marseilles in transit. Moreover, Genoa had the wisdom of forbidding access to its port. In no time the plague reached Turkey and Greece and then Alexandria of Egypt and Cyprus.
The catalog of this exhibition also introduces us to the Venetian theriaca, an ancient drug with a unlimited powers with its 63 ingredients including viper meat and opium, this remedy and its effects are examined by the scholar Eugenio Ragazzi: its preparation "was permitted only in authorized pharmacies ... through a public ceremony .” The essay concludes with eight pages devoted to the components of theriaca according to ancient recipes.
Postal history pops out with a 13-page essay dedicated to post and epidemics written by the top brass of the Italian Academy of Philately and Postal History, i.e. Thomas Mathà and the author of this review. In the eighteenth century, a decline in the incidence of the Black Death began to be noticed, and attributed "to the tenacity of the Italian health authorities and by extension to the preventive, methodical and effective measures adopted by an Austria even more on the alert due to its trade with the Levant and the its extensive borders with the Ottoman Empire.” The disinfection of mail was introduced in the Papal States in the mid-sixteenth century and during the first decades of the eighteenth century Ludovico Antonio Muratori expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the procedure: "The disinfection of mail using fumigations and vapors produced by various substances was called 'perfuming'... Another methodology for internally disinfecting the letters was to make cuts or holes that allowed the inner sheets to be fumigated without breaking the seals of the epistles.”
Helmutt Rizzolli offers us a 360-degree overview on facets of the main themes: "Trade routes, routes of contagion and the impact of the plague on Bolzano and its territory". The presentation is divided into various perspectives: population growth and foundation of the city before 1350; globalization and the Black Death in the fourteenth century; The Black Death in Bolzano; epidemic diseases before 1580; the spread of petechial typhus in the seventeenth century; health passes such as the modern Green Passes were systematically used for goods, people and livestock; the health records as precious documents of Bolzano's mercantile activity; a collection of 63 health records as a valuable source for economic history.
This is followed by a brilliant essay by Simona Nardi on Art in the times of the plague: between mourning and hope. It is a detailed examination through examples of local sacred art from the Middle Ages to the mid-seventeenth century. The fourteenth-century fresco by the first Dominican master prophetically entitled " The Triumph of Death" has a remarkable visual impact and it is easy to understand the motive that destined it to the cover of this fascinating and elegant volume,
The task of bidding farewell to the readers is entrusted to the graphic novel by Stefano Obino entitled "Bartolomeo Salazar, the last doctor of the plague".
The reader may consider himself/herself lucky because we are still a few months away from the closure of this fascinating exhibition; witness of the splendid work carried out by the organizers of this cultural initiative of considerable importance especially in our post-Covid era. A related announcement reminds us of a symposium to be held on 15 July 2023 at the Mercantile Museum of Bolzano which has invited to this major event both Italian and foreign speakers.
Reviewed by Giorgio Migliavacca
The Disinfected Mail Study Circle (DMSC)