The Book of Sorts in the Biblioteca Marciana provides instructions and texts for a game to predict personal fortune in the arenas of love, politics, possessions, happiness, and death. It is an autograph manuscript of the author, Lorenzo Spirito of Perugia, who was a professional notary. He finished copying the text in 1482. The book was illuminated after the turn of the sixteenth century by artists in the circle of Perugino. They supplied a full-page miniature of the wheel of fortune and eighty smaller images of kings, prophets, and celestial bodies.
Spirito (aka Lorenzo Gualtieri) probably composed his text at the behest of Braccio Baglioni (1419-1479) in the 1470s. When he began work on the fair copy now in the Marciana and whether it was intended for a member of the Baglioni family are unknown.
Illuminated in the Circle of Perugino
Work on the manuscript was suspended after Spirito finished copying the text. Most scholars date the illumination to some twenty years later. That illumination is the work of several painters working in the High Renaissance style of Perugino (born Pietro Vannucci and so nicknamed because he mainly worked in Perugia in his native Umbria), considered by his contemporaries to be one of the master painters of his generation. The figures are sensitively rendered, and ample use is made of gold and silver leaf.
The Wheel of Fortune
The manuscript opens with an image of the wheel of fortune. This motif reminds the viewer that a person's fortunes can be reversed: the distinguished king at the top of the wheel contrasts starkly with his counterpart below, while a youth at left seems on the ascent to future glory. Seven sets of questions on banderoles surround the image. The players begin the game by selecting from those questions.
Kings, Animals, Celestial Bodies, and Biblical Prophets
The game progresses through stages, one associated with twenty pictured kings (drawn from the Bible, classical history, and romance literature) and the next with twenty pictured animals or celestial bodies. The following stages are associated with images of twenty heavenly bodies or their personifications and then twenty figures labeled "prophet." Having worked through the stages, which involve throwing dice, the prediction will be one of fifty-six numbered tercets "under" the appropriate prophet.
A Game for the Young
A quarter of the supplied questions pertain to love and marriage but none to children, and the game was surely meant to be played by a mixed company of well-to-do city dwellers. Spiro wrote a particular version of the Gothic Rotunda (with a minimal head on a) associated with Petrarch and considered by some scholars to be proto-Humanistic. The manuscript entered the Biblioteca Marciana as a part of the enormous library of Tommaso Giuseppe Farsetti (1720-1792).