Digital Library

The Trombetta Manuscript

Title: The Trombetta Manuscript

Author: Zorzi di Nicolò, Trombetta da Modon

Year: 1444-1449

Description: 60 fols., 293 numbered leaves

Owner: British Library in the Cotton Manuscripts collection

Call No.: Cotton MS Titus A.XXVI

Notes: Although the entry for the manuscript in the British library does not contain a description, the manuscript is described in A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library Deposited in the British Museum (1802), p 511-512.


The Notebook of Zorzi Trombetta da Madon, or the Trombetta Manuscript, is a notebook compiled by Zorzi di Nicolò. It goes into some detail on shipbuilding, seafaring, and sailmaking. It also contains notations on a broad range of other topics, including personal notes; prayers; 11 musical pieces by three different composers; information on building bridges, mills, and siege engines; and a logbook recording his earnings as an instrumentalist and wine merchant. A significant number of copying errors exist, suggesting he copied parts or all of the manuscript from other work(s).

The Author

Zorzi di Nicolò (aka Giorgio Timbotta of Madon) was born around 1420. By 1444, when he began writing his notebook, he was serving as a trombetta (trumpeter) on Venetian galleys. Between 1446 and 1449, he served on the larger capitanae galleys that led the merchant fleet (these were likely galere grosse or galere da mercato). Trombette served an important role on vessels, including sounding the assembly before departure, announcing the beginning and end of meals, hailing friendly ships, and signalling the ship’s presence. They also played in ensemble for special occasions; the musical notations that Zorzi recorded in his notebook suggest that he played the slide trumpet (a precursor to the trombone) in these groups. At ports, he took commissions such as playing in weddings. He also traded in wine during his voyages. 1449 is the last date recorded in his notebook. Documents from later in his life show that he later settled in Venice, where he played a key role in the musical community there. He died between 1495 and 1502.


Treatise - Trombetta Manuscript

Galleys and Other Oared Craft

The manuscript provides the dimensions of a number of types and sizes of galleys: three galie sottili with 29 banks of oars and three fuste with 26, 15, and 10 banks of oars, respectively. There is little consistency in which dimensions are measured or in what order for the galleys. In addition, eight “galley’s boats” are described and illustrated. These are more consistently measured, with the length, beam, floor, depth, and rake measured for all boats, as well as the frames and “legano in ramo” (meaning unknown) for several of them.


Eight sailing ships of various sizes are also described. An illustration shows a deep waisted ship with high castles, a stern rudder, flat transom, full bow, and bowsprit. The dimensions of the vessels are summarized in the table below. Anderson notes that the 300 botte ship should likely be deeper and the 1000 botte ship should be almost certainly be narrower. The “3 pie” and “6 pie” measurements are the beam taken 3 and 6 pie above the keel, respectively.


Rigging and Sails

This section describes how to determine the height, diameter, and yard size of a ship’s masts and their position along the keel. The first mast described (presumably the main mast) is measured in proportion to the ship’s beam, and additional masts are measured in proportion to that mast. How to cut the rigging and sails is also described in detail.

Works Cited

Anderson, R.C. “Italian Naval Architecture about 1445.” Mariner’s Mirror. 11 (2): 135-63.

Baroncini, Rodolfo. (2002) “Zorzi Trombetta and the Band of Piffari and Trombones of the Serenissima: New Documentary Evidence.” Translated by Hugh Ward-Perkins. Historic Brass Society Journal. 14: 59-82.

Planta, Joseph. (1802) A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library Deposited in the British Museum. Luke Hansard: London.

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