Commentary on:
Petition from and Privilege granted to Cosimo Gaci to translate, print and distribute works by St. Teresa of Avila from Spanish to Italian (1604)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: va_1604


Commentary on Petition from and Privilege granted to Cosimo Gaci to translate, print and distribute works by St. Teresa of Avila from Spanish to Italian, Rome (1604) 

Jane C. Ginsburg


Please cite as:

Ginsburg, J.C. (2022) ‘Commentary on Petition from and Privilege granted to Cosimo Gaci to translate, print and distribute works by St. Teresa of Avila from Spanish to Italian, Rome (1604)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. The Petition

2. The Privilege

3. Persons mentioned

Gaci’s translation was published in 1605 in Florence by the Giunti publishing house with the title: Il cammino di perfezione, e'l Castello interiore. Libri della b.m. Teresa di Giesu fondatrice degli Scalzi Carmelitani. ... Trasportati dalla spagnuola nella lingua italiana dal signor Cosimo Gaci, canonico di San Lorenzo in Damaso.  The 1605 edition has been digitized by Google Books, and is available at this link.


1. The Petition

In 1604, Italian prelate Cosimo Gaci requested a privilege, and a derogation from a 10-year privilege granted only the year before to Francisco Soto for an Italian translation of works of St. Teresa of Avila.  Soto’s privilege (see  “Privilege granted to Francisco Soto to translate, print and distribute works by St. Teresa of Avila from Spanish to Italian”) covered not only his own translation, but also “any translations by another or others into the Italian language” “libris praedictis et si ab alio, seu aliis in huiusmodi linguam Ital[ic]am translatis fuissent”). In other words, the Pope had conferred on Soto a ten-year exclusive right over all Italian-language versions of The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. Gaci’s petition describes the prior privilege as providing “that no one might without his [Soto’s] permission print nor sell in Rome and in the Papal State the Way of Perfection and the Interior Castle of the Blessed Mother Teresa of Jesus, not only as translated by him, but also by any other person,” (emphasis supplied) (“non solam[en]te da lui tradotte, ma da qual si voglia altri”). Thus, Gaci would not have been able to publish (much less obtain a privilege for) his own translation of Teresa’s works unless the Pope modified Soto’s prior privilege.  Gaci emphasized that the translation would be his own, that many persons were awaiting the publication of Gaci’s translation, and that Soto had already almost fully sold out his edition. The petition also indicates that the Pope had agreed to the privilege, but that unexplained opposition has impeded its issuance. 

Notes on the back of the petition indicate that its author was a Cardinal [name illegible]. The earlier petition referenced in this petition and in Notes on the back of this petition show that Gaci’s initial sponsor was Cardinal Alessandro Peretti di Montalto.


2. The Privilege

The issuance of a privilege to Cosimo Gaci for his translations of the same works as covered by Soto’s privilege, obtained only a year earlier, effectively modified Soto’s privilege to cover only his own translation, just as the new privilege clearly limited the scope of Gaci’s exclusive rights to Gaci’s own translation. This may suggest that the first privilege had gone too far, and that independently-authored translations of the same works could each enjoy a privilege, and therefore that the exclusive rights attached only to each grantee’s version. 

That outcome is consistent with the Vatican’s approach to multiple texts addressing the same underlying (often classical or biblical) work.  Although some privileges granted rights over “annotations” and “interpretations” or glosses (see, e.g., Sec. Brev. Reg. 118 F 120 (Mar. 7, 1586) (to printer Bartolommeo Grassi for an edition of the decisions of the Sacra Romana Rota ecclesiastical court); Sec. Brev. Reg. 179 F 167 (15 May 1591) (to printer Domenico Basa for Jean Etienne Duranti’s work on the rites of the Church); Sec. Brev. Reg. 290 F 105 (13 Dec. 1599) (to Alfonso Ciaccone for his Lives and Acts of the Popes)), the coexistence of privileges conceded within the same ten-year period for commentaries on the same classical authors, such as Cicero, or of the same biblical texts, suggests that the privilege-holder could prevent annotations or glosses of the privilege-holder’s own commentaries, but not of the underlying text that was the object of the commentary. See, e.g., Sec. Brev. Reg. 268 F 132 (Mar. 16, 1598) (to printer Luigi Zannetti for works by other authors on Cicero); Sec. Brev. Reg. 31 F 361 (Aug. 30, 1601) (to Alfonso Chacòn for his commentaries on Cicero); Sec. Brev. Reg. 59 F 511 (July 7, 1584) (to the Monks of Cassino for works on the Psalms); Sec. Brev. Reg. 120 F 70 (Apr. 1, 1586) (to printer Giovanni Osmarino for Francesco Panigarola’s commentaries on the Psalms). 

Other documents also evidence an appreciation of what modern copyright law calls the “new matter” doctrine, that is, rights accorded a new work or new additions do not affect the existence or extent of protection for an earlier work incorporated in the new work.  Thus, for example, in 1575 Diana Mantuana obtained a privilege covering her engravings of biblical and ancient Roman scenes, as well as her engravings based on works by Daniele da Volterra, Raphael and Michelangelo and “other very celebrated painters and engravers, and those works to this point not printed, and concerning the printing of which nobody has yet obtained the privilege for their own use.” (ARM XLII v 28 F 93 (June 5, 1575). Referenced in Witcombe (2004) p 183 n. 78, and reproduced in Evelyn Lincoln, The Invention of the Italian renaissance Printmaker (Yale 2000) p 189). Because Diana’s privilege covers engravings “printed with the inscription of her name,” it appears to have extended only to her own representations of the prior works, and did not give her sole rights to engrave the particular images by Volterra, Raphael or Michelangelo.

Derivative works that updated of a work by the same author, already covered by a Papal privilege, as frequently occurred with law books, present a more ambiguous case. Did the new privilege apply only to the new matter, or did it cover the whole work, thus effectively prolonging the privilege on the prior version?  The advocate Prospero Farinacci (who was a leading criminal lawyer and something of a celebrity in his day, having unsuccessfully defended Beatrice Cenci against charges that she murdered her sexually-abusive father) wrote several books on criminal law, some of which had multiple editions.  In one case, the petition and the privilege specified that it concerned the additions to prior editions. (See Sec. Brev. Reg. 301 F 19 (Oct. 31, 1600).) Nonetheless, it is difficult to tell whether, in the case of new editions and updates, the principle limiting exclusive rights to new matter, a fundamental tenet of modern copyright law, was fully recognized by the Vatican in the 16th century. That said, the reference in many privileges to the “not previously published” status of the work or its edition, (hactenus non impressum) suggests that the novelty of the creation or its publication were an important, if not necessarily determinative, consideration. See, e.g., ARM XXXIX 46 F 305 (Mar. 24, 1526) (to Giovanni Filoteo Achillini for books for students); Sec. Brev. Reg. 47 F. 96 (Feb. 11, 1580) (to the printer Pacifico da Ponte for a book on the Italian language); Sec. Brev. Reg. 120 F. 261 (Jun. 3, 1586) (to Girolamo Catena for his biography of Pope Pius V); Sec. Brev. Reg. 69 F 8 (Jan. 13, 1591) (to Vincenzo de Franchis for the decisions of the Council of the Kingdom of Naples).


3. Persons mentioned

Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini (1571 – 1621). Italian Catholic Cardinal and patron of the arts, made cardinal in 1593 by his uncle, Pope Clement VIII.

Marcello Vestrio Barbiani (? – 1606). Cardinal-Secretary of Brevi (papal letters). The son of a famous lawyer, Barbiani joined the Papal court after his wife, a Roman noblewoman, passed away. In 1596, he was granted a canonicate in the Vatican Basilica. Barbiani served in various capacities under Gregory XIV, Clement VIII, and Paul V, before passing at a very old age shortly before July 9th, 1606.  See Giammaria Mazzuchelli, Gli scrittori d’Italia. Vol. 2,1 at 178 (1758).

Cosimo Gaci (1550 – ???). Italian writer and author of several publications, including two on the moving of the Vatican obelisk during the pontificate of Sixtus V. See, Dialogo di Cosimo Gaci nel quale passati in prima alcuni ragionamenti tra 'l molto illustre & reuer. mons. Giouanangelo Papio & l'autore, d'intorno all'eccellenza della poesia si parla poi delle valorose operationi di SistoV p.o.m. et in particularedel trasportamento dell'obelisco del Vaticano. Con alcune allegorie al componimento di quella gran macchina accomodate, In Roma : appresso Francesco Zannetti, 1586 (WorldCat); Obeliscus. Vaticanus Sixti 5. pont. opt. max. pietate inuictissimae. Cruci sacer ope. diuina stabilis ad perpetuitatem praeclaris eruditorum virorum litteris laudatus egregie, Romae : ex typographia Bartholomaei Grassij, 1587 (WorldCat/BAVat). 

Cardinal [Alessandro] Montalto Alessandro Peretti di Montalto (1571 – 2 June 1623). Italian Catholic Cardinal Bishop and nephew of Pope Sixtus V. Made cardinal in 1583.  Subject of Bernini’s Bust of Alessandro Peretti di Montalto in Kunsthalle Hamburg, Germany.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582). Spanish saint, mystic, and author. She entered a Carmelite convent at 20 and later founded her own order, the Discalced Carmelites. In her lifetime Teresa of Avila garnered fame as an author of Counter-Reformation treatises as well as spiritual memoirs, in which she documented the intense heavenly visions she often experienced. The Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) immortalized one such episode in his sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, which depicts Teresa swooning as an angel prepares to pierce her chest with a golden arrow. Teresa of Avila was not canonized until 1622, which explains why the petition refers to her as only “Madre Teresa.”

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