|Printing “Official” Documents: The Building of “Officiality” in the Border between Public Authority and Private Interest|
|The proposed paper analyzes the evolution of the concept of “official” and its practice in an early modern State, taking Milan as a case study. Studying the printing press production, it is possible to highlight a process that deeply changed the “official” documents, their nature and the practices linked to the exercise of power. On the one hand, the outcome of the press modified the “diplomatic” nature of the official documents, and, on the other hand, it deeply changed the organization of the production and circulation of the same document. These two aspects are deeply linked each other, as well as they are connected to the practice of power. Moreover, in Milan, this process took place in a “grey area” between the public authority and the private interests (the one of the printers).
In the manuscript era an official document was a unique specimen, provided with all the “signs” of the authority (e.g. seals, signatures): those signs gave to the paper the “effectiveness”, the strength of the imperium of the prince. Once the authorities started to use the printing press, instead, the edicts, even if they remained identical in the juridical level, deeply changed both their physical appearance and their potential use: in fact, the printed papers by which the authorities exercised the command, were “repetitive” texts, mere copies of the original documents, reproduced in hundreds of identical exemplars. The direct command from the prince to the subject was suddenly supplanted by a “depersonalized” way to exercise the power (which so far happened only with the “oral” command, i.e. the public reading of the edict). From another point of view, the “publication” moved from the oral practice (the reading) to a written practice (the printing).
In Milan, the last quarter of the 16th century (from the 1576-77 plague) was a crucial period. In the previous decades the production of printed edicts grew constantly: the impulse to produce an increasing number of printed edicts came especially from the printers rather than from the authorities.
Another important factor was the concentration, in the same years, of the production of edicts in the hands of a sole printer. Made for pure commercial purposes (thus registered with a “pure commercial” privilege) this fact nevertheless this fact increased the identification between the “Royal Chambers Printers” and the production of “official documents” (mostly edicts). The “intermediate nature” between public and private is particularly clear in Milan: the printers had two workshops (one in a street, the other one in the court) and, after many years of activity, had a “private” archive of “their” printed edicts (in the court) that was very useful for the administration.
It is remarkable that the printers underlined the “public” nature of their service (when they had to renew their commercial privilege), while, on the other hand, the sovereign authority took many years to recognize them a particular “official” status, limiting their “agreement” in a private sphere (the commercial privilege). Moreover, the title of Royal Chamber Printer remained informal for centuries.|