The Cuccaro branch of the Columbus family

[Columbus family]. The personal archive of Luigi Colombo di Cuccaro (1790-1871).

Mostly Montferrat and Castagnole near Genoa, Italy, 15th to 19th century.

Ca. 150 legal charters and other documents concerning the noble family Colombo di Cuccaro, some relating to kinship ties with Christopher Columbus. Comprises 4 charters on vellum (15th c.); 6 charters, letters and certificates on paper and vellum (18th c.); 2 hand-drawn and hand-coloured maps on paper (late 18th c.) describing location and layout of properties; 6 family trees on paper (5) and vellum (1); 1 genealogical study of 41 family members (mostly late 16th c., the remainder early 17th c.); 4 printed books, comprising 4 Spanish editions of the late 16th c. and one genealogical dissertation from the 19th c.; the last wills of Luigi Colombo di Cuccaro (ca. 50 ff.) and of Donna Luigia Colombo, née Vairo di Castagnole (ca. 30 ff.), both including several legal acts and declarations, property and acquisition documents (18th/19th c.). Further includes 6 engravings from an illustration series (late 18th c.); fragment of the family's coat of arms (painting on paper); a law diploma (19th c.); several handwritten archive inventories (20th c.); a cardboard file of ca. 30 additional documents compiled by the late owner (20th c.).


A substantial Northern Italian dynastic archive assembled over five centuries, centred around an exquisite collection of early genealogical trees and charters as well as excessively rare printed material from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. As early as the 16th century, the Colombo di Cuccaro dynasty sought to align its ancient origins with those of the most famous bearer of the name, Christopher Columbus, and this pursuit informs a significant portion of the unique sources and relevant research accumulated in this wide-ranging trove. Several early charters and kinship documents testify to marriages, privileges, loans and contracts for and by members of the Colombo di Cuccaro and the Vairo di Castagnole families, clearly treasured by later generations as proofs of inherited rights as well as of descent. Assorted further documents include a wealth of 18th and 19th century legal acts regarding property agreements, testaments, declarations, and payrolls that reflect the history of a European noble family rooted in its region for centuries.

The archive gives remarkable evidence of the power of that specific mentality which characterises noble families, famously described by the German historian Otto Gerhard Oexle as "a conviction of the importance of one's own lineage, a pursuit of social appreciation with an aim of preserving the house's honour, and a cultivation of the family's remembrance" (cf. Aspekte der Geschichte des Adels im Mittelalter und in der Frühen Neuzeit, 1990, pp. 21-26). It bears witness to a Ligurian dynasty's commitment, over roughly four hundred years, to make publicly known its familial links with Christopher Columbus, the great discoverer of the Americas. Indeed, the name Colombo implied honour, wealth, greatness and pride not only for the generations that immediately succeeded the seafarer, but similarly for descendants up to this very day. The name impacts the identities of families as well as of regions immensely, and this collection sheds a very special light on the history of constructing Christopher Columbus's past throughout centuries, well into the present.

Provenance: 1) the family archives of the Colombo di Cuccaro family in Monferrato and the Vairo di Castagnole family; 2) Luigi Colombo di Cuccaro (1790-1871), president of the high court in Turin; by bequest to 3) Pietro Bertolero of Roletto, Luigi’s valet; 4) by descent to Augusto and Alessandro Bertolero (d. 1990s); 5) sale at De Baecque, Lyon, 14 April 2022, lot 48.

A detailed account of the collection is available on request.