Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dec. 22, 2016: Assisi c. 1510: Complete Deck of 48 Cards

Translator's introduction
(by Michael S. Howard)

Here is my translation of Franco's most recent note, "1510ca: Assisi – Mazzo completo di 48 carte", dated Dec. 22, 2016, posted at It originally appeared on Tarot History Forum at, with discussion.  It is an addition to his note dated June 27, 2016 (translation online in this blog).

I have one comment about the note itself: it was not I that brought the Assisi deck into the discussion of the third Rosenwald sheet, but "Huck", at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1105&p=18118&hilit=McLeod#p18118, with a citation from Dummett and McLeod's 1995 book. I merely brought in Dummett's 2004 article and asked Franco if he could get images of the cards--a request he more than granted. Comments in brackets are by me. Numbers at top left of some lines are page numbers in Franco's original pdf.

Assisi c. 1510 - Complete pack of 48 cards
(by Franco Pratesi)

1. Introduction

For several months Michael Howard has voluntarily submitted to the trouble of translating into English my notes on playing cards, written for a few years only in Italian, and also of putting them into a blog of his dedicated just to these translations and his comments (1), making them available for discussion on the Tarot History Forum (2). I could not hope for anything more, but often it seems to me that my writings receive more attention than they deserve. The discussion takes place in public, open to countless readers and is usually interesting; it can advance our knowledge of the subject, although in fact it remains confined to experts who can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

For me it is difficult to follow these discussions, because usually when I publish one of my notes I just go on to work on a different topic. Unusually, the present study is however no other than a reaction to a reaction to my note on the Rosenwald and Leinfelden sheets. (3) In the discussion, collected in the publication of Howard’s English translation (4), there appeared the deck of the Crippa collection, deriving from Assisi (5), for which various pieces of information are available, however arising from disparate sources, so much so that I considered it useful to collect and present them together, so as to facilitate the continuation of the discussion

2. Han Janssen

The review begins with Han Janssen; in the small world of collectors and historians of playing cards he is an important author,
2. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1100
3. [entry for June 27, 2016 on this blog]
4. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1105&hilit=Crippa
5. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1105&start=20#p18174

known for his pioneering book on the subject (6), and also for a second book, published at a distance of twenty years (7); unfortunately these books, written in Dutch, cannot be read easily outside of his country; so fans of Han Janssen generally know him, more than by his books, by twenty articles published in English in the official organ of the IPCS. In the IPCS Han Janssen has not only been a pioneer and an assiduous member; he also occupied, from 1983 to 1987, the office of president; he is in short an author who understands cards and their history. The deck of cards that is the subject of this review, however, presented him with difficulties from the moment of its discovery.

In 1993 Janssen spent his summer holidays at a friend's house living in Assisi or the surrounding area. Visiting a small private museum of Assisi, like so many in the towns of Central Italy, mainly based on the exhibition of agricultural tools fallen into disuse, he saw on display a pack of old playing cards. He examined them and got permission to photograph them. Then, for several years, it was not the actual deck itself that became of interest to collectors and historians, but precisely those photographs taken then by Janssen, or photocopies of them.

What left the discoverer confused was the typology of this deck that in many respects recalled minchiate, but compared to the typical Florentine deck of 97 cards contained only a part. Although he was an expert on such matters, Janssen decided to obtain the opinion of other experts in the IPCS, and in particular that of John Berry, someone we will soon meet. We will see that the discovery had great resonance in that environment.

3. John Berry and other experts

The first description noted that we can read of the Assisi deck was made by John Berry, an influential IPCS member who at the time edited Playing-Card World, a [separate] newsletter that then was regularly included in the mailings of the [IPCS] official organ (8). In fact his signature is not at the bottom of the note (Fig. 1), but for those who read the newsletter
6. H. Janssen, Speelkaarten. Bussum 1965.
7. H. Janssen, De geschiedenis van de speelkaart. Rijswijk 1985.
8. [J. Berry], Playing-Card World, No. 79 (1995) 26-27.

it was not needed. The title contributed to the interest of the description, “Found - and Lost?” It had to be an amazing event, that of a find that would disappear even before being understood in detail and made known to enthusiasts. [For a larger version, click on this:]

Figure 1 – Note in Playing-Card World No. 79.

The two pages dedicated to the subject contain two figures that are no less than a reproduction of the photographs taken in Assisi by Janssen at the time of the discovery of the deck. Berry tells us all the essentials of what had become known about the discovery, and for clarity I reproduce it in full together with what has been communicated on further developments.
Han Janssen, on holiday in 1993, made a ‘find’ in a small museum in Assisi (of all places), and managed to take a couple of photos, which he then sent to me, remarking that he did not know exactly what the cards were, and asking if it was an incomplete Minchiate pack. (...) To return to facts, Han found these cards at a very small museum (just one room) with household pottery, agricultural tools, etc., owned by an elderly man, who gave permission for Han to take the cards into the street to photograph them. The address is: MOSTRA DELLE ARTI DELLA CASA E DELLA CIVILTÁ POPOLARE, VIA S. FRANCESCO 12, ASSISI.
However, attempts to contact the owner by Alberto Milano and to visit the museum by Jeff Hopewell and by Han’s friend whose house Han had been staying in, have been fruitless: the museum seems to be closed, possibly for renovation. My latest information from Alberto Milano is that someone in Vito Arienti’s family may already have a photograph.
As we see, in addition to the elderly owner of the small museum, who probably had no idea of the importance of his particular deck of cards, a few months after the discovery several collectors were closely interested in the case: Janssen of Holland of course, but also his friend of Assisi, then Jeff Hopewell of England, and Milano and Arienti of Italy. Vito Arienti and Alberto Milano were not just any collectors, the first having been appointed Honorary Fellow of the IPCS for his artisan production of special cards, the second was in addition the president. (Here for Arienti his family is spoken of because 1994 coincides with the year of his death - and also that of Sylvia Mann, whom we find immediately after Berry's description.) All the curious who wanted to look again at those cards close up were unsuccessful because the small museum of Assisi was always found closed.

An important part of the note in question concerns the report on the dissemination of the initial information on the newly discovered deck. In his turn, Berry also found it necessary to engage individually, for judging the merits, other experts of the IPCS, persons of the caliber of Sylvia Mann and Michael Dummett. The discovery was unanimously judged important and deserving of specific publication in the official organ of the IPCS. The article in question was scheduled to go out with the reproduction of Janssen's photos along with a photo in the possession of Sylvia Mann of the corresponding cards from Rosenwald sheet; it had been recognized that the pack of Assisi did not correspond to a part of minchiate, but was a complete deck, similar to that obtained with the first two Rosenwald sheets.

After a while, that publication got behind schedule and, awaiting the finished article, Berry decided (along with Stuart Lawrence, Editor of The Playing-Card) to immediately publish the photos and a brief description of cards in the newsletter for which he was responsible. The reasons for this acceleration were various; one was due to the fact that Dummett had mentioned it in his communication at the last

IPCS Convention, awakening the curiosity of the participants; another reason was that the photo, or photocopies, had already been seen by a number of members. Therefore, according to Berry, it was time to "let other dogs see the rabbit".
I mentioned the photos to Sylvia Mann, who asked for copies, and she immediately made the connection with the suited cards of the Rosenwald ‘pack’, some of which are reproduced as plate 7 of Michael Dummett’s The Game of Tarot from one of a set of photographs in her possession. We then hatched a plot to obtain similar photos of Han’s ‘find’ and publish them alongside the full set of the suited Rosenwald cards. Unfortunately, our plans have been ludicrously frustrated – though by now, a few people have seen prints or photocopies of Han’s photos. Others were probably mystified by Michael Dummett’s reference to the Assisi cards in his talk at the Vitoria Convention last year. We still hope to publish properly in the Journal, but in the meantime it seemed sensible to let other dogs see the rabbit – and so, with the consent of the Journal editor, I am reproducing Han’s photos here, before I also bow out of the business.
Berry did not just show the photographs, but added a brief description of the figures, which again I allow myself to reproduce below, thus avoiding repeating it in my account.
In case the photographs do not reproduce well enough, I had better point out that it is a complete 48-card pack with turned-over edges (though we do not yet know what the back-design features). The courts are a seated King (with long robes on Coins and Cups, tunic and hose on Swords and Batons); Cavaliers shown as centaurs (all with the bodies of horses – not assorted animals as in the Minchiate pack); Maids in Coins and Cups, but Jacks in Swords and Batons. Incidentally, the cards are NOT from the same block as the Rosenwald suited cards (for instance, the heraldry on the shields borne by two Kings and Jacks is different). On the numerals the Swords are curved and crossed at the ends (except, of course, for the extra Sword on the odd numerals), while the Batons are ‘curtain poles’, crossing at the centre.

There are no tens – a fact which may finally have done away with lingering doubts that such 48-card packs existed.
To me it appears that there is no need to comment on Berry's remarks; I would just underline the use of this deck as a proof for the existence of complete decks of 48 cards, which had been the subject of debate, and the fact that there were four centaurs, unlike the two of minchiate. Another highlight is the final comment that, being able to see these cards, anyone could understand why they had

aroused so much interest and that probably only Michael Dummett would have been able to accurately analyze these cards and their relations with others of the period.
And now you may begin to see why some of us started to get steamed up about this find – though it will probably fall to Michael Dummett to analyse precisely what we might deduce from these hints of relationships.
It seems to me that in two short pages it was just not possible to provide more information, including the two important figures on the cards. To continue, we need to address later times and other writers, starting with the same Dummett, who would be required to resolve the problems that these cards had raised.

4. Michael Dummett

Michael Dummett never limited himself to reproducing contributions and hypotheses of previous authors, but always entered into the details of the questions and usually managed to reconstruct a situation that clarified what had previously been confused; we will find soon a sort of adage that confirms the general recognition of his extraordinary ability to simplify the tangle of conflicting interpretations. However, the case at issue here is one of the few in which his attention seems to have worked in reverse; it is true that the situation on the discovery and composition of Assisi deck was not clear, but his actions in this regard, unusually, managed to make it even more tangled.

Already his speech at the IPCS Convention at Vitoria-Gasteiz (the afternoon of Saturday 24 September 1994), in which he presented "some of the new discoveries", put more collectors in search of the unknown and unobtainable pack of Assisi.
...the first speaker, Michael Dummett, who in “The Early History of the Tarot Pack: Conjectures and Refutations” presented some of the new discoveries which have come to light since the publication of The Game of Tarot (which has produced the simile ‘mysterious as pre-Dummett Tarot’). (9)
9. D. H. Jones, Playing-Card World, No. 78 (1994) 3.

Before and after that speech, Dummett took part in the discussions reported by Berry. Of what he communicated on those occasions I have not found substantial evidence or published texts, but there remain a number of his writings that we can still consider. A first mention appeared already in the same year of 1994, in an article in which Dummett replied to some remarks by Trevor Denning and also discussed various models of the cards, with swords curved or straight and interlaced. (10)
The first Minchiate pattern has 1½ of the distinctive characteristics of the ‘Portuguese’ subtype: the Swords are straight but intersect; and the lowest court figures are female in the suits of Cups and Coins, but not in those of Swords and Batons. The second feature might impress us were it not shared with the earlier form (for both Tarot and Primiera) of the Bolognese pattern, whose ‘Italian’ character has never been called in question. The straight Swords are surprising, although there are precedents in two of the three hand-painted packs commonly ascribed to Bembo. They are not, however, enough to override the lack of any historical connection between Minchiate cards and those of an indisputably ‘Portuguese’ character. On the contrary, the Minchiate pattern has an evident affinity with that exemplified by the sheets in the Rothschild Collection and by the pack recently discovered at Assisi by Han Janssen, in which, however, the Swords are curved.
But it was especially later, when there was more precise information, that on a couple of occasions Dummett gave us very different versions relative to the deck of Assisi and others similar. Particularly uncertain among these notices appears the role of another Italian collector, Francesco Allegri. Here is how the situation is explained in a short article of 2004. (11)
However, it became clear that a 48-card pack was used in Florence when in 1995 Mr. Han Janssen bought in Assisi a pack – not sheets, but separate cards – with exactly the same designs as on the two sheets; the pack is now in the collection of Signor Giuliano Crippa of Milan. The supposition is clinched by another pack in the collection of Signor Crippa, a photocopy of all the cards of which was kindly sent me by Signor Francesco Allegri of Parma. This is again a 48-card pack, of precisely the same pattern as the Rosenwald/Assisi one, but with different designs and presumably by another cardmaker.
10. M. Dummett, The Playing-Card, Vol. 23 No. 2 (1994) 40-44. [page with quotation at; for other pages use "back" and "next" arrows.]
11. M. Dummett, The Playing-Card, Vol. 33 No. 1 (2004) 24-26. [page with quotation at; for other pages use "back" and "next" arrows.]

From this it is understood that Crippa would not have had, of that type, only the deck of Assisi but also a second one that was similar; of this further surviving deck, even more mysterious than the first, Allegri would have sent a photocopy to Dummett. The rest of the article is important because it briefly reviews the little information we have on the spread of packs of 40, 48 and 52 cards in the various Italian regions over the centuries. While the decks of 48 cards in Southern Italy are easily connected with the Spanish ones, missing the 10, for Central Italy there is just the pack of Assisi that is the main clue, confirming that the 48 cards of the first two Rosenwald sheets could actually correspond to a complete deck.

A different version of events appears in the truly comprehensive book that Dummett published with John McLeod on the history of tarot games. (12)
In 1995 Mr. Han Janssen discovered in a small private museum in Assisi a pack – not just uncut sheets – of cards closely similar to the two Rosenwald sheets of suit cards. This pack is now in the private collection of Signor Giuliano Crippa in Milan. The designs correspond very exactly to those of the Rosenwald sheets, although small details show that they were not printed from the same wood blocks. This confirms the assumption that we have here the Florentine standard pattern of the time.
In the beginning we find something already known, except 1995 which actually corresponds to the year in which the Berry note was printed and not to the discovery, which occurred in 1993. In the continuation of the description, however, we read on the following page a new confirmation, unexpected and independent, of the hypothesis that the deck of 48 cards was really a complete deck.
Nevertheless, Caleffini’s testimony suffices to make it probable that the pack from Assisi was in origin one of only 48 cards. This is confirmed by a pack of 48 cards, evidently complete but lacking 10s, of the same pattern as the Rosenwald/Assisi cards, but with similar but by no means identical designs, in the collection of Signor Francesco Allegri of Parma.
12. M. Dummett, John McLeod, A history of games played with the tarot pack. Vol. 1. Lewiston 2004.

In short, Francesco Allegri appears again, but his role has now changed profoundly. Before, he had been referred to as the collector who had forwarded to Dummett photocopies of an antique deck that would be present in the Crippa collection together with that of Assisi. He is now presented as the possessor of another old pack, which would pretty much be the third of its kind. Also, the deck in the Allegri collection would be similar to that of Assisi and, like that one, similar to the cards of the Rosenwald sheets.

My impression has been that what is present in the Allegri collection corresponds only to the photocopies of the Assisi cards in the Crippa collection and that there have been a few misunderstandings in the correspondence between Allegri and Dummett. I recently had confirmation of my hypothesis; in short, it can be concluded that nothing has been found of the same type beyond the first two Rosenwald sheets and the pack of Assisi.

5. Giuliano Crippa

After an initial phase in which the deck under examination was only known by the photographs of the cards, with Giuliano Crippa we get to the person who for almost ten years has included the precious pack of Assisi among those of his collection. I think that his main opportunity for displaying these cards in public was an important event organized by Alberto Milano with the assistance of Giuliano Crippa himself. These were two Milanese (sadly, Milano passed away this year) at the top of the field in Italy, internationally known. Giuliano Crippa is now the delegate for Italy in the IPCS, which Alberto Milano had been for many years, also serving as president from 1993 to 1996.

The occasion in question was the exhibition "Drawing room Games - Tavern Games", which took place from December 2012 to March 2013 in Milan's Palazzo Morando. On that occasion, the Assisi cards were presented and nine of them were reproduced in color in the book with the catalog of the exhibition (13) (Fig. 2), enough to clarify the
13. A. Milano (con la collaborazione di G. Crippa), Giochi di salotto – Giochi d’osteria. Milano 2012.

typology of that production.

Figure 2 – Book with the catalog of the exhibition of 2013.

The description in the catalog due to the owner is very clear, and deserves to be reproduced for the part of interest.
Xilografia colorata a maschera, 48 carte completo, 90 x 49 mm carta. Italia centrale, primo quarto del XVI secolo. Coppe, denari, bastoni, spade, asso da 2 a 9, due fanti, due fantine, quattro centauri, quattro re. Il foglio di mezzo nelle carte è manoscritto in scrittura forse quattrocentesca. È il più antico mazzo di carte italiane conosciuto, completo di 48 carte. (...) Il mazzo è stato ritrovato durante la demolizione di un’antica dimora ad Assisi.

Il mazzo e i due fogli sono la testimonianza di una tipologia di carte da gioco in uso nel Centro-Italia nel XV secolo, la cui relazione con le carte utilizzate per il Gioco delle Minchiate è da analizzare. Gli archi di gusto goticheggiante (coperti dal lembo del dorso rivoltato) che incorniciano le figure dei re fanno ritenere la datazione delle matrici risalente alla fine del Quattrocento, mentre il disegno del dorso che raffigura una “Mora” con scimitarra e seno scoperto porta a datare la stampa del mazzo attorno al 1525. Collezione Crippa.

[Woodcut colored by stencil, 48 cards complete, 90 x 49 mm paper. Central Italy, first quarter of the 16th century. Cups, coins, batons, swords, ace and 2 to 9, two pages, two maids, four centaurs, four kings. The layer in the middle of the cards is hand-written in perhaps 15th century script. It is the oldest deck of Italian cards known, complete with 48 cards. (...) The deck was found during the demolition of a very old house in Assisi.

The deck and the two sheets [of the Rosenwald] are evidence of a type of playing cards in use in Central Italy in the 15th century, whose relationship with the cards used for the game of minchiate is to be analyzed. The Gothic-style arches (covered by the flap of the back turned over) framing the figures of the kings suggest dating the matrices to the end of the 15th century, while the design of the back depicting a "Moor" with unsheathed scimitar tends to date the printing of the deck to around 1525. Crippa Collection.]
In the same description, Crippa makes a useful comparison with the Rosenwald sheets “della medesima tipologia del nostro mazzo, anche se stampati da altre matrici xilografiche meno raffinate” [“of the same typology as our pack, even if printed by other woodblock matrices, less refined"]. There are at least two important new details, which were not seen in the photographs reproduced poorly in the first communication by Berry: the color and figure present on the back of the card; coloration, in two neighboring colors, red and yellow, was applied on the white background using stencils cut following the profile of the design.

We also find another new and important piece of information: in Assisi those cards were not only kept in the private museum of popular culture, but in that same locality had been found originally "during demolition of a very old house". It is a small detail but gives more importance to these cards, which obviously had maintained for centuries the same location.

A final word of note, because it defines for us the dating for the Assisi pack’s entrance into the Crippa collection: we find in the same book of the catalog, on p. 31, in the part written precisely by the owner of those cards. It turns out that these cards were bought from an antiquarian in Assisi.
1998. La mia collezione si è arricchita del mazzo più importante, l’unico mazzo di carte completo di produzione italiana del primo Cinquecento che si conosca. La sua tipologia lo fa collocare tra la produzione del Centro-Italia, e grazie ad alcune carte scollate ho ritrovato, nella carta di rinforzo all’interno, versi manoscritti di grafia quattrocentesca.

[1998. My collection was enriched by a most important pack, the only complete pack of cards of Italian production of the early 16th century that is known. Its typology places it among the production of Central Italy, and thanks to some unglued cards I found, in the sheet that strengthens the interior [of the card], handwritten verses in fifteenth century writing.]
6. Depictions of the cards

In Fig. 3 are presented the reproductions in black and white of the four complete suits, 12 cards each, of the Assisi pack; for one card the back is also shown, which of course is the same for all cards present. Researchers interested in the images will find what they need in order to discourse about the iconography of these cards. Personally I am not able to add anything significant besides what little is already written, and I will not repeat what I have

already copied above from the authors interested in these cards. I will limit myself to adding a couple of comments.

Figure 3 – Assisi pack (Giuliano Crippa collection, Milan)

[Note: the final set of images, in color, is not included in the note as it appears on but was sent to the translator by Franco.]

The Assisi pack, even if only formed of the common cards, is very interesting. The same Dummett tends to give up his explanation of the lack of 10s with woodcut matrices made exclusively for those cards; in short, with the pack of Assisi the completeness of a deck of 48 cards is definitely confirmed. I must admit that to me the idea of a deck of 48 cards is very welcome, as well as that it is pleasant to think of a pack of minchiate also free of the Fool (or possibly a different card), thus resulting in twice as many cards as in a normal deck. To make this idea attractive years ago there was my imaginary "fourth Rosenwald" sheet, although it was impossible to reconstruct an exact correspondence because, in particular but not exclusively, of the absent queen of batons. (14)

A detail that could serve as a further characterization of the Assisi pack is the figure included inside the circle representing the ace of coins. The dog and the hare present below and above are quite common in older Bolognese decks of [common] cards and minchiate, but the figure inside the circle is definitely not a typical human face as usually drawn in profile in those cards. Unfortunately, the card in question is very worn, and the subject under discussion, perhaps a rampant lion, is not readable with ease. I hope that the rampant lion actually existing in the emblem of the town of Assisi has not contributed to making me see one on the card.

The main question to be resolved concerns the relations between Florence and Perugia. As a first approximation, I am tempted to consider these examples as Florentine, that the cards correspond to the original models, whether coming directly from the activity of Florentine card makers, or from ones that had been copied from local producers, which at that time definitely existed there. It cannot, however, be ruled out that it was instead of an autonomous Umbrian type, with some specific detail in the design that made it different from that of Florence; for a convincing definition it would now be helpful if, from Umbria, but also from Florence itself - where we do not know similar examples so old - dogs discovered some other hare or wild rabbit.

7. Conclusion

Taking my cue and pieces of information from a recent discussion in the Tarot History Forum, I thought it useful to collect various notices about a deck of 48 playing cards found in Assisi in 1993 by Han Janssen and now kept in Milan in the Crippa collection. Publications were reviewed on the subject, pointing out some inconsistencies in the testimonies written on the deck under consideration and others similar, mistakenly thought existent. The cards in the deck are represented in their totality.

Franco Pratesi – 22.12.2016

Dec. 7, 2016: Siena 1438: From Angels to Love

Translator's introduction
(by Michael S. Howard)

Franco has written a new note on processions, in this case that for the Palio in Siena, 1438. This translation originally appeared on Tarot History Forum at, with discussion following. It seems to me to report a useful find, as I will explain in my comments following the translation--even if Franco himself does not find it so. The original, "1438: Siena – Dagli Angeli all’Amore", is at, which appears in this blog as the entry for Dec. 7, 2016.

In translating this note, I have benefited from Franco's explanations of obscure words. In addition, there is one word that perhaps deserves additional explanation: "carro", Italian for "cart, wagon, float". For "chariot" there are other words; yet in English we would say "chariot" sometimes where Italians would say "carro", in the context of a cart, wagon, or float that we are in our imagination to think of in terms of those ancient Roman vehicles that at one time were used in war but by Greek and Roman times were reserved for the parades celebrating military triumphs--and perhaps for racing, if Ben Hur is to believed. I translate "carro" as "cart" when referring to the physical object, and "chariot" when referring to the object it is meant to represent, in the context of religion, myth, or military parades of the time. I recognize that the line between one and the other is not clear-cut, as in all likelihood the figures carried in religious processions were modeled on the military heroes in triumph, and vice versa. Comments in brackets are mine.

1438 Siena – From Angels to Love

(by Franco Pratesi)

1. Introduction

The origin of this study is unusual. Usually I take the initiative to carry out an investigation when I encounter something that seems to me worthy of investigation; any study then starts solely from personal initiative; if I continued to observe the procedure, I never could, nor would want, to undertake this study. It is something that has been stimulated by others, so that it also made me deviate from my usual route, centered mainly on Florence; but here we will move through the streets of Siena. There is also another significant step that contributes to the strangeness of this study: in some ways it can almost be considered an appendix to an earlier note on public processions (1), but the difference is not only that we pass from Florence to Siena: Only one triumph is being focused on, that of a single triumphal cart [carro], and the changes that it underwent over the years of our interest.

The thing is not trivial, because I personally am convinced that studies on one triumph are of little use for our primary purpose of reconstructing the appearance of triumphs among playing cards. In my opinion, one should seek the origin of the triumphal cards in a whole series of figures or episodes that may in fact occur in a sequence, such that one element follows another according to a ranking that is easy to identify. Thus this deviation is not so much from Florence to Siena, as from the search for triumphal sequences toward fixing attention toward just one single element, in this case the Triumph of Love. So I have to explain why I found myself in this unusual situation. I can justify myself with the convergence of two independent solicitations coming from two experts with whom I have been able to discuss related matters.

In chronological order the first of the two was Michael Howard, who has maintained on the web, and in private correspondence, that the introduction of a single triumph can provide useful information on the genesis of the Tarot. Based on the abundant literature of art history,

I could see that in Florence the fashion to introduce triumphal motifs in birth trays (2) and cassoni (3) was diffused after the introduction of triumphs in playing cards. However, if we are content with just one triumph, or a few elements of the genre, then something earlier can be found, and so Howard reported an example of a cassone of the 1430s (4). When, discussing together, he supported the importance of the contribution that could be derived even from individual elements, it was my idea that we should instead look for the entire series, to be able to extend the number of the six triumphs of Petrarch, while maintaining the presence of a clear hierarchy among the elements themselves.

At this point, however, came the second solicitation, independently. This time the responsibility goes to Paola Ventrone who, aware of my research, pointed me toward an old study of the history of the Palio of Siena, which has become the foundation of this note: Palio e contrade nella loro evoluzione storica [Palio and districts in their historical evolution], written by Giovanni Cecchini in the fifties of the last century and reproduced in an an important book dedicated to the Palio and its history (5). Like Howard, Ventrone also evidently judges that one triumphal cart can already provide useful guidance.

To convince me to check the information was precisely the coincidence, also in time, of the two solicitations mentioned: neither alone would put me on the move; to overcome my strong inertia one boost is not enough; it took two, simultaneous and unexpected.

2. The Chariot
[carro] of the Angels

Everybody knows, more or less well, the Palio of Siena and there is no need for a new presentation; the whole Sienese citizenry is involved and has taken part in the event for centuries. In addition to the race true and proper, the connected ceremonies have always been of particular interest, and in particular the solemn procession in which, along a traditional route through the main streets of Siena, the highest civil and religious
4. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1092&start=30#p18084
5. A. Falassi, G. Catoni, Palio. Milan 1982, pp. 309-357.

authorities marched, followed by groups of influential citizens, also representing the historical districts.

At the head of the procession normally advanced a cart on which was mounted the palio that would be awarded the winner of the race; it was a large banner [drappellone] of fine cloth, always different in detail, in more or less vivid colors, richly decorated. For us what matters here is the cart [carro] on which the palio was mounted and presented. The exact type of this cart is not known in detail, but it had specific characteristics, such that it was called the Chariot [carro] of the Angels.

The angels on the cart were real, depicted by a group of children appropriately dressed. These little angels who gave their name to the cart were not the main part. The most significant objects were in fact the same palio mounted on a high pole, which usually ended at the top with the silver statue of a lion, and a large statue of the Madonna. The fact that the angels would pass from being marginal elements of the scene to its protagonists came from an additional special feature: they were not stationary on the cart, but some mechanical contraption made them move up and down around the Madonna. In this way they actually became the focus of attention of all the observers.

From the documents cited by Cecchini for the years 1406 and 1407 we come to know various details, including expenditure for oranges to be distributed to these children.
We see specified (...) that the palio was mounted on a painted pole “so as to serve as a kind of a flagpole on the cart” [“per penare in sul charro”, literally, "for pennanting on the cart"] and had a silver lion on top. This annotation confirms the fact that for some time the palio was carried around on the cart, which was thus the chariot of the Angels to which we have referred, that is, a machine whose armature held up the young people dressed as angels and made them go up and down around an image of the Madonna. And the cart mus have been now quite old, because on 17 August 1406 the Workman of the Cathedral was authorized to spend 10 florins to repair it according to the agreement made with a certain crossbowman named Christopher, as well as an expense of 36 soldi for oranges to give these little angels, certainly to console them for their uncomfortable position. (6)
Can we speak of triumphs in such events? Definitely not, because if a triumph is a statue of the Madonna carried in procession, one would have to conclude that triumphs were common and frequent for some time
6. Ref. 5, p. 319.

in every town small and large and not only in Tuscany. So we will have to attend to the changes in this scene, so that it becomes of interest to us.

in every town small and large and not only in Tuscany. So we will have to attend to the changes in this scene, so that it becomes of interest to us.

3. The Chariot of Love

For the triumphs in playing cards, the earliest date that we know so far is 1440, but we have no precise guidelines on how far back we should still get back to the origin of the new cards. Possibly once it is acknowledged that going back is permissible and indeed desirable, the thirties are presented as the best candidates. The fact of the cart in Siena near the triumphs of our interest occurs just in the time where some of our hopes of finding useful documentation is concentrated: in those years of our interest there was in fact in Siena a major change for the triumphal chariot whose story we are following.
In 1438 the Workman of the Chamber was authorized to spend up to 16 lire "on the chariot of Love”. It was to be the new cart of the palio, and it is curious to see how it had gone from the old sacred chariot of the Angels to this, absolutely profane; the spirit of the Renaissance was also active in Siena, even in its most traditional and sacred festival.(7)
The details of this event, extraordinary even for us, are not known. The importance of that change mainly concerns the atmosphere that the cart evokes; from a technical and construction point of view, the change could require a notably reduced effort. But it is clear to everyone that a Charitot of Love may not have much in common with Our Lady and the angels around her. Now Petrarch had arrived and, above all, the Renaissance. If one looks for documentary testimony of the appearance of triumphal motifs before 1440, the triumph of love of Siena may be added to the few known cases, such as illuminations of the Triumph of Fame present in a few manuscripts.

It should also be noted that the year 1438 of the title does not correspond to the first building of that cart, but only the first time that Cecchini finds it mentioned in the documents. The preserved records show that only five years earlier, when in 1443
7. Ref. 5, p. 321.

Siena was visited by Pope Eugenius IV and his court, the card needed to be replaced or at least repaired.
Because it was necessary to increase significantly the allocation of money for the festival, especially since he was also ordered to redo from scratch the cart for the palio, this that shows as the Chariot of Love, had to be, rather than a real cart, one of those allegorical machines, as became usual in the displays then ordered by the districts. However, this order was unable to be followed, because with hospital expenses, donations to the pope, sultan [the Eastern Emperor, Franco says] and cardinals, and provisions of grain to the population, the municipal coffers were empty, and therefore they had to be content brushing up the old cart.(8)
The motifs used on the Chariot of Love are not clear to us and we can imagine several alternative cases: perhaps the new cart was not built in a fairly solid manner, or by 1438 it had already been introduced and used for several years; we should look for other documents, if they exist.

If we then go still further in years, in addition to the narrow time interval of interest to us, we again find something interesting, because it shows a reasonable connection with something similar happening at that time in Florence. Indeed, as we could imagine, we witness the greatest progress in making these special carts had been in Florence: in 1453 in Siena in fact it was decided that precisely from the Florentine progress could be taken the model for improving the quality of the Sienese cart.
It was then ordered to completely redo the cart of the palio, and they were sent to Florence to see a model. The decoration, in gold, silver and German blue was executed by the painters Antonio Giusa and Antonio di ser Naddo, who received 100 florins in compensation. You see from this, not only how the decoration should be lavish, but also that the resolution of 1443 for the execution of a new cart had remained a dead letter, as often happened to many Sienese resolutions and laws. (9)
Those who know the environment know that for Siena it was not easy, nor frequent, to recognize the superiority of any Florentine product; if it was admitted, it must certainly have been true.
8. Ref. 5, p. 322.
9. Ref. 5, p. 322.


4. Personal Comment

Personally I am in an unusual position, one that is just strange. On the one hand, I sincerely hope that the information presented will be useful to some researchers to get closer to the solution of our problem, limited to the history of playing cards; on the other hand, of this utility I myself am not convinced. The oddity is due especially to being found in sharp contrast to the usual situation. Usually one can be convinced of the validity of a given hypothesis, but then has difficulty convincing the other. Here is rather an attempt to convince others of the validity of the information, without its meeting my criteria of not searching for a single triumph, but for a whole series. In practice, I "had to" write this note after two stimulations received simultaneously by two experts who judge, unlike me, that information of this kind can help to clarify the complex situation of the various historical reconstructions of the origin of the Tarot.

I have no doubts about the veracity of the information, because I know other studies by Giovanni Cecchi, which seem to me totally reliable. Possibly there would be found in the manuscripts of the Siena Archives of State, especially in the register of the Biccherna, clarifications on the date of the transformation of the Chariot from Angels to Love recorded here first in 1438, when it was already in effect, but perhaps going back to the beginning of the decade or even a bit earlier.

To explain the appearance of triumphs in playing cards (with the first notice of 1440 in Florence) events are sought with triumphal characteristics in other aspects of city life and artistic products; among these we find countless examples from around mid-century, but very few before that 1440. Here we recall one of Sienese origin.

For each occurrence of the Palio, the main festival of Siena, a cart was used to transport the new palio (on display, as in triumph) and a scene with figures, leading the solemn civic procession.

In the 1430s - or maybe even a few years before, but we have information only from 1438 - the Chariot of the Angels was exchanged for the Chariot of Love, that is, there occurred in that cart the transformation from a scene in which the Madonna appeared surrounded by moving angels to a scene in which the triumph of Love was shown, obviously very different.

Compared with the six triumphs of Petrarch, to have only one triumph represented here may appear to some - including myself - insufficient data. However, one cannot help but recognize that the change in atmosphere that occurred in Siena with the "small" change in the triumphal car was in reality enormous, in practice changing from the Middle Ages to the High Renaissance. On the other hand this triumph was not just any; it was the primary occasion in which the new palio, with all its honors, was presented to the citizens - the object that was most precious and most characteristic of the whole festival.

Franco Pratesi – 07.12.2016

(by Michael S. Howard)

I will try to explain my reasoning behind valuing the depiction of even one triumphal motif in the period before 1440 in cities known for having the tarot early on. (Siena counts, because its ordinance excluding triumphs as a prohibited game was passed in the same year as that of Florence, 1450.) From there I will go on to evaluating the significance of what Franco has presented in the note translated immediately above. 

Franco says:
...sono personalmente convinto che gli studi su un solo trionfo sono poco utili per il nostro scopo primario di ricostruire la comparsa dei trionfi fra le carte da gioco. Secondo me, si deve cercare l’origine delle carte trionfali in un’intera serie di figure o di episodi che, possibilmente, si presentino in una successione tale che un elemento ne segue un altro secondo una graduatoria facile da identificare.

(... I am personally convinced that studies on one triumph are of little use for our primary purpose of reconstructing the appearance of triumphs among playing cards. In my opinion, one should seek the origin of the triumphal cards in a whole series of figures or episodes that may in fact occur in a sequence, such that one element follows another according to a ranking that is easy to identify.)
What we are looking for is, as Franco puts it elsewhere, “triumphal motifs”, a term that is at this point necessarily vague. But for him it is defined in terms of something that could give rise to the sequence of special cards in the tarot, then called trionfi.

It seems to me that there are two ways the interaction could go: triumphal scenes in other arts influencing the triumph sequence in playing cards, and vice versa, the playing cards influencing the choice of motifs in the other arts. If so, the term “triumphal motifs” becomes necessarily even vaguer, including effects as well as causes of such motifs in the cards.

I will deal with the former direction first, from what we are searching for to the cards. Let me be clear I do not expect that one triumphal motif in isolation, or even 22 such motifs in isolation from one another, would explain the playing card sequence, precisely because it is a sequence. It is the selection of motifs as a group in something like a particular order that must be explained. I agree that it is as an extension of the six triumphs of Petrarch that this probably occurred, and it would be nice to find such sequences in other media. But it may well be that the only such examples were precisely those of Petrarch and Boccaccio. For the rest, it is a matter of adding subjects drawn from other areas of life and art (art being defined broadly, as in “liberal arts”), stuck in where someone thinks it appropriate.

Whatever the truth, knowing how triumphal motifs in other arts were presented even in isolation is useful for understanding various aspects of the sequence’s history: for example, why the cards in one city look different from the cards of another city, if they draw from slightly different preexisting models. Perhaps the presence of certain details in a card can even locate the origin of that detail in a particular city, based on a similarity in other arts of that city, or the approximate dating of a corresponding card.

Also, it is not clear that in the particular cassone I had in mind for one triumph, that of Fame ( ... anPL25.JPG), it is actually in isolation from other triumphs. In that cassone illustration, for example, we can find popes, as well as royalty of both sexes. So if “Pope” is a triumphal motif, loosely enough defined to include all or most of the tarot subjects, then there are at least two such motifs in one “triumph of fame”, more likely four (including Empress and Emperor).

Another example is a depiction of Apollo and Daphne (above), which the Courtauld Institute dates to c. 1430 ( ... i-14051483).  Love, in the person of Cupid, is shown triumphing over Apollo, and Daphne, for the sake of her chastity, over Apollo. Here there are two triumphal motifs. Does this count as a predecessor of the tarot? (Never mind its relationship to the Marziano, which seems to have had the odd relationship of Apollo triumphing over both Daphne and Cupid; see chart at For my postulated tarot-predecessor, there is even a Cupid above the couple, just as on every version of the card. Or is it simply a cassone illustrating an episode in Ovid? To answer this question, we need to look at the cassone in the context of other cassoni to see what the habitual mode of interpretation was, whether of love and chastity and the battle between them, or something else (assuming that in the tarot chastity=chariot, as it seems to in the Cary-Yale).

In actual fact, if we look at the stories, usually from Ovid or Boccaccio, that are illustrated in the cassoni of the period, we see many cases of love and chastity being at odds, and one or the other winning. One example is Boccaccio's Tesseida, on a cassone now in Stuttgart, c. 1425 ( ... g.php?id=3). Two men, one associated with Mars and the other with Venus (according to Paul Watson in Virtus and voluptas in cassone painting. Ph.D. Diss. Yale University, New Haven 1970) , are in love with the same woman, who of course is associated with Diana. The Martian interrupts the Venusian's wooing and challenges him to a duel; instead, they have a public trial by combat. Mars wins but dies of his wounds (thanks to Venus) soon after. So the Venusian gets the girl, whom he weds and beds (I am not sure on the order). It is the triumph of Venus over Mars, love over war, Venus over Diana, love over chastity.

Another example is Boccaccio's Ninfale Fiesoleano, in 3 surviving cassoni c. 1430. Diana is observed with her nymphs by a passing hunter, who falls in love instantly with one of the nymphs. Venus appears to him in a dream and promises him the nymph, if he will follow her. He catches the nymph by herself and proclaims his love for her. She throws her spear at him, but in so doing looks him in the eye and so is entranced by his beauty. Venus in a dream advises him to disguise himself as a nymph, join the band, and grab her when he has his chance. He does so, When the nymphs take off their clothes to bathe in a stream, his chance comes, and she yields. It is the victory of Venus over Diana. The nymph feels guilt for what she has done and rejects the young man. When Diana sees the ensuing child, she turns the nymph into a stream, in fact the very one that flows by the Villa I Tatti. Chastity is avenged. In this case, love's triumph was not within marriage, so the result is an unhappy one.

An example of the opposite type is that of Acteon and Diana. When he experiences lascivious pleasure at seeing her and her nymphs bathing, she turns him into her animal; it is the victory of Chastity over Desire. At the same time, the viewer enjoys the forbidden pleasure of seeing what Acteon saw.

There are other such examples. Even a simple "garden of love" is an example of chastity vs. love. The groom's party takes the bride from her house to the groom's in a triumphal procession. Her chastity is overcome by his love, but since it is sanctified by marriage it is also the setting for a victory of another kind of chastity, that of the married person, a chastity that dictates the faithfulness of the two to each other, a chastity that will be tested over time.

Another type of example, not of love and chastity but of other triumphal subjects featured in the tarot, is that manuscript illuminations of virtues shown triumphing over corresponding vices, although not  triumphing over one other. Does that count as a predecessor of the corresponding tarot cards, assuming the order of the whole comes from elsewhere? I would not think that they would likely be an original basis for the tarot sequence, precisely because they do not form a sequence of one triumphing over another. That does not count against their being inserted into such a sequence with others that do fit the triumphing pattern, e.g.. the Petrarchan ones, in some order, such that their place in the order either has to be memorized by rote, or with a rationale, either taught to one or made up ad hoc by the player himself as an aid to the memory.

Of the John the Baptist processions in Florence, even if they do not show “our” themes, yet they influence how people saw sequences of images, i.e. a procession of banners with images of animals representing 4 districts in each of 4 quarters of the city gets people used to a 4x4 structure in a sequence. Seeing a series of floats illustrating key events in the Bible in temporal order gets people used to a sequence of triumphs as telling a story, even one with eschatological implications.

Such considerations can help us to see how a sequence, one that in its conceptual beginning may have had only 6 triumphal motifs strictly analogous allegorically to the idea of one card “triumphing over” others in a trick-taking game, could expand to 22, in which the allegorical motif of “triumphing over” the preceding one no longer holds in every case. It may be groups of cards triumphing over other groups of cards, or like in the Bible, where events succeed one another without “triumphing over” the preceding one, even though there are triumphs over preceding conditions along the way (e.g. the crucifixion as a triumph over “original sin”). In short, I do not see why there has to be an artifact such as what Franco is looking for, an expanded version of Petrarch’s 6 triumphs, in which each somehow “triumphs over” the one before. And if not, then anything reminiscent of some aspect of the sequence can reasonably considered of relevance.

Let me be clear that I do not consider a float in Siena, even leading their most important parade, of much relevance as part of the causal chain leading to the tarot sequence. It is simply a repetition of what is already in Petrarch’s and Boccaccio’s poems. The only bearing it could have would be as showing visiting craftsmen from Florence the popularity of the theme.

However that is not to say that such floats in general, before even 1406's Madonna and angels, play no part in the causal chain. Processions with saints are related in concept to processions with military heroes: both are elevated figures, physically as well as in importance, seen as playing important roles in the triumph over evil, whether civic or cosmic. Cards with saints are an important predecessor to cards with triumphs; saints are in fact triumphal figures whose effigies were frequently carried in processions. By themselves, of course, they are insufficient to bring about the cards we know as triumphal. But that there ever was some one thing that brought about those cards seems to me an unjustified assumption.

Now let me turn to the question of influence in the other direction, from the images on the cards to the other arts. Are the cassoni depictions of the six Petrarchan triumphs that start appearing in around 1440 or a little earlier reflections of the same themes in a new deck of playing cards? And if so, can we assume that since we only start seeing these motifs in c. 1440, that the game was not diffused in Florence before that date? Florentine craftsmen worked in a market economy where families vied with each other for the most prestige, and the minor arts are means of acquiring such prestige. The use of certain themes by leading families, even in playing cards, would be expected to evoke similar use on the part of other well to do families.

The problem is that the images on some of the cards do not correspond in spirit to the images in Petrarch or the illustrations to his poem. The Triumph of Love motif of Petrarch is that of people being made captive or slain by Love, shown tied by ropes or slain by his arrows. On the cards, what we see are examples of love as ennobling: a man on his knees before his beloved (see below) or bowing to her as they shake hands to seal the marriage vows (in the Cary-Yale and PMB decks of Milan). And in the cards there are no aloof young virgins who will not give in to love, but rather, in one motif, a male triumphator in condotiere garb, as though in a military parade, or holding a globe signifying the world. If it is a female charioteer, it is the prospective bride on the way to her wedding, or even after the wedding on her way to the groom's house. The groom himself is the groom of her horses.  Likewise there is no card corresponding to Fame as a crowd of people surrounding a lady enclosed in a circle; nor is there an image of God or Christ in a mandorla. Instead, it is an actual world with hills and castles. On the cards, the images are either standard medieval images or else, in the case of Love and Chasitty, reflective of their conceptions as depicted in the period before 1440.

As I have tried to show, triumphal images of Love and Chastity are not unknown in pre-1440 Florentine birth trays and cassoni, in ways that, like the cards, reference a different concept than Petrarch's. Such examples count against the idea that such themes were not present in playing cards then. Yet these examples are unsatisfying: they are mostly not part of any tarot-like sequence; in many cases they derive from sources other than Petrarch’s and Boccaccio’s poems; and in many respects they do not resemble pictorially the cards they might be thought to have been inspired by. Their inspiration would just as likely have had nothing to do with the presence of the tarot at that time.

It is true that there seems to be a progress from Love to Death to Eternity in the cards of that time in Florence. If we see the Chariot and Virtue cards as representing Virtue = Chastity generalized, the Celestials as equaling Time, and Fame as expressed in the Tower card (as the Tower of Babel, made, the Vulgate said, to make its builders famous), the whole sequence could fit, after a fashion. So couldn't such a sequence, even if only partially paralleling that of Petrarch's, have been what got the cassoni going? The problem is that there was a change in theme among cassoni and the minor arts generally in Florence around that time, from scenes of sensuous pleasure to those of heroic deeds and its resulting fame: Jason recovering the Golden Fleece, the Greeks with their wooden horse, the Continence of Scipio and the Fall of Carthage, battles against Asian barbarians, martial or steadfastly self-sacrificing women. Petrarch's poem fits that change, which is the more likely cause of the interest in the poem and its resulting illustrations in the minor arts, not the tarot.

I am not sure how well the converse works. If there are examples of triumphal motifs reminiscent in some way, in imagery or concept, of the cards, does that mean that the cards were popular at that place and time? Not necessarily: the virtues that we see in the cards, for example, were in sculptures and reliefs everywhere for a long time before. Depictions of popes would no doubt have been in many places. Also, the themes of Love and Chastity were common enough among the literature read by the cultured elite of Florence. 

But putting Love in place of the Madonna in Siena is a different order of magnitude. The palio procession is on the same level as public art, such as the images of the virtues seen in government buildings and churches. But Cupid did not have the same acceptance in church and publicart then in Siena as the virtues. For a triumph of love to be leading the most important procession in Siena, in place of a Madonna, something has indeed changed.

I am reminded of a local festival I once stumbled upon, back in the 1960s, in a small English village. The parade had plenty of people in traditional costume—bagpipers, Morris dancers and the like—but also four young men with electric guitars looking like the Beatles.

Are Boccaccio and Petrarch so popular in Siena of the 1430s that the presence of a motif from their poems is no surprise? Books are scarce, and so is literacy. If nothing else, Sienese pride might have mitigated against such Florentine inspiration, as Franco reminds us.

It might be that Siena, like Florence, had processions of people carrying cassoni in wedding processions, and that these cassoni had scenes depicting the triumph of love in such a way that it could be adapted to a float in a procession. But again, would such cassoni be such as to lead to the change from a Madonna to a triumph of love? Perhaps.

If the game of triumphs is popular, a game of which no one knew the origin (even then), then a triumph of love would be a festive nod to the crowd. Here is something you will recognize and of interest to all, it says; we are not all sanctity and reverence; there is also fun.

I imagine the card would have looked something like these (Metropolitan sheet, Rosenwald sheet, Cary sheet, Rothschild sheet), but we don’t really know.
( ... amore.html)


Unfortunately, we know even less about the “chariot of love” cart in Siena. One possibility is a young boy with wings and a bow and arrow, maybe in a state of undress, or flesh-colored tights, the palio above him and one or more couples below—not bound by ropes, but in loving poses. If so, the resemblance would be close enough. It would not be proof of the presence of the popular tarot in the town, but it at least be evidence in that direction.

On the other hand, if it is a young winged man with bow and arrows and with him on the same level a young maiden, then that comes from Boccaccio's Amorosa Visione, which describes the poet's beloved as "shining at Love's side" (dall'altro lato a Amor vidi lucia, XV.60). The same if it is a garden with loving couples and no Cupid. If it shows just Cupid at the top and below him people bound with ropes or slain, that is Petrarch ("some of them were but captives, some were slain"). If it is couples in a garden, that is a theme from cassoni, with nothing to do with the cards.  If it has only a young lady on top, that too is not related to the tarot image; that would be Venus, as on a "triumph of Venus" birth tray of c. 1400 Florence. (; dating from

Given how little we know about this "chariot of love", whether it would be worth the effort to examine the records in Siena to see when this innovation came into effect I do not know. I expect that the author Franco was quoting from has already done that and not found anything. In any event, I am grateful to him for bringing this change in custom to our attention.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Nov. 26, 2016, 1426-1440 Florence: Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily

(by Michael S. Howard)

This note reports his search in the "libri del giglio" for all the years 1426-1440, done with no expectation of anything interesting and not, in that regard, either disappointed or surprised. The original, "1426-1440: Firenze – Condanne per giochi di carte nei Libri del Giglio", is at, dated Nov. 26, 2016. This translation originally appeared on Tarot History Forum at

Comments in brackets are by me. I thank Franco for help in translating some of the more unusual words. With the two other notes referenced in the article, this completes Franco's survey of all the "books of the lily" for convictions for playing triumphs in the period from 1401 to 1450, in which only two explicit mentions were found, both in 1444 and probably the same incident.

1426-1440: Florence - Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily
(by Franco Pratesi)

1. Introduction

In the last two years I have studied many times the Books of the Lily, containing the official records of the special revenue of the court [camera] of the commune, preserved in the State Archives of Florence. My attention was drawn especially to the fines paid by gamblers [giocatore d'azzardo] caught in the act. In the fifteenth century, with advancing years, it is observed that these documents for fines for games [gioco] become less frequent, until they disappear altogether. Also because of this observation, I decided to study year by year the records up to 1425 only [starting at 1401] (1), then moved to one sample study, of a book every five years, until the end of the series (2). From this sample study it turned out that the year 1445 had a record of infringements of interest much richer than average and this figure abnormally pushed me to resume the study and examine individual annual records for all the 1440s. After that further investigation, not planned initially, I saw no need to continue to examine those records again, and in particular to consult even those which I had hitherto neglected. Among other things, for the years that were left without documentation from this series of books, there was already some indicative data from the Captain's documents and the conservators of the laws.

Personally, I did not expect anything important from an examination of the records not studied and considered that quest completed. Some discussions recently appearing on the Tarot History Forum have been a push to return to consulting these books. Evidently some experts count on the possibility that, also studying the neglected books, one could find other significant data, like the two triumph players who unexpectedly appeared in 1444. The hope - or illusion as it may be - above all concerns the possibility of finding here some games of triumphs documented before 1440, the earliest date known today.

At least one expert (present as Phaeded on Tarot History Forum, but there will probably be more than one thinking like him) is convinced that the triumphs entered the playing cards as a result of the Battle of Anghiari (3). Then it is obvious that it would be enough to find some triumphs player sentenced before the battle to immediately refute that theory. But even without an interest in the case, to go back a bit further in time and get closer to the origin of the triumphs seems desirable to all experts: any step forward, however small, would serve to simplify the discussion; the views expressed in this respect differ only on how far back in time it is reasonable to go.

2. Books of the Lily

I have consulted Books of the the Lily No 22 to No. 35 inclusive, that is, from the year 1426 to 1440, as indicated in the table with the relevant data. These books were compiled annually by notaries of the common room in Florence, using sheets of large paper (about 40x30cm) and thicker than average, bound in parchment and often with a beautiful shield painted on the cover containing the red lily, the emblem of Florence. Most of the books examined are formed of 96 pages, but some have different numbers; the number of total pages, however, is not very significant, given the significant presence of white pages left over.

To compile these books there was a standard procedure, so that a given year could serve as a model for the next year’s book. The clerk in charge of compiling began with the number the pages and assigned a preset number to the various sections. The first section was always reserved for the podestà [like a mayor]; the previous page usually contained an index which referred to the initial page of the various subsequent sections. The second section was the captain of the people, and began as a rule at c. 10r or 12r (but in the early years considered starting from c. 20r, thus leaving more room for the podestà’s convictions). The third section was the executor of the systems of justice and typically began at c. 18r.
3. viewtopic.php?f=11&t=950

Subsequent sections are not of interest to us because they concerned revenue from other types of fines - absence from guard duty or council, women with too rich attire – or other revenue such as bail bonds for the Stinche [Florentine prison], or the amounts for rector leave permits (due to temporary absences from the office headquarters). In rare cases, the required pages for a given section were insufficient, and thus a second section was opened in the remaining white pages in other sections. Much more commonly encountered was the opposite case, where the pages reserved for a given section remained largely empty: if you took out the white pages, these large volumes would become very thin files. More details on each of the manuscript of the whole series can be found in the Inventorio dedicated to these books (4).

We are interested only the first three sections, of the podestà, the captain and the executor These three foreign rectors and the respective groups of notaries and guards had various tasks, and the activity that we encounter documented here was certainly secondary. For our part we cannot make a distinction among the three personages and study them together regarding what was collected in these books.

What is involved is in any case the registration of the commune revenue established in these three sections, however, exclusively in fines paid by those who were caught in the act carrying weapons, gambling [giocare d'azzardo], or going out at night. Our interest is limited to gambling games [giochi d’azzardo], especially looking for players of naibi. These infringements were initially controlled only by the three foreign rectors, but in the time of our interest the executor's office was abolished and for these tasks of civic policing the podestà and captain were put side by side and gradually replaced by conservators of the laws and the eight of the guard (of whose documents of that time, however, we find only fragments).

3. Overall results

The study was based on individual books with annual registrations, but some assumptions are necessary. The data of interest presented in the Books of the Lily are not precisely defined. For our main purpose of finding documentation of card games, and potentially
4. Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Inventario V/500.

triumphs, we cannot reconstruct exactly the situation at the time. For one thing, it should always be remembered that here you only see cases where players were caught in the act and forced to pay the fine, while countless other cases could be accounted without incurring penalties.

The main shortcoming of this data for our purpose is, however, that the type of game is almost never distinguished. The game of Zara [a dice game], which probably was the most widely played, is explicitly mentioned in a very small part of the records. I summarize the figures in the table below, in which the last three columns are reserved for the total number of fines, the total of those for games and the number of those which indicated explicitly cards or naibi. The year in question is the main one of the register, but in fact the documentation always begins in these books with 1 February and ends in January, inclusive, of the following year.

A detail that I did not follow, but which could be studied with profit if one wanted to go more deeply, is the assignment of the data in correspondence to the rectors: the office of foreign rectors usually lasted six months and fines recorded in each section of the book are usually by the action of three different groups present one after the other, that of the central half being wholly one group; but at the beginning the records match the final activity of the previous group, while the last record is associated with the initial activity of the group that was then beginning its duty. If two successive rectors had a very different attitude in controlling offenses - one more rigid, one more tolerant - we might see here a behavior in essence corresponding to the average between the two.

These cautions are intended to once again warn against a supposed statistical validity of the data collected. The reported figures are in fact considered as guidelines. If this were not enough, I can add that I have counted the items only once, without checking the number (something that with numbers you should never do), so that in the data listed there may be some elementary errors.

*No. 22 is severely damaged; there are only fragments of a few pages, and not of the first three sections of interest. **Here the fines for absence at council are not counted, which in other books are listed separately. ***The entire c. 18, which contained most of the executor's records, is missing.

Especially in the particular case of card games it would be absurd to use these results to obtain statistical evaluations, the number of cases not being obtainable in which the game indicated without specification could be that of our interest; This applies particularly to cards and naibi, but at the limit could also relate to triumphs.

The number of naibi players we find here is only a small part of the whole. In the first place it is possible, and in some cases could be confirmed, from the books of the rector who had made the conviction, that the cases here registered simply as “game” might have been regarded precisely as the game of naibi. The situation could have been much more favorable for us if the card games were punished by a fine different from dice games; but instead, being only the fine, the record did not distinguish what case it was, with certain exceptions.

It seems clear from various indications that the players punished by the foreign rectors’ groups were only one part even among those surprised playing. Generally it seems to convey a not very severe attitude by the guards. Even in the worse alternative of captures, in a substantial number of cases an anonymity is allowed to the incriminated, with which they avoided at least the most severe penalties, established for repeat offenders; that in itself is a clear indication that the guards acted with considerable autonomy. Often one gets the impression that one player was punished for all, maybe choosing a foreigner or a Florentine poor person.

Even more indicative are the frequent records of coats or other clothing items left by the players who managed to escape from the place of the crime. The indicted would not be able to escape capture so easily if their escape had not been most often permitted, if not favored, by the same guards. To confirm this assumption we find that in many cases we do not read that the coat in question had been abandoned, but it is frankly written that the coat had been tolto a uno che giuchava, removed from one who played, by guards.

[Translator's Note: here I am translating “giuchava a naibi” and the like as “played”, as opposed to "gambled", even though gambling is assumed. In this note, I use "gambling" to translate "gioco" or "giocare" only when "game" or "playing" is inappropriate in English. In Italian there is no separate word "gambling"; it is as though we were to say "gaming", but in English the usual word is "gambling" or "playing".]

4. Fines for card games

For card games I can add new data to that already communicated; I extract from the registration in the document only the phrases of major interest; I do not keep the spelling, often present, of naibj, the manner then

current of writing the final i at the end of any word; the date of capture is entered in yyyymmdd format.

[Translator’s note: “Baptized” refers to the practice of dumping water over a person who had been imprisoned in lieu of paying the fine, a ceremonial forgiveness of the sin upon his release, perhaps including an agreement to leave town. I thank Franco for help in translating this part.]
Libri del Giglio N. 23
(Cap) c. 16v 14271010 Uno mantello tolto a uno che giuchava a naibi.
(Cap) c. 17v 14271125 Uno mantello romagnuolo tolto a uno che giuchava alle charte.
(Ese) c. 22r 14271226 Uno mantello turchino tolto a uno che giuchava overo stava a vedere al giuocho delle charte.
(Ese) c. 22r 14271226 Uno mantello di panno nero a uno che giuchava come sopra.

[Books of the Lily No. 23
(Cap) c. 16v 14271010 One coat removed from one who played at naibi.
(Cap) c. 17v 14271125 One coat of Romagna removed from one who played at cards.
(Exe) c. 22r 14271226 A blue coat removed from one who played at cards or was observing the game of cards.
(Exe) c. 22r 14271226 A coat of black cloth from one who played as above.]

Libri del Giglio N. 24
(Cap) c. 13r 14280405 Piero d’Antonio calçolaio preso perché giuchava alle charte.
(Cap) c. 13v 14280418 Uno che non volle dire il nome trovato giuchare alle charte (altri sembrano insieme ma non è specificato il gioco).
(Ese) c. 22v 14281114 Guasparre di Zanobi chalzaiuolo popolo di Santo Piero Magiore preso perché fu trovato giuchare al giuocho de naibi.
(Ese) c. 22v 14281114 Francesco di Giovanni di Salvi popolo di Santo Piero Magiore preso perché giuchava a naibi.
(Ese) c. 22v 14281114 Jacopo di Piero di Santi popolo di Santo Ambrogio perché giuchava al giuocho de naibi.

[Books of the Lily No. 24
(Cap) c. 13r 14280405 Piero d'Antonio calçolaio [shoemaker] taken because he played at cards
(Cap) c. 13v 14280418 One who did not want to give his name found playing at cards (seems with the other but the game is not specified).
(Exe) c. 22v 14281114 Guasparre di Zanobi chalzaiuolo [stocking maker] district of San Piero Magiore taken because he was found playing at game of naibi.
(Exe) c. 22v 14281114 Francesco di Giovanni Salvi district of Santo Piero Magiore taken because he played at naibi.
(Exe) c. 22v 14281114 Jacopo di Piero di Santi district of San Ambrogio because he played at game of naibi.]

Libri del Giglio N. 25
(Pod) c. 4v 14290702 Antonio di Salvi da Agnone e
(Pod) c. 4v 14290702 Jachopo di Pace di Chasentino furono trovati giuchare ale charte.
(Pod) c. 6r 14290913 Michele di Michele da la Magna fu preso per giuocho de le charte (battezzato).
(Pod) c. 6r 14290913 Romanello di Christofano da Roma fu preso per giuocho de le charte.
(Pod) c. 6r 14290913 Antonio di Chola da Viterbo fu preso per giuocho de le charte.
(Pod) c. 6v 14290918 Uno mantello di cholore cilestrino duno che si fuggì che giuchava a naibi.
(Pod) c. 6v 14290918 Uno chappuccio di cholore cilestrino preso per giuocho di naibi.
(Cap) c. 16r 14290719 Antonio di Mateo da Firenze fu preso per giuocho de naibi, overo charte.
(Ese) c. 18r 14290205 Due sanza nome furono presi per giuchare alle charte fuori della porta.
(Ese) c. 20r 14290703 Antonio di Stefano di Francesco popolo S. Lorenzo di Firenze fu preso per giuocho delle charte de naibi.

[Books of the Lily No. 25
(Pod) c. 4v 14290702 Antonio Salvi of Agnone and
(Pod) c. 4v 14290702 Jachopo di Pace of Chasentino were found playing at cards.
(Pod) c. 6r 14290913 Michele di Michele of Germany was taken for game of cards (baptized).
(Pod) c. 6r 14290913 Romanello di Christofano of Rome was taken for game of cards.
(Pod) c. 6r 14290913 Antonio di Chola of Viterbo was taken for game of cards.
(Pod) c. 6v 14290918 One coat of pale blue color from one who fled who played naibi.
(Pod) c. 6v 14290918 One hood bluish color taken for game of naibi.
(Cap) c. 16r 14290719 Antonio Mateo of Florence was taken for game of naibi, or cards.
(Exe) c. 18r 14290205 Two without name were taken for playing at cards outside the door [or gate].
(Exe) c. 20r 14290703 Antonio di Stefano Francesco district of San Lorenzo di Firenze was taken for game of cards of naibi.]

Libri del Giglio N. 27
(Cap) c. 12v 14310521 Uno sanza nome fu preso per giuocho de naibi (battezzato).
(Cap) c. 12v 14310529 Una giornea nera e uno capuccio cilestrino tolti a uno che giuchava a naibi.
(Cap) c. 13r 14310603 Matteo Melanese da Prato fu preso per giuocho di naibi.
(Cap) c. 13v 14310809 Baldassarre di Bartolomeo del popolo di Santa Croce fu preso per giuocho di naibi.
(Cap) c. 13v 14310809 Piero di Francia fu preso per giuocho di naibi.

[Books of the Lily no. 27
(Cap) c. 12v 14310521 One without name was taken for game of naibi (baptized).
(Cap) c. 12v 14310529 One black tunic and one pale blue hood removed from one who played at naibi.
(Cap) c. 13r 14310603 Matteo, Milanese of Prato, was taken for game of naibi.
(Cap) c. 13v 14310809 Baldassare di Bartolomeo of the district of Santa Croce was taken for game of naibi.
(Cap) c. 13v 14310809 Piero of France was taken for game of naibi.]

It is found that at the time the use of the term “cards” or naibi was indifferent for the related game. Also confirmed is the observation of the frequent presence of foreigners and unidentified players among the convicted, as well as those who do not appear because they "escaped." The fact remains firm that this information about card games is only valid as far as it is explicitly registered; not vice versa, usable to exclude its presence when we read only of convictions for games.

The purpose of this further research, however, went further: not only to identify card players among those convicted of gambling, but also any players of triumphs among the card players. Personally I was not too disappointed that I have not found any trace of triumphs; if we want to indicate the earliest date (actually, the only) obtainable from documents of this kind we should stop at 1444. Finding those two cases was already an exceptional occasion; the presence of those sentences is not to suggest that the the game of triumphs was strictly prohibited in Florence in those years; we can legitimately assume that in other environments and among other players it was now widespread, so much so as to discover among the playing cards commonly produced and sold in the city even those more recently introduced decks.

Even if the fact that for the years 1426 to 1440 no conviction of that sort was not found, we are not permitted to infer that triumphs were still not widespread among the Florentine population. As with other card games, also for the game of triumphs the absence of a witness does not necessarily correspond to the absence of the event of interest. On the other hand, neither is it reasonable to consider the absence of convictions for triumphs as proof that the game existed and was allowed, albeit informally.

5. Data from different archives.

In some cases we can do cross-checks with data recorded in several books, and especially with the books kept by the foreign rector during the semester in which he was in office. In this way we can also clarify some items that had remained of uncertain reading. So, for example, a few sentences of this type are recorded also in the Books of the Captain (5). Comparing to the data already reported I can now dissolve the uncertainty about the origin of Baldassare di Bartolomeo: the district that I had failed to read was simply that of Santa Croce (Holy Cross).

But the most interesting of these comparisons is that of verifying whether they are the same items or if the specification of the game is only present in some. In particular, some convictions for card games had been reported in the Books of the Captain that are not found in the Books of the Lily, which are simply indicated as convictions for games. Even these examples may be helpful, however, if only to correct some data previously found, including the transcription of difficult to read names, or to add some particular.

Thus for 1427 we find (here with only the indication of “game” and not “cards”) Piero Neri Piccolino from Castel San Giovanni and a Giulianodi Guasparre of borough San Felice in Piazza (instead of Antonio Gaspero of S. Felicita; among the saints Felice and Felicita I will have certainly erred, but I hope not also between Antonio and Giuliano). For 1429 we find Ulivieri Antonio of the borough of San Romolo, Bartolo instead of Bartolomeo and Domenico di Martino from Vinegia (instead of Valencia), with the last player who does not pay because baptized, however, registered only for games [gioco] in the Books of the Lily.

Similar cases may have occurred for other years and other foreign rectors. Sometimes the opposite case also happens, of card games present in the Books of the Lily and indicated only as a game in the books of the foreign rector. However, the impression is given that the increase in numbers derivable from these cross-checks reveal rather limited results, without dissolving the fundamental question that a significant increase in the fraction of card games to the total games remains hidden forever under the generality of giuocho that we read in these documents.
5. ... P400-Z.pdf

A different case is that of a cross-check that takes into account the activity of conservators of the laws (6). In those documents you will find that the information came primarily from complaints lodged by means of tamburazioni [use of a kind of ballot box for depositing names secretly but not usually anonymously], and many of those cases ended with the acquittal of the one denounced; for this reason it would be useless to look for them in the Books of the Lily.

6. Conclusion

The Books of the Lily from 1426 to 1440 have been examined in order to complete the picture of the results already obtained in previous years and for the ten years after. Attention has been focused on fines for gambling, which unfortunately were the same for the different types of game, from dice to cards, so rarely specified by type. The convictions for games by the foreign rectors showed overall a tendency to decrease over the years but not obtaining certainties on the fraction of card games in the total. Typically we get the impression that the controls were not very strict.

The hope (on my part, in fact little) was to find in these books of the Lily not just some further indication on naibi, as indeed has been found, but also on triumphs. To justify such a hope could be considered two testimonies on triumphs found for the year 1444; that case was not at all expected and one could think that even for some previous years we would have again met a surprise of that kind.

Regarding card games, few indications are found; not only were none found for triumphs, but advancing into the 1430s there are no longer even explicit records of card games. Because of the insufficient precision of recorded items, the absence in the Books of the Lily examined of sentencing for triumphs – as verified here from 1426 to 1440 - cannot be used as proof that the game does not yet exist, nor, conversely, that it was now considered perfectly acceptable and no longer subject to fines.

Franco Pratesi – 26.11.2016