Monday, November 7, 2016

Oct. 4, 2016: Earliest triumphs

Translator's introduction
(by Michael S. Howard)

Here I offer my translation of "Primi trionfi, proposte contrastanti e prospettive" (, a long note (32 pages!) that Franco recently wrote for a friend of his who knows nothing of tarot but does know Florentine history. It starts out simply but quickly gets much more complex. Although he repeats things he has said in the past, he integrates them and presents the current state of his thinking (well, probably not all of it) on the subject.

I have asked Franco numerous questions regarding the translation. I hope that as a result I have at least not distorted his meaning. Comments in brackets are mine, although based on information I have received from Franco. That includes the correspondences, in the footnotes, between pages in his recent book and pieces by him available on the Web. There is also the word "prospettive" in the title. As becomes clear by the end of the note, the word in Italian means not only "perspective", i.e. point of view, but also "prospect", i.e. outlook for future research. "Outlook" in English seems better than either "perspectives" or "prospects", for conveying both ideas. I would welcome any suggestions to improve the translation of what turned out to be a somewhat challenging piece. I first posted my translation at, where considerable discussion follows.

After the translation of Pratesi's note, I have put my initial comments about it, first posted Oct. 29, 2016--almost as long as Franco's post itself. These comments are also reflections on another note of Franco's, that on "Triumphi and Trionfi". Needless to say, I found Franco's notes rather stimulating. 

Earliest triumphs: contrasting proposals and outlooks

1. Introduction

For the history of playing cards and of course the games played with them, there are two important dates in the city of Florence: 1377, the first indisputable date for playing cards in Europe, and 1440, the first ever for the presence of the name of triumphs (same or similar to tarot) among playing cards. In the second case one thinks of an Italian origin; in the first case the story is longer and even less defined: mostly an origin from Egypt ruled by the Mamluks is supposed, with previous passage from Central Asia, originally, however, coming from China around the year 1000.

I have done studies and research on the specifically Florentine situation for both dates, sporadically in the years prior to about 1985 to 2000 and then almost full time since 2011. In 2016 I collected in a book the main studies that I had written previously on the subject (Fig.1) (1); for convenience in the following I will cite my studies using this book (stating in a footnote simply “book” and the numbers of the corresponding pages), but some were published originally in English, even many years ago, at the initial stage of my research in this field. In some cases I will also make ample use of large sections of my notes included at and, recycling parts already published. [Translator’s note: assuming that most readers will not have this book, I will be giving also the appropriate references to the original studies, and in English not only to the studies originally written in English but also to translations I have done of studies originally in Italian.]

Fig. 1, book cited in text:

Here I intend to neglect the problems of 1377, devoting full attention to those of 1440. It has therefore to do with the origin of the tarot. The subject has interested in a strange way many fans of fortune-telling and divination in general; I say strangely because I am accustomed to reading in their books a preference for fictional stories over authentic ones; therefore, if one finds, as I did (2), two triumph players sentenced already in 1444 because they played in the streets of Florence, the thing does not interest or disturb them at all. Instead, I have come to the history of tarot from that of chess and
1. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nella repubblica fiorentina [Card games in the Florentine republic]. Ariccia 2016.
2. Book 2, 257-264. [, translated online here as entry for Oct. 12, 2015]

checkers; its use in divination I can respect or not, but in any case it does not concern me; the cards interest me as used in games, and the game done with the tarot was an intelligent game.

Now, after the publication of the book, I intend to take advantage of a pause for reflection before probing other archives, assuming that in the future it will be possible for me to still find fifteenth century documents that are as yet unknown or almost so. The present summary is intended to report problems that remain open and to stimulate some researchers in pursuing this study.

2. Existing Cards

In the discussion about tarot and its basis we frequently encounter speculative reconstructions, taking as their bases decks of cards of which the actual existence remains unproven. Before entering that slippery territory it seems appropriate to recall the bases of departure, in so far as they securely existed during the long life of tarot cards utilized in a variety of card games; the types of cards in question will be summarized, and of the games in which they were used.

2.1 Ordinary deck.

Games with tarot cards belong to the more general field of games with trumps, which have had very wide following among card players, up to the contract bridge of today (in which, however, the term “trump” is never used). For these the presence of a special suit with cards having the function of trumps is not necessary; a typical example, very old, is Hispanic triumphs, a game of the trump type that was done with the ordinary deck without need of added superior cards. Normally it is one of the four suits that assumes the function of trump cards, often based on chance, sometimes, as in bridge, the result of a choice linked to a "contract", with a commitment to achieve a given number of tricks or points.

From ancient times cases have been reported in which some cards of an ordinary deck take on values different from those of their hierarchy in the card's suit. A subsequent case that found wide diffusion in Europe was the Spanish game of Hombre in which, although based on the choice of one of the suits as trump, the first and the third highest trumps were consistently the ace of swords and the ace of staves. Even more interesting in our context are some notices about the very old game of Karnöffel, diffused in Switzerland and Germany. In the ordinary deck, without added triumphal cards, some cards had special attributions: not only did they have special functions in the game, but they were even known by specific names - devil, pope, emperor, etc. -

that strongly recall some tarot cards (which are, however, known from later dates).

2.2 Various Tarot decks

The tarot deck has enjoyed great fortune among card players, undergoing some major and minor alterations depending on the time and place in which it was used. The most common deck has four suits of fourteen cards and twenty-two superior cards. A special feature of this deck is that of having four picture cards per suit instead of the usual three, with the presence of both the queen and the knight between the king and the jack, cards of which in Italy, as an alternative, one or the othe is present, depending on the region. The suits are often the traditional Italian ones of coins, cups, swords and staves, but there are also newer decks with the suits of diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs.

Often the number of 78 cards typically present was considered too high to be appropriate for the game, and therefore the use of reduced decks enters in, mostly with the deletion of some number cards. After the traditional tarot of Bologna (62 cards) and Sicily (63 cards), the most widely used deck by players in Central Europe [here meaning, roughly, Bavaria and the former Habsburg Empire] has become one of 54 cards, in which the number cards are only four per suit. In Florence, however, the most popular deck of tarot cards was for centuries that of minchiate, where the superior cards rose to forty, thereby bringing the total number of cards in the deck to 97.

However it must be recognized that the deck of 78 cards, now used internationally mainly by fortune tellers, was in the past the one most used in the game, with a tradition remaining alive for a long time in northern Italy and France. The main feature of this particular deck is the presence of the series of twenty-two superior cards, which deserve a separate comment.

2.3. Sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards

What the typical composition of the Tarot is, we can indicate in relation to the largest users of today, those fortune tellers who renamed the twenty-two superior cards "major arcana." Already the use of

the word “arcana” sounds foreign to any reasonable historical reconstruction for the oldest times, but the justification can be understood. For those looking for signs to predict future events of concern, we must recognize that cards where angels and devils, love and death, moon and stars, and so on appear, are better suited for the purpose than reading palms or coffee grounds. Also, using a new name avoids the mess of calling both the tarot deck and its superior cards “triumphs,” even if originally the term was used for both. Here, unable to endure “arcana”, and in the absence of anything better, I will speak of "triumphal cards", distinct from the "number cards", from 1 to 10, and the "picture cards": page, horse or knight, queen, and king .

The most firmly established order of rank of the triumphal cards is that indicated in the following table, with the Fool [Matto] understood as out of the ranking because of its different role in the game. [Translator’s note: I assume there is no need to translate the terms in the table for this audience.]
This sequence is the principal object of discussion among historians of the tarot, with understandable attention to its meaning and origin. Predictably, variants also developed in the sequence of triumphal cards, depending on the locations and times where the tarot deck was used for games; however, they are always variations on the same theme, involving minor things, such as a few changes in the order of play or the significance of a tiny minority of the cards. To explain this fact of a widespread persistence of the same model, it is indispensable to suppose either that the first triumphs also had a structure and composition of this same kind, or that this final stage, seen as a development of previous forms, nevertheless is arrived at very soon.

2.4. Special features of the game of triumphs

The notices we have about the game of triumphs presents it as a particular game, in which the skill of the player in the long run can assert itself in spite of the random distribution of the cards. From what we know for succeeding times it can be concluded that the type of game is always based on the taking of the cards played by those of highest value, but different rules can be encountered in detail regarding the obligation to follow suit or play triumphal cards. The final score of the hand could take into account in different ways the greater value of some cards and their combinations.

In the municipal statutes we often find a section on prohibited games, and when we read of the game of triumphs it usually appears as an exception, one of the few card games exempt from prohibitions. This special position must be kept in mind to explain the different situations in which card games in general are encountered, triumphs in particular. To become more aware of the condition, it is useful to consider the other games that are encountered in the laws. Games are given as prohibited as a rule; if there is a game intended as innocent pastime it will not be found among those which lead the city council to take adverse decisions. In fact the games that are always met among those banned are dice games, and especially the one called Zara.

The motivations that evoked the laws of enforcement are primarily of a moral nature: an attempt to prevent heavy losses in the game, with the possible ruin of families, but also the quarrels and blasphemy that often accompany the misfortunes of play (and which at the time were punished with unimaginable harshness). However there were also reasons of a purely political nature: they were intended at the same time to prevent the assembly of people, as players or spectators, who could take the opportunity to agree on conspiracies or revolts of the people. As a result of the above, with dice the problem of possible games to allow only arose in the case of games of the backgammon type, games in which throws of the dice serve only for the advancement of tokens, and the game takes place between two players who employ quite a long time to finish their match. In these cases, the variant was usually admitted in which all the pieces are on the board from the outset, so as to make impractical the use in the course of the game of rolling the dice as in games like Zara.

For cards something similar happens. On the one hand there are extremely quick games where one can also bet big money simply on the outcome of one card; on the other hand, there are also matches between two or four players that require effort and attention for long times. So it is not surprising if most of the testimonies on playing cards divide into two large groups, almost opposites. On one side we find catching and fining gamblers, so we see for inveterate card players a similar environment to that of Zara. At the other extreme we find the cards present in literature and artistic images, in the hands of ladies and ladies of the court, or even of princes or queens.

The practical difference between ordinary cards and triumphs is that it is very rare to find the latter used in games of chance, while it is relatively easy to find them associated with the princely courts. It is no surprise that the game of triumphs often was explicitly excluded from the prohibition on games. In Florence, that happened already in 1450, and the sentencing of the above-mentioned two Florentine players in 1444 to pay a fine because they had been caught playing triumphs was an unusual event; a few years later it would not happen again.

In conclusion, with triumphs we have the advantage of finding them documented in court circles, from which, among other things, documents were compiled and stored much more frequently than from the environment of the people, but with the disadvantage that they [such documents] were not utilized for players of illegal games of chance, and therefore would not be found unless they were mentioned in the records of convicted gamblers, registers which provide useful information on the practice of card games of the era. As a corollary of this situation, one may also legitimately assume that the practice of the game of triumphs among ordinary people was much more frequent than we can find documented today.

3. Studies on the origin and dissemination of the first triumphs

It seems helpful to make a few remarks about how our knowledge on the matter under consideration has developed in recent times: first we recall the great contribution of Michael Dummett, and then indicate the need to update his reconstruction.

3.1 Historical reconstruction by Michael Dummett

Researchers interested in these historical problems have had the good fortune that a great scholar has dealt with them in depth, Sir Michael Dummett, the famous Oxford professor of philosophy; he published several articles and books on the topic, beginning with the masterpiece written with the assistance of Sylvia Mann (3), which reconstructed and put in order all the knowledge in the field. In contrast to many other works written on the subject, this one deals in detail with all the main card games around the world in which tarot cards were used in the past. Understandably taking into account the recent use of tarot cards, fortune telling developments are also dealt with in that volume; Dummett later also published an Italian version, reduced but updated (4), and subsequently, with various collaborators, completed and extended in separate discussions the ludic [pertaining to games] (5) and divinatory (6) aspects.

Out of all his work, we are interested only in the part relating the game of tarot in the earliest times. Even if we stick to this aspect it must be recognized that Dummett did something extraordinary. There were already discussions of the matter, at the head of which was an encyclopedia dedicated precisely to tarot (7) that subsequently came out in four large volumes. However, for the first time Dummett managed to bring together all the many scattered reports into a complete system that was, above all, consistent. Dummett’s reconstruction is the most perfect mosaic that could be achieved with the tiles at his disposal. We will look briefly at the situation that emerges.

In the early history of tarot cards there are two very solid pillars: the ducal courts of Ferrara and Milan. The first pillar consists of the archive documents of the Este ruling family of Ferrara, preserved in Modena. The oldest documentation of triumphs was for nearly a century and a half considered to be that recorded in 1442 in the court of Ferrara (8); the very fact
3. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London, 1980.
4. M. Dummett, Il mondo e l’angelo. Naples, 1993.
5. M. Dummett, J. McLeod, A history of games played with the tarot pack. Lewiston etc. 2004.
6. R. Decker, Th. Depaulis, M. Dummett, A wicked pack of cards. London 1996.
7. S. R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. New York 1978.
8. G. Campori, Atti e memorie Dep. di Storia Patria per le province modenesi e parmensi, VII (1874) 123-132

that for such a long time there were no previous documents, he thought that the beginning of the game had been found. This belief was strengthened also by ancient triumph cards considered, wrongly or rightly, of the School of Ferrara. One cannot be surprised if the fundamental book of Dummett cited was subtitled From Ferrara to Salt Lake City.

With regard to the documentation retained by the court of the Este family, we are especially lucky because it is a very rich collection, and also one studied and described carefully (9); an important article draws attention to the documents of interest to the history of tarot (10). Later, yet another document of the same origin was reported (11). It is conceivable that the wealth of documentation in fact overestimated the actual contribution of Ferrara to the history of the tarot.

The second pillar is the court of Milan: from there comes the Visconti-Sforza tarot, beautiful old cards. If we could collect all the published studies on those cards, we would need a series of large tomes, such as we know more from dictionaries or encyclopedias in several volumes. In particular, many historians have been engaged in reconstructing the artistic paternity of the various decks and their dates, including the different artists of cards apparently belonging to the same deck.

Leaving aside all the broad debate among art historians, professionals and amateurs, there remains uncertainty related to the dating of the first Milanese cards. In particular, the Visconti di Madrone, or Cary-Yale, deck is perhaps older than the documentation of Ferrara; so it remains quite uncertain if the first tarot passed from the court of Ferrara to that of Milan or vice versa. Two conditions remain firm: for both Ferrara and Milan the game was for quite a long time confined within the limits of the environments of their ducal courts. Furthermore, whatever the origin was, the passage between the two courts took place in an extraordinarily rapid manner. The extraordinary nature of the case is accentuated by the fact that the normal spread of tarot around Italy and neighboring countries would instead take place with remarkable slowness.
9. A. Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale. Vol. 1. Rome-Ferrara 1993.
10. G. Ortalli, Ludica, 2 (1996) 175-205.
11. V. Gulinelli, Delle carte da gioco italiane, storia e diletto. Carpi 2011.

Consequently, all other major Italian cities were not candidates for a possible priority. Venice with its port, its international market, its splendor, was sometimes trotted out, but only at the level of items that are not documented. Bologna would be a very promising candidate, also for the longer life of the Bolognese tradition of tarot playing, but local documents are not quite old enough, with a possible exception to which we will return later. From Florence there were neither documents nor cards, until the sixteenth century onwards. From Rome and Naples originate even later documents and cards.

In short, on the history of tarot cards in other Italian cities there was little information, and understandably the lack of documents tends to be associated with the absence of the game. Dummett explicitly concluded that the game from the northern courts from their origin spread only slowly to the general population, and then to Central and Southern Italy. We are interested particularly in Florence, where for centuries the tarot deck took the peculiar form of 97 cards, with nineteen extra triumphal cards. This deck would have been developed at a later time, only in the mid-sixteenth century, when citations appeared first of germini and then of minchiate departing from the "normal" tarot deck, which in any case would in its turn have arrived in the city before the end of the fifteenth century.

3.2. The need for updating

Today the situation is viewed differently, if only because the Florentine contribution proved much greater than expected. Inserting the place of Florence strongly in the front row of the series of the cities concerned was due to the contributions of several authors. In my research as an amateur in the history of games I found a Florentine law which considered triumphs as a permitted game already in 1450, and minchiate in 1477 (12); an art historian, Cristina Fiorini, attributed a Florentine origin to ancient specimens of preserved triumphs in Paris (13); a German professor found in the customs records of Rome many records of decks of cards and triumphs that arrived in that city from Florence soon
12. Book, 157-178. [ ]
13. C. Fiorini, The Playing-Card, Vol. 35 No. 1 (2006) 52-63. [translated, following my translation of Bellosi, at, along with links to the individual pages in Italian.]

after the middle of the fifteenth century (14); among other things, several records of triumph decks were reported in the sales of Florentine retailers (15); Depaulis identified in 2012, from an edition of the Diaries of Giusto Giusti, the date of 1440 for a pack of triumphs made in Florence for Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini (16); I have recently reported the two players mentioned above, convicted in 1444 for being caught playing triumphs in the streets of Florence.

At this point Dummett’s most valuable text has become incomplete and should be completed at least by a new large chapter on the early days of triumphs in Florence; unfortunately that great author came to the end of his life without being able to deliver an updated work. The book that today can be considered the most balanced is that of Thierry Depaulis (17), apart from the fact that it is a work that is considerably thinner.

In recent times contributions on the Internet have developed widely. A site rich with various pieces of information, not easy to find, is, but many sites dedicated to the tarot have been activated, too. Noteworthy for above-average reliability are especially two Italian sites maintained by Andrea Vitali (18) and Girolomo Zorli (19); the first is aimed at more allegorical and figurative aspects, the second gives greater prominence to the game. Internet discussion on the subject has also taken ample space in some forums, particularly the Tarot History Forum (20); interventions are usually in the form of verbal conversations among experts, rather than weighty communications, but readers with patience should be able to recognize here valid insights for the discussion.

However, it is certain that today the overall picture needs to be reviewed, with the entrance of Florence to serve as third wheel between Ferrara and Milan. The change of perspective is not simply about the transition from two pillars at first to three now: it is no longer to figure out from which princely court noble players passed on the fashion of that
14. A. and D. Esch, Gutenberg Jahrbuch, 88. Jahrgang (2013) 41-53.
15. F. Pratesi, Playing-cards in 15th century Florence. Norfolk 2012.
17. Th. Depaulis, Le Tarot révélé. La Tour-de-Peilz 2013.

aristocratic game; in Florence there was still not a ducal court; it came to exist only in the following century, when the lords of the other regions were already settled a long time and in some cases were now about to disappear. In short, the perspective of the cards and of the players both change. The Visconti-Sforza tarot cards are obviously extraordinary, but just because of their extraordinariness lose much of their historical interest.

4. Candidates before 1440

On the origin of the Tarot there are many reconstructions based solely on the imagination of those who have proposed them. Some will be examined in the next section. Here we only consider examples that have two characteristics that together distinguish them from others: these are cases that surely (or with a fair chance, for a couple of them) date back to before 1440, the year with the first documented triumphs. Even these cases present reasons for uncertainty and discussion, but to a lesser extent than others considered later of only hypothesized existence.

The first two cases both derive from Milan: the first is uncertain whether it can be considered a pack of triumphs as commonly understood; the second is uncertain as to its original composition and date (which may be later than 1440). The third case involves a deck of playing cards of which we know virtually only the name, which was different from the ordinary ones, but which could have had nothing in common with triumphs. The fourth case is from Bologna and does not correspond to a specific deck but to a testimony of priority to be given to that city where the game of tarot has had the longest tradition in Italy.

It would also be possible to discuss other candidatures, for example Venice and Padua, but for those we lack, at least for now, the very basis for a discussion, except generally to consider the first humanism of Padua or the international market of Venice.

4.1 First Milan - Marziano

Today any review of the possible precedents for arriving at the known tarot deck has to start with the Milanese deck of Marziano da Tortona. In fact, in relation to the known Visconti-Sforza decks, we are informed of one pack – and precisely one - definitely from a previous era: the one that was introduced into the court of Milan towards 1420. On the deck of Marziano I have written three notes (21), and already in the first of these, published in 1989, I brought to the attention of the experts that two decks of cards of which we had only vague information, those of Marziano and Michelino, were indeed only one, and its cards, although not preserved, had been described in detail. The full text was later reproduced with translation and comments (22); further information about the author can be found in the catalog of a local exposition (23).

Even on that deck we have concrete information only from the middle of the century, and the same name of triumphs that was attributed back to that period does not come from the time of its origin. This deck, which looks quite extraordinary, was designed by and for Filippo Maria Visconti, described in detail in a literary text by Marziano da Tortona, and then created artistically by Michelino da Besozzo with valuable pictures, no longer preserved. [Translator's note: I assume the names of the gods and heroes do not need translating, except perhaps for "Ercole", meaning "Hercules". Eolus is the god of winds, Daphne a nymph who had herself turned into a tree to avoid defilement by Apollo. The four suits are likewise obvious, except perhaps for the last, pleasures.]


Of the deck in question we have certain testimony on its sixteen triumphal cards, the four kings, and the presence of an unknown number of other cards (number and perhaps also with figures) of the four suits. Unfortunately we do not know if this series of sixteen personages had any preceding or following it, and moreover we do not see the
21. Book, 293-304, 305-313, 315-326. [,,]
22. R. G. R. Caldwell, Part I, The Playing-Card, Vol. 33 No. 1 (2004) 50-55; Part II, The Playing-Card, Vol. 33 No. 2 (2004) 111-126. [Online at
23. Marziano da Tortona e i tarocchi. Tortona 1982.

steps by which this would have led to the standard sequence. To find that deck would be a great discovery, but we can already feel satisfaction from the description of the pictures that had to be present in the sixteen triumphal cards: the corresponding gods, presented as deified persons, are described in fact not only with their respective characteristics and faculties, but also with a sufficiently detailed description of the correct manner of depiction.

The introduction of this deck into the discussion on the origin of the tarot has brought more confusion than clarification. It is not surprising that many experts continue to neglect its importance, considering it (perhaps rightly) a unique example with no effect on the development of playing cards. In fact, compared to serious questions about the decks that possibly preceded and followed it, what remains to be understood about the deck itself even becomes secondary. With only kings being mentioned, there are authors who have assumed that they were in fact the only picture cards present, besides the triumphal cards and the number cards, for a total of 60 cards. The problems about the picture cards do not exhaust the questions, because even of the pip cards we know nothing for sure and their quantity remains the subject of speculation.

The incomplete data that has come down to us on this deck remains very significant. To begin with, to date we know of no example of triumphal cards added to ordinary deck of playing cards that is older than this one; we certainly can imagine even older decks of the genre, but it is needful to find some trace. Another important fact is the coincidence ... Milanese! It so happens that the Visconti-Sforza tarot cards are the most numerous and the most ancient of those that have come down to us. Obviously, it would be much easier to hold that there was no link between those and the deck of Marziano if this deck were not designed precisely for Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan.

This first deck of triumphs is not necessarily the only one to have had unusual features; after this one you can imagine that there existed several intermediate types before reaching the standard recipe. Not only that; you will see below that one of the conceivable intermediate cases can be recognized precisely in the Visconti di Modrone, which, although much closer to the "normal" tarot structures, still has some anomalies.

Leaving Milan, all reconstructions remain largely hypothetical for these years that can be considered the pre-history of the tarot; with one important difference, however: the prehistory may remain partly unknown, but it definitely existed [in general, independently of the tarot]; the "prehistory" of the tarot could perhaps be unknown because it did not really exist. However, as long as we stay in the Milan court it is hard not to hazard any guesses about the possible developments and local refinements of the same idea and the same game.

4.2. Second Milan - Cary-Yale

Remaining in Milan, especially before moving on to Florence, the subject of discussion becomes another Milanese tarot pack, called the Cary-Yale or Visconti di Modrone; in fact, to move properly in the huge bibliography on Visconti tarot we would want the thread of Ariadne. In particular, for the hypothetical links between this deck and Florence we can refer to two recent (24) notes; but all possible shifts between Milan and Florence, in one direction or the opposite, are merely the result of speculation and are not supported so far by corresponding documentation. Among other things, it must also keep in mind that the two cities found themselves in a long war between them in the period of interest.

The incentive to add more hypothetical reconstructions with respect to those supported by the documents (one could say none in this case) comes from the serious lack of evidence adequate to cover the initial and intermediate time intervals. The exact composition of the Cary-Yale deck is also under discussion, with various proposals to suggest how many and which triumphal cards had been originally in the deck, including some that have not come down to us. The Cary-Yale can also be constructed from that of Marziano; if the reconstruction is valid, the conclusion would be that the deck of Marziano was not unique and isolated, but a member of a series that eventually led to the tarot deck. By way of example the following table shows a reconstruction in which two guides are used: the total number of sixteen cards, following Marziano (with, in italics, the
24. Book 519-537; 539-551. [(1), translated at, post for Jan. 17, 2016 here; (2), translated at, concluding at; post for Feb. 12, 2016 here]

cards that would have been lost), and the testified sequence of the cards in minchiate (25).
[Translator's note: In English this table is here: ]

4.3. Florence - Emperors

Reconsidering the Florentine situation, first from the explicit evidence on triumphs, we have something that somehow may be linked. The production of playing cards was in Florence a superior flowering to other cities, not only for the amount they could produce in the workshops, but also for the quality that was increasingly developing in the same workshops. We have documentation showing the production and sale of card packs of different quality, according to types that soon appear already standardized. In particular, it seems that in particular Florentine cards with a gold background were very popular in other cities, which apparently was included in a local production standard adopted for different images.

For us, for getting to the triumphs, the superior quality is not so interesting as what traces there are of different types of cards. The main type that opens the question of possibly furnishing a new model
25. Book, 529-537 [, translated at; post for Jan. 17, 2016 here].

developing in the direction of triumphs is that of "emperor cards". We have Florentine testimonies of these cards only from Ferrara, where they were used in the mid-century and also produced locally (26). Before being recorded in the mid-fifteenth century account books, it is known from earlier documents of the same court of Ferrara that already they were purchased from Florence, beginning in 1423 (27), for the use of that court, a couple of decades before their production in Ferrara and their documentation of triumphs.

In the first documents about this deck it is called "eight emperors", which might suggest the addition of eight superior cards, above the four kings. It is stimulating to think, but it is only a guess, of a possible analogy with a pack of the Marziano type halved in form, with eight added cards inserted two per suit to the respective kings, and in part as a group in a fifth suit of eight cards; the total number of cards would go from 32 in the hypothetical ordinary deck to 40 in the hypothetical emperors deck.

[Franco has two diagrams, not included on, to illustrate this "halving" of Marziano to produce the hypothetical structure of "eight emperors", which I have uploaded:,,,520-MARZtr.jpg for Marziano and for emperors. The boxes in red are meant as the special cards in each case, god-heroes and "imperatori", i.e. emperors and/or empresses.]

Of more interest is a possible connection of the game of emperors with the game, in countries north of the Alps, called in the same way, Kaiserspiel [Emperor-game], which seems to be another name for the game of Karnöffel mentioned above. On this possible link between Florence and regions north of the Alps I have already expressed my opinion many years ago in the reference of note (28).

In both cases, we are among the common people, no courts of nobles to lay down the laws and customs. The impression is that neither Florentines nor Germans needed the court of Ferrara to come up with new ideas on how to improve the production of cards, and eventually the traditional game itself. In my opinion, the precious tarot cards used at court in mid-fifteenth century - too often described and re-discussed - were not necessarily the prototypes, which only later slowly spread to the populace. I do not see why it could not happen in the reverse direction, with cards already in use by the people, which were indeed used - in modified versions, in very valuable copies, possibly even, why not?, in single copies - by the noble courts of the major cities of northern Italy.
26. A. Franceschini, Ludica, 2 (1996) 170-174.
27. A. Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale. Vol. 1. Roma-Ferrara 1993
28. Book, 125-128. []

4.4. Bologna - Prince Fibbia

From Bologna has been preserved very little evidence on ancient triumphs, either in written documents or in playing cards of the era. As for the introduction of the game in Bologna, which could in fact be its home town, the discussion is centered on an inscription in a Bolognese portrait of the seventeenth century, much discussed among historians of the game, showing the following, under the person:
Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, principe di Pisa, Montegiori, e Pietra Santa, e signore di Fusecchio, filio di Giovanni, nato da Castruccio duca di Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa & fugito in Bologna datosi a’ Bentivoglj, fu fatto generalissimo delle arme bolognese, et il primo di questa famiglia che fu detto in Bologna dalle Fibbie, ebbe per moglie Francesca, filia di Giovanni Bentivoglj. Inventore del gioco del tarocchino di Bologna: dalli xvi riformatori della città ebbe per privilegio di porre l’arma Fibbia nella regina di bastoni e quella della di lui moglie nella regina di denari. Nato l’anno 1360 morto l’anno 1419.

(Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, prince of Pisa, Montegiori, and Pietra Santa, and lord of Fusecchio, son of Giovanni, born of Castruccio Duke of Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa & fled to Bologna given to Bentivoglio, was made commander of the Bolognese arms, and the first of this family that was called Fibbia in Bologna, had to wife Francesca, daughter of Giovanni Bentivoglio. Inventor of the game of tarocchino of Bologna: by the xvi reformers of the city had by privilege putting the arms of Fibbia in the queen of staves and those of his wife in the queen of coins. Born in the year 1360 died the year 1419.)
In my first research on the manuscripts of the time I spent many hours in the civic archives of Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Bologna looking for confirmation of this personage; I consulted many documents with the family trees of the noble families involved. Eventually I convinced myself that the person did not exist (29). Today I see that Andrea Vitali has identified a prince Francesco Fibbia who would be compatible with that document, including the important dates given at the end (30).
He was born of Orlando, son of Errico, eldest son of Castruccio Castracani. ... We have therefore been able to verify that the Francesco Fibbia of the painting actually lived, who was the Prince of Pietrasanta and Monteggiori thanks to a Privilege granted by Lodovico the Bavarian and transmitted to the descendants of the children of Castruccio, who lived in Bologna following the transfer into this city of his family.
According Vitali, to so advance the date of introduction of the triumphs is in agreement with the time period that usually elapsed between the introduction of a new product (such as the example he considered,
29. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 24, No. 5 (1996) 134-141.[online starting at To continue the article, use the "next" button there.]
30. [English version; in Italian also].

eyeglasses) and its first trace recorded in documents; He reminds us that already Dummett had indicated, for the date of origin for the triumphs, 1425 as probable and 1410 as the absolute limit among those which could be proposed.

Between Bologna and Florence, this opens a kind of second competition for attributing the invention of the tarot, after the first long debate between Milan and Ferrara. Between the two ducal courts there were very close relations, but both Florence and Bologna had adopted the same order of triumphal cards, the order called A by Dummett. Curiously, neither of the two different decks used in the two cities then coincides with the standard deck of 78 cards, but both show characteristics favoring a priority [in time] over those of Ferrara and Milan.

Another document from Bologna is worthy of note, but for years after those that interest us here: This is a contract of commission for the production of cards and triumphs dated to 1477; it is very useful especially for the information that the decks of triumphs cost more than the common decks only in proportion to the greater number of cards that they contained (31). From the data contained in the contract it can be concluded with some plausibility that the triumphs had 25% more cards than normal decks (32).

5. Hypotheses on the earliest triumphs

We have already met uncertain reconstructions, but there are additional ones that must be indicated. A substantial part of the interest of this matter consists in the poor definition of the reconstructed events, which often confronts us with complicated dilemmas. Obviously, the confusion stems from the different hypotheses and reconstructions of a story which itself took place in a unique way but unfortunately is still unknown in detail (and is likely to remain so in the future if as yet unknown documents are not rediscovered). Based on what is now known with certainty, which is not much, we can only examine the various interpretations proposed by choosing those that are the most convincing,
31. E. Orioli, Il libro e la Stampa, II (1908), 109-119.

or propose yet others for the attention of the experts. Overall, the field is open to discussion and research, with the hope that new contributions and findings will quickly advance our knowledge on the subject.

In this section we examine briefly some contrasting interpretations, with special attention to the very origin of the tarot itself, or triumphs, as it was called at the beginning. Today we cannot predict which of these interpretations are going to last; a typical problem of the research is that as soon as you have the satisfaction of being able to put down as an error a given interpretation, new ones present themselves, often more abundantly than before.

5.1. Two divergent approaches (33)

Two different approaches are both present in the abundant literature on the tarot and similar cards; for convenience I will indicate them as "tarot" and "triumphs" respectively

The "tarot" approach assumes the appearance from the beginning of the classic sequence of twenty-two tarot cards. In fact, if desired, any variant of the documented tarot (Bolognese, Sicilian, minchiate, Central Europe [former Habsburg Empire]) can be easily explained by successive changes applied to an original sequence, eliminating some cards or adding to the same sequence a further group of special cards, as in minchiate.

The "triumph" approach, alternatively, gives more importance to previous decks - starting with the first we know of, that described by Marziano - and allows more freedom to try and reconstruct the first "experimental" packs, only vaguely known at best, or more often only the result of reconstructions not confirmable from what has been documented.

Between the two approaches mentioned above intermediate cases are certainly possible. The most obvious way is to suppose that the "triumphs" approach is more appropriate for the beginning period, and to consider that the "tarot" approach becomes valid later. The problem here is that the introduction of the sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards could not be so late as sometimes suggested. It is true that variations in the sequence of tarot cards
33. Book 277-285. []

existed in different cities, but all the variants present themselves as versions of the same series already described. When can it be considered that this series became regularly accepted? I do not know the precise year, but it is plausible to suggest a date around the middle of the fifteenth century or a little higher. Indeed, it seems that we get completely secure claims of the standard set only a few decades later, but to assume that shortly after 1450 that series did not exist yet proves a hypothesis that requires complex and uncertain justifications. A specific case, apparently intermediate, for which a debate between the two approaches is justified is that of two decks of triumphs with 70 cards made in Ferrara in 1457 by Gherardo da Vicenza (34). Nobody knows what these 70 cards were, but it is certain that this deck could not be formed by the same number of cards inside of the four ordinary suits, for the simple reason that that number would be 17.5 cards. In other words, to suppose the existence of a fifth suit becomes virtually inevitable. What can we think of in relation to this fifth suit? We can imagine it in more ways than one.

If we follow the "triumphs" approach it is not difficult to arrive at the proposal supported several times recently by Lothar Teikemeier, of four ordinary suits of 14 cards each, accompanied by the new fifth suit of 14 triumphal cards rather similar in structure to the previous four suits (35). If we follow the "taroccchi" approach to reconstruct the deck of 70 cards, we have to solve the question of how the sequence was then augmented with additional triumphal cards, because it would lack eight cards of the standard tarot sequence. We can assume that there are the same four suits of 14 cards as in tarot cards, and as a result the upper string would contain only 14 cards. This would be the same length as the previous proposal derived from the alternative approach. But here the sequence is imagined with its own configuration, completely independent of the structure of the other suits. We can then suppress two cards from each of the four suits and obtain a proper additional sequence of twenty-two cards: in a rather surprising way, it becomes possible to see the deck of 70 cards in a format "simply" of the merger of two standard parts: the sequence of twenty-two superior cards of the tarot and a deck of 48 cards of naibi [ordinary cards]. It is possible to find explanations, but
34. G. Ortalli, Ludica, 2 (1996) 175-205, p.186.

a date of 1457 for a deck of 70 cards of triumphs still creates problems for us, because by now the triumphs have circulated for years in different cities, and we would have expected by now a standard deck.

Finally, how can we consider the triumphs of Marziano? In regard to the various examples of tarots, it would be an exemplar positioned "below zero" in the scale! With the "tarot" approach it cannot even be taken into consideration. With the "triumphs" approach, it is not certain that it can represent the first example; It is only the first deck of triumphs of which we have so far found documents. However, it is here that the "triumphs" approach finds its best field of application:: in this deck and in other early hypothesized decks, the sequence of the standard tarot is not yet present; apparently, it would have been introduced and accepted only after an imprecise number of years.

5.2 In Florence

To study the first diffusion of triumphs in the Florentine environment, I am using knowledge gained from previous studies on the diffusion, still in Florence, of chess and the first playing cards, or naibi, documented from 1377, and the same competence in writing and arithmetic that was already largely achieved by the Florentine population. The result is that not only do we have to move the first diffusion of triumphs to Florence , but we must also move from the court (which among other things did not yet exist in Florence) to what we might say is of the merchants or even of the people.

It is seen that the cards called triumphs, with the same name as the game played with them, are documented in Florence after 1440; during the next decade, we meet many packs for sale in Florentine shops (36) and some even in the hands of the players, as already reported. On the other hand, we know that just about the middle of the century in Florence, more than in other Italian cities, there developed the production of countless local crafts, a substantial part of whose decorations for some was based on triumphal motifs.
36. F. Pratesi, Playing-card trade in 15th-century Florence. North Walsham 2012.

A problem to be solved is that of the mutual influence of the Trionfi [Triumphs] of Petrarch, triumphs as honors to victors or civic displays, triumphs as playing cards, triumphs as decorative motifs of wedding chests and the like, and maybe even some theatrical productions. I had set out to study the starting dates of the Florentine fashion for the various products of the minor arts, imagining to find them further back in time, in the first half of the fifteenth century, and why not, even in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. Instead I have found that the prevalence of these objects came instead in the second half of the fifteenth century, at least as it happened typically for birth trays (37) and wedding chests (38).

No one knows today how a pack of triumphs was produced and used initially in Florence. Of a deck of tarot cards with that name (presumably with its typical 78 cards) I have found in Florence only one reference, in an early seventeenth century law (39). In 1450 the game of triumphs became permitted by law and by now many decks had been produced for use in the city and also for export. In the city packs of triumphs easily bought from milners’ shops and minor silk dealers. The two who played triumphs on the street and paid the penalty for this infringement in 1444 (before it became a permitted game) have already been mentioned.. Also before the middle of the fifteenth century my hunch in favor of the popular character of the game has found several confirmations. Can we stop at Florence of 1450, neglecting the local pack of minchiate? We may try, although doing so ends up neglecting information that, in what came after, may have retained some significant trace of the past. It remains to understand what happened before 1440. In fact, we can obviously not be sure that the first documentation of the deck in 1440 corresponds to the first deck of this new type of product. For Florence we have unfortunately no other clues to earlier times, unless there is a connection with the emperors’ pack, a connection that remains, however, entirely speculative.
37. [translated here as post for May 13, 2016]
38. [translated here as post for Aug. 31, 2016]
39. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nel Granducato di Toscana [Card games in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany]. Ariccia 2015, pp. 23-30.

5.3. Series of twenty-two cards

We have already seen that fortune tellers have attributed great significance to the triumphal cards of the tarot. The problem that arises is not whether these cards are suitable to use for divination; about which we can agree, if desired; the fact is that those cards are given a special sense, which involves the entire sequence as something mysterious, knowable only by the initiated; in short, it would be a "secret book" in which some brilliant philosopher and seer would have composed and concealed a total vision of the world, indeed of all that we can encounter not only on earth but also above, in the depths of the heavens.

Personally, I would even be willing to accept an interpretation of that kind, but only on condition that we went back to an "original" version in early fifteenth century works of literature, philosophy, religion, and especially fine arts. For years I have searched for a match to the series of twenty-two triumphal tarot cards with an identical or very similar series described and illustrated at the time of the introduction of these special cards, but I have not found anything like it, except for individual cards, or at most for isolated islets.

A requirement of the triumphal series is that its components be recognizable as gradually higher than what came before, as a kind of extension of the few triumphs described by Petrarch in his poem. For many of us today this ascending succession of triumphal cards is not clear, and from various indications and evidence we understand that even for its contemporaries, it was often necessary to make agreements in this regard [i.e. before the game started, as to which cards were higher or lower], before the numbers corresponding to the order were written directly on the cards. In short, a simple extension of the Petrarchan triumphs is not immediately to be recognized; but the idea is acceptable in principle, even considering the uncertainties, indeterminancies and minor variations that have occurred.

Another thing, however, is to see explicated in that series a coherent and comprehensive philosophical system. I cannot in particular accept the idea that the hypothetical genius inventor, having once composed his esoteric system and selected its images, would not have found anything better than to camouflage them and put them in a pack of those playing cards, which were already two or three generations in the hands of

players. In some mysterious way, that inventor would have convinced manufacturers and players to add to their decks his special cards; then the hidden meaning would have finally been deciphered by some enlightened visionary only since the late eighteenth century, to the satisfaction of the many fans who still cultivate the field.

I note also that the interpretations of a hermetic type often and variously suggested by the "experts" on divination would perhaps be compatible with the cultural atmosphere that was created by Pico della Mirandola; but this is a period at least half a century later than that of interest and could therefore explain only a few possible transformations of a sequence of triumphal cards already in existence. Before 1440, at the basis of all those pseudo-sciences – be they occult, hermetic or just exotic – enough sources did not exist, or had not been rediscovered.

I must, however, recognize that the hypothesis of twenty-two triumphal cards added quickly in their entirety to the ordinary deck has a very big advantage over other hypotheses. This point in favor of considering the diffusion of the new deck in various cities is appreciated: if the triumph pack was radically altered during the first years or decades it is difficult to consider a diffusion in various locations of types modified gradually with the result of a final form that is everywhere different in only a few details, typically, how the cards were ordered, especially those representing the virtues. The history of playing cards in Switzerland and Germany helps us to see something very different and meaningful with the appearance of several variants of the same names and symbols used to characterize the four suits (40). For the tarot there is no verification of anything similar.

5.4. Fifth suit of fourteen cards, or similar structures

One suggestion proposed by various authors and recently supported more than anything else from Huck (41) is that the first introduction of the superior cards into the ordinary deck consisted in the addition of a fifth suit, with the same number of fourteen cards of the other four. In support
40. M. Rumpf, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde, 72 (1976) 1-32.

several pieces of evidence have been given, such as the documentation of two decks of 70 cards in Ferrara, the production of an isolated group of 14 cards, again in Ferrara, the interpretation of a Visconti tarot deck as consisting of 14 original cards and eight additions afterwards. If the idea of a fifth suit added to the standard deck as a triumphal series has its good points, points in opposition can also be indicated. The most significant among the contrary ones seems to me the standard composition of of cards in each of the suits, with ten pip cards and four pictures: in the new fifth suit, the number cards that would be similarly present, would then be associated, if desired, with various professions of the working classes and not with the members of the court, represented only in the picture cards.

The fourteen new cards should instead be more reasonably associable to the picture cards already in the deck, and even blatantly a grade higher than those, and therefore should justifiably present a pope, an emperor, and even otherworldly entities. It could have such a sequence of fourteen cards, all pictures, with a recognizable hierarchy, which later would be increased in number until reaching the sequence of twenty-two triumphal tarot cards. The hypothesis seems plausible, but it is not immediate to think of adding a fifth suit having a completely different internal structure from that of the other four.

The hypothetical fifth suit could also have been formed by a different number of cards, and in particular by sixteen; In fact, a particular case of a fifth added suit would obtain easily, supposing extending the only known case, that described by Marziano. Anyone proposing to make a new series might find inspiration from his deck, with its triumphal cards, possibly using different subjects. The superior cards there are sixteen instead of fourteen (which in the case of a fifth suit would suggest a complete deck of 80 cards), but they have the great advantage of being able to be considered as a separate series – ascending in number from 1 to 16 – and also as four groups of four cards to be inserted each above one of the four suits. Evidently, if the suit cards were fourteen or thirteen such a structure would not be possible, but would be usable again for a pack of five suits of twelve cards, so that the standard naibi deck would have increased from 48 to 60 cards, or ten with a passage of 40 to 50, or of eight, passing from 32 to 40.

The limitation indicated by the total number of cards in a deck of triumphs is very severe, but if we give up the allocation of additional cards to the four suits in equal numbers, this presents possible new decks of 45 cards with 9 suit cards, of 55 with 11 suit cards, 65 with 13, 70 with 14, or 75 with 15, always respecting the condition of a new fifth suit added with the same number of cards as the four ordinary suits. In fact, a deck of triumphs that is indicated in the early period is precisely that of 70 cards. However we have already seen that finding mention of a pack of 70 cards is not in itself a proof of the addition of the fifth suit with an equal number of cards, because you could get it, for example, from a deck of 48 ordinary cards to which had been added, as it happens, the much discussed sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards.

5.5. Triumphs with images of deities

The first triumphs for which we have a detailed description of its images are those of Marziano, and we do not know, as mentioned above, whether it was a single experiment or part of a series of more or less similar specimens. So far, we have examined it in relation to the number of its sixteen triumphal cards. However, it should be considered also for the images of those cards: one of its few secure features is that its triumphal cards were in that case related to Latin divinities. Is it possible also that triumphs in the Florentine cards around 1440 (and possibly earlier) were of the same type? No one is able to confirm it, but neither to exclude it.

Let us assume then that just this was the initial form of the triumphal cards inserted as a group into playing cards. The simple hypothesis now introduced has important consequences; triumphal motifs that had great vogue in Florence throughout the second half of the fifteenth century were not in fact mostly of this type; if the triumphal motifs were entered into playing cards contemporaneously with their insertioninto the decorations of wedding chests and birth trays, we should expect different images than the Latin divinities, more similar to the triumphs of Petrarch or subjects of that sort.

On the other hand we know that references to classical antiquity were already present in Florentine artistic products. In Florence, the motifs of the Olympian gods did not need the turn of the mid fifteenth century

to have a local following; we can easily go back to Boccaccio and also Dante, in addition to Petrarch. If we limit ourselves to the pagan gods, it would not change much if one had passed to read descriptions and characteristics in Latin originals known only in the fifteenth century, instead of in the vernacular renditions that circulated widely as early as the fourteenth century. (That would not be the case with a triumphant Caesar, first exalted and then seen rather as a bad example of tyranny.)

The fact that those figures of triumphal pagan gods are met in Milan instead of Florence does not exclude in principle a Florentine origin, if we only consider that, before carrying out his functions in the courts of Pavia and Milan, Marziano lived and studied in Florence, where among other things he had deepened his knowledge of the Divine Comedy, so as to devote himself personally to making it known in depth at the Milanese court. The biggest problem is that in this hypothetical scenario, the date will advance even more than one would like, because we would go back to the first decade of the fifteenth century, and at that time there does not appear, at least currently, a witness of such cards for Florence, or even Milan.

5.6. Modifications and hypotheses of evolution

If we do not accept the hypothesis of a deck of triumphs immediately created with the sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards, it becomes important not only to hypothesize the primitive form, but also outline its subsequent developments enabling it finally to reach the normalized form. Having noted that in Florence the fashion of decorations with triumphal motifs blossomed in the products of the minor arts in the middle of the fifteenth century, it is necessary to try to explain the fact that the triumphs had already appeared for years in playing cards.

Unfortunately, no new documents with secure indications have been found so as to move towards a convincing reconstruction of the situation. From what we have found about the triumphal motifs in birth trays and wedding chests, one might suspect that a similar shift toward the middle of the century would have also been addressed in the triumphs of playing cards. That is, the series of deities or other superior subjects introduced first could give way to other types of triumphs, in better agreement with the triumphal motifs that were enjoying great favor in the various products of the Florentine minor arts.

At the basis of the initial series here would perhaps be heroes of classical culture; at the basis of the wider diffusion at mid-century there would be triumphal motifs similar to those of the chests or trays, with possible references to Petrarch, which would replace those used previously. Unfortunately we are in a less than desirable position to speculate on a transition between the two models, neither of which is supported by documentation that has come down to us.

The only document known to us in this respect does not come from Florence and concerns the Milanese deck of Marziano, but we can not exclude that it was unique, unprecedented and not followed by similar decks, without any connection with the Florentine environment . But if we admit that Marziano’s deck corresponded to a kind of prototype of a whole series, one can speculate in various ways on any changes from that one; in each case, it is necessary to presuppose a passage through several intermediate stages, with changes in the images and the number of cards, before reaching the standard set of twenty-two triumphal cards that we know from the tarot, as well, in Florence, the series of forty triumphal cards of minchiate.

Even from the early Florentine humanists we derive only uncertain indications. As a result of the consultation of many unpublished documents, Brucker informs us that Coluccio Salutati had already clearly called, in a letter of 1393, for the need to study and understand classical civilization so as to act in the best ways also in the present time, including civic engagement (42); since that calling was becoming more and more frequent. Along with this, Brucker, however, reports that the consequence of those magisterial solicitations, initially remaining in secluded rooms, occurred on a larger scale within the city only around the year 1415, when in the records of the public activities of the various advisers involved in governing the republic, the comparison of current events with those of ancient Rome increasingly appeared, with a display of unusual rhetoric and classical erudition by the speakers.

The deduction would be that the resurrection of classical culture in Florence (although we could not exactly place the initial nucleus) became fully apparent and increasingly widespread during the second decade of the fifteenth century. Beware though that we still are not
42. G. A. Brucker, Renaissance Florence. Goldbach 1994, p. 239.

in the midst of the renewal that characterized the works of Apollonio di Giovanni and lo Scheggia around the middle of the century. For our purposes related to triumphs in playing cards, the Florentine atmosphere of the early humanists could easily connect to Marziano da Tortona, but less to the subsequent Visconti tarot. The problem is that when the first wedding chests and birth trays appeared with the new triumphal motifs (that hypothetically could have affected even the pictures on playing cards), the cards called triumphs were already in circulation for some time.

6. Conclusion

The historical reconstruction of the introduction of triumphal cards into the tarot deck has recently made significant progress. However, several points still remain obscure, and others have even been added with the increase in information. The main interest is currently directed towards the use of the tarot in divination, which here is neglected entirely, given that the tarot is being considered as a particular type of playing cards, the obviousness of which is recognized today by only a minority of those concerned. The focus of the experts has continued to turn to the sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards that has been studied by many, to varying degrees of commitment and seriousness, including the extremes.

On the meanings of the individual cards and their related iconography there exists an immense literature, often repetitive. What is needed is a fairly documented analysis of the sequence as a whole and not the individual figures. The problems at the origin of this sequence remain open: there are various proposals in this regard, but none can be considered as definitively proven. In particular, it is desirable that any alleged "explanation" of the origin of the sequence and its meaning be supported by the appearance of the same series in artistic or philosophical-literary works of the era (support I personally have failed to convincingly identify). The analyses made by Michael Dummett on the hierarchical order of these cards, which is a little different from region to region, remains a firm foundation for every possible development.

An alternative explanation of the entire sequence of triumphal cards is that what is to be explained is actually a different sequence, unknown today, which was introduced initially. However, about this there is a distinct possibility that this unknown original sequence has remained

unknown ... because it never existed. Those who hypothesize a different original sequence from the twenty-two triumphal cards, also have the task of identifying possible ways later followed to arrive at the known sequence. In this regard there have been discussed above two cases documented in Milan that preceded the standardization of the Tarot: the deck of Marziano and the Cary-Yale or Visconti di Modrone; if desired, the formulation of a proposal for a unique reconstruction [from Marziano to Cary-Yale only] can be granted here. To assess the extent of the historical importance of the Marziano deck - which can extend from negligible to critical - is in any case as an important problem to solve, but to truly consider that example of significant influence it would be helpful to find some other deck with intermediate features. We can, however, try to take the deck of Marziano as a basis, seeing it as a significant example contributing to the development of the triumphs towards the achievement of the definitive triumphal series: in the path of development from the deck of Marziano towards the tarot of standard form one can suggest including one of the original forms proposed for the Cary-Yale; but we remain in the field of hypotheses and would require independent confirmation.

The close ties between the ducal courts of the Visconti-Sforza in Milan and the Este in Ferrara have been documented and studied for a long time. We have received the most extensive documentation from the court of Ferrara, so that precisely that ducal court was considered at the very origin of the tarot. Some of the painters who worked in the court of Ferrara were certainly able to produce playing cards of high quality, but there are no signs for Ferrara of the ability to produce large amounts of playing cards, usable also for export, as in the first half of the fifteenth century might have been possible in other Italian cities (such as Milan, Venice and Bologna), and certainly in Florence.

The foregoing discussion of a Milanese or Ferrarese priority for the introduction of triumphs is moving toward considering rather Bologna (where a Prince Fibbia was found, compatible with the introduction of the triumphs in Bologna in the early fifteenth century) and Florence. For Florence, currently recognized as a primary center for the production of triumphs, it is unclear what the triumphs of 1440 (the first ones that today are found cited) were like, and what was done in the following years. Still later, remaining with Florence, it is unclear how, when, and with what differences the local tarot decks developed

referred to as minchiate and germini (with the strangeness that the name of minchiate would be documented both before and after germini (43)), without confirmation that it was one new deck, or more decks, albeit slightly different.

Even if we stick to examining the Florentine situation in the middle of the fifteenth century, the hypothesis is not very convincing that the deck of triumphs, now produced for years for local use and for sale in other cities, could still be in an experimental phase, corresponding to an intermediate stage in its development toward new models that would be established subsequently, with different forms and different total numbers of cards. The origin of the triumphal series of twenty-two cards remains uncertain; however, the assumption that it was not yet being standardly introduced and accepted seems plausible only until mid-century or a few years later.

Also, the use of triumphs in the game is poorly documented and leaves open a number of concerns: there are known "high" testimonies in frescoes and works of literature corresponding to a game of nobles, but in cities like Florence and Bologna perhaps the same game was widespread among the common citizens, albeit leaving few traces useful for our historical research. In fact it is precisely such traces that we would look for most insistently, so as to arrive at a more correct and better defined historical reconstruction. In the title of this review, outlooks [prospettive] were mentioned. Now we might conclude that this is the most promising new outlook, [that of finding new information on common cards and common players, as Franco recently phrased it to me,] one not encountered before now.

Today it is as if we were to create a mosaic with an insufficient number of tiles and also with many scraps to identify and remove. There are in fact two related tasks: to find new documents and, in parallel, to select the right hypotheses and eliminating wrong ones. This task is difficult for any researcher; but if the gaps in documentation still found in the documentation persist, the field for uncertain speculation remains open, where all are left a free choice as to which proposal of those already advanced is more convincing to them, and also to advance their own proposals if they seem more plausible.

Franco Pratesi – 04.10.2016
43. Book 157-170. [ ]

Comments on "Earliest Triumphs"
(by Michael S. Howard)

I have been thinking about Franco's rather comprehensive note that starts this thread. I want to expand on it in an even more wide-ranging way, with some reflections based on something Franco tends to avoid, namely, inferences deriving from the luxury cards of 15th century Italy. I am not interested in them as such, but rather in what they might tell us about the state of the tarot deck as used more generally, including the cheap decks, at the times and places they were made. Here I am going to utilize also Franco's more recent note, that on the manuscripts of Petrarch's Triumphi (translated at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1092&start=20#p17714). What follows here is as much reflection on that note as the one in this thread. In regard to the Petrarch manuscripts, I am going to do something else that Franco refrained from doing, namely, look at the imagery in the poems themselves, exclusive of the post-1440 illuminations (which are after our period of greatest interest). I hope I have not been overbold in so doing, given that I am ignoring the mountain of critical literature, and also the fact that there is as yet no definitive text or "critical edition". Perhaps it is just my ignorance, but I can't see that any of it would help. I have, however, assiduously tried to provide sources for what I say, or a link to a THF post that does. You are on your own when it comes to images of the cards, which are easy enough to find on the Web.

I apologize for the length of this post. But I think it is important to think in a comprehensive way some of the time.

1. Introduction

Associazione Le Tarot wrote, in their catalog I Tarocchi: Storia Arte Magia the following about the origin of the tarot (

This game refers to [rimanda, in the Italian version] Petrarca’s Triumphi (hence “triumphs” from Italian “trionfi”), in which the fourteenth century poet described six principal forces which govern men and assigned a hierarchical value to each. Romanesque numerology saw in the number Six "the superhuman one, the power", as the number related to the days of biblical creation. First comes Love (Instinctual), which corresponds to a juvenile phase, vanquished by Shame [Pudicizia in Italian] (Chastity, Reason), a subsequent phase of mature calmness, after which follows Death, signifying the transitoriness of terrestrial things. It is in turn, vanquished nevertheless by Fame, victorious over death in posterity’s memory, but over it Time triumphs, which is overcome finally by the Triumph of Eternity, which frees humans from the flow of the becoming. and sets them in the kingdom of eternity.

The number of the Triumphal cards at the beginning was perhaps composed of 8 allegories, later by 14 and 16, then was finally stabilized at 22, the number that in its Christian mystical meaning represents the introduction to the wisdom and the divine teachings engraved in humanity. Such a path, that conveys a progressive adaptation of these "playing cards" to a numerology of a religious character, was probably adopted to avoid the condemnation of the Church that was continually hurled against card games that were considered gambling.
There is a jump here from the 6 Petrarchans to the proposed but unnamed 8 original cards of the tarot sequence. There is no chance that "8" is a misprint for "6", because "8" appears also in the French and Italian versions, as well as both the French and English versions of Vitali's essay "The History of the Tarot" (

The basis for this jump from 6 to 8 and beyond might have been from the 6 of Petrarch plus the Emperor and Empress, derived from the game of "VIII Emperors", referred to in Ferrara of 1423 as a deck of cards ordered from Florence (for the reference, see Pratesi above). There are apparently other references to it in Ferrara until around 1450. It seems to me that the Rothschild luxury cards might be examples of such cards.

However how to argue in favor of this interpretation had eluded me, other than a vague idea that somehow what I take to be the 16 triumphs of the Cary-Yale are an expansion of that idea, influenced by the 16 triumphs of Marziano's "game of the gods". Franco now gives some basis for further argument in that direction, whether or not a deck with only 8 triumphs actually ever existed.

2. The first eight, introduction

My point of departure is Franco's observation that the addition of a fifth suit of exclusively superior cards is not what immediately comes to mind if one thinks about adding a fifth suit. Instead, what one more naturally would think of is a set of higher cards placed above the others which has a structure similar to the other suits. I include the Italian here, because I am not altogether sure of my translation:
Se per l’idea di un quinto seme aggiunto al mazzo normale come serie trionfale sono stati trovati punti a favore, si possono indicare anche punti contrari. Il più significativo fra i contrari mi sembra la composizione standard delle carte presenti in ognuno dei semi, con dieci carte numerali e quattro figurate: nel nuovo quinto seme le carte numerali che dovrebbero essere similmente presenti sarebbero allora da associare ancora, volendo, con le varie professioni dei ceti popolari e non con i personaggi di corte, rappresentati solo nelle carte figurate.

Le quattordici nuove carte dovrebbero più ragionevolmente essere invece associabili alle carte figurate già presenti nel mazzo, e magari palesemente di grado superiore a quelle, e quindi dovrebbero giustamente presentare un papa, un imperatore, e addirittura entità ultraterrene. Si potrebbe avere così una sequenza di quattordici carte tutte figurate, con un ordine gerarchico riconoscibile, che in seguito sarebbero aumentate di numero fino a raggiungere la sequenza delle ventidue carte trionfali dei tarocchi. L’ipotesi appare plausibile, ma non è immediato pensare all’aggiunta di un quinto seme avente una struttura interna completamente diversa da quella degli altri quattro.

L’ipotetico quinto seme avrebbe anche potuto essere formato da un numero diverso di carte, e in particolare da sedici; infatti un caso particolare di quinto seme aggiunto si otterrebbe facilmente supponendo di poter estendere il caso unico noto, descritto da Marziano. Chiunque si proponesse di comporre una nuova serie potrebbe trovare un’ispirazione dal suo mazzo, con le sue carte trionfali, eventualmente usando soggetti diversi. Le carte superiori sono lì sedici invece di quattordici (il che nell’ipotesi di un quinto seme lascerebbe pensare a un mazzo completo di 80 carte), ma hanno il grande vantaggio di potersi considerare sia come una serie a parte – numerabile salendo da 1 a 16 – sia come quattro gruppi di quattro carte da inserire ognuno al disopra di uno dei quattro semi. Evidentemente, se le carte per seme fossero quattordici o tredici una struttura del genere non sarebbe possibile, ma tornerebbe sfruttabile per un mazzo di cinque semi di dodici carte con quindi il mazzo standard dei naibi che sarebbe aumentato da 48 a 60 carte, oppure di dieci con passaggio da 40 a 50, oppure di otto passando da 32 a 40.

(If the idea of a fifth suit added to the standard deck as a triumphal series has its good points, points in opposition can also be indicated. The most significant among the contrary ones seems to me the standard composition of of cards in each of the suits, with ten pip cards and four pictures: in the new fifth suit, the number cards that would be similarly present, would then be associated, if desired, with various professions of the working classes and not with the members of the court, represented only in the picture cards.

The fourteen new cards should instead be more reasonably associable to the picture cards already in the deck, and even blatantly a grade higher than those, and therefore should justifiably present a pope, an emperor, and even otherworldly entities. It could have such a sequence of fourteen cards, all pictures, with a recognizable hierarchy, which later would be increased in number until reaching the sequence of twenty-two triumphal tarot cards. The hypothesis seems plausible, but it is not immediate to think of adding a fifth suit having a completely different internal structure from that of the other four.

The hypothetical fifth suit could also have been formed by a different number of cards, and in particular by sixteen; In fact, a particular case of a fifth added suit would obtain easily, supposing extending the only known case, that described by Marziano. Anyone proposing to make a new series might find inspiration from his deck, with its triumphal cards, possibly using different subjects. The superior cards there are sixteen instead of fourteen (which in the case of a fifth suit would suggest a complete deck of 80 cards), but they have the great advantage of being able to be considered as a separate series – ascending in number from 1 to 16 – and also as four groups of four cards to be inserted each above one of the four suits. Evidently, if the suit cards were fourteen or thirteen such a structure would not be possible, but would be usable again for a pack of five suits of twelve cards, so that the standard naibi deck would have increased from 48 to 60 cards, or ten with a passage of 40 to 50, or of eight, passing from 32 to 40.)
This seems to me a good point (against 14 being the initial format, at least in the mind of a designer), perhaps even one Franco understates. The first trump suit, it seems to me, might well have been like the old suits in structure, with number cards that trump over even the royalty of the old suits, but that is not anything like the tarot sequence.

The title "8 Emperors" gives an opening, if only because an Emperor and Empress do appear among the early luxury tarot decks in Milan and Florence, and Imperatori are indeed higher than Kings, thus suitable to put at the top of the regular suits. Eight of them would all be higher than anything in the four regular suits, conceivably in a hierarchy. But emperors, historically at least, are usually of equal status politically, unless one has allegorical points to make that put them in a hierarchy. There is then another alternative, to have just 2 "imperatori" and substitute an obvious hierarchy for the other 6. Here the 6 Petrarchan triumphs immediately suggest themselves; not only are they a hierarchy, but they even have the name "triumphs".

However if such a game existed. it must have been restricted to the "secluded rooms" of the early Florentine humanists or the Milanese ruling family, or to the mind of an game-inventor, who subsequently decides on something more elaborate. Those Petrarchan triumphs, if they were illustrated in a deck of cards of general circulation, could have been expected to start appearing in cassoni or illuminated manuscripts early on, at least in Florence (Milan does not seem to have had the custom as much). But while early 15th century cassoni and manuscripts do survive, none known so far has a series of pictures of the 6 Petrarchan triumphs (Franco reviewed the Italian scholarly literature on this subject, which is consistent with but more definitive than my own investigation of ones in English and one in French, for which see

We might imagine, however, that first there was, on such a small scale, a game with the Emperor, the Empress, and the 6 Petrarchan triumphs as a trump suit, if not in reality then as a preliminary idea. That such a series might have existed as a basis for what followed is supported by a look at the surviving 15th century luxury cards: the Cary-Yale (CY), the Brera-Brambilla (BB), the PMB (first and second artists), the Rothschild cards, the Catania, and the Charles VI--or so I will claim in the next two sections. Of these decks I assume that the first three are Milanese and the others Florentine, although the latter is subject to change. I assume that the Milanese in some way reflect a type of deck prevalent in that city, in the Visconti court at least for the CY and more broadly for the PMB. Likewise I take the Florentine to reflect a pattern in Florence and perhaps also Bologna.

When I say "Florence" I mean to include Bologna as well, which also has the type A order and similar-looking cards. There is a tradition that the tarot started there, before the death in 1419 of Prince Fibbia, and the report of a sermon by Saint Bernardino denouncing the game in 1423, by an anonymous biographer in 1472 (see Andrea Vitali at These testimonies are not to be relied on but neither can they be ignored. Among luxury tarots there are also the d'Este and the various curious others somehow related to the PMB. I will mostly ignore them. The d'Este was clearly produced to commemorate Ercole d'Este's 1473 wedding; its style and design resembles the Florentine but its small handwritten numbers are those of the B order of Ferrara.

3. The first 8, Milan

So let us look for evidence of the first 8 among Milan's CY, BB, and PMB original 14. Both Imperatori are in the Cary-Yale. The card with Cupid on top corresponds to Petrarch's Triumph of Love, in which Cupid rides a chariot shooting his arrows. For Chastity, there is the lady on the chariot, with someone much like the male lover tending one of the horses. Chastity was for Petrarch just such a feminine personification, exemplified by his beloved Laura. Although not for him depicted on a chariot, marriage processions for the rulers of a city did have the bride entering her new city as part of a procession, probably riding in an open carriage, and there are reported, albeit after 1450, "Triumph of Chastity" floats in marriage processions among commoners in Florence.

Death is not as in Petrarch, "a woman shrouded in a dress of black", but the skeleton was a vivid and common enough evocation of one's future in the grave.

Fame in the CY is seemingly identifiable by her trumpets on the card called "the World", overlooking a scene of knights and castles. for Petrarch leading exemplars were military heroes around a lady. The trumpets are not Petrarchan, but they were common attributes of Fame, since trumpets were used to announce proclamations and famous personages. A complication is that there are also trumpets on the so-called "Angel" or "Judgment" card; that might be Eternal Glory, with "Gloria" and "Fama" as near-synonyms. Which is Petrarch's "Eternity" and which "Fame"? I would think that since Fame in Petrarch relates to worldly fame, it would be the one called "the World", and that thus the CY order of had the Angel as its highest member. If so, it did not last. By the PMB second artist, the castles of the CY are elevated to an ideal realm, that of Eternity, and the trumpets have been removed. That card, the new "World", is then the highest.

Petrarch's poem suggests other possibilities. He compares Fama to the bright star that comes before the dawn (I am using the translation at
Then, as I gazed across the grassy vale
I saw appearing on the other side
Her who saves man from the tomb, and gives him life.
As at the break of day an amorous star
Comes from the east before the rising sun,
Who gladly enters her companionship,
Thus came she. ..
From this language, one might wonder if the Star card might have represented Fame, after which the Sun could represent Time, as it in fact does in Petrarch's poem on that triumph. Here are its first three lines:
FORTH FROM his golden palace, after the dawn,
So swiftly rose the Sun, begirt with rays,
Thou wouldst have said: "Yet hardly had it set."
Later he compares his life to "a single day, cloudy and cold and short", and not only that:
Nay more, the life of all- and in the flight
Of the Sun the manifest ruin of the world.
One problem with identifying the Sun card with Time is that there is no Sun card surviving in the early Milanese tarot. The Sun appears only in the second artist cards, which art historians unanimously attribute to Cicognara, a painter with no known works before 1480 (see the Brera catalog for their 2013 exhibition I Tarocchi dei Bembo, ed. Bendera and Tanzi, pp. 50 and 52). However given that the Sun does appear in the luxury decks of Florence, some of which might be contemporary with the PMB first artist cards at a time of good relations between cities, it is possible that the PMB first artist Sun card is simply lost.

Another problem is that Petrarch also mentions the sun in the triumph of Eternity:
I at last beheld
A world made new and changeless and eternaL
I saw the sun, the heavens, and the stars
And land and sea unmade, and made again
More beauteous and more joyous than before.
The main difference is that the sun, heavens, and stars now do not move:
The sun no more will pause in the Bull or the Fish, ...
Here, however, the heavens have lost their special relationship to the triumph in which they appear. In a world without Time, as everything is changeless.

A likelier candidate for Time, at least in the PMB of the time of its first artist, would seem to be the old man with an hourglass. Dummett even said of the card that Time was "its true meaning" (The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards, p. 121). One historical list, that of Pomerans, did call one of its cards "Tempo" (see, probably referring to such an old man. Such identification may have been influenced by the Triumphi illuminations, which are after the time of our concern. But there was the ancient Kronos/Chronos identification on which the illuminations were based, and Saturn/Kronos, the slowest planet, was normally represented as an old man.

The Angel of Judgment then calls us to Eternity with his trumpet, at least in the CY, with a similar card in all subsequent tarots. In Petrarch himself no such angel is mentioned, nor trumpet. There is, however, Judgment:
I think the day is coming near when gains,
Both good and evil, will be judged at last,
As clearly seen as through a spider's web.
Etc. Besides Judgment, Petrarch mentions "eternal fame" [eterna fama], and the sight once more of his beloved in all her "immortal beauty". On such a basis, the card could also qualify as Fame, as it does explicitly in minchiate--or even Love. But the Judgment is what brings about the triumph over Time and so is the hallmark of Eternity.

4. The original 8: Florence.

That the Petrarchan triumphs are in the Florentine luxury decks is not as clear; but perhaps we can find their traces. Again we find both Imperatori, counting the recently identified Catania Empress ( For the Petrarchan Triumph of Love there is again Cupid, but now a plurality of them, above a plurality of couples in a romantic scene.

For Chastity we do not have a such a lady as Petrarch and Milan give us. But perhaps the Catania and Charles VI male Charioteer is a masculinization of Petrarch's idea. Female personifications were merely the usual way of representing virtues; the virtue itself seems something that applied to both men and women, perhaps in different ways and degrees. Petrarch's term for this triumph, "pudicitie", in ancient Rome implied a code of sexually-related behavior for both sexes (see Here is Petrarch. I give the Italian original for the virtues mentioned, inasmuch as I don't trust translations of poetry (
With her, and armed, was the glorious host
Of all the radiant virtues that were hers,
Hands held in hands that clasped them, two by two.
Honor [Onestate = Honesty] and Modesty [Modestia] were in the van,
A noble pair of virtues excellent,
That set her high above all other women;
Prudence [Senno] and Moderation [Vergogna = Shame] were near by,
Benignity [Abito = Dress] and Gladness of the Heart [Diletto in mezzo 'l core]
Glory [Gloria] and Perseverance [Perseveranza] in the rear;
Foresight [Accorgimento fore] and Graciousness [Bella Accoglienza] were at the sides,
And Courtesy [Cortesia] therewith, and Purity [Puritate],
Desire for Honor [Desio sol d'onore], and the Fear of Shame [Timor d'infamia].
A Thoughtfulness [Penser] mature in spite of Youth,
And, in a concord [concordia] rarely to be found,
Beauty supreme [Beltate somma] at one with Chastity [Castità].
These apply to both sexes. Still, there is a slant toward women, including the phrase "that set her high above all other women". And in the next poem, the Triumph of Death, Petrarch's beloved Laura becomes the chief exemplar of the virtue Death overcomes.

Death is, as in Milan, not the lady in black but the skeleton, a common enough symbol.

For Fame, only the Angel has her attribute of the trumpet; it is the trumpeter of the Last Judgment, more appropriately Eternity than Fame. The Florentine card called the World also has attributes of Fame, namely those given by Boccaccio and from him to a whole series of triumphs of fame in frescoes, manuscripts and cassoni, including those illustrating Petrarch's poem (see my post at In the tarot she holds Boccaccio's globe in one hand and sword in the other. Unlike in Boccaccio, she is not in a circle containing the whole world, not easy to depict on paper; she stands instead above such a circle, with the world inside.

Time in Florence is again probably the newly introduced symbol of the old man with the hourglass. It is hard to say whether this image originated in Florence or Milan. However here the Sun, Petrarch's main image, is actually in the deck, in the sky aloofly looking down on humans, whose examplar is probably not the lady with the distaff but the thread she holds, the thread of life which the fates spin, measure, and cut at their pleasure. Life is indeed brief, and all is vanity, even fame, when compared to the spinnings of the heavens.

In the A order the last card is the Angel, who despite its trumpet (and the card's being called "Fama" in minchiate) must represent the transition to Petrarch's last triumph, Eternity.

5. The 8 in the early lists.

Such are the early tarot images in relation to the poem. Otherwise, there are the early lists, all much after our period of interest, that give an order to the tarot sequence. Only two of the triumphs have Petrarchan titles precisely: Love and Death. But the Charioteer is in the right place to have been Chastity. The Old Man is called Time in one list, that of Pomerans, but in the lists is never in the Petrarchan order. An old man carrying an hourglass suggests more the brevity of life than the power to dim fame after death; thus it belongs before Death rather than after. Eternity must be at the end, and so the Angel in the A order places, probably also in Milan originally. In Milan and Ferrara that will change.

6. The virtues as possible candidates for the 6, and dates.

It is possible but less likely that the 8 triumphs would have been not the Petrarchans but the 2 Imperatori plus 6 virtues, such as the 3 moral virtues, out of the 4 cardinals, and the 3 theological virtues. Virtues were often shown triumphing over vices, ever since Prudentius's Psychomachia, and continuing in Boiardo's "tarocchi" poem, but not over one other. In Plato's Republic, however, temperance was of the body, and so lowest, fortitude of the spirited part, controlling the appetites, and wisdom and justice from the rational part, the highest, controlling the spirited part. At least that is a Platonic way of ordering them. There were other ways of ordering them: Cicero, St. Thomas, Augustine, etc., each with their specific rationale. For its part, the fourth cardinal virtue, Prudence, does not show up as such in any order except that of minchiate, where it may have been an afterthought.

Regarding the theological virtues, the Vulgate's St. Paul (I Cor. 13:13 had given the order "fides, spes, caritas", of which the greatest was caritas. Faith and hope might be put in just the order he gave them, or not, as they weren't really thought of as triumphing over one another. The theological virtues might be thought of as higher than the cardinal virtues, although the general understanding was simply that all were necessary. But perhaps there is a hierarchy of sorts.

The theologicals only occur in two tarots: the Cary-Yale, early, and the minchiate, late. In the minchiate they are in the order hope, faith, charity. The other virtues are more widespread: not only do they occur in one or another of the early tarots of Florence and Milan, but also became part of the standard tarot sequence. However they appear in all sorts of places in the order. If they were seen as part of a hierarchy, there were different perceptions of that hierarchy.

If there was a deck with 8 triumphal cards, whatever was on them, it would seemingly have existed by the 1420s, because it is in 1423 that the game of "VIII Emperors" itself is documented. It might also have existed before Marziano went to Milan, i.e. 1415--or, of course, while Prince Fibbia was alive.

7. From 8 to 16: Milan

One possibility of the next stage is precisely the CY, with missing cards supplied to make it the 6 Petrarchans plus the Wheel of Fortune (a triumph in the Brera-Brambilla and Boccaccio's Amorosa Visione), plus the 7 virtues of the Church (of which Prudence only survives in the minchiate). These 16 cards are the right number to function both as a separate suit and as cards added on top of the the 6 existing courts of the four suits. For this to happen one does not need a preliminary deck of 8 cards per suit, because there is already the Marziano deck with just that feature. However an existing deck, of limited circulation (and appeal), with the 6 Petrarchans plus the 2 Imperatori might have facilitated such substitutions of gods/heroes with Petrarchans/Virtues/ Imperatori.

Franco says that such a transition would require independent confirmation. It seems to me there is already some confirmation, in that the cards came to Yale already assigned each to one of the four suits, the ones listed on the Beinecke library's website. The assignments are the ones in all capital letters below (I constructed this arrangement following Franco's suggestion, and I take it from my translation of his "Elucubrazioni sui tarocchi Visconti di Modrone o Cary-Yale", at Whether the placement of the missing cards, on my hypothesis, is correct I do not know; if not, the allegory might be different from the one I propose.)
Here the Petrarchan triumphs are in order, with only one missing, which I put in as best I could, using the card in the PMB of an old man with an hourglass as "Time". Notice that the high card is the Angel. The virtues aren't in any immediately recognizable hierarchy, and I surely have inserted at least a few of the missing ones in the wrong places. The correct order might have been known only to Filippo Maria Visconti and his friends and family.

The only thing I could figure out, from the placements that are known, is that a cardinal virtue was assigned to each of the four suits, in accord with what is needed to accomplish the Petrarchan triumphs added to that suit. So the Imperatori and Love get Justice. The Cary-Yale card is much like a marriage commemoration illumination done for Francesco Sforza (, and marriage is a contract with duties on the part of both. Filippo Maria Visconti, who commissioned the cards, knew all about that, as he had one wife beheaded for allegedly violating her part of the contract, and then reportedly never had sex with his next wife, although that did not abrogate her duty of faithfulness to him. Justice triumphs over Love. Such an association, love with Justice and marriage does not come from Petrarch, but it is consistent with Filippo's values.

The next virtue is Fortitude, both physical and moral, needed when the Wheel takes a bad spin, and to prevent bad spins when possible. As Phaeded pointed out, the Visconti had a large Wheel of Fortune in their castle on Lake Maggiore ( This of course is not in Petrarch at all, but from Boccaccio. Faith and Hope are also needed, faced with bad spins or their possibility.

The next set is governed by Temperance. Temperance as self-control is needed for the Petrarchan virtue of Pudicitia, in the sense of no unseemliness in one's sexual morality. It is to me a bit odd that this triumph got interpreted as "Chastity", because the two concepts merge only for women. In ancient Rome, Pudicitia meant a certain code of sexual morality, but not necessarily the same for men and women. It may have allowed, for men, sex outside of marriage if done discreetly and honorably. Certainly Filippo Maria Visconti's own life exhibited such a "double standard". The Church might not have fully approved, but the violation of fidelity in marriage and abstinence before marriage was much less approved in women than men. In either case, self-control was required, if only, for men, against a slide into debauchery and a lack of shame having to do with one's appearance to society.

Temperance also allows one to be charitable, by tempering greed. And it serves the goal of a long life, through moderating food consumption and the risk of disease from debauchery.

The fourth virtue, Prudence, is a condition for Fame, not in the sense of caution but in that of knowing how best to serve the good and doing what is needed to achieve it. In that way it may result in Petrarch's "worldly fame", but is more closely allied with "eternal glory". In that sense, where God is the highest good, Prudence even defeats Time and is the means to eternal life. In the Cary-Yale, the card has a scene of knights and castles. Glory in war and military defense is one of two main ways in which worldly fame is achieved, in Petrarch's characterization (the other is writing). However the Cary-Yale may also be suggesting a chivalric allegory pertaining to the quest for the Holy Grail (the fisherman suggesting the Fisher King); if so, it is "glory" in a higher sense, in which the world may not even know about the Grail Castle and its king.

This is at least one story that can account for the placements that are there and those that I have chosen. It does not have to be the right one. I want to emphasize that it does not insist that every card triumph over the one before it. That is not the point. The point is to order the triumphs so that the associated virtues--not the virtue following them, but rather the virtue associated with the suit--dominate them. Justice is associated with Swords, Fortitude with Staves, Temperance with Cups, and Prudence with Coins. These are not hard associations to remember, since Justice has a sword, Fortitude is particularly needed when you have weaker weapons at your disposal (Staves), drink requires moderation, i.e. Temperance, and Wealth, i.e. Coins, requires prudence. There will be at least one Petrarchan per suit. But which cards go with which suit has to be memorized, by way of the allegory. There is some logic to the order of suits, although in reverse order: swords triumph over staves. Weapons triumph over pleasures. Among pleasures, cups (as baptism, communion) triumph over coins (material wealth). Under the virtues, there is some order: the Petrarchans are in order, the Theologicals follow St. Paul, and the Emperor follows the Empress.

The result veers from Petrarch even while following him. A conception of Love as governed by Justice is not Petrarch's, even if it uses his sequence and words. That Fame is governed by Prudence is also not in Petrarch. That a Charioteer could represent Pudicitia, as an expression of Temperance, is not in Petrarch. His only Chariot is Love's, a vehicle singularly absent from all the Love cards. It is an allegory of triumph through virtue for a Christian ruling family.

There may be other allegories compatible with the Beinecke's suit assignments, but if so I don't know what they would be. When cards are distributed to each of four suits, the allegories that are picked have to divide the cards into four equal categories. The Marziano had Virtues, Riches, Virginities, and Pleasures. These categories do not work in the tarot, even if there is some similarity. What other categories besides the cardinal virtues could there be? Perhaps there is a set that would result in six triumphs closer to Petrarch's ideas. If so, it wouldn't affect the basic point; it would just be a better way of telling the story.

Such an allegory is not one that would likely have been known to some later owner of the Cary-Yale. such that he would see that the cards had the assignments given. They are just too different from the usual ways of seeing them. They don't even follow customary meanings precisely. And except in the account by Marziano of a very different collection of cards, there has been no such assignment of triumphs to suits for hundreds of years, in fact probably none since the game of "Emperors" went out of fashion around the middle of the 15th century. But the assignments are there, and they need a reasonable explanation. That is all I am doing.

So we have Justice with the Imperatori and Love; Fortitude with the Wheel, Faith, and Hope; Temperance with Charity (against greed), the Chariot (as self-control in sexual matters), and Death (to promote a long life); and Prudence with Fame (not quite in the Petrarchan sense), Time (again, not Petrarch's Time, which is the whirling of the heavens, but something else, connected with old age), and Eternity.

This type of deck (the CY-type) could have existed as early as the mid-1420s, as a spin-off of the Marziano while he was still alive (he securely died in 1425). It might also have developed as a marriage commemoration for Filippo Maria Visconti's marriage with Marie of Savoy. The Visconti traditionally commemorated their marriages with illuminated manuscripts in which they had themselves appear in the illuminations as biblical personages (see my opening post in the "Visconti Marriage and Betrothal Commemorations" thread, Filippo was engaged in another such project in the late 1420s, that of completing a book started by his grandfather. The same miniaturist or workshop could have done both. Also, there is a good chance that the Cary-Yale itself was done as a marriage commemoration, that of Filippo's daughter Bianca's with Francesco Sforza, because of the Sforza devices in Staves and Swords and Visconti devices in Cups and Coins. No less an authority than Thierry Depaulis has endorsed this theory (Le Tarot Revele, 2013, p. 20). This division fits in with the symbolism that I have proposed for the four suits. However the type could well be much earlier. In that case, the alternating banners on the tent of the Love card could well be the trace of a Savoy-Visconti marriage deck of 1428. Such alternating symbols more naturally suggest the union of two such houses, as opposed to representing two cities, Pavia and Milan, under one house, the Visconti.

8. From 8 to 16: Florence.

In Florence the same 16 just discussed could have been the 2nd stage there, or one of two second stages (since there is also, at least later, minchiate), but the cards are arranged in a different order, one that made sense to whoever was responsible for that part, probably influenced by talk about Plato. Most likely in this case, the cards would have arrived from Milan, but nobody knew or liked the complicated allegory that went with them. They have a better idea, that preserved in minchiate (as Franco has hypothesized). The meanings also depart from Petrarch, more drastically than in Milan, correlated with what is on the card. It is hard to say what virtue the Charioteer has, other than triumphing (although a military hero was expected to have the virtue of Pudicitia, even if he sometimes did not). Love on the Charles VI is a romantic idyll. Petrarch's Worldly Fame is not something the masses can personally expect, so rather than knightly exploits it is something like "good name" and "good fortune" instead, put second to last in the sequence, called "World," as the second highest good. Time, if it is the old man with an hourglass, an image that may even have come to Milan from Florence, as a harbinger of death has to go before Death in the sequence.

I suppose it would be good to suggest dates here. I would think a transition to 16, if it was the same cards as in Milan, would have happened sometime in the late 1420s or more likely, early 1430s. Exchanges were not always easy then, so it might have been by way of some neutral city, such as Bologna or Ferrara. It could also have been by way of condottiere groups trading allegiences from one city to another. It would certainly be no later than the conclave of 1438-1439.

9. From 16 to 14: Milan.

The Brera-Brambilla, known very definitely to have had 14 cards per suit in the regular suits, is judged by the experts to be slightly later than the Cary-Yale. If so, we can imagine it losing two of the special cards. We do not have enough information to say which two it would have been, except definitely not the Wheel or the Emperor, which have been preserved. Prudence would likely have been one, since it does not appear again in Milan. Of course the Brera-Brambilla could have had some other number of triumphal cards, if the principle of having the same number of cards per suit were abandoned. It could also have followed some other model than the Cary-Yale, one going from 8 to 14 directly.

10. From 8 to 14: Florence and Ferrara.

In this case we are not following Marziano's model at all, since 14 is not divisible by 4. Instead, going from the 8 suggested by the game of VIII Emperors--the Empress, the Emperor, and the 6 Petrarchan triumphs--the designer simply adds 6.

So what cards could the additional 6 have been? Vitali ( has suggested that originally they might have been just number cards. In that way the fifth suit would indeed be like the other four, except that instead of 10 number cards plus 4 picture cards, it would be 6 number cards and 8 picture cards. The advantage is that there is a clear hierarchy among numbers, no matter what they are. Given a group of them, we always know which is higher and which is lower. And if they are just numbers--Roman numerals, let us say, perhaps embellished in some artistic way--but with no suit sign attached, they can be interpreted allegorically as the archetype itself: the Monad, the Duad, etc., as a mathematical object separate from the instances of that archetype in the world, just as the Duad is separate from two swords, two staves, two cups, and two coins. They are in that way superior versions of the number cards.

In fact number cards could even have been part of the original 8, with the Petrarchans added after that. However a deck with triumphal number cards, if it ever existed, would not have remained like that (as Vitali is well aware), because there are no number cards, other than those for the regular four suits, in any surviving tarot deck. So we haven't gained a lot by such a hypothesis.

Another possibility would be 6 of the 7 virtues, since Prudence, at least as conventionally represented, is not a surviving card in any deck except the 97 card minchiate. In the Charles VI luxury deck, fairly securely 15th century, all 3 moral virtues are present. But no surviving 22-triumph deck has the theologicals. So it is possible that it was only the 3 moral virtues that were added, and not the theologicals. To include that possibility, it is safer to say that it was the 3 moral virtues that were added, plus 3 other cards, perhaps the theologicals, perhaps some other of the 22 not yet accounted for.

Some support for the hypothesis that it was virtues that were added is in Petrarch himself. He explicitly conceives the triumph of Pudicitia over Cupidinas as a physical battle, where all the associated virtues gang up on him and tie him up. This comes directly from the Psychomachia tradition made famous by Prudentia.

One question to be asked, then, is how did Prudence get into the minchiate? Conceivably it was an afterthought for the sake of completion, like many of the other triumphal cards there not in the standard tarot (the four elements, the zodiac). Or else it was borrowed from the CY-type cards, as hypothesized in the previous section. It is put in with the theological virtues so that the minchiate order departs from the tarot order in as few places as possible, to make it easier for someone not to get mixed up between the two games.

I give a priority to the 3 moral virtues not only because they are present in all the orders but chiefly that they are so variable in all those orders, suggesting their addition at an early stage, when there wasn't so much travel among regions due to the antagonisms that existed between Florence and Milan. It would have been a time when the cards were much the same, but in the case of the virtues, no one was quite sure how they were ordered, given that there was no conventional pattern, and they were not thought of as superseding one another.

It is hard to speculate on what in particular the other additions might have been, except for the Wheel, among the 9 possibilities (21-8-3-1, excluding the Fool from discussion), of which 6 would have survived (excluding the theologicals by the end). I am inclined to think the principles of inclusion, if in Florence or Ferrara, might have included bizarreness and fun; however there might also have been an effort to make the additions in some way relate to the Petrarchan triumphs. So an addition just below Death could be the Hanged Man, both as in a bizarre card and because he is near death. The Pope is added to make it clear that he triumphs over the Emperor, in the sense of having higher authority. With the Hermit put before Death as time during life. the celestials, one or more, might be added to represent the Time that overcomes Fame, even if Fame, now as Good Fortune or Eternal Glory, comes later. I will go over this ground again later.

In Ferrara, there could also have been a stage with 14, with the same options as in Florence. We don't have to be concerned about the Wheel of Fortune, because it is not present in the early luxury decks of either city. The additions might be the 3 moral virtues (or fewer) added to the 8 originals, plus 3 other cards (or more).

Dates: the 14 in Florence would have been between 1415 and 1440. These dates are independent of anything going on elsewhere.

I would think that the tarot of Ferrara would have been at least 14 by 1440, given the "14 figures" mentioned at New Year's as a gift to Bianca Maria Visconti.

There could more than one intermediate stage, before finally getting to 22. With the theologicals still in place, but likely no Devil card, for reasons of piety before 1450, I would imagine 21 by 1440, 22 by the early 1450s, I'd guess no later than 1460. But a small change such as the insertion of one card, or even five if one after the other (i.e. from Devil to Sun), could be done at any time without upsetting whatever standardization had already occurred and allowing it to continue.

Huck has proposed exactly 16, including the Fool, for the Charles VI. This seems improbable because of the omnipresence of the Empress by then. 16 plus the Fool might be possible, if the deck reflected a model existing in the 1440s. Even then, the handwritten numbers on the cards suggest at least 20 plus the Fool still existing at the time the numbers were put there, omitting only the Popess.

11. From 8 to 14: Milan

For the Brera-Brambilla, adding 6 virtues to the 6 Petrarchans and 2 Imperials gives us too many, because it has the Wheel of Fortune, which is neither a virtue nor a Petrarchan. To get 14 from 8, either (1) one of the Imperatori is not there; (2) one of the Petrarchans is not there; (3) one of the moral virtues is not there, or (4) the theologicals are removed and replaced by two other cards plus the Wheel. On the face of it, the 4th alternative seems the most likely, because it doesn't leave part of a pre-existing set. But I cannot pursue these alternatives further.

Huck has proposed that the PMB had just 14 triumphal cards, namely the ones that we now have. One problem is that the Petrarchan triumph of Fame seems to be missing from those cards. Another is that there is only one preserved virtue card, Justice. Huck recently suggested that the card we think of as "Justice" might have been, in addition or instead, Fame ( He shows us a couple of late Florentine Triumphs of Fame with a lady holding the scales, and riders beneath, looking up at her. In the PMB card, the rider is above, securing Fame by fighting for Justice.

It seems to me too much to ask, that there be anything less than 3 virtues in the PMB, especially if, as Huck holds, the Cary-Yale had 7. Also, the Charles VI, of much the same time and place as the Florentine triumphs of Fame that he cites, has all 3. If Francesco and Bianca Maria had anything to do with the deck, either the PMB specifically or the standard tarot of Milan in their era, morality would have been there in more than Justice. Bianca Maria is not the giddy girl of 1440 Ferrara; she is a mother and a duchess. We know from letters that she tried to evoke a sense of morality in her eldest (recounted in Lubkin's A Renaissance Court). In that scenario, the youth on a white horse on the Justice card would be Galeazzo Maria, who in his youth was associated with such a white horse (seen with him in the "Magi" painting in Florence): the knight defending justice, at least in Bianca Maria's wishes. That might be the road to Fame, indeed; but it is still Justice; so it seems likely that the other virtues, Fortitude and Temperance, are simply lost, and also whatever corresponded to the "World" of the CY. So the PMB would have had at least 16 triumphs plus the Fool. By the 1450s the principle of an equal number of cards in the fifth suit as the other four likely has been abandoned in Florence, and so as well in Milan.

Huck has also proposed, for some later decks, 16th century or later, that the card known as Temperance was renamed "Fama". His evidence is Alciati's list of 1544, from Milan or Pavia, and cards in the tradition of Vieville, tradition, c. 1650, with "Sol Fama" on them ( This would put "Fame" in the right place in the order. Such a renaming of what is in Vieville a lady pouring from one vessel to another would seem to be a late development, even if one infuenced by the Petrarchan sequence.

12. From 14 or 16 to 21 and/or 22.

Why 22? And how do we account for the rest of the cards?

These questions have been answered in various ways by various researchers, as satisfactorily as we will probably get. Andrea's answer to the first question gets to the most convincing one, that 22 is "a number that in its Christian mystical meaning is the introduction of the wisdom and divine teachings engraved in humanity", in other words, Christian numerology. There were the 22 chapters of the very numerological last book of the New Testament, Revelation, as well as St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. There were held to be 22 books of the Old Testament. As Vitali points out (, these were connected by Origen (and probably others before and after, I'd guess) with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the sacred language favored by God, even the language of God himself, communicating his wisdom and teachings. A good scholarly discussion of this point can be found in Hebrew Scripture in Patristic Biblical Theory: Canon, Language, by Edmon Louis Gallagher, pp. 85-92, Christian writers seem to have gone out of their way to make the Old testament fit the number 22, as there were various other ways of dividing and combining, and excluding or including, the books of the Old Testament. They also pointed to the 22 things created on the 6 days of creation and other occurrences of the number 22, as though all part of God's plan of doing his work according to numbers.

Less exaltedly, there are also the 21 combinations of two dice plus that of the mis-throw. This would have made it useful in divination, if there were already manuals of divination linked to the throws of two dice. But the only ones I know of from the Middle Ages were linked to 3 dice, of which there are 56 combinations. We also have to ask if there was some significance to the number 78. I don't know of any.

Then there is the question, why the particular cards that there are? And why in the orders we see? My answer: for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps some over-arching principle, and perhaps not.

The Pope might be there to assert the supremacy of religious over secular authority. The Popess might be there as a joke, as the presumably non-existent female head of the Church, yet somehow capable of various more specific interpretation. The Bagatto might be there because he is an odd and curious figure. The Hanged Man might be there to have someone on the point of death, and so suited to be the card before death. Or he is associated with the number 12, as Judas was the 12th disciple. Or as an object lesson. The Devil might be there for that last reason, and the Tower, too. Also, stories with monsters and disasters are popular.

Why is the Bagatto first? That he is a "sinful man", as Andrea says, does not seem to me to be enough, as the Hanged Man is much more sinful. However perhaps he is more of an ordinary sinner, who must nonethess surmount obstacles if he is to attain heaven. Another possibility: the Bagatto resembles the dealer in a card game, who does his job before play begins. As an illusionist, he is an allegory for the creator of this world of illusions. He is a little god of his illusory world, and 1 was the number of God. Although trifling, he triumphs (as illusion and trickery) even over kings. There are various allegorical possibilities.

The Fool might have originally been the first triumph. A trickster triumphs over fools. And even kings can be dominated by folly. But allegorically fools can also be placed outside of the social order. He might also have been combined with the Bagatto early on, as he appears to be in the Rosenwald Sheet, a kind of court jester to whom kings looked for disguised wisdom. The more possibilities the better, in this era that delighted in ambiguity.

The sequence from Devil to Sun, or even Temperance to Sun, might represent the ascent of the soul after death in various Platonically inspired systems, through the spheres of water (in Temperance's vessels), air, fire, moon, sun, star, with the latter out of place because there is also a principle of "ascending light" which is easier to remember. Or the star represents fame and the other two time.

Why is Temperance next to Love in one deck and Death in another? In the one case, it is the antidote to the impulsiveness and compulsiveness of Sexual Desire. In the other case it is the antidote to death, as Christian eucharist and, as moderation, the best way to a long life. Likewise, Justice is the Justice of the Triumphator or the Justice of God. The Wheel of Fortune is at 10 because 10 is the number of the end of a cycle of number, 1s, 10s, 100s, etc., in the tarot the end of a world-directed cycle and the beginning of one directed toward God. If in some orders it is at 11 or 9, it is because the producer of that tarot didn't understand the numerological placement. There are all sorts of reasons, or rationales,and we will probably never know which ones are "correct" in the sense of being deciding factors in the creation of the tarot, as opposed to ways in which people remembered particular cards' places in the order or found the sequence, besides in a game, a suitable object of meditation.

So when would the cards have been stabilized at the 22 we know? My unexciting hypothesis: after 1450, probably. This hypothesis does not exclude that the cards stabilized in one city or area at 22 before 1450. It's just that it seems to me that it wouldn't have been dominant in all areas before then, because of the difficulties between Milan and Florence. However a 22 card deck could have existed even by 1440 and slowly spread elsewhere.

Franco gives (section 5.3) the argument that it could not have been much later that that, because of the uniformity in subjects that we see in all four centers of the tarot, with differences only in minor details, such as the order of the vritues. This does not seem to me a good argument by itself. The series from Devil to Sun is the same everywhere, in the same order. It would be very easy to insert that series, or any part of it, into the game at any time, spreading from one dominant center of tarot production to the rest, leaving local producers only the freedom to change the inessential details on the cards (in that way similar to the variants in suit symbols that Franco observes in Switzerland).

This counter-argument only works if the deck is already at least 16 triumphs plus the Fool (22- the 5 from Devil to Sun). It does not justify a deck with only 14 added cards as late as 1477, except as an isolated survival of a much earlier form. Also, the Tower, Moon, and Sun appear already in the Charles VI, and the Star and Sun in the d'Este, done for Ercole's marriage in 1473. I find it hard to believe that these decks, or the 2nd artist cards of the PMB, could be after the early 1480s. These suggest standardization by the 1470s. SteveM's observation that the style of Boiardo's tarocchi poem is more consistent with his early style than his late ( tends to point even to the 1460s. Only the Devil card is unaccounted for in the luxury decks. It may have been a late addition, but the numbers on the Charles VI (added later, but seemingly reflecting what was in the deck then) do not support this; it can also be explained as removals out of piety or fear of the Inquisition, which associated it with witchcraft. Given the period of peace and increased trade of the 1450s, that time seems to me most logical for the standardization at 22, but it could be at any time until the new round of wars in Italy.

13. the 6 Petrarchals as applied to groups of cards so as to include all 22.

This was proposed by Moakley in 1956, according to Franco in "Triumphs and Triumphi". I will discuss that idea in relation to that note (see the post for that note) . I mention it now only for completeness.

14. Conclusion

Here I have attempted to reconstruct various paths the tarot might have taken starting from the game of "VIII Emperors" and Petrarch's Triumphi, using as additional clues mainly the extant cards of the 15th century luxury decks attributed to Milan and Florence. That is as far as I can get. I am no closer to saying where the tarot originated, or in what form. Information from Florence before the time of the Marziano deck would certainly help. More data from Florence from before 1440 would also help, of course, to eliminate hypotheses and maybe suggest others. But it is very difficult to establish the origin of something, especially when one or more of the likely places had most of its records destroyed (Milan). Even if you find more documentation from Florence for the early 1430s--actually, I already think there is such documentation, although not decisive, in the Catania's recycled paper ( only pushes the date of origin back and says nothing about where or when the tarot, as a set of special triumphal cards added to the regular deck, came from originally.

Added Nov. 10, 2016 (adapted from my posts at and

Dummett's later thoughts (1993 and 20004) on tarot origins

(by Michael S. Howard)

I want to address myself first to a passage from Dummett's Il Mondo e l'Angelo. I take it from viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1019&p=15162&hilit=chronology#p15162 (up to the discussion of Moakley) and viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1019&p=15152&hilit=brilliant+idea#p15152 (Moakley), where the original Italian can also be found. It is at the end of his chapter 4:
The proof of Bolognese origin is very weak. In favor of an origin in Ferrara is the fact that the first documentary mention of the Tarot comes from Ferrara; but we know that the invention of tarot cards should be many years before this hint [accenno], and therefore the origin of the cue [accenno] is purely fortuitous. A more robust reason to suppose that Ferrara was the birthplace of the Tarot comes from the cultural environment of the Este court. However, the Marziano/Michelino deck provides direct evidence that Filippo Maria Visconti was interested from the beginning of his reign in experimenting with new types of playing cards; it is likely that his experiments culminate in the tarot deck as we know it. We do not have here a demonstration of the invention of tarot cards at the court of the Visconti of Milan; but pending further testing, this is the most likely hypothesis.

We can therefore draw up a provisional chronology, based of necessity on conjecture; the dates of course are approximate:

1428: Tarot cards were invented in the court of the Visconti.
1430: the Este court in Ferrara knows the tarot.
1435: tarot spread to Bologna.
1440: card makers begin to produce decks of tarot cards at a good price, printed by woodblock.
1442 tarot spread from Bologna to Florence.
1444: The composition of the tarot deck becomes standardized everywhere.

For now it is not possible to respond better to the question of when and where exactly the tarot was invented.

Before considering the scope of the invention, it is worth asking why the additional cards were called 'triumphs'.

Many have tried to explain the word "triumph", with the use of twenty-one trumps in the game, that is, as those that 'triumph' over the other cards; and we are not able to demonstrate the inaccuracy of this explanation. More striking, however, is a brilliant idea of Gertrude Moakley. The researcher believes that the name has nothing to do with the use of the cards, but only with what is shown: the set of trumps would represent a kind of triumphal procession. As documented by Burkhardt and Moakley, one of the favorite pastimes of the courts of the Italian Renaissance was just the preparation of these triumphal processions with floats decorated with figures derived from classical mythology or depicting abstractions such as Love, Death, and so on.: A metamorphosis of the triumph of a Roman emperor, general in an elegant allegorical entertainment. A common element of these Renaissance triumphs was the idea that is at the center of the poem I Trionfi [The Triumphs] of Petrarch, in which each abstraction personified a triumph, triumphing over the previous one; thus in the poem, love triumphs over gods and men, the chastity over love, death over chastity, fame over death, time over fame, and eternity over time. The hypothesis would be confirmed if it was possible to explain the subjects of the trumps of the tarot deck as part of a triumphal procession of this kind; but, despite the considerable efforts of Gertrude Moakley, supplemented later by those of Ronald Decker, such an explanation, though plausible in principle, is difficult to make convincing in detail. Nevertheless, in the absence of anything better, we can accept as probable, though not as absolutely certain, that it was this association of ideas inspiring the use of the word " triumph " for additional cards of the tarot deck.
The last paragraph of this passage is of considerable interest. But there is no need to look for the visual representations of all the cards in parades or the cassoni that were on display in a particular kind of parade, that accompanying marriage ceremonies. We need look to the titles of the poems themselves, illustrated less in relation to the imagery in the poem and more in relation to how these subjects were conventionally illustrated and thought of--including but not limited to parades--and also allowing that just 6 of the cards instead of 22 were influenced by Petrarch, even though these cards may also have influenced how the whole group of 22 was seen.

Then there is the earlier part, the chronology. Notice especially that he has already discounted as fortuitous the 1442 information from Ferrara: the "accenno", reference. Other considerations come to the fore, chiefly Marziano. So what needs to be updated, in view of what is now known? I repeat the chronology under consideration:
  • 1428: Tarot cards were invented in the court of the Visconti.
  • 1430: the Este court in Ferrara knows the tarot.
  • 1435: tarot spread to Bologna.
  • 1440: card makers begin to produce decks of tarot cards at a good price, printed by woodblock.1442 tarot spread from Bologna to Florence.
  • 1444: The composition of the tarot deck becomes standardized everywhere.
Obviously we must replace "Ferrara" with "Florence", given the prior evidence in Florence and the re-attribution of many early cards to that city, the proliferation of skilled craftsmen there, and the documentation of much tarot production there later on. So we have:
  • 1428: the tarot was invented in the court of the Visconti.
  • 1430: Florence knows the tarot.
  • 1435: tarot spread to Bologna.
  • 1440: card makers begin to produce decks of tarot cards at a good price, printed by woodblock.
  • 1442: tarot spread from Bologna to Ferrara.
  • 1444: the composition of the tarot deck becomes standardized everywhere.
Franco's research shows that 1440 is too late for cheap decks. Perhaps 1435-1439 would be better. [Note added later: Phaeded rightly objects to these two sentences. Actually, we have no idea, except that "naibi a trionfi" seems not to be an unfamiliar or new expression in Giusti's diary.] Also, and this is may be an important point, 1430 seems too early for Florence, given their facility in the minor arts. We would expect evidence from there earlier than 1440. So 1430-1436, and maybe even until 1440, small production at most. There is also the question of how they would have got to Florence from Milan. Soldiers seems a good bet, but trade still existed, especially by means of parties not of either city. If tarot spreads to one city, why not others, in limited amounts? Finally, can we assume that Milan invented the game? Bologna is also a possibility.

Also, would the third city be Bologna or Ferrara, and when? On the one hand, Bologna's fortunes were rather tied up with Milan's, usually in opposition to each other, until the rule of Sante Bentivoglio, 1442, who came from Florence. That would suggest changing the 1442 entry, so that it reads ""tarot spread from Florence to Bologna". Also,1442 appears too late for Ferrara, because of the "14 figures" in 1440. We also have, it seems to me, a distinction between hand-painted vs. woodblock production, and expensive vs. cheap or at least cheaper, that needs to be carried through more systematically. It seems to me that if Milan was first, then hand-panted would also be first, and small production. I mean by my date-ranges not when the events indicated happened, over time, but a range of time that seems reasonable for the date when it first occurred.
  • 1425-1428: Tarot cards were in the court of the Visconti, in a small way, perhaps from some other city, but changed to fit the Marziano structure, or perhaps invented there.
  • 1430-1436: Spreads to other cities, including, most likely, Florence, in a small way.
  • 1437-1439: Florentine card makers begin to produce decks at a good price, printed by woodblock, by 1440 resulting in a great increase in popularity of the game.
  • 1430-1440: tarot spreads from Milan to Ferrara, in a small way (but not as likely as Florence, for which see below), or, by 1442, cheaper production, from Florence or Bologna.
  • 1440-42: cheaper tarot spreads from Florence to Bologna and perhaps Ferrara, unless already in either place in a small way.
  • 1440-1450. Cheaper tarot spreads from Florence to Milan.
  • 1444-1460: The composition of the tarot deck becomes standardized everywhere, although survivals of earlier forms may continue as well for the next 50 years.
Well, I suppose that is not much of a hypothesis, given all the alternatives built into it. A more precise version would be something intermediate between the middle formulation than this last one. What I mainly want to emphasize is the distinction between large and small production as a complicating factor suggested by the evidence, still a factor to be reckoned with. And also that given Florentine record keeping, we would expect there to be records earlier than 1440 if cheap decks started there much before 1438. To that extent Ross Caldwell's comments about the origin of tarot is right (that it can't have been more than 1 or 2 years before 1440); but I qualify it by saying that if it were invented much earlier, then the players of the game must have been very limited indeed, to keep playing-card producers from jumping on it. Perhaps around 1435 there were changes in the rules that made it more popular. That is another consideration worth emphasizing.

The kind of rule change I have in mind is that which is a corollary to freeing the trumps from being tied to a suit: a player would no longer have to play a high trump as part of the requirement to follow suit. We have to ask: what the rule would  be for "following suit" in a game of "VIII Emperors" I presume that if Swords were led, for example, and the only Sword one had was the Emperor, one would be obliged to play it instead of a lower trump in some other suit. Or if (in Marziano) Virtues were led, one would be obliged to play Jupiter if that was the only Virtue card one had. Getting rid of that rule would probably make the game more interesting. Another rule change would be to rearrange the order so that it was easier to remember for more people. Another might be to make only a few of the trumps counting cards, as opposed to some complicated hierarchy of points mimicking the court cards. We can't know what these rule changes would have been, but only reconstruct what they might have been based on their originally being just another suit, only higher than the others, or perhaps one thought of as all courts. Such rules are of course ones that some people, i.e. those who hold that the 22 special cards were created all at once, would probably say never existed.

Dummett's 2004 thoughts on tarot origins

In 2004 Dummett again visited the topic of tarot origins, in an article in The Playing Card which "Huck" posted at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1073#p16421. Dummett there postulates Milan 1420 for the invention of the tarot, earlier than he did in 1993. Since the Marziano could be as early as 1418, that postulation seems reasonable enough, even without evidence.

Dummett then advances another view of what the tarot deck might have looked like at an earlier stage, before it attained all 22 special cards. He speculates that the virtues might have been added later, as an addition after an 18 triumph deck (with or without the Fool) had spread to other cities, one that people in other cities heard about but without knowing the order, maybe in 1430.

But I do not think that such a hypothesis would apply only to an 18 triumph deck. It  would also fit my hypothesis that the cards went from 8 picture cards (possibly with 6 number cards) to 14 by adding the virtues.

In fact, I think it applies better to an earlier stage than 18, i.e. precisely to when the number had attained 14 or 16 in one city and the cards spread then spread to other cities, either adding the virtues or all at once. That is because at the stage of 18, one already has quite a bit to remember: that the Bagatto is first, that the Hanged Man comes before Death, that the Wheel also comes before Death, that the Devil comes after Death but before the celestials, and so on. The order of the virtues is just one more thing. But at an earlier stage, all there is besides the virtues is the Petrarchans and the Imperials, it is much easier to remember an order for them than it is for the virtues. The Petrarchans are easy to put into a narrative that can then be readily remembered. It does not even have to be precisely the same story as Petrarch's.  But the virtues appeared in all sorts of orders; also, how they related to the Petrachans--particular virtues being especially relevant at particular stages of the story--would be a matter of opinion. So while Dummett has a good point, it is one that applies even better to an earlier stage, when the number of trumps was 14 or 16, including the virtues. As for the date of such a stage, in which the order of the virtues differed from city to city less than the order of other cards, Dummett's postulate of 1430 is reasonable enough.

Added Nov. 10, 2016, from and

Evidence from Polermo for the Catania deck's provenance as 1430s Florence
(by Michael S. Howard)

The cover article for The Playing Card of April-June 2016, is "New Insights into the So-called Alessandro Sforza Deck", by Emilia Maggio. This is her second article on that deck, the first being one a couple of years ago on the Stag Rider. Both, and also the article on the Rothschild cards by her countrywoman Christina Fiorini in 2006, fit well into my own hypotheses about the evolution of the tarot, which I will address at some point. However Maggio's arguments are not very good, as I will explain. First I want to summarize what they are.

1. Magio's identification of the figure, its deck, and its earliest possible date.

Her point of departure is an Empress card in a collection of Italian cards, 15th-19th century, at the Palazzo Abatellus, Palermo. After Magio noticed it, attendees at the 2015 Italian ICPS convention in Palermo had a chance to look at it, too. It and a Two of Bastoni had their inner layers of paper separated from the outer painted layer. The inner layers were recycled notarial acts on which the dates 1427 and 1428 could clearly be read.

She adds that stylistically the two cards are very similar to the Castello Ursino cards in Catania: she compares the Palermo Empress to the lady on the Catania "Fame" card, as she calls it (below left, with the Charles VI version next to it): their faces are very similar.

Besides the Empress, there was also a Two of Bastoni in Palermo that looks like it is from the same deck, as can be seen by comparing it with the Catania Six of Bastoni. As it happens, the Catania group is missing those cards. As further confirmation, she says that the Stag Rider, of the Catania group, also shows traces of writing and the date 1428, as "accidentally discovered by the staff at Castello Ursino in 2014".


That the card is of an Empress is clear from the attributes of the fleur de lys and the globe, Emperor-attributes in art of the time. She gives several examples, one from 1375 Catalonia and the other from c. 1430 (in the text, "first half of the 15th century") Piedmont (below; the fleur de lys decorates Charlemagne's robe, second from the right):


Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Empire, was traditionally associated with that symbol (as was, to be sure the Kingdom of France). Magio says that the Palermo Empress and the Charles VI Emperor both have tripartite globes, exaggerating the extent of their rule to "the boundaries of the known world". (I do not doubt that interpretation, but I do not see that division into three on the cards. I don't think it matters.)

The same attributes are also on the Rothschild and Charles VI cards, both of which also have two small figures at the bottom of the card, male instead of female. In the Rothschild, she points out, the poses of the figure are quite complementary to those on the Palermo Empress.


In the Palermo and Rothschild, they represent the clemency of the Emperor. In the Charles VI, they are two vassals of the Emperor, perhaps related to the four kings in the deck, of which Alessandro Sforza, or someone else entitled to display the "diamond ring" emblem, may be one (vassal, that is).

2. Magio's dating of the deck and of the Charles VI

First, we have to see the similarity between the Catania and the Charles VI, at least in some cards. For Magio, that is grounds for considering them done around the same time. Another pair, besides the Fame card, is that of Time, or the Old Man:


The Charles VI Emperor, Magio argues, is likely modeled on Sigismund, who became emperor in 1433, then in his 60s. The Charles VI Emperor's "crooked nose, white beard, and short eyebrows" are similar to Sigismund's (I don't see a crooked nose, just similar ones). If so, the famous Pisanello portrait ( ... an_Emperor) makes him look younger than he was. She points out that the Cary-Yale and Brera-Brambilla are more closely related to that portrait, in that the hat is similar and the face more similar; also,the attendant holding the crown might symbolize Filippo Maria Visconti himself, who was the custodian of the Iron Crown of Italy, and in whose city Sigismund in fact was crowned with that crown and title.So the idea that another deck might do the same is not unthinkable. Also, there is a portrait in an illumination of a document from the Council of Constance, where Sigismund played a major role, that is more similar to the Charles VI Emperor.


The Palermo Empress, then, would be Barbara of Cilli, Sigismund's wife. She did not accompany her husband to Italy, so there would be less resemblance to her actual features. However that same document from Constance is an approximation of what we see on the card, mainly in the hair, while the crown is a simplification of hers. (Oddly, I see two women with elaborate crowns in the illumination, one accompanied by a young commoner. Is she perhaps the ghost of Pope Joan?! But perhaps the illuminator simply wanted to portray her twice.)


Magio also points to the resemblance of the Charles VI Pope's face to Eugenius IV, pope from 1431 to 1447.

Magio thinks that it is most likely that the "Charles VI" was painted in the lifetimes of both Sigismund and Eugenius, specifically to commemorate the crowning of Sigismund:
These elements point to a hypothesis of the Catania and Paris packs being devised in the mid-1430s to celebrate Sigismund's visit to Italy. Early tarot sets were produced for special occasions, such as weddings or career advancement:a state visit such as that of the emperor would inevitably be marked by, and remembered with, the creation of luxury items made to impress and sometimes used as gifts.
In consequence, Magio downplays the idea that the deck was produced for Alessandro Sforza. He, or one of the Estense, may be simply one of several personages on the cards, cast in the role of Charlemagne's palladins and other associates in relation to the Emperor himself, in a chivalric metaphor.

3, Critique of Magio: The dates on the paper.

That the Polermo Empress has the date 1427 and 1428, and Catania Stag Rider 1428, written on Notrial Acsts whose paper forms the inner layer of the cards is not that interesting in itself. The real question is, how near to those years are the cards likely to be? I know that late 15th century watermarks in the case of the Sermones de Ludos led Decker to propose "around 1500" for the Sermones. This, like the Notorial Act, is on a handwritten manuscript, not machine-printed material. I cannot think of other cases where datings have been made for manuscripts based on watermarks or other roughly datable marks on the paper.

What is fresh my mind is something on printed material. Franco Pratesi recently wrote about the Third Rosenwald Sheet, or more precisely, the Leinfelden copy of that sheet. It had stored with it four sheets of "legal opinions" from a book that was printed in many copies and editions. The museum told Franco, by email, "The Tarot sheet has been found within these printed sheets", to which Franco adds, "Sono due fogli di carta stampata di un volume di pareri giuridici in folio", they are two sheets of printed pages from a volume of bound legal opinions". In fact they are two copies of the same two pages, so that it is sure that they are not pages cut out of a book, but either rejected copies of pages, due to some error, or pages left over for some reason. By finding the right edition, that of 1501, he was able to say something about when the cards were probably made: (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1105):
Appare improbabile che queste carte siano rimaste a lungo a disposizione dopo la stampa. L’editoria si basava su un numero limitato di copie e i fogli di carta non utilizzati erano subito richiesti per le più varie applicazioni, anche come carta per involgere merce varia. Insomma, aver trovato il 1501 come data di origine in pratica corrisponde all’incirca anche alla data di utilizzazione. Lo stesso vale per la località; non è pensabile che questi fogli scartati da una tipografia abbiano viaggiato a distanza prima di essere utilizzati; ciò sarebbe stato possibile per le pagine di un libro finito, ma non per residui di lavorazione; quindi i fogli furono incollati al terzo foglio Rosenwald vicino al tempo e [14] al luogo di produzione, Perugia 1501. In base a quanto abbiamo saputo sulla sorte di questa edizione, possiamo anche supporre che questi avanzi di lavorazione fossero stati tenuti in serbo per la produzione di ulteriori copie del libro che per le questioni legali insorte non vennero poi ultimate; in tal caso, la datazione relativa si potrebbe estendere fino al 1515; quello che è certo è che la data non poteva precedere il 1501 se non eventualmente di pochi mesi, necessari per il completamento dell’impaginazione del libro.

(It seems unlikely that these pages remained available for long after printing. The publishing business was based on a limited number of copies and the unused sheets of paper were immediately required for the most varied applications, even as paper to wrap up cargo. In short, having found 1501 as a practical date for the source, it also corresponds roughly to the date of utilization. The same applies for the town; it is unthinkable that these sheets discarded in printing would have traveled a distance before being used; this would have been possible for the pages of a finished book, but not for residues from processing; thus the sheets were stuck to the third Rosenwald sheet near to the time and [14] place of production, Perugia 1501. Based on what we have learned about the fate of this edition, we can also assume that these leftovers from processing were held in reserve for the production of additional copies of the book that because of legal matters were then not fated to be completed; in this case, the related date could extend until 1515; what is certain is that the date could not be earlier than 1501 except possibly by a few months, required to complete the layout of the book.
Would the same considerations apply to the pages of a handwritten book? The first of these clearly does, namely that any pages discarded for errors would quite soon be used for other purposes. The other circumstance is that of an interrupted publishing process due to the fact that the printers of this edition were hauled into court for a case that didn't resolve until 1515. I do not know if some similar problem could have arisen in 1528, with the eventual outcome--perhaps as long as 15 years--of the pages not being used. However there is the additional problem, it seems to me, of ruling out that the occurrence of the dates is not in reference to something recent but of several years before, citing a precedent, perhaps. It would be useful to know more about the context of these dates in the Acts. Perhaps it is not possible. If so, we are left in a state of doubt.

4. Critique of Magio: the Emperor and the Pope

Why should whatever resemblance there is between the Pisanello painting, or the Constance illumination, and the Emperor card lead us to think that the card was painted during Sigismund's tenure as Emperor? In the case of the Cary-Yale and Brera-Brambilla, which is more believably based on Pisanello, the decks were produced, according to all the experts, in the 1440s. This is after Sigismund's death. It is true that Sigismund was worth commemorating in Milan, because he received the Iron Crown there in 1431, a fact only applies to the Milan decks. Sigismund did not even visit Florence or Ferrara, if Magio's report of his itinerary is to be believed. Why should either of these cities commemorate him in particular at all?

The resemblances between the Charles VI Emperor and that of Sigismund's portrait are not in fact that great. They may have been there, such as they are, to give a nod to Sigismund while the differences show a primary intention to paint a generic Emperor. It is possible that these Emperors are modeled on a previous card in the game of "VIII Emperors", recorded in Ferrara in 1423. At that time there was no Emperor, and in fact Sigismund's claim had been undermined by Charles IV's heir-apparent Wenceslaus while the latter was alive (d. 1419). There was no clear Emperor until 1433. Both wore beards, as did Charles IV. Also, it must be remembered that the next emperor wasn't crowned until 1452. Sigimund remains the most current emperor until that date.

The resemblance between the Charles VI Pope and Eugenius IV is more convincing. But why should it only be worth commemorating during his lifetime? Eugenius IV had distinguished himself by residing in both Ferrara, until the plague broke out, and in Florence, the latter for an extended period of five years. That in itself is worth commemorating in a deck from one of those cities. And even this only applies to the Charles VI, not the other decks with similar emperors, because we don't have the popes, if there ever were any, for those decks.

5. Critique of Magio: Are the Palermo Empress and Two of Bastoni from the same deck as the Catania cards?

All the Catania cards have an orange cast to them. The Palermo cards do not. So I wonder if perhaps the Palermo cards do not belong to the Catania set after all. But I do not know about orange sheens; perhaps they are the result of different storage methods or things they have come into contact with. It would be nice if we had information about the dimensions of the cards, including the thickness, and their backs. However I don't think this matters much. They do seem of the same time and place.

 6. Another criticism of Magio

She says, "Early tarot sets were produced for special occasions, such as weddings or career advancement". Franco tells me there are no records of tarots ever being given as a wedding presents in Florence. On the other hand, it seems to me that the Visconti had a long history of giving paper products (missals, psalters, etc.) at such occasions, with thinly disguised portraits of themselves as one saint or another. So it depends. We do know that Sigismond Malatesta got a deck shortly after his victory for Florence at Angieri, which might qualify as a "special occasion".

What else can be said to date the Palermo Empress and other cards mentioned?

7. Events worth commemorating in the life of Alessandro Sforza.

If the deck of present interest was indeed for Alessandro Sforza, as weakly suggested by the Ferrarese diamond ring emblem on the shield (granted by the Estense), and luxury decks were for big occasions, his big military victory was in 1435. In 1444, it is true, he gained Pesaro from Galeazzo Malatesta, but for 20.000 florins, and so coins rather than swords. In 1445. Alessandro suffered a rather devastating defeat at Assisi in 1445. In 1446 his brother Francesco installed him at Parma, but hardly worth commemorating with a King of Swords. The Estense, who whose emblem it was, weren't particularly good at warfare. Borso never had a big victory in battle and was usually on the opposite side from Florence. Ercole studied the martial arts in Naples, but in warfare his only distinction was humiliation in the "salt war" of 1482-4 and never fought a war again.

8. The significance of the "palle" on the Charles VI Chariot.

They are in groups of seven along the lower canopy of the card. Red palle (balls) of various numbers (5 to 8) in a similar pattern on a yellow background was a device of the Medici and in Florence. It is impossible to date the cards by this because even after they got the right to include the French fleur de lys in 1465 (which has nothing to do with the card's use of the fleur de lys on the staff, as it is not part of the "palle" configuration), they continued to use versions without it, e.g. the tomb of Duke Cosimo I has five, per ... ici-balls/). But the palle at least tends to locate the sponsorship of the Charles VI in Florence, and probably also its production. And thus probably also the cards like them, the Catania. In 1433-34 the supporters of the Medici were rather busy saving Cosimo from first execution and then exile. But after 1435 they had more cause to celebrate, especially after the triumph of being the seat of the Conclave. In this scenario the palle on the chariot might identify, for some, the charioteer, despite his condottiere's hat, with Cosimo, giving him the triumphal entry into Florence that he never had or wanted in real life. I doubt whether the Charles VI was a gift for a young boy, such as Lorenzo, because it was most likely not made mainly for playing with, just looking at. That would be hard even for a boy 13 or 14 year old. (For another possible occasion, see my item 9 below.)

9. An occasion for a deck with Eugenius IV in the Pope card.

An occasion for Eugenius's face being the model for the Pope of the Charles VI might be his residence in the city 1438-1443. The game of triumphs was then illegal in Florence and occasionally the subject of fines. However it was played nonetheless, as Franco Pratesi has shown. One motive for the Charles VI might have been to convince Eugenius that it was an educational game about life and the road to salvation, so as to get the Church to make this exception to its opposition to the proliferation of card games. It wouldn't hurt to put his portrait on the Pope card, to show the importance of the pope, and so Eugenius, in the allegory. This may even have been the first time the Pope appeared in the cards, inserted after the Emperor to show the Pope's superiority. For whatever reason, tarot was added to those very few games that were excluded from the prohibitions the next time the Council considered the matter, in 1450. The exception in 1450 and the previous non-exception from provisions were documented by Franco Pratesi.

10. Relationship of the Palermo Empress with the Rothschild cards, with the similar Emperor.

The Rothschild cards are generally given to Florence. Bellosi in 1985 ("A drawing by Giovanni del Ponte and some tarot cards". Art Bulletin, 1985, 30, pp. 27-35) noted the similarity of the Rothschild Knight of Bastoni to a "St. George and the dragon" painted by Del (or Dal) Ponte (1385-c.1437) in 1434; the two can be seen together at ... merged.jpg. For more on the Rothschild cards and Dal/Del Ponte, see the thread viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1005.

11. Comparison of the Catania Stag Rider with work of Lo Scheggia and Apollonio di Giovanni.

The comparison of the Stag Rider to a cassone lid by Lo Scheggia (1409-1486), a Florentine artist whose workshop is known to have produced playing cards (in 1447, per Franco Pratesi), was noticed by Huck. Magio in her earlier article saw a resemblance to a c. 1450 Virgil illumination by Apollonio di Giovanni (c. 1416-1465), I think regarding the same feature, male breasts ("pectorals"). Lo Scheggio is said to have had his own workshop starting in 1429. Unfortunately Apollonio's documentation is more meager, starting only in 1456. For pictures, links, and references on Lo Scheggia at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=964. For Apollonio, I used Google.

12. Comparison of the Catania Charioteer with Dal Ponte's "triumph of fame" and Lo Scheggia's Birth Tray.

The full Dal Ponte cassone panel can be seen at ... anPL25.JPG, which comes from Callman, Apollonio di Giovanni; Callman says that it is "1420s or 1430s" (p. 12). What is significant for the Catania Chariot card are the two "grooms" (or captives), whose legs can be seen on the Catania ( ... L25DET.jpg). The horses are symmetrical, even if their heads point inward instead of outward as on the card. Everything is quite stylized in both. Dal Ponte died in 1437. He could have made the Catania, or something similar; his cassone subjects included Petrarchan themes and the seven virtues. But other considerations (see item 11) point to Lo Scheggia for the Catania itself, and Dal Ponte just for the Rothschild. At a later point in his life Lo Scheggia could also have made the Charles VI, which does not have the grooms but is in general livelier. If the Charles VI was made for the Medici, Lo Scheggio is a known artist for them, doing the Lorenzo "birth tray" of 1449 (no groom, but one captive; two "triumph of fame" illuminations by him, however, do have the two grooms; see viewtopic.php?f=11&t=858&start=60).

I do not know if there was any personal relationship between Dal Ponte and Lo Scheggio. Both are known by nicknames ("By the Bridge" and "The Splinter"). If Lo Scheggio had his own workshop in 1429, he would have been 20 at the time; so I wonder how independent he really was then. As for Apollonio, his "triumph of fame" has the two grooms but in a very different depiction; I notice that Apollonio has a "naked boys", c. 1450-1460, similar to the famous one by Lo Scheggio, c. 1450, but pulling on poppy seed pods. Apollonio seems to have used Scheggia motifs.

Magio sees the Catania and the Charles VI as essentially the same in style. To me the Charles VI seems more the characteristically Renaissance style initiated by Lo Scheggio's brother Massacchio, and the Rothschild Emperor a whole epoch away, flat and medieval compared to the illusion of depth, as a result of shading, in the Charles VI. The Palermo Empress complements the Rothschild Emperor. The Catania cards seem of the same time period or a little later.

13. How the cards fit into my hypothesis for the development of the tarot. out of 16 special cards in Milan.

For myself, I like to see the card and its deck in terms of the point of view I expressed in the thread about Pratesi's notes on the Cary-Yale (notably my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1086&start=30#p16731), namely, that the 16 triumphs of the Visconti-inspired deck-type, seen later in the Cary-Yale, came to Florence in the early to middle 1430s. Florence then added other subjects to one version of the deck, while removing the theological version and Prudence. Another version kept all four but also added the new ones and at some point even more, to become Minchiate. The "Alessandro Sforza" would be an expression of the tarot at the earlier state of development, earlier than the "Charles VI" and as early as within a couple of years of the Rothschild, c. 1435. At least so far, there are no surviving cards in the "Alessandro Sforza" that are not part of the Cary-Yale's hypothesized 16. That deck may still have had the theologicals plus prudence, a possibility entertained by Magio in her other article (p. 229 for Charity, but not very convincing). Then we see the replacements for the theologicals in the otherwise similar but somewhat later "Charles VI." Or, conceivably, the substitutions were already made by the time of the "Alessandro Sforza" and are now lost.

Needless to say, all this is still rather hypothetical, with many alternative scenarios. But the dates on the paper used to make the Palermo Empress and the manner of her depiction (similar to the Rothschild Emperor) have been a big help in fitting various extant cards into the slots it provides. I end up with roughly the same dating as Magio for the Catania and Palermo, 1435-1438, reaffirming the connection to Alessandro Sforza, but the next decade for the Charles VI, for the Medici. There remains, to be sure, much uncertainty about dates and deck composition, but much less so about place. Given the long life of the Scheggia workshop, until at least 1470, some or all of the Charles VI might even be "added cards", as the tarot grew, but by the same shop and done so as to blend in with the others. It may even at some point have had an Empress.

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