Saturday, March 23, 2024

March 16, 2024: Florence 1478 and 1479: Petrarch's triumphs in private homes (with May 3 addendum)

The original, "Firenze 1478 e 1479: Trionfi del Petrarca in case private," is at  This note reports his find of a 1479 inventory item of a "paio di trionfi In charta pechora di messer franc° petrarcha" - a pack of trionfi in parchment of Messer Franco Petrarch." The parchment suggests that the "pack" (paio) is old. In a second part of the note, he revisits the inventory of the workshop of Alessandro Rosselli, son of the famous engraver Francesco Rosselli, in which the "game of the Triumphs of Petrarch" is one item.

I have added a few comments in brackets for clarification when there was no simple translation that captured the idea, checking with Franco to be sure. He went over it and as usual was indispensable, but any errors are mine. There were a few words in the inventory that we could not translate; they are indicated in quotation marks.

The numbers on the left margin by themselves correspond to the page numbers of the page that follows in Franco's pdf original. The notes are in red and appear at the bottom of each page. 

After the translation of the March 16 original there is an addendum Franco added on May 3, 2024. In addition, I have a few comments following related to that addendum.

Florence 1478 and 1479: Petrarch's Triumphs in private homes

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

That the Petrarchan poem I Trionfi [The Triumphs] has something to do with the origin of the tarot is assumed by the majority of historians. The problem is that the characters of the Triumphs are six and the "triumphal" cards added to the tarot deck are twenty-two, and how to go from the first number to the second finds no concordant reconstructions among scholars. I have in mind an entire book in which the suggested connection is direct and immediate: the tarot was apparently invented by Petrarch himself! [note 1] But this, too, is only one of the many proposals for which it is very difficult or even impossible to find any confirmation. However, two fixed points remain: the six subjects of the poem are found in the tarot and, perhaps even more importantly, in the tarot we find the fact that the subjects are inserted in a series, such that the subsequent one prevails over the previous one, just as in the poem.

Alongside the literary theme, the artistic-figurative one has developed to the point of becoming prevalent. Research on the illuminated manuscripts of the Triumphs has been of particular interest. These manuscripts, however, spread with a certain delay compared to the first copies, which lacked figures.

As often happens, there is a subdivision of experts: on the one hand, academics, writers, and art historians who study the Triumphs in depth in their literary and artistic context without a particular interest in the tarot; on the other, experts on tarot who, independently, put forward their hypotheses on possible connections.

My impression, however, is that in no similar situation has there been a rapprochement between the two camps as in this particular case. I imagine that a notable part of the credit is due to the academic level of Michael Dummett, who took a deep interest in the question from the height of his chair as an esteemed professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford, laying with his fundamental book [note 2] the foundations for a kind of revolution in the sector. Today it so happens that cartophile experts who discuss the topic are also following the results of academic research step by step, so that the distinction between the two fields has become much narrower. An example can be found in discussion that has been ongoing for years on Tarot History Forum.[note 3] In the opposite direction, it is possible to read works by art history professionals who renounce the usual verbosity and, starting from The Triumphs, [note 4] arrive at the tarot.[note 5]

I am unable to participate constructively in person in the details of the discussion. However, I would have liked to take advantage of my greater proximity to possible Florentine sources to make new contributions, in particular, in this case, on the presence in the homes of fifteenth-century Florentines of both the manuscripts of the Trionfi and the card game of trionfi [triumphs]. Up to now my search had yielded no results; I can now report one, which unfortunately isn't early enough to be as useful as I would have liked.

2. Documents studied and information of interest

I recently communicated the first results of the search for naibi and triumphs in the inventories of household goods preserved in the registers of the collection Magistracy of Minors before the Principality of the State Archives of Florence (ASFi).[note 6] Of this large format series, I have already provided the principal
1. R. Fusi, R. Pio, Tarocchi: un giallo storico. Firenze 2001.
2. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London 1980.
3. viewtopic.php?p=13174#p13174
4. A. Labriola, “Da Padova a Firenze: l’illustrazione dei Trionfi,” in: F. Petrarca, i Trionfi (ed. I. G. Rao). Castelvetro di Modena 2012.
5. A. Labriola, "Les tarots peints à Florence au XVe siècle." In Th. Depaulis, Tarots enluminés. Paris 2020.

indications. I have now extended the study, in this case to a single register: N. 174 Sample of inventories and revised regulations for the neighborhoods of Santo Spirito and Santa Croce from 1475 to 1479.

I spotted two interesting objects. The first is certainly a manuscript of the Triumphs, the first that I was able to find in these inventories - while, for example, dozens of Dante manuscripts could be listed. I copy and transcribe the relevant part of the inventory below; between quotation marks are uncertain words, but the reading of the others can also be improved. 

1 Booklet covered in black with goatskin parchment of “chonsumi tudina”
1 Booklet of Messer Lionardo d'Umiltà in papyrus covered in red
1 Book of the triumphs of Petrarch [trionffi del petrarcha] covered in red
1 Book in French covered in red
1 Booklet of rhetoric by Tulio
[Cicero] in vernacular (i.e. Italian] in goatskin parchment covered in purple
1 Booklet, little, with fixtures
[locks?] [/i] covered in red
1 Book of "Dante and of. . .," very old in goatskin
1 Book of the Council of Basel, covered
1 Book, old, of French verses
1 Book without boards [/i][in the bindings] of historiated French verses
1 Book without boards covered as above
This is a group of books that is part of a library much richer than average. The deceased owner was Francesco di Antonio di Tomaso Nori. The date on which guardianship was taken of Francesco's son Francesco di Francesco, approximately 11 years old, is May 23, 1478.

The second can be read on f. 309v among other various objects, and I again reproduce and transcribe the relevant part. 
2 new towels
1 worn table knife
1 purple belt packaged equipped in white silver “per asse” and weight 8 oz. 12 denari
[1/24th of an oz.]
1 pair [paio] of triumphs [trionfi] in parchment of messer Francesco Petrarca
2 purple articles of clothing worn-out and torn
1 good small white upper garment of Soventona

The starting date of the registration is August 5, 1479. The deceased is Zanobi di Francesco di Nutto, goldsmith. Among the real estate, several houses are listed in Tignano, in Val d'Elsa near Barberino, but it is not clear from here whether the family lived permanently in that village.

3. Comments on the two objects reported

There isn't much to comment on about the book. The case would have been different if the book had been richly illuminated and provided with a detailed description of the images for us; on the other hand, even in an ideal case of this kind, the date, distant not only from the writing of the Triumphs but also from the appearance of the game of triumphs, would still weigh heavily [against providing documentation of a direct connection between Petrarch and the game].

A comment is perhaps necessary on the rarity of such recordings. As I wrote for the naibi in the studies cited, one should take into account the possibility that other recordings of this kind have escaped my observation, but the result is the same: the presence of other specimens cannot be ruled out at all, but not many can have escaped. Instead, there are two further possibilities for the absence of these objects. The first is that the book of the Trionfi was listed as a book of poems, or a book in Italian [as opposed to Latin] or similar, without specifying its title and author; the second is that the Trionfi was kept aside by the owners before the inventory was compiled. (The latter is not my hypothesis, but that of an expert scholar of the period who claims that a notable part of the books preserved in private homes was later found to be absent in these inventories.)

Instead, “a pair of triumphs in parchment of Messer Francesco Petrarca” is an inventory item that requires at least as many comments as there are written terms. We start immediately with the "pair." If this term had not been included, one would have thought of another book of the Trionfi, written, or at least bound, in parchment. Now, however, we know that writing “a pair” here was equivalent to “a pack,” and this is sufficient to exclude any book of the poem. In short, we are faced with a real deck of playing cards. We just need to continue the discussion on these cards, to better specify their type.

Thus we encounter parchment, which was not at all predictable for 1479, when in its place we would have expected to find rag paper by now. Why parchment that late?

All in all, the answer this time does not seem difficult. A new deck of cards is not being recorded here, bought a few days earlier; it could have been in the house for decades, because it was evidently an object worthy of attention, respect and . . . conservation. However, not enough to make it considered a precious object, because it is enough to observe the environment where it was found and the objects with which it was preserved to exclude any extraordinary value. In short, it seems quite clear that the alternative arose, as often happens with old objects, of whether to keep it or get rid of it.

We are left with "messer Francesco Petrarca," the well-known author of the Triumphs. Yes, precisely of the Triumphs, not the triumphs, unless you believe the reconstruction mentioned at the bottom of the page in the first note. I don't remember ever having read, except in that book, about a Petrarch who was also the author of the triumphs.

In the end, 1479 no longer seems to us so late: for such information, that date still maintains great validity, because it can be compared with the present day. In fact, here to associate, precisely directly, the triumphs to the Triumphs is not an exegete of our times, who is struggling to find plausible reconstructions, but Florentines who had seen the appearance of the first triumphs in the city only a generation earlier, or a little more.

Looking perhaps too closely, it remains for us to understand whether that clarification should be read in a general sense, to indicate precisely that the deck of triumphs dated back to Petrarch, or in a particular sense, i.e. added to specify the type in question, in so far as it could have been one of the various decks of triumphs then in circulation. For me the former applies, at least now, but the question will still require a brief discussion.

4. A confirmation after half a century

Several authors who have dealt with the history of playing cards, and triumphs in particular, have repeatedly cited another inventory in the same collection of the Magistracy of Minors before the Principality: that of the haberdashery-stationery shop of Alessandro di Francesco Rosselli. The document, from 1525, was identified in an enormous series of inventories by the historian and archivist Gaetano Milanesi (1813-1895),[note 7] who reported it to Iodoco Del Badia. Del Badia transcribed part of the inventory and published it in 1894 in the Miscellany he edited, together with another document relating to the same inheritance.[note 8]

Unfortunately, finding the original in the ASFi is not an easy task. From the title and the years indicated, the number of the series is immediately deduced as 190, but there is no indication of the folios, and it so happens that this enormous register has just over a thousand, that is, just over two thousand pages, almost all of the inventories. The fact that the dimensions are a little smaller than the royal sheets usually used has little impact for the Revised Samples and Reasons series. There would also be a repertoire at the beginning, on sheets of parchment, and one would even read the name of Alessandro di Francesco Rosselli, but the page indicated is number 52 and certainly does not correspond to the content; moreover, the numbers of folios indicated in the repertoire is just over one hundred and therefore it is clear that it cannot be useful here.

Making the most of my free time, I finally identified the inventory of interest on folios 395-399. With respect to the transcription of the Miscellany, I limit the inventory part to a few entries before and after the triumphs, which I reproduce and transcribe as usual.
7. ... ografico)/
8. Miscellanea fiorentina di erudizione e storia. Vol. II, N. 14, 1894, pp. 24-30 – reprinted Rome 1978.

5 Image

1 large navigation map in 4 pieces of eight royal sheets
1 Florence on six "folded" royal sheets
1 large world map in 3 pieces of 12 half-sheets
1 large world map in 9 pieces of 16 common sheets
1 crucifix of a common sheet
1 crucifix of half a common sheet
1 crucifix of half a common sheet.
1 Saint Christopher 1 Our Lady on half a common sheet
1 print of half a common sheet of more saints
17 pieces of the sibyls and prophets doubled
1 game of the triumph of Petrarch in 3 pieces
1 game of planets with their friezes in 4 pieces
1 Saint Mary Magdelene of 1/2 common sheet.
10 forms of rosaries double printed of 1/2 common sheet
2 little heads of God the Father on ottavo sheet
1 little Virgin Mary on ottavo sheet
1 crucifix of brass on ottavo sheets with another
1 angel Raphael of tin on quarter sheet
It should be noted that the two games in this final part of the inventory are among other objects of which the type of paper is indicated, and not that of the material of the blocks used for printing, which could be wood, except for the few cases indicated of different materials. Reading the text as a conservation of entire sheets, they would seem to be kept as models for future productions rather than to be cut to obtain a single deck of playing cards (in the case of the triumph) or small religious figures.

Rather, the other two "games" present in the inventory are in a previous part, which follows a list of books and contains objects indicated as wooden - also for these two games - which also makes their prolonged conservation in the shop more easily understandable.

1 game of apostles with Our Lord in seven pieces of wood
1 Saint Mary of Loreto in two pieces of wood
1 Virgin Mary and Saint Roch and Saint Sebastian in two pieces of wood
1 game of seven virtues in 5 pieces of wood

Among other things, the not-new fact of the three pieces for the triumphs remains to be discussed. Among the few known examples, a possible basis for such a discussion are the Rosenwald sheets; I have already had the opportunity to discuss these and similar cards in the past.[note 9] I imagine that experts have made significant progress in recent times, but I verified on Tarot History Forum that by inserting Rosenwald the answer is "468 matches,” and that number tired me before I started reading.

However, I must observe, with some regret, that if those pieces were of the Rosenwald block type, Petrarch's triumphs in the Inventories of the Magistracy of Minors were not a deck of minchiate, which would have required at least four. On the other hand, still in the hypothesis of blocks of that type, with three pieces a 70-card triumph deck would be formed more simply than with one of 78; but these are always deductions with weak underlying hypotheses.

In summary, forty-nine years later the triumphs - here triumph - of Petrarch are encountered again, but together with other "games" with saints or mythological characters. This news has created a lot of confusion over time, especially because some authors have interpreted these "games" as possible decks of different playing cards. It should also be considered that decks of cards that are both ancient and out of the ordinary are known, especially from Germany, if only for the symbols of the four suits.

In reality, in these inventories I have recently found the same term "giuoco" several times with an uncommon meaning, but one which is well suited to the case in question. For example, there are games of containers or measuring cups to determine the quantity of wine or other liquids, that is, not one but a series of measuring cups to be used depending on the specific case (and presumably the "game" of that series consisted in the possibility of placing them then one inside the other). Or games of tools, always meaning small series of objects of the same kind but of complementary size or type.

In conclusion, the information provided by Del Badia, instead of introducing decks of playing cards with different characters into the discussion, ends up being only a confirmation of what was discussed here, namely that only the triumphs were particular playing cards and, above all, always connected to the Triumphs, at least in the eyes of the Florentines, which is no small thing.

Florence, 03.16.2024

ADDENDUM: When I examined the original document from the Rosselli workshop, I had the Rosenwald sheets in mind for comparison. The fact that we were reading triumph instead of triumphs did not impress me, because even the card game was sometimes referred to in the singular. In short, I had no doubt that even in this case “Petrarch’s triumph” was related to the deck of cards, even if the term pair, which is really decisive, did not appear here. The only doubt was initially whether there could also be other decks of cards among the items indicated together.

During the English translation, Michael Howard pointed out to me the sheets present on the Internet of the triumphs of the Rosselli workshop, to which I had not paid attention earlier on. These are approximately 26x17 cm images, and thus, by far, too large with respect to any known playing-cards.

So, as in the other items present together in the Rosselli workshop, even for this only one – the triumph of Petrarch – for which I supposed to find playing cards, a different solution will have to be studied. It is with this aim that Michael Howard is continuing the research.

Florence, 03 May 2024

(The addendum is added in English. By "even for this only one" Franco intends that this comment is meant to apply to this one inventory and not to the previous one about the "paio di trionfi.")


Art historians generally consider that the "game of the triumph of Petrarch" in the inventory refers to three metal plates from which a popular series of six engravings of Petrarch's six Trionfi were made by Francesco Rosselli in the 1480s. These plates were then inherited by his son. The basic argument was made by Arthur Hind in his 8 volume series Early Italian Engravings, in vol. 2 and 4. Here is how he puts it in the list of items. They are number 72.


B.II refers to the series on paper in the British Museum later attributed to Rosselli, as opposed to another, inferior set, the A series, done a decade or two earlier by someone else. That the six engravings were done on the opposite sides of three plates is indicated by the dimensions of the resulting engravings (p. 131):


The dimensions of Love are, he says on p. 133, 260x173 mm. Chastity is 257x164. Death is 262x172. Fame (p. 134) is 262x172. Time is 256x174. Eternity is 260x173. The dimensions correspond as he indicates.

That they are plates and not woodblocks is inferred from the total weight of the items:


Not all the items are metal plates, however. Hind recognizes many items as the molds from which woodcuts he identified elsewhere were derived and hypothesizes, based on these identifications, that the first 30 in the inventory were blocks and the remainder plates, as indicated below.


It may be of interest that only two other items in the inventory are called "games", namely items 1 and 4, which Hind describes as "note packs of cards." But given their subject matter - Christ and the Apostles, the Seven Virtues - these are still not "games" in the usual sense today, but rather series around a common theme, the same as the Trionfi of Petrarch. 

I have uploaded all the relevant pages of Hind's Appendix on the Inventory at

We might wonder whether the same interpretation of "series" might also apply to the word "paio." In fact, the Grande Dizionario de la Lingua Italiana, in its list of meanings for the word "paio",, p. 381 at ... arola=paio (the continuation of the definitions of "paio" that started on the previous page), gives as its fourth meaning.

4. Disus. Complesso di parti o oggetti o pezzi che concorrono a formare un tutto unitario e organico.
Vasari [D’Alberti]: Far che la pittura paia più presto un tappeto colorito o un paro di carte da giocare che carne unita e panni morbidi. Crusca, IV Impress. [s. v.]: Talora si dice 'paio' a un corpo solo d’una cosa, ancor­ché si divida in molte parti, come un paio di carte da giuocare, un paio di scacchi.

I translate this as :

4. Disus. Complex of parts or objects or pieces that combine to form a unitary and organic whole. Vasari [D'Alberti]: To make painting look more like a colorful carpet or a set of cards to play than solid flesh and soft cloths. Crusca, IV Impress. [s. v.]: Sometimes we say 'pair' to a single body of one thing, even if it is divided into many parts, like a pair of cards to play, a pair of chess.
"Paio di scacchi" seems to me fairly parallel. Discussing this with Franco, he had no serious objection, but wasn't ready to support it himself, because unlike "giuoco," he had never seen the word "paio" connected with "trionfi" except as a pack of triumph cards. 

Friday, March 22, 2024

March 13, 2024: Naibi for sale and worn-out naibi

The original is "Firenze 1420 e 1424. Naibi in vendita e naibi triste," at
Words in brackets are mine, mainly for explanatory purposes, after consulting with Franco. Isolated numbers in the left margin correspond to the page numbers of Franco's pdf. Notes are at the bottom of each page.

Florence 1420 and 1424. Naibi for sale and worn-out naibi

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

This study can be considered the continuation of two recent ones on the section Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, in which packs of naibi were found in a shop in Ponsacco [note 1] and in a Florentine house of the Vecchietti family [note 2]. The continuation of the research was suggested by . . . mathematics. For a long time this same research had given null results, and arithmetic tells us that adding or multiplying zeros always gives zero. However, now that some specimens have been found, arithmetic tells us that it is possible to add them with similar ones - which it has finally become possible to find - in order to increase the total number. And so it happened. The archive is still the ASFi, the section is still the same. The registers examined in this case are two that I had skipped in the previous research: Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, Sample of inventories and revised data for the neighborhoods of Santo Spirito and Santa Croce, No. 157 from 1 October 1423 to 20 March 1425, No. 158 from 1 October 1425 to 20 March 1426.

2. The naibi for sale

In the first register, No. 157, I encountered a case of considerable interest in the inheritance of Antonio di Lapino from Chastel San Giovanni, who left eleven children. The inventory is introduced as follows, indicating that a previous inventory was copied into this register in 1425.
Inventory of said inheritance. That is, the merchandise was found in the shop “inside” Antonio until April 6, 1420, which was attributed to Michele d’Antonio di Lapino, his son and agent of said inheritance, as appears in the red book of reports 108 page 110.
I reproduce and transcribe the part of interest.
ASFi, Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, N. 157, f. 260v
(Reproduction prohibited)

4 boxes______________________________________________1.-
1 pound of spices at 3 soldi an ounce_____________________1.16
1 ounce of saffron_____________________________________-.16
8 mule harnesses at S. 6 1 each__________________________2.8
15 ox harnesses at S. 6 1 each___________________________4.10
9 pounds of cotton wool for doublets_____________________3.16
2 packs [mazzi] of needles______________________________1.12
1 wooden cutting board________________________________2.1.8
30 wooden soup plates_________________________________1.9
4 dozen earthen "jars"__________________________________.8
6 dozen glazed pots__________________________________+2.8
1 wooden ladle_______________________________________-.4
5 small jars containing "medicines" to be remade__________1.-
4 pairs [paia] of Naibbi_________________________________-.10
5 little boards_________________________________________-.10
4 pounds of yarn of more colors__________________________2.4
16 sheaths____________________________________________-.16
6 small knives_________________________________________1.-
4 pounds of cotton wool________________________________-.1.4
(Prices are usually in LSd. The dash stands for 0; the third term 0 denarii is implied.)

3. The worn out naibi

In the second register, N. 158, I found other naibi in the inheritance of Charlo di Mateo de lo Presto. The relevant inventory was composed on 8 October 1424. In this case, the inventory items are gradually grouped into portions, with a respective overall evaluation. The group of our interest is valued at ten soldi in total and contains ten items, with fourteen objects, as copied and transcribed below.
ASFi, Magistracy of Minors before the Principality, No. 158, f. 79.
(Reproduction prohibited)
3 small jars
2 iron candle holders
2 wooden salt cellars
1 wooden inkpot
2 earthen soup plates
1 box
1 pair [paio = pack] of worn-out naibi
1 ladle
1 iron ladle [or trowel]
1 worn-out knife

The inheritance is richer than average and also includes numerous properties and land.
House with courtyard well and platforms and other buildings located in the parish of San Friano di Firenze.
A piece of the woods . . .
A farm with a master's house and a stable with certain farmhouses, around with plots of land worked and with vineyards, and woods located in the parish of Santa Maria a Charaia [Carraia] in Val di Marina . . .
Mill with one millstone suitable for grinding located on the river of Val di Bisenzio . . .
House located in the castle [fortified town] of Monte San Savino . . .
There follows, on some pages, a long list of minor properties of buildings and land.

4. Comments on the naibi inventoried

In the first register, four packs of new naibi were found for sale in a shop in San Giovanni Valdarno. Castel San Giovanni had been founded and built to a design by Arnolfo at the end of the thirteenth century and had proved to be a useful military garrison especially against Arezzo. At the time of interest here, San Giovanni had recently become the seat of the Vicar of the upper Valdarno, one of the few vicarates established in the peripheral but strategic areas of the Florentine territory. The Castel San Giovanni of the time is also remembered for the birth of Masaccio and, as far as we are concerned, of his brother Giovanni, an important painter in general and also in particular of trionfi playing cards.[note 3]

Of notable importance is the fact that in both cases these are inventories in which a commercial value is associated with the various items. Usually in these inventories, an overall estimate is made on the total value without going into detail on the value of the individual items, as found here. The four decks for sale in San Giovanni have their market value: two and a half soldi per deck, one and a half lira per dozen. These are figures that do not surprise us, based on what we know from other archives: [note 4] wooden blocks for printing on paper have existed for years and there are professionals in the new trade. From this point on, we will have to wait several centuries to encounter technical revolutions.

As regards the second register, with the worn-out [tristi, literally “sad”] naibi, it had already been reported that “sad” was said for deteriorated objects of now very reduced value. In reality, for these worn-out naibi, included in a small group of objects valued together, it would not be easy to determine the corresponding value from the total 10 soldi, but the easy conclusion is that it was an infinitesimal economic value.

This is not surprising: let's even assume that someone had been willing to buy a deck of used playing cards without spending too much. However, no one would have purchased an incomplete deck or one with defective cards, which are now difficult to handle and which perhaps could be recognized individually from a distance.

Unlike some previous cases, here we are in a very interesting era: naibi are still naibi - not referred to as playing cards - and everyone knows them as such. A pack is found clearly damaged from use and preserved with other objects of little value; it could have already been years old when it was placed in that environment, and it had spent more time there, perhaps a long time. At most, it could even have been one of the first naibi decks to appear in Florentine houses.

Despite its low value, for us it remains quite valid as confirmation that the deck registered two years later in the Vecchietti house, in the center of Florence, was not a unique piece, and we can actually assume now that others were preserved in Florentine houses.

5. Conclusion

Two cases of naibi registrations in household inventories compiled for inheritance issues were presented and discussed. The first case concerns four decks on sale in 1420, for a total of ten soldi, in a shop in San Giovanni Valdarno; the second, a deteriorated deck present in 1424 in a private house, as in the inventories dozens could have been found, if not hundreds (and instead they are a real rarity, as also verified previously). It's not surprising
4. F. Pratesi, “Playing-Card Trade in 15th-Century Florence.” IPCS Papers No. 7, 2012.

that the value of the used deck was considered minimal, but then even new naibi were certainly not luxury objects, allowing that they might have been so previously.

Florence, 03.13.2024