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The Visconti Sforza Tarot: A Book by Cristina Dorsini

Just released: The third book in Dorsini’s trilogy about the fifteenth-century Visconti decks.

In the fifteenth century, Italian aristocrats would commission an artist to make a one-of-a-kind tarot deck painted with precious materials on a background of embossed gold leaf. The three most complete decks in existence were commissioned by the Dukes of Milan in mid-century. The Il Meneghello workshop has created facsimiles of all three decks and published three books with historic and artistic background information.

Dorsini’s book begins with the political and cultural background of the times and a profile of Francesco Sforza, the Duke who commissioned the Visconti Sforza deck.

Besides the three well-known Visconti decks, there are numerous other hand painted and gilded decks from the same time period, with only a handful of cards remaining. Dorsini provides photos and a description of one such deck in a private collection.

Dorsini V-S Book insideThroughout the book, Dorsini points out similarities between the Visconti Sforza deck and the Brambilla deck created a decade earlier, most likely by the Zavattari workshop. At the back of the book are four pages of side-by-side comparisons of the two decks.

A discussion of each trump card is accompanied by a color photo on the facing page. I was delighted to read about details in these cards that are repeated in other decks, or in the art and culture of the time. For instance, I always thought the Fool was holding a stone so he could throw it at dogs chasing him. But Dorsini tells us about the medieval belief that madmen had a stone imbedded in their heads. A painting by Bosch, reproduced in the book, depicts a charlatan doctor pretending to remove a stone from a fool’s head.

You really need all three books – they have the same format and make a nice set. You’ll Dorsini 3 bookslearn fascinating things about these cards that you won’t find anywhere else, and the color illustrations are a delight.


Order books and decks by emailing Cristina Dorsini:

In the US order Il Meneghello books and decks from Collectarot:

My review of the Modrone and Brambilla decks and books.

There are many versions of the Visconti-Sforza deck on the market – I have them all. Il Meneghello is the best – here’s my review.


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