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Tarocco Bolognese Al Mondo

The Al Mondo Tarocchino is one of very few Bolognese-style decks to survive from earlier centuries with all cards intact. This deck comes to us from a narrow slice of time—after 1725 when Bolognese decks were required to have four Moors, and before the 1760s when double-headed figures became standard. The British Museum has the only copy of the Al Mondo deck in existence. Marco Cesare Benedetti has obtained the rights to reproduce twenty facsimiles. See deck details and purchasing information at the end.

To understand just how special this deck is, we need some context. Bolognese tarot pre-dates the Tarot de Marseille by more than a century; and it may be the original tarot that was ubiquitous in northern and central Italy until the Tarot de Marseille flooded the market in the seventeenth century. The people of Bologna kept this deck very much alive and unchanged through the centuries by playing several different games with it. Below are three Bolognese Moon cards from the 15th, 18th and 20th centuries showing an enduring tradition that stretches back over 450 years. The Al Mondo card is in the middle.

What is Tarocco Bolognese?

If you think of the Tarot de Marseille as the default tarot deck, Bolognese tarot (also called tarocchino) may take some time getting used to. The deck has 62 cards instead of 78. Many of the trump cards look different and are in a different order. Four Moors replace the Empress, Emperor, Popess and Pope.

Removing pip cards to shorten a deck for certain games is a common European practice. In the Bolognese deck, pips 2 through 5 of the four suits are removed. The three virtues, Justice, Strength and Temperance, are grouped together and placed after the Chariot. The Angel (Judgment) is the last card in the trump series and a few other trump cards are switched around. The Aces are unique (see them at the bottom) and the suits of Coins and Cups have Maids instead of Pages. But the biggest change, which distinguishes the Bolognese tradition, are the four Moors in place of trumps II, III, IV and V of the Tarot de Marseille pattern.

Trumps II Through V

Tarot is a trick-taking game. Whoever plays the highest-ranked card wins all the cards on the table. The Empress, Emperor, Popess and Pope are an exception because they have no set hierarchy in the game. If more than one of these cards is played, and they are the highest cards on the table, the last card played wins the trick. I believe this is a bit of fifteenth-century political correctness. Italy was divided between followers of the Holy Roman Emperor and those loyal to the Pope. By giving these four cards equal rank, they avoided insulting either the Emperor or the Pope by putting him permanently below the other in the trump series.

Four Papi Tarocco Dalla Torre

In early Bolognese decks, these four figures looked somewhat alike and were called the Four Papi (Popes) even though two of them were obviously secular rulers holding orbs and scepters; and some of them looked rather feminine. They were treated as a group and did not have numbers assigned to them.

The Story of the Moors

In 1725, Luigi Montieri, a native of Bologna and secretary to the archbishop, invented a geography-themed tarot deck. Traditional Bolognese trump images appeared on a narrow band at the top of each card, while geographic regions and countries of the world were listed below. The traditional Empress, Emperor, Pope and Papesse were replaced by exotic figures wearing turbans and holding spears (“Moors”) on the cards dedicated to Africa, Asia, America and an unlabeled list of European countries. Montieri hired wood block carvers, typographers and printers from several workshops in central Bologna to produce his deck

One September morning in 1725, shortly after the deck was printed, soldiers raided the workshops, seizing the wood blocks and almost all the decks. The problem? The Fool card (at left) lists various countries and their type of government, with Bologna having a “mixed” government. The Pope ruled Bologna through his representative, the Papal Legate, who allowed the city to have a rather ineffectual Senate that provided a semblance of local rule. Theoretically, Bologna had a mixed government; but the papacy could not tolerate any show of autonomy by the Bolognese.

The Papal Legate was enraged by this reminder that the Pope didn’t have absolute control over the city. The legate imprisoned all the print shop owners and employees, burnt the woodblocks and all the cards he could get his hands on; then decreed that anyone caught with a deck would incur a very large fine and a seven-year jail sentence. Montieri left town very quickly and didn’t return for several years. After a week had passed and most of the printers had been released, the Papal Legate issued another edict requiring all printers of Bolognese-style tarocchino decks to use the four Moors instead of the traditional images for the lower-ranking trump cards. It seems rather perverse to burn all examples of a deck then enshrne its unique imagery in all future decks. Thanks to an irate legate, since 1725 all Bolognese decks feature four turban-wearing Moors.

Bologna was one of the first places to adopt double-headed cards for game playing in the 1760s. The Al Mondo is one of very few tarocchino decks in existence with single-headed Moors. Traditionally, the Moors were depicted clutching arrows. Al Mondo is unique because the Moors hold symbolic implements: a staff topped with either a sun or moon, an arrow, and a bow and quiver of arrows. These items retain traces of the original division between male and female secular and religious rulers.

The Al Mondo cards in the British Museum are in excellent condition so there was no need to touch up or reconstruct damaged cards when producing this facsimile. The borders were rebuilt to restore the cards to their original size (a bit over 2 x 4.5 inches or 53 x 117 mm).



Benedetti’s Al Mondo deck comes with a supplemental packet of pips 2 through 5, allowing you to expand the deck to a full Tarot deck, or switch out pips to make a standard 40-card Italian deck like the Premiera Bolognese.

The deck is printed on 350 g smooth card stock. It’s housed in a wooden box with a magnetic clasp. The price is 60 euros plus shipping.
To order a deck email: tarot@marcobenedetti.it
See more photos of this and other decks Benedetti has created on the Marco Benedetti Tarot facebook page

Read more about the Bolognese tradition: https://www.tarotwheel.net/history/cousins%20of%20the%20tarot/tarocchino.html

Tarocco Al Mondo Four Aces

Illustrations from the Top

  • Fool, Lovers, Queen of Coins and 10 of Batons – Tarocco Al Mondo
  • Moon – Rothschild Sheet @1500, collection of the Louvre, Paris
  • Moon – Tarocco Al Mondo
  • Moon – Dal Negro, double-headed, 20th century
  • Four Papi – Tarocco Fine Dalla Torre, 17th century, recreated by Museo Internazionale dei Tarocchi, Riola, Italy
  • Asia with Moor, Geographic Tarot, Luigi Montieri, 1725
  • Fool – Geographic Tarot, Luigi Montieri, 1725
  • Four Moors – Tarocco Al Mondo
  • Four Aces – Tarocco Al Mondo

References

Andrea Vitali and Terry Zanetti. Il Tarocchino di Bologna. Bologna, 2005.

Marcello Fini. Quando a Bologna Arrivarono i Mori: Il Tarocchino tra Gioco e Politica. Exhibit of the Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio di Bologna, 2018.

Many thanks to Iolon at Tarot Wheel for bringing this publication to my attention.

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