Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: The Visconti-Sforza Tarot
Celebrating my website’s tenth anniversary: 174 blog articles and 42 website pages on tarot history, reading with non-scenic pips, and decks of historic significance. Throughout the summer, I’m going to group the most useful articles by topic and send out links in a series of blog posts.
If fifteenth-century aristocrats hadn’t tried to impress their friends with hand painted, golden tarot decks, and if those decks hadn’t been preserved in museums, our knowledge of tarot’s origins would be very limited. The most complete deck of this type, the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, is one of the most frequently published historic decks. We can’t overestimate its importance. Below are links to deck and book reviews as well as articles on historic background related to this deck.
Start your reading with these pages from the website’s History section that puts this deck in context:
Before Tarot discusses the preconditions for the emergence of playing cards in the 14th century.
Early Tarot 1420-1475 focuses on painted and gilded luxury decks.
Italian Tarot in the 15th Century discusses block printed cards and one-of-a-kind decks like the Sola Busca and Boiardo.
Francesco Sforza left us the first nearly complete tarot deck we know of, plus two letters mentioning tarot, that fill in gaps in our knowledge. Besides being a card player, Sforza was one of the military giants of his time. Happy Birthday Francesco Sforza recounts his biography and shows how family lore is embedded in his tarot cards.
Why did the Visconti-Sforza deck get broken up, and how did a substantial portion of it end up in New York City? From Milan to New York: The Adventures of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck tells the story.
A Personal Visit with the Visconti-Sforza Cards is my account of the magical day when I stumbled across the Morgan Library’s collection of these cards.
When deciding which of the many available versions of the deck to purchase, the most important consideration is the style of the replacement Devil and Tower cards. Every publisher hires an artist to create these two cards plus two other missing cards. The results range from horrendous to satisfactory. In Comparing Visconti-Sforza Replacement Cards: The Devil’s in the Details, I critique and rank the replacement cards from several decks. Spoiler alert: Il Meneghello comes out on top.
The Visconti Sforza Tarot by Cristina Dorsini – review of a book written by an art historian, published by Il Meneghello.
The Visconti-Sforza deck had two predecessors, elegant hand painted decks commissioned by Duchess Bianca Maria’s father, Duke Filippo Maria Visconti. Il Meneghello has produced facsimiles of what remains of both decks with accompanying books by Cristina Dorsini. They are reviewed here:
Golden Decks of the Fifteenth Century: The Visconti di Modrone and Brera Brambilla Tarocchi.
Tarocchi Visconti di Modrone (Cary-Yale) from Il Meneghello.
Reviews of recently released decks:
The Golden Tarot published by Race Point
Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi by U.S. Games. They’ve been publishing full-size facsimiles of the deck since 1975. This is their latest version.
Tarocchi Visconti-Sforza by Il Meneghello compares Il Meneghello’s limited edition deck with a few mass market versions.
The Journey Through Trumps section of this website gives a detailed history of each of the 22 trump cards, with an emphasis on the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Illustration: Visconti-Sforza Tarot published by Lo Scarabeo, with the printed borders inked out