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Posts from the ‘Tarot History’ Category

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.

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Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: The Soprafino Style

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.

Today I’m listing everything I’ve written about the soprafino style. Originating in Milan in the 1830s, it has been reproduced by many publishers down to Lo Scarabeo’s current mass market version. Printers have borrowed random details from the style, especially in Piedmont. See reviews of those decks listed in last week’s blog post on Piedmont decks.

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Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: Piedmont Decks

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.

The Piedmont region has one of the oldest tarot traditions in Italy. Its geographic location made it the crossroads where the playing card traditions of Italy and eastern France mingled. Below are articles on the Piedmont tradition and reviews of individual decks.

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Tarot History on Youtube

Marco Benedetti and myself in a conversation moderated by Justin Michael. We talk about tarot’s Italian origins and show off lots of decks from our collections. Here’s a chance to see historic deck facsimiles, as well as Marco’s recreations of rare Italian decks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGNCOS2zQQk

This is a kick-off video to Justin’s Tarot Through the Ages series.  He’s got some interesting things coming up that will introduce a new audience to tarot’s roots. Be sure to check out Justin’s Titans of Tarot series where he interviews luminaries like Robert Place, Vincent Pitisci, and Rachel Pollack.

Budapest Bounty: Three Recreations of an Ancient Tarot

I’ve always been intrigued by the few remnants of fifteenth-century block-printed decks that still exist. They hold tantalizing clues to the early days of tarot, so I’m thrilled that there are three versions of the block-printed Budapest deck on the market. Shown here from left to right are the Fool and Judgment cards by Robert Place, Sullivan Hismans and Marco Benedetti.

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Interview: Sherryl Smith and Justin Michael

Here’s a Youtube video of Justin Michael and myself in conversation a few months ago. In the first 30 minutes, I talk about my 50+ years involvement with tarot and how our understanding of tarot history has evolved. This is interspersed with personal experiences that led to my somewhat irrational antipathy toward esoteric and kabbalistic tarot.

In the second half, I show off my deck collection, especially decks by artisans who have revived obscure historic decks, like Yves Reynaud, Marco Benedetti, Sullivan Hismans, Pablo Robledo, Giordano Berti, and Il Meneghello (Osvaldo Menegazzi). In some cases, these decks only existed as printed sheets or photos in magazines.

Be sure to check out the rest of Justin’s channel. He has interviews with tarot luminaries like Robert Place and Rachel Pollock as well as reviews of TdM and other historic decks.

Link to the Interview


The Agnolo Hebreo Devil Card

The most unique single reproduction card in my collection is the Devil card printed by Agnolo Hebreo (Angelo the Jew) shortly after 1500 and now residing in the British Museum. It was undoubtedly part of a complete tarot deck; but no other cards by this individual exist anywhere, and there is no trace of him in the records. This Devil card is the only clue we have that the printer Agnolo Hebreo may have existed. It’s possible the name is a pseudonym borrowed from popular culture by an anonymous deck designer.

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The Fifteenth-Century Charles VI Deck Recreated by Marco Benedetti

In fifteenth-century Italy, wealthy aristocrats indulged themselves with luxurious, hand painted, gold-embossed Trionfi decks. The decks came in two distinct families: those commissioned by the Visconti and Sforza Dukes of Milan in the International Gothic style; and Renaissance-style decks created most likely in either Ferrara or Florence. The so-called Charles VI deck, with 16 trump cards, is the most complete deck of the Florentine pattern. Other decks of this type have only a handful of trump cards. Benedetti compiled a complete 78-card deck by cobbling together all the existing cards in the Florentine style. A few absent cards had to be recreated, while several cards exist as duplicates. Benedetti includes the duplicate trump cards with his recreated deck, for a total of 90 cards.

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The Adam C. de Hautot Tarot Restored by Sullivan Hismans

Spanish Captain and Bacus from Adam de Hautot tarot

The Adam C. de Hautot Tarot is another beautiful and historically important deck from the Tarot Sheet Revival workshop of Sullivan Hismans. This deck is an early representative of the Rouen-Brussels pattern, an alternate Tarot de Marseille (TdM) that flourished from about 1650 to 1780 in a corner of Europe defined by Paris, Rouen and Brussels. The Popess and Pope are replaced by a strutting Spanish Captain from the Commedia dell’ Arte, and with Bacchus straddling a wine barrel. Most of the trump cards from the Devil on up deviate from the TdM pattern, many of them resembling hand painted decks from 15th century Italy.

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Is the Visconti-Sforza Popess a Heretic?

A sister of the Umiliati Order in Milan, Maifreda da Pirovano, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1300. Many historians believe this card from the Visconti-Sforza Tarot is her portrait. When the Duke and Duchess of Milan commissioned this golden Trionfi deck from their favorite artist, Bonifacio Bembo, shortly after 1450, they commemorated family history in some of the cards. Maifreda may have been related to the duchess; and her heresy involved claiming to be the equal of the Pope, so the connection seems obvious. But if you were the duchess of Milan, with a reputation based on good works and piety, would you advertise a heretic in the family? Let’s look at some other, more respectable, possibilities for this card.

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