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Posts from the ‘Tarot History’ Category

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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From Trionfi to Major Arcana

How did we get from there to here? How did the Fool go from being a medieval village idiot to a vagabond, to a free spirit on the road to enlightenment? Does the medieval Popess have any relation to a modern, witchy High Priestess? Did these changes make a radical break from the past?

It’s my thesis that every major change to tarot imagery and card interpretation evolved from what preceded it. There’s a continuous 600-year thread from Italy to France to Britain to the United States and beyond.

I’ve created a new section of this website, From Trionfi to Major Arcana, where I’ll follow this thread of development for each trump card, looking at how the interpretation of the cards shifted along with the image.

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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.

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Origins of the Minor Arcana by Ben Hoshour

This beautifully illustrated book delves into a neglected aspect of Tarot history. Historians usually skim over the suit cards (minor arcana) in their rush to the juicier trumps. This book gives the pip cards their due. After all, the four suits comprise 65% of the deck and predate the twenty-two trumps by centuries. Tarot as we know it could not exist without them. Read more

The Budapest Tarot Second Edition by Sullivan Hismans

Introduction

One of the most exciting events in my twenty years of collecting historic decks occurred in 2017 when Sullivan Hismans (Tarot Sheet Revival.com) introduced the Budapest Tarot. He meticulously recreated a very important fifteenth-century deck that only exists in museum collections as partly damaged uncut sheets of cards. This limited edition of 250 decks sold out quickly and has become a favorite reading deck of the lucky few who own one. Hismans just released another edition of 450 Budapest decks with some changes that I’ll illustrate below. But first, I want to put the deck in its historic context. Read more

Nicolas Rolichon Tarot Recreated by Marco Benedetti

This phantom of the tarot world is possibly the earliest Tarot de Marseille we know of. The only traces of the Rolichon tarot’s existence are a brief listing in an 1851 French auction catalog, and reproductions of thirty-five cards in the July 1919 edition of the Larousse Mensuel magazine. The deck itself has disappeared, so Benedetti’s careful recreation is a wonderful opportunity to experience this important piece of tarot history. Read more

Sicilian Tarot Exhibit Catalog: Il Mondo in Mano

This beautifully illustrated catalog is a rare opportunity to see cards that have been hidden for centuries, until this exhibit on display from September 2019 to January 2020 at the Castello Ursino, Catania. The text of each chapter is either fully translated or summarized in English. Read more

I Tarocchi Rosenwald by Marco Benedetti

There’s something compelling about the Rosenwald deck. It’s enough like the Tarot de Marseille to feel comfortable; yet its quirky details give it a slightly exotic tone. For a transcendent experience, hold Benedetti’s gold and silver Rosenwald cards in your hands. Read more

The Deck and Book of the Deification of Sixteen Heroes

The legendary “da Tortona” deck, grandfather of all tarocchi/tarot decks, is now accessible thanks to a small but incredibly rich book by Ross G. Caldwell and Marco Ponzi; and a recreated deck by Robert Place, The Marziano Tarot.

About 1420, the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, asked his secretary and advisor, commonly known as Marziano da Tortona, to invent a card game. Marziano created the Game of Sixteen Deified Heroes, a deck of cards with four suits numbered ace to ten and an extra suit of illustrated cards – the same format as the game of trionfi/tarocchi/tarot invented about 15 years later. Read more

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. Read more