In the 1440s, you could go to the store and buy a pack of cards for playing the popular new game of Trionfi. What did those cards look like? Did they resemble our familiar tarot cards? We can’t be sure because not a single printed tarot deck survives from the 15th century. All we have are a handful of gold-covered cards commissioned by wealthy aristocrats. Luxury decks like the Visconti-Sforza prove that by the mid-1400s tarot decks had 78 cards including our familiar twenty-two trump cards. But we don’t know how closely these luxury decks resembled cards printed for the masses. Read more
Posts from the ‘Tarot History’ Category
Nearly two decades ago, Il Meneghello of Milan gave us the best facsimile available of the 1450 Visconti-Sforza deck. Now they’ve outdone themselves by producing facsimiles of the two earliest trionfi/tarocchi decks we know of — luxurious gold-covered cards created for the Duke of Milan in the early 1440s. Il Meneghello printed the Visconti di Modrone deck in 2015 and 2017, and released a book in 2018. The Brera-Brambilla deck was published in the summer of 2018 with its accompanying book available in September. Read more
Acquiring this hard-to-find deck inspired me to get acquainted with Valentina Visconti and learn about the chapter of her life depicted in these cards.
In 1389, Valentina set out in a magnificent procession from Milan to France to meet her husband Louis, Duke of Orléans, brother of the mad king of France, Charles VI. They had been married in a proxy ceremony two years before, but meeting in person was delayed while Valentina’s father, the Duke of Milan, scraped together her extremely expensive dowry. The procession stopped in the town of Asti to spend five days enjoying the Palio (horse races). Read more
Around the year 1565, two men on opposite sides of northern Italy wrote down their thoughts about the moral lessons in the tarocchi deck. In the 1980s, both essays were discovered by playing card researcher Franco Pratesi, and were recently published in Italian and English as Con gli occhi et con l’intelletto: Explaining the Tarot in Sixteenth Century Italy. Generous footnotes and introductory material by Ross Sinclair Caldwell, Thierry Depaulis and Marco Ponzi put the essays in their historical context. This extremely important book shows us how a typical, well-educated Christian of the time would have seen the cards, without the distractions of occultism and Egyptomania that came a few centuries later. Read more
Another historically important Piedmontese deck produced by Giordano Berti just arrived in my mailbox. Like Berti’s other productions, this deck is housed in a sturdy handmade box lined with felt and covered with marbled paper. The cards are protected by a sparkling gold bag and are accompanied by a booklet with detailed historical background. Read more
Has anyone read the folded sheet of paper that comes with every Il Meneghello deck? Recently I became curious enough to dust off my Italian dictionary and read it carefully. Osvaldo Menegazzi, the owner and artistic force behind Il Meneghello, is a native of Milan who’s been immersed in tarot most of his long life. I was hoping for special insights from a Milanese perspective. Instead I got a dose of Oswald Wirth. Read more
Yves Reynaud has produced facsimiles of historically important decks like the Madenié, Burdel and Conver. Now he’s done it again with a recreation of the 1713 Jean-Pierre Payen Tarot, one of the few Tarot de Marseille Type I decks available to purchase. If you’re familiar with any of Reynaud’s decks, the Payen is the same high-quality, limited-edition production housed in a sturdy box. Let’s put this deck in context with the Tarot de Marseille tradition. Read more
Hop on a magic carpet and let Jean Huets fly you back to 1447, when a war between Milan and Venice had northern Italy in turmoil, the Sforzas were still a few years away from ruling Milan, and tarot was a novelty.
The Tarocchino Bolognese engraved by Giuseppe Mitelli is a unique treasure. Just as the Visconti-Sforza deck was a luxury item commissioned by an aristocrat from a prominent artist in Cremona, this exceptionally beautiful deck was commissioned around 1660 by Count Bentivoglio of Bologna from a prolific Bolognese artist. Read more