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
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
The Dodal/Dodali Tarot, one of the earliest and most historically important Tarot de Marseille (TdM) decks, has been beautifully recreated by Sullivan Hismans at Tarot Sheet Revival, after two years of painstaking craftsmanship. Hismans, who gave us recreations of the Budapest and Rosenwald sheets, is a visual artist fascinated by the physical reality of tarot cards and the craft of card making. His process is the same with all his decks – he examines different versions of the cards available in museum databases, takes the elements apart, then alchemically recombines them to create a transformed, but historically accurate deck. Read more
For the first and last time on this blog I’m reviewing a deck by a DFO (Dead French Occultist). I usually run out of the room when someone starts in about Kabbalistic associations with tarot (it’s a personal hang-up). But I know a gorgeous deck when I see one. Marco Benedetti’s gold foil edition of Wirth’s 1926 deck is pure magic. Read more
When we think of the Tarot de Marseille (TdM), France usually comes to mind. But the game of tarot was played throughout Europe, with locally printed decks that had their own unique touches. Giordano Berti has recently produced facsimiles of two German Tarot de Marseille decks. The Tarocchi Miller is a Besançon-style deck where the Pope and Papesse are replaced with Jupiter and Juno. Read more
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
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