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.
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.
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.
Some of the most beautiful Tarot decks I’ve ever seen emerged from nineteenth-century Piedmont. Giordano Berti has been producing limited editions of these precious but forgotten decks for several years. His most recent deck in the series is the Corband Tarocchi based on Carlo Della Rocca’s soprafino tarot. Della Rocca died in 1835, but enjoyed an afterlife later in the century when piemontese printers like Corband and the Avondo Brothers produced knock-offs of his beautifully engraved deck.
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
The Tarot: A Strange and Wondrous Thing by Annette Wakulenko will give you a solid foundation for reading cards with the Tarot de Marseille (TdM). The card meanings, spreads and exercises in this book are the result of the author’s many years of devoted study. The author’s mission is to introduce tarot readers to the TdM and show a method for interpreting the cards, especially the pips, that does not rely on the Golden Dawn system. The book is written in a conversational style that feels like receiving one-on-one mentoring from an experienced teacher. Read more
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
Christiana Gaudet is my kind of tarot reader: concise, no-nonsense and practical. She gets right to the point without stalling for time; and knows immediately what aspect of a card to highlight. Her decades of full-time reading shines through her technique. She intuitively knows what the client needs: practical advice, compassion, reassurance, a kick in the pants – she can deliver any of that with any card. I’ve given an exercise below that will help you read just as fluently and quickly. 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