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.
Sigismondo Malatesta, bad boy of the Renaissance, gave us our first documented evidence for tarot. Researcher Franco Pratesi discovered a note in a Florentine account book dated September 16, 1440 saying a deck of naibi a trionfi had been sent to Malatesta that was beautiful, expensive and decorated with his arms. In 1452 he surfaced again in connection with tarot. Bianca, the Duchess of Milan, sent a note to her husband Francesco saying Malatesta was asking for the trionfi cards that were made in Cremona. Read more
Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan and the most successful condottiere of his time, gave the world the Visconti-Sforza deck, and contributed immensely to our knowledge of Tarot’s origins.
Francesco’s father-in-law, Duke Maria Filippo Visconti, commissioned two gold-leaf tarot decks in the 1440s, but so many cards are missing, we can only speculate on what the complete deck was like. Francesco’s deck, painted with precious mineral pigments on gold leaf, is nearly complete, showing us that the familiar 78-card deck existed in the mid-15th century.
Throughout the 1440s, tarot decks were mentioned in account books and correspondence from Ferrara, Bologna and Venice; but we have nothing from Milan because the castle and all the court’s records were destroyed during the political turmoil of 1447. Two letters Francesco wrote in 1450 are our earliest written clues about tarot’s place at the Milan court. Read more