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
I came across this deck on The Gamecrafter while looking for something else and was immediately taken by the graceful, clean lines and minimalist design. The deck designer, Marco Benedetti, is not an artist, although he’s had architectural training, and this is the only thing he’s ever created. The deck is based closely on the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza deck (V-S) with plenty of quirky personal touches, since it was never the creator’s intention to simply redraw the V-S deck.
Benedetti’s goal was to return to the roots of tarot and strip it of the extraneous occult symbols that had been laid on over the centuries. He believes that any symbolism should be implicit in the overall design, so he made his drawings simple and ambiguous to keep the viewer’s imagination from being imprisoned by specific images. Read more
If you can only own one or two Visconti Sforza decks, before purchasing you need to familiarize yourself with the replacement cards – Tower, Devil and Knight of Coins. (The Three of Swords is also replaced, but it’s hard to mess that one up.)
There are at least eleven versions of the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo Visconti Sforza Tarocchi (to use its official name) by six different publishers. It comes in two basic flavors: a photo-reproduction of the cards as they exist now with chipped paint, flaking gold and nail holes top center; or a restored version that’s been touched up to look like new. Some decks are the original size (3.5 x 7 inches), while some are smaller. The images in all decks are identical except the four lost cards. Every publisher hires an artist to create replacements, which vary greatly and can make or break a deck. Read more
I already have three full-sized facsimiles of the Visconti-Sforza deck. So when I came across yet another version, published by Il Meneghello in 1996, I wrestled with temptation for a couple of weeks before succumbing. I’m very glad temptation won out because this deck is the best of the lot.
I compared this deck with my other three: Dal Negro, USGames 1984 and USGames 2015 (with portraits of Francesco and Bianca Sforza on extra cards). Read more
U.S. Games Systems has just reissued their facsimile of the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo Visconti Sforza Tarocchi, originally produced in 1975 and still in print. They’ve added bonus cards with portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Milan, probably by Bonifacio Bembo, who most likely created the original deck in the 1450s. Both editions are the same size as the original cards: 3.5 x 7.0 inches. Let’s compare the two decks. 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
An exciting new Visconti-Sforza deck is on the scene — a faithful reproduction hand drawn by librarian and organic farmer Alice Cooper. Ms. Cooper created this deck out of pure love, as her own personal copy, with no thought of reproducing or selling it. The care and attention she lavished on this deck during the year-long creative process gives it a magical feel that photo-reproductions of historic decks don’t conjure up. Fortunately for us, her friends persuaded her to print the deck in a limited edition of 200 and sell it on Etsy. Read more
One of the most attractive Visconti-Sforza decks on the scene is offered by Race Point Publishing. This is not a facsimile deck — the cards have been touched up. The images are very faithful to the original; and mercifully, there are no distracting numbers or titles on the borders. The faces are livelier and more expressive than in the original deck, the lines are sharper, and details are easier to read. Read more
How did a luxurious tarot deck rendered in gold leaf and paint made of crushed malachite and lapis lazuli find is way from its birth place in Milan to New York City? The Visconti-Sforza Tarot was commission by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, about 1450 and created in the workshop of Bonifacio Bembo. Precious, gold-leaf decks were all the rage among the aristocracy of mid-15th century northern Italy, and were given as gifts, or brought out to amuse and impress dinner guests.
We know the deck left the Sforza family by the late 15th century; and that the complete deck (minus the four missing cards: Devil, Tower, Knight of Coins, and 3 of Swords) was in the hands of the Colleoni family in the late 19th century. The deck’s travels in the intervening centuries are shadowy, although there’s evidence the deck had been owned by both the Ambivero and Donalli families, who may have been relatives of the Colleoni. Read more