Re: Themes and Games

Al Craig wrote:Huck, thanks for the response. Sorry for the delay in reply but I had to read through your arguments for the 5x14 theory on as well.

You've presented a good argument backed by hard evidence and I have to respect that. The ducumentary evidence seems to lean in favour of an earlier 70-card pack but I'd say it's far from conclusive, there seems to be too low a volume of evidence.

I can make a set of 14 by adding together the Emperors and the Philosophy groups but then there will be no Triumphs from which the games and the trumps could have taken their name.
From that, what the research of the historical situation of decks with 5x14-cards gives, we have only one known example: The 14 Bembo trumps.
These are analyzed at

From your analyzed groups it only uses group 1 (Popess, Empress, Emperor-Pope), about which one might assume, that it descended from Chess with bishop-male - King - Queen - bishop-female.
About the 14 trumps composition at 1.1.1441 and in 1457 we have no information.

Additional we have the earliest playing card document in Ferrara 1422 ...

... in which it stays not clear, what is reported. One possibility it is, that a 5th suit was added, perhaps as a constant trumping-row (as Tarot cards are), which gives a focus on general decks, which had 5 suits.
One 5 suit deck is already noted by Johannes of Rheinfelden, a second might be this one from Ferrara 1422, a 3rd had been possibly the Liechtenstein-Spiel-fragment, though it stays not clear, from what time it really is - maybe as early as 1440/50 or even as late as 16th century. The Master of the Playing cards produced a 5x12-deck at least till 1460 and the Master PW a 5x14-deck around 1500 - the latter with the condition, that this painter likely had the condition, that he had contact to the court of Maximilian and there was Bianca Maria Sforza, the Queen of Roman Empire, who brought Milanese playing cards to her wedding in 1494.

Considering, that there are not many (1) complete decks, or (2) deck-fragments, from which we can conclude the structure, or (3) written notes of decks, by which we can conclude the basic structure of games, these few decks with 5 suits are a considerable part of that, what we know of 15th century. If we add to this the surviving examples of Tarot or Trionfi, which somehow also are 5-suit-decks, this part would be even higher, and we couldn't really talk of a small minority of decks with this feature ... 5 suits. 4 Suits are clearly the main stream, but 5 suits are not rare exceptions.

Well, we have later - after 1500 - the clear victory of the 4-suit-system. Similar we have later the victory of a 4x14+22-structure for Tarot games or the structure 40+40+16+1 for Minchiate. But the later victories don't explain the earlier situation.
The most successful of this moment isn't naturally the first, which was successful. US-America is for 20th century a powerful nation, it hadn't this state neither in 19th, 18th, 17th etc.. ... nobody with some knowledge of history disputes this.

It's likely, that development of mass-production of cards changed the conditions of decks. But in the begin there was no mass-production, there were hand painted cards. It was easy to individualize the compositions. So - generally - we might expect a much greater creativity for the earlier time, similar, as we have in the book-painting time lots of different pictures in different editions, and later, when woodcut and printing machine entered the production process, we have more or less stable, repeating pictures.

Playing Card History had answered the necessary research problem with "once a standard was reached" and behaved rather interested to simplify the process - "ca. 1450" ... well, for the interest to research the later process this was "good enough" and what earlier had happened, didn't really interest, as there simply weren't a lot of people interested in the topic.
So we hear as a repeated fixed opinion, "France developed the Queen" in the card decks. No word about Johannes of Rheinfelden 1377, no word about the game of Stuttgart 1427-1431, or the many other other early decks with Queen.

By such observations proceeds in the research according the law, that one cannot assume something as given at a specific time, if there's nothing to point to. A card game structure with 4x14+22 appears FIRST with the Boiardo poem and this we've dated after longer research to 1487 - with some plausibility. Any other alternative argument in this matter is welcome ... but it has to contain something real.
The argument, that the Tarot was successful later, and so MUST have existed earlier, doesn't count. With that sort of argument you can "prove", that Caesar played cards with Cleopatra, that playing cards developed from Tarot and other nonsense.

The Michelino proves, that 16 trumps as gods were used ... ca. 1425 or a little earlier.
The Cary-Yale proves (with insecurities), that it had at least 16 trumps (there's nobody, who suggests less cards, it actually contains only 11) ...
The PMB proves, that it had at least 14 trumps in its first version, in a later version 20 trumps.
The Charles VI proves, that it had at least 16 trumps.
The Brera-Brambilla cards fragment doesn't give enough information.
The d'Este cards fragment doesn't give enough information.
The only documents, which speak about the number of trumps are Martiano da Tortona's report to the Michelino deck, and the 70 cards note of Ferrara 1457 (and possibly the 1.1.1441 document with "14 figure" has to be noted).

The 22-list of the Franciscan might be dated around 1500.
I assume you are objecting to my assertion in another thread that the 78-card Tarot is very early. I can't see that the scheme put forward by me in this thread is dependent on an early date, so I'll avoid mention of one.
Well, the point is, that earlier concepts of "games" (5x14, 5x16 and possibly others like Imperatori cards) might (or probably have) had prepared the later appearance. So izt's definitely of interest to know about such earlier concepts as much as possible.

Tarot developed from the Imperatori/Karnöffel/Kayser game, it's also perceived, that Petrarca's Trionfi and the group of Virtues were important factors
Then let's match the cards to them.
the Imperatori cards, somehow connected to the number "8"
I'd prefer four. In modern Karnöffel-Kaiserspiel there can be both a suit of trumps containing a Kaiser and also a rank of Kaisern. It sounds like two games mixed together. The Kaisern may have been the trumps of Kaiserspiel just like the ones in the Tarot.
I don't mind the possible (likely earlier) existence of 4 special cards ... but we have the Ferrarese document of 1423, which talks of "VIII Imperatori" cards. Additionally we have the short note of Meister Ingold in 1432, which seems to indicate, that he knew a game with "8 professions" with trump function. Additionally we have around the same time the 16 trumps in the Michelino deck ... and the deck form used by Filippo was very likely 4x15, something, which already was known by Johannes of Rheinfelden much earlier (1377), who had a favor for his very nice 60-card-deck, in which the number cards were designed as "professions" and which had 5 court cards in each suit..

In the global theory it's assumed, that one part of early European playing cards developed in Bohemia much earlier as generally assumed (if we take ca. 1370 as the general accepted argumentation). A German researcher, F.L. Hübsch of 1850, speaks of playing cards in Bohemia in 1340 in a manner, that one cannot count his statements as "hard evidence" (for Hübsch this is only a minor point of his exploration and his theme is Bohemian trade), but anyway it disturbs the international fight against early notes of playing cards production ... Considering the historical logic, Hübsch's notes make sense.
Considering the position of Bohemia and Prague at the Eastern border of the Empire and the general theory, that Spain got their cards from the Mamluks and that the Mamluks got them from the Mongols, and the Mongols took them from China, then it stays, that the region around Kiew was reigned in the critical time by the Goldene Horde (a special section of the Mongols). Kiew (around 1200 a city of 150.000 inhabitants) and Prague via Breslau had been connected by a long established trading route, dating back possibly to very old times, partly connected to the always strong Jewish community in Prague.
Europe was struck by the Plague in 1348-1350, but Bohemia stayed more or less not disturbed as one of very few places in Europe. Jewish trade suffered strongly, as Jews were persecuted in this period ... cause the argumentation, that Jews had poisoned the water.
If one assumes (which seems logical), that very seldom and only occasionally small quantities of playing cards entered Europe in the period 1240 - 1348, so, that they didn't leave any secure note for our accepted records of Playing Cards history (well, Ingold had read, that they entered Germany in the year 1300 ... well, not reliable), then the plague and its consequences might have diminished these earlier small appearances together with the Jews, which died in the persecutions. Possibly everywhere ... but not in Bohemia.
Hübsch notes, that playing cards were in Bohemia in 1340 and he knows, that before already Polish nobility played with them. Also he knows, that an artist of Nurremberg was a card producer in Prague in the year 1354 and had the name Jonathan Kraysel. Also he knows, that card playing was considered a game of skill and not of luck, and so it was not forbidden.
In the research around this we found other notes: In 1303 in Brieg 3 card players died, when hit by a lightning (not reliable) .. but Brieg is located at the trade way Breslau - Kiew, near Breslau. Werner von Orseln, between 1324 - 1330 the first man in the crusader states of the Deutscher Ritterorden, made statutes, according which card playing was prohibited for knights (not reliable) ... but again pointing to the Polish region and the somewhat forgotten trading roots between Black Sea and Northern Europe.

So looking through older German texts, one occasionally find items, which contradict the hard fought theories about the begin of playing cards in Europe and these were never discussed in Playing Card History. Well, there are too much old German texts to know them all, but the evidence, that we with only individual energy and very limited resources found 3 of them somehow gives evidence, that there should be some more, things, which were simply overlooked in the discussion. Since there is a large gap of understanding between German and East European languages, its really a rather open question, what would appear on the surface if some more persons with advanced understanding of old texts would focus their energy on this problem.
Somehow we've to realize our personal position as researcher in space and time, and it's 2010, and the new technologies Internet and electronic search engine simply allow deeper look and overview than it was possible a decade ago. We're able to learn quicker, research quicker and all the other advances. Time has changed and we've better chances.

When Johannes of Rheinfelden experienced "the Kartenspiel-Invasion" in 1377, he already described a considerable
creativity and a lot of variants. His description had raised considerable doubts about the accuracy of the dating, and some generation of playing card researchers believed in an interpolation in 1429, but Arne Jönssen, a Scandinavian Latin professor, reassures us, that there is no doubt about the dating ... we still wait for his translation to appear.

The text of Johannes 1377 demands an expanded form of playing card culture before 1377 somewhere else than in his city (Freiburg im Breisgau, 50 km distance to Strasbourg). Analyzing the situation of Europe in 1377 and the time before it, then it quickly turns to the surface, that Bohemia is a "prefered region". There was an early university foundation (not early for Southern regions, but early for North of the Alps), there was cultural progress, painting, building, all what you desire. Generally Europe suffered from plague and from the enduring French-English war. But Prague more or less had peace and the plague was not the same dominant factor as elsewhere.
Why was it forgotten? Bohemia got big problems, first with king Wenzel, who was abdicated in 1400, then with a sort of "national movement", which made German students disappear from Prague 1409, then with Jan Hus and the following bloody war's of the Hussits, which made the reign of emperor Sigismondo difficult. After Sigismondo's death in 1437 the time of dynasty of Luxemourg was over and the long period of the Habsburg dynasty started, and the Habsburger had no political reason to remember the successful times of the Luxembourg dynasty. So anything good from the earlier good sides of the Luxemburger history got good chance to disappear from the observation focus.

Johannes loved especially his 60 card deck, this is the real object of his enthusiasm for card playing. It's easy to analyse, that this deck should belong to the category "court deck" and "expensive", so as the Stuttgarter Spiel, The Hofämterspiel and the many surviving hand painted Trionfi cards belong to this category. And: If it was a "court deck", the chance is great, that it was from the most relevant court of the region and of the time, and this was the emperor in Bohemia and in Prague. Now we have just for 1377, that in the year 1376 the Emperor Charles IV. let his 14-years-old son Wenzelas made co-regent and King of the Romans in Aix-la-Chapelles. We've to imagine thousands of Bohemians to take a trip to the festivities in the West, at least enough to realize, that this sort of "big journeys" was the ideal opportunity to spread a new medium, in other words "playing cards". Also we've made during our studies the observation, that often for notes of playing cards the themes either "marrying women" or "youth" were connected. Young people adapted playing cards, as in our time it are also young persons, which adapt computer, mobil phone, video games, music etc..
Typically we've for Charles IV (according Hübsch) the note, that in 1340 he made something with playing cards (then Charles IV was still rather young) ... similar we have a young new Roman king and then the playing card revolution of ca. 1377 appeared.
So you see, that these notes operate together. We've one very unusual "accepted" document from 1367 in Bern (a prohibition), and it was also attempted to make it appear as a forgery or a misinterpretation or a later interpolation. But in 1365 the Emperor Charles IV crossed Bern, again with large entourage, cause he was on journey to be crowned as king of the Arelat ...
Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg in 1361 detached the County of Savoy from the Burgundian kingdom. In 1365 he was the last emperor to be crowned King of Arles, though in 1378, he appointed the Dauphin of France (later King Charles VI of France) as permanent Imperial vicar of the kingdom. From then on, Arelat existed only on paper.

... so again we see, that this note might refer to an early Bohemian playing card production, naturally we see also some resistance from the population in Bern, as the note refers to a prohibition. .

Now we have the curious condition, that the court deck "observed by Johannes 1377" and the Michelino deck (ca. 1425 or little earlier) have a structural similarity (60 cards, 4x15-structure), though there are nearly 50 years difference between them.
Well, we have 1395 a Milanese delegation, between them Uberto Decembrio, father of Pier Candid Decembrio, in Prague, arranging, that Giangaleazzo Visconti got the duke title in the same year. The contract was expenive for both sides, Milan paid a lot of money, and King Wenzel, who earned a lot of displeasure of the German nobility cause this contract, lost his throne, finally, in 1400, and Giangaleazzo lost his life short time later, possibly poisoned by a Florentine monk, which presented the general Florentiune causeGiangaleazzo's ambitions.

In 1447 Decembrio noted, that Filippo Maria had playing cards in his youth. In 1395 Filippo Maria was 3 years old, one may call this "youth" and it wouldn't be unlogical, that a duke son got a present from distant countries, when an important delegation returned from the famous Prague. A Prague speciality, naturally, a deck with similarities to the deck, that Johannes described.

In ca. 1455, the young 15-years-old Bohemian king Ladislaus posthumus got the Hofämterspiel, a "modern" 4x12 construction, but still "with professions" for the number cards, as it was also arranged in the "deck obswerved by Johannes", plausibly a "court deck of the Bohemian court" earlier.
Wenzel in 1376 had also been 15 years, one should see the parallel. And still in the Schafkopf game, played near the old Bohemian border, the Jack (or better "Unter") is called "Wenzel" ... well, nobody really knows why.
Modern German games show the influence of Karnöffel-Kaiserspiel with their combination of suit and rank trumps. Schafkopf may have 8 in rank, but Skat and Watten only have 4.
Well, there is not much to consider from the "very old" documents. Relevant are the Ferrarese document 1423, the Michelino deck decription (maybe 1425), the Ingold notes (1432) and the description of Johannes (. All this seem to indicate a factor of "8 cards" or "court cards beside king are trumps", not of 4 cards.

Skat had been invented 1812/13 with some rule development later in Alteburg and it's globally said, that it developed from Schafkopf. From Watten I don't know, it seems to carry memories of Karnöffel (5 cards-deal and "talking and discussion of tactics between partners are allowed").
Generally it seems, as if there was a change of Karnöffel rules around the time of Geiler of Keisersberg (1490 - 1510), who talks, as if there was a new rule, according which the Unteren could beat the Oberen or similar - .... which might indicate that the Unter got more strength and the Ober was weakened, so possibly giving birth to a rule similar to the Skat trumping rules, possibly mirroring social developments, in which the lower nobility (knights etc.) was losing influence and the general citizens (merchants and trade) were getting stronger. With pride the city of Cologne took the "Bauer" in her heraldic.


A 19th century version
I'll need to concentrate on finishing my posts in this thread first. I'll have a look at them after that.
Yes, of course. It's a complex theme. I hope, I didn't interfere.

Re: Themes and Games

Huck, I'm trying to work my way through Boethius and you've given me another book to read. :)
The 14 Bembo trumps ... it only uses group 1
The approach given here, provided that I can make it convincing, should be useful for analyzing the fragmentary packs that have survived from the 1400s. I've swapped a card in the philosophy theme after having read Boethius all the way through for the first time, so you'll need to wait to see what the final card assignments are.
one cannot assume something as given at a specific time
You're beginning to sway me with your argument for a later date of origin for the Tarot.
early European playing cards developed in Bohemia
Interesting. It seems a sound idea that the cards have spread from Mongol China to Mongol Persia, from there to India and Egypt, and finally to Italy and Spain by the end of the Mongol period. The alternative route to Europe through the Mongol-controlled steppes to Bohemia is surprising as there is little evidence for early card playing in Russia, Poland or Hungary. But, as you say, maybe there hasn't been enough research done there yet. Gunpowder may have come by the same route slightly earlier.

I'll post my thoughts on the philosophy group in the next day or two ... I've left the best till last. :-bd
Al Craig

Re: Themes and Games

For the Boethius influence, there is the interesting detail, found by Ross years ago ...
... then I found an
interesting note in the addendum
to the Supplement of the Bibliothèque des Visconti
et des Sforza, which says
that a copy of Boethius' Consolatio in Charles
d'Orleans' library in 1440
appears to have been a gift of Filippo.

"(Paris) lat. 6404. This manuscript of the
Consolatio Philosophiae of
Boethius with the commentary of Nicolas Trivet [Nicolaus Treveth, Dominican, died 1328],
found from 1440 in the
library of Charles d'Orléans to whom it had perhaps
been offered by Filippo
Maria Visconti".
The notice of the book in Pierre Champion's "La
Librairie de Charles
d'Orléans" (Paris, 1910) suggests that it may have
come through the "Bastard
of Vertus" Philippe, who was Charles' nephew
(Charles VI (IIRC) made Gian
Galeazzo, Count of Vertus, so Filippo must have
inherited this title also).

It seemed to us then, that a Boethius manuscript went from Filippo Maria Visconti to Charles d'Orleans, who was Filippo Maria's cousin. Well, somehow it was the "right time" (1440), that this might have influenced something, what had to do with first the Trionfi card productions.

Nowadays, since a lot of studies had followed, I would assume immediately a context to the condition, that Charles d'Orleans had been released from English prison recently. Also I see, that Nicolos Treveth was English and so it seems likely or at least possible, that Charles of Orleans brought the commentary from England, which was welcomed and copied in Milan, and that possibly Filippo in a counter favor returned an edition to Charles for his library.

Around 1440 a lot of interests in manuscript copying was raised by the activities around the council of Ferrara/Florence, which also influenced the literary interest in Milan. "Book faie fever" I would call it in a modern allegory.
one cannot assume something as given at a specific time
You're beginning to sway me with your argument for a later date of origin for the Tarot.
... :-) ... my mother language is NOT English, so there a difficult words and "sway" belongs to them. Even studying a wordbook I cannot win information, what it really transports.

Re: Themes and Games

For the Boethius influence, there is the interesting detail
The date is very suggestive but Boethius' Consolatio was a widely known work. Supposedly, it was the most influentual book in Christendom after the Bible.
there a difficult words and "sway" belongs to them
Sway = "lean towards, influence someone". I meant I was becoming convinced by your arguments about dates.
Al Craig

Re: Themes and Games

Around 1440 a lot of interests in manuscript copying was raised by the activities around the council of Ferrara/Florence, which also influenced the literary interest in Milan. "Book faie fever" I would call it in a modern allegory.
Amen to that Huck. Not only literary interest- but theological discussions about Threesome things and ideas that look like Tarot resulting from the Council of Florence, and Visconti attitudes.
Great to see it mentioned.

The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Themes and Games

Al Craig wrote:
For the Boethius influence, there is the interesting detail
The date is very suggestive but Boethius' Consolatio was a widely known work. Supposedly, it was the most influentual book in Christendom after the Bible.
I tried to verify this. Boethius was buried in Pavia (a reason, which possibly made Filippo Maria interested to focus on him).
So I checked in the catalog of the Wiegendrucke ...

Milanese printed book production between 1470-80 : 0 results for Boethius
Pavia book production between 1470 - 1490 : 0 results for Boethius

So I agree, that Boethius was an influential author for medieval time, but for the interests of 15th century I don't know.

This list of Boethius editions ... ... chs=&digi=
... talks of "59 Ausgabe(n), 307 Exemplarnachweise", so 59 editions, but looking through that what they give, it seems, that they present only German libraries with Incunables. However, only 5 editions are from Venice ... that's all from Italy, and that's not much.
59 Editions are quite a lot, but "only 5 editions from Italy" create the impression, that Boethius was not a big Italian theme at the end of 15th century. From the much interest, that Boethius got then in Germany, I note, that very much editions were made in Cologne ... Cologne with its strong Dominicans is at that time "hardcore conservative" and not loved by new German humanism.

This report .. ... ssance.pdf
... seems to indicate, that Boethius was read at lower school forms, but hadn't been material for the university. It notes some Florentine editions.

I took a view at the Florentine editions ... which seems to be not quotable: For Boethius O results

Alright, 1470 - 1500 is not naturally comparable to the time of 1440. There are dramatic changes.

there a difficult words and "sway" belongs to them
Sway = "lean towards, influence someone". I meant I was becoming convinced by your arguments about dates.
Well, we - probably - started as to focus the documents with more care as it was earlier done (and one has to say, that it was earlier much more difficult, as it is nowadays, we simply live and work in Internet progress; better access of documents and other basic knowledge about the renaissance).

Now we have as a sort of result, that there are two very contradicting lines of interpretation in, that of Ross Caldwell, who generally assumes, that an early manifestation of the game structure 4x14+22 seems possible (with - more or less - the later Tarot content) and would be also logical, and should be suggested for ca. 1436-1441, and that interpretation, which I've presented above in rudimentary form. The theory of Ross tends to assume a big number of produced decks for the earlier time, which also knew very cheap decks very early, whereby the evolutionary model of various different decks in different forms '(Imperatori-model, 5x16, 5x14 etc) tends to assume a development in upper cycles of society and so "few decks only", "small editions" and a "late appearance of the 4x14+22-forms".
Both positions behave antagonistic ... :-) ... though the really desired object, the "real history of Tarot or Trionfi cards" might been hidden between both positions ... .-)
So actually we're not too much interested to convince easily, really desired and necessary are persons, which adapt and control the worked out basic knowledge (things and matters, on which both positions agree), and which with their critic and further knowledge possibly improve the research situations ... with an independent mind, of course.

Re: Themes and Games

Huck wrote: So I agree, that Boethius was an influential author for medieval time, but for the interests of 15th century I don't know.
... only 5 editions are from Venice ... that's all from Italy, and that's not much...
59 Editions are quite a lot, but "only 5 editions from Italy" create the impression, that Boethius was not a big Italian theme at the end of 15th century...
A recent study of Florentine manuscripts, for example, has shown that the Consolatio,
was actually the most widely and intensively studied school author in later medieval
and early Renaissance Italy. It was required reading in lay and communal schools,
that is, between the elementary and university levels. Other manuscript research, as
surveyed in the Codices Boethiani, confirms this conclusion. Among the commentaries,
the work by Nicholas Trevet, written about 1300 at the request of his confrères
in the Dominican order, quickly attained a wide dissemination through the international
network of his Order and was extremely popular in 15th-century Italy.
end quote from: ... ssance.pdf
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Themes and Games

Yes, I've noted this also and linked the same pdf-file.

But the counter research told me, that there was no printed Florentine book production to Boethius in 1470-1500. So what did they use? Handwritten copies or - most probable - shortened excerpts, which seems most probable.

Re: Themes and Games

Hi friends!



I think the main idea of St. Augustine - Boethius "Don't worry about material goods, which gives or removes Fortuna" is the main idea of De Remedis, which surely know Filippo Maria Visconti.
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: Themes and Games

mmfilesi wrote:Hi friends!



I think the main idea of St. Augustine - Boethius "Don't worry about material goods, which gives or removes Fortuna" is the main idea of De Remedis, which surely know Filippo Maria Visconti.
... :-) ... surely one could call every Fortune-Virtue debate "Boethian", but ideas like Fortune and Virtues existed already before Boethius. Petrarca mixes in the pool of his work also stoic elements (four primary passions of Stoic philosophy, which later reappear in the Boiardo Tarocchi poem) and also possibly also a few things of Augustine's "city of God" (as discussed by SteveM at ...


... .-) as other literary works (and also Tarot) it's a potpourri of different elements, which were united by the mind of one artist, may it be a poet or painter.

It's not different with us history researchers: We also create constantly potpourris of earlier researches, and not all of them, we've done ourselves .... :-)

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