New Pratesi note (now two) on the Cary-Yale

As readers of this Forum might know, I have been translating some of Franco Pratesi's recent essays (or "notes") from Italian into English. Franco has a new one in Italian, dated Jan. 17, 2016, called "Elucubrazioni sui tarocchi Visconti di Modrone o Cary-Yale", i.e. "Ruminations on the Visconti di Modrone or Cary-Yale Tarot". Since the Cary-Yale is the oldest tarot deck preserved, including 11 of its triumphs, it has always been of great interest to tarot researchers. Franco's note--of 19 pages--deserves discussion here. Also, the is something he collaborated with me on, in part, and there are some lengthy quotes by me there. I have translated the rest. But first I need to give some background.

In 1989 an article by Franco ( brought the attention of the tarot history community to the earlier "game of the gods" designed by Marziano for Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milan, sometime before Marziano's death in 1425. In part, Franco's new note, on the Cary-Yale, connects the two decks in a hypothetical way. So I will start with a brief discussion of the deck Marziano designed for that game.

In Marziano's deck, 16 Greco-Roman "deified heroes"--i.e. gods and demigods, as described in various classical texts--arranged in a precise hierarchy could, when played in a trick, beat any card in the regular suits. At the same time all of them also belonged to the four regular suits, to which he gave the names of allegorical birds. They look like this:

Suit, Suit-sign_________ Gods, in order from most to least powerful
Virtues, eagle:__________1 Jupiter, 5 Apollo, 9 Mercury, 13 Hercules
Riches, phoenix:________2 Juno, 6 Neptun, 10 Mars, 14 Eolus
Virginities, turtledove:__3 Pallas, 7 Diana, 11 Vesta, 15 Daphne
Pleasures, dove:________4 Venus, 8, Bacchus, 12 Ceres, 16 Cupido

To the extent that there is a hierarchy of 16 superior cards, this deck resembles the tarot deck, although the cards, from their description, looked nothing like any early tarot cards.

This same Filippo Maria, Duke of Milan until his death in 1447, is thought to have also commissioned the earliest extant deck whose special cards are tarot subjects, the Cary-Yale. It is tempting to speculate on whether there is any connection between the two.

So we come to Franco's and my collaboration. Huck posted parts of a few new essays by Pratesi wrote about recently on early documents using the words "minchiate" and "germini" (the latter thought to be another word for the same game, or one very similar). Before recently, it was thought that minchiate, a tarot deck expanded to 97 cards, was a product of the mid 16th century. There was already a known but not entirely secure mention of minchiate in 1466, in a letter of Luigi Pulci to Lorenzo Il Magnifico, Also, Franco found references in 1473 ( The Playing-Card, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1990) pp. 7-17, L'As de Trefle, N. 52 (1993) pp. 9-10, both online at, but because there was nothing between then and the mid-16th century it was perhaps a different game, which died out. Now. however, the gap is considerably narrowed. Franco found a reference in 1529 (The Playing-Card, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2012) pp. 179-197). Then Huck found one to germini in 1517 (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=780), and now Franco, again to germini, in 1506 (The Playing Card vol. 44 no. 1 (2015), pp. 61-71).

I translated Franco's essay on the "germini" reference and posted it here (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1074&p=16463&hilit=1517#p16459 and following). Soon Franco was emailing me about some of my guesses as to what certain 15th century terms meant. I corrected them. But one thing he said was that "carte a trionfi" in Florentine documents should not be translated as "triumph cards" but rather as "triumph-style cards". This puzzled me. What was the difference? He said that "triumph-style cards" meant cards done in the style of pictures with triumphal scenes or characters on them, for example the triumphs of Petrarch, or the cards described by Marziano (email of Dec. 20, 2015). Then would all "carte a trionfi" have been such cards? No, he insisted; it is 99% certain that only some of the cards were of such scenes. It is also only 99% certain that these were cards for use in card games; but such use is not part of the meaning of "carte a trionfi". He thought of an example. A "vaso a fiori" is, in Florentine speech, a vase with pictures of flowers on it. A "vaso di fiori" is a vase with flowers in it.

In English we have no such expression in three words or less for a vase with flowers on it. However we do have "checkered box" versus "box of checkers", with clearly different meanings, one referring to what is on the box and the other to what is in it. By that analogy, it seems to me, we could make up a term "flowered vase" meaning one with flowers on it. Another example is "deviled eggs", which means eggs part of which has spices added to part of it in a kind of paste: "deviled" is to suggest the spiciness of the result. Not all of the egg is "deviled", just the yoke. But the result is still a "deviled egg". On that model, "carte a trionfi" would mean, if we had the expression, "triumphed cards", i.e. cards of which at least some, and most likely only some, have been given triumphal scenes. They would not include only the triumphal cards, for which the term "carte trionfali" would have been appropriate.

So what were the antecedents of "carte a trionfi", an expression whose first documented use is 1440 Florence? Cards, to be sure, including playing cards, but also something else, triumphal scenes, such as those of Petrarch's poem I trionfi, or Marziano's cards. Later he added, in addition to these, "the same triumphal subjects that were used at the time for cassoni, deschi, and so on" (email of Jan. 1, 2016). An example that occurs to me is illustrations from Petrarch's De viris illustribus (Of illustrious men. He also once mentioned cards of saints.

This discussion reminded me of an old hypothesis of mine that I had not talked about in years. My idea was that the connection between Marziano's deck and the Cary-Yale was that both had 16 special cards that functioned both as the highest members of one of the four suits and as a hierarchy among themselves as far as which one, if two in different suits were played, won the trick. I had much difficulty getting this idea taken seriously as an hypothesis. The problem was that nobody believed that the Cary-Yale had such a structure. I gave them evidence, of a sort, but nobody thought it was credible.

Another part of my hypothesis was that the 16 cards included, as one part, the 6 triumphs of Petrarch's I Trionfi plus one more triumph. Fortune, which had been included by Boccaccio in his Amorose Visione. Fortune is missing from the surviving Cary-Yale triumphs, but does survive in another closely related deck, the Brera-Brambilla.

In Petrarch's poem, Love is triumphed over by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, Fame by Time, and Time by Eternity. To these are added, somewhere, Fortune, from Boccaccio. Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, and Eternity are, on my hypothesis, surviving cards in the Cary-Yale. Chastity is represented by the card later known as the Chariot, which the Cary-Yale depicts as a lady on a chariot. Fame is a scene with knights below and a lady on top along with two trumpets, instruments traditionally associated with Fame. Time we know from the PMB (and Charles VI), where it is represented by an old man with an hourglass. Another part of the 16 would be the four cardinal and three theological virtues of medieval Christianity, of which all three theologicals and one cardinal are in the surviving cards. Finally there are the the Emperor and Empress, which form another group, of separate derivation; we do not need to know what it was because they are in the preserved cards and there are no other cards to postulate from that source. The game of "VIII Emperors" is one possibility.

This part of what I presented to Franco is from Huck's "chess theory" of the Cary-Yale ( As he wrote it in 2003, there could have been 16 triumphal cards that corresponded to the 16 chess pieces, the 7 virtues plus Love as the pawns, the Empress and Emperor corresponding to the chess King and Queen, the Judgment and World cards corresponding to the Rooks (called "towers" in Italian) because they had towers on them, and the Chariot and Death cards to the chess Knights (called "horses" in Italian), because they had horses on them. What corresponded to the chess Bishops wasn't clear, because those cards were missing. The Pope and the Popess were the possibility he suggested, an attractive suggestion because then each pair would have one male and one female representative, corresponding to "queen's side" and "king's side" in chess. However there are other possibilities. The difficulty is to assign Petrarch's Time to both a chess piece and a card. And there is also a 16th card to worry about, the one I assign to Fortune. I assign Time and Fortune to the bishops, on the grounds that both cards, in their earliest representations, have old men on them, and bishops were customarily senior church officials. My Cary-Yale reconstruction has no Pope or Popess.

I had the idea from somewhere that Franco did not like Huck's "chess theory". But I thought maybe if the non-chess aspects, namely the "triumphs" of Petrarch/Boccaccio and the seven virtues, were put in a different context, namely that of four groups, from Marziano, Franco might be interested. So I referred Franco to one short section of an old blog of mine (originally 2008, partly rewritten 2012; it is at, with the relevant part the section "The Cary-Yale in Relation to Michelino and Petrarch's "Triumphs"); it connects Marziano's deck (which I called the Michelino, from the painter known to have done the work) with the Cary-Yale. He immediately started writing a new "note" (I'd call it an essay; it's 19 pages long). He showed me drafts and tables for my response. He didn't accept everything I said, and developed his own version based on minchiate (which I agree would be connected), but he did find my proposal stimulating and not something to be rejected. Franco works fast. He was done in a week.

In my next post I will present the first half of the essay, in my translation (with a little help from Franco); I will present the second half after that. The "note" is on in Italian (except for a couple of pages by me), the second note of 2016, starting with the word "Cremona". For the Cary-Yale itself, see ... onti-tarot. First you click on "view all images", underneath the card displayed. Then when you get to a triumph, if you click on the image, you will see more information, including the part that interested me.

I am also going to put this translation on Aeclectic Tarot Forum, which has more activity these days than THF. I think participants there might be interested in Franco's "note". To avoid duplicate discussions, I advise people to wait until I have posted Franco's whole essay there--including the rest of my argument--and then put their comments on Aeclectic, although you can add a link here if you like. But if I have misrepresented Huck or Franco up to this point, I would certainly like a comment here before I post on Aeclectic. I know that somewhere on Huck has a picture of the cards as chess pieces, which I couldn't find.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

So we come to Franco's and my collaboration. Huck posted parts of a few new essays by Pratesi wrote about recently on early documents using the words "minchiate" and "germini" (the latter thought to be another word for the same game, or one very similar). Before recently, it was thought that minchiate, a tarot deck expanded to 97 cards, was a product of the mid 16th century. There was already a known but not entirely secure mention of minchiate in 1466, in a letter of Luigi Pulci to Lorenzo Il Magnifico, Also, Franco found references in 1473 ( The Playing-Card, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1990) pp. 7-17, L'As de Trefle, N. 52 (1993) pp. 9-10, both online at, but because there was nothing between then and the mid-16th century it was perhaps a different game, which died out. Now. however, the gap is considerably narrowed. Franco found a reference in 1529 (The Playing-Card, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2012) pp. 179-197). Then Huck found one to germini in 1517 (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=780), and now Franco, again to germini, in 1506 (The Playing Card vol. 44 no. 1 (2015), pp. 61-71).
The old early references to Minchiate were 1466 (Pulci letter), 1470/1471 (a case of blasphemy, playing near a church) and 1477 (allowance).
Franco wrote something new to 1473 recently and corrected a law, which he earlier had dated to 1463 (about the addition of cricce and ronfa as allowed games). This - as far I remember - was not reporting Minchiate.

Andrea Vitali found a new Sminchiata note at ...
... referring to 1508-1512, "Farsa Satyra Morale. Sminchiata voise dir da sciocchi."

Another old Sminchiate note is from Berni (1526).

I know that somewhere on Huck has a picture of the cards as chess pieces, which I couldn't find.
Cary-Yale Tarocchi

with a larger and readable version at ..

Charles VI Tarot

with a larger and readable version at ..

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

Thanks, Huck. I was writing pretty quickly. I had to be away from the computer for the rest of the evening; but I wanted to put up something. My memory is like a sieve. It's a good thing there are search engines. Now that you've given me the necessary words to put in the search engines, I should be in good shape to rewrite. Thanks also for the link to your picture, too.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

Let me write that paragraph over again:

So we come to Franco's and my collaboration. Huck posted parts of a few new essays by Pratesi on early documents using the words "minchiate" and "germini" (the latter thought to be another word for the same game, or one very similar, using the same extended 97 card tarot pack). To appreciate their significance, I need to give a little background

Before recently, it was thought that minchiate was a product of the 1540s. Earlier, it is true, there was only a not entirely secure mention of minchiate in 1466, in a letter of Luigi Pulci to Lorenzo Il Magnifico (F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1988) pp. 12-15; the letter was first published in 1866, but the original got lost in 1956. But because of the 80 year gap between the two references, it was assumed they were to unrelated games.

Then the gap started narrowing. Franco found references to minchiate in the 1530s ('Italian Cards: New Discoveries", n. 5, The Playing Card, Vol 16 (1988), p. 78-83). He also found it included in a Florentine ordinance about games of 1477 (The Playing-Card, Vol. 19 (1990) pp. 7-17), and in another document, a conviction in 1471 for a crime in 1470 (for playing to close to a church: L'As de Trefle, N. 52 (1993) pp. 9-10). (All of Franco's essays are at Also, Andrea Vitali found a reference to "Sminchiate" in c. 1510, in a context where it appears to be the name of a game ( That makes another reference to "Sminchiate", by Berni in 1526, more likely one to the same game, as opposed to a particular play in the game of Bolognese tarocchini, as Dummett had supposed (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1019&p=15179&hilit=Berni#p15179). Then Huck found references to germini in 1517 and again 1518--actually 1519 in our way or reckoning, in which the year starts January 1 instead March 25 (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=780, corrected by Franco at

Then came Franco's 2015 finding: another reference to germini, in 1506 (The Playing Card vol. 44 no. 1 (2015), pp. 61-71). This last narrowed the gap between notes to less than 30 years. We will see later how this affects how we view the Cary-Yale.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

So now I am ready to begin posting Franco's "note" on the Cary-Yale. Notes in brackets are by me. The Italian original is at I didn't have a lot to do with this part of Franco's "note".

Ruminations on the Visconti di Modrone or Cary-Yale Tarot

1. Introduction

The tarot pack discussed here is part of the Milanese Visconti-Sforza tarots [tarocchi] illustrated and discussed in countless books and articles, often at odds with one another for attribution, date, and interpretation. So much attention is justified by the extraordinary workmanship of these precious cards and even more because they represent the principal ancient specimens of tarot cards that have been preserved. The pack in question is that which, out of all of them, presents the most puzzles to be solved in order to seek a convincing understanding. The name of Visconti di Modrone comes from the Milanese owners who possessed it for generations; the name of Cary-Yale, now more used internationally, comes from the American Cary family who purchased it from the Visconti di Modrone, from whom Yale University acquired it, where it is now preserved in the Beinecke Library in New Haven.

The present contribution does not come from the discovery of new documents, but only from reflections on what is presented and how the pack could have originated; the discussion will proceed with some deviations and parentheses, in a nonlinear manner. The credit for this study (but one could say the blame) is Michael Howard, who has stimulated and assisted in it. In truth, that assistance would have more necessary and more useful if I had the opportunity and desire to write a big book on the subject, rather than a short note. I must acknowledge in this regard, and make the reader aware, that the bibliography on this theme, including discussions on the internet, is vastly more extensive than that used and cited here.

2. The Courage of Sylvia Mann

The figure of Sylvia Mann has been fundamental for historical research on playing cards. The fact that she found herself working with an author of the caliber of Michael Dummett had as a consequence

that she soon took a back seat, and her enormous contribution to the material could not be recognized.

From an organizational point of view, Mann was the person who brought life to the IPCS [International Playing Card Society]and to its official organ, The Playing-Card, a journal that continues to be published today after 40 years. In that journal she was proud to offer a secure reception for studies on the subject, not easily published in academic journals. Personally I owe a great debt of gratitude for her encouragement to continue my research, by including card games along with board games, chess at first, whose literature and history I studied for years. It was she who gave the title “Italian cards - New discoveries” to the series of my articles, and assisted me more than once in their revision, also from the point of view of language.

Her most important contribution was in my opinion to fix with precision and force a line of demarcation among playing cards, one very useful for further research. Of playing cards Mann was primarily a collector (and I seem to remember also stamps before, like many other people). What is usually meant by an "object of collection" [oggetto da collezione] in general, and thus also in the particular case of playing cards? If it is a postage stamp, what is considered "of collection" [da collezione] is not the most common one that you can put on a letter every day, but an unusual specimen, a commemorative, striking precisely because it is unusual, even before its possible beauty.

One can also go back to the Schatzkammer, or treasure chambers of the princes, with their precious objects, as many extraordinary ones as possible, able to fascinate any observer. As always, an "object of collection" is in fact an object out of the ordinary, which never or almost never occurs in daily life except, possibly, in the very poorest versions. For playing cards there is the same reasoning: they deserve so much more the name "cards of collection" ["carte da collezione"]as they are different from those that can be bought in local stores and used in the family or in traditional games with friends. With cards of collection it is instead probable that no one ever played with them; for the collector, there are still artists and publishers who make special packs, and among them you can even find whole types of packs: travel, advertising, erotic, fantastic, round, and so on.

Mann instead taught all collectors of playing cards - or at least all those, perhaps few, who have assimilated her lesson - that there was a different way to find the extraordinary in cards of collection [carte da collezione]. Mann’s revolutionary proposal was very simple: all the "ordinary" cards can and indeed must become "extraordinary", collectible: it is sufficient to leave the familiar framework and procure ordinary cards of distant countries and times! Indeed, on closer inspection, precisely those cards are to be collected and then studied in their historical and geographical evolution. As an example it can be very revealing for us to consider some strange Japanese playing cards, that with a little attention we can succeed instead to understand not only how ordinary they were, but also clearly how they are derived from the cards, also ordinary, of the Portuguese. In short, Mann has deserved much more than my personal recognition; all the historians interested in this material owe her gratitude. We will see shortly how this parenthesis is not so far outside the subject as it might appear.

3. Experimental Character of the pack under study

The pack in question presents itself as a unique example among the preserved ancient tarocchi, not so much for its workmanship or style, as for the figures on the cards. Already the pips [carte numerali, number cards] are not the usual ones, for example, with the usual staves or scepters, but here represented by arrows; also among the triumphal cards [carte trionfali] appear unusual ones. Perhaps even more characteristic is the fact that in addition to the queen, there are other female characters [personaggi] among the court cards [carte figurate]. Alongside the male pages [fante, which the Beinecke translates as I have given] are the corresponding female pages [fantine, again following the Beinecke]. That happens in other cases, starting with minchiate; but everyone knows that minchiate was introduced later, and above all, in those cards the two female pages take the place of two missing male pages, while in the CY pack there are both the one and the other. Not only that, but here the knights, too, have beside them their feminine counterparts, not in substitution but in addition, and this seems precisely a unique case among all the playing cards, which deserves a separate reflection.
1. S. Mann, Collecting Playing Cards, Wimbledon, 1973.
2. S. Mann, V. Wayland, The Dragons of Portugal, Sandford 1973.

In conclusion, all the evidence leads us to consider the CY pack as a pack of collection, from two points of view: it is obvious that today it is because of its age, rarity and beauty, but also, it looks so unusual that at birth it must have been an object to impress anyone who saw it. You can then take into consideration the great teaching of Mann: with all its beauty, being an unusual pack not intended for a traditional game, it certainly deserves the attention of historians (not for nothing have thousands of pages already been written on cards like these), but, precisely because of its extraordinary nature, it can bring much useful information for our reconstruction of the history of playing cards and their development. In the case of the CY pack, however, it cannot be excluded that it was instead a precursor to a triumph pack [mazzo di trionfi] that in its final form did not precisely exist; in which case, by the same criterion of Sylvia Mann, it would appear of enormous historical interest, while remaining an experiment, since it would be pointing toward a pack which at this point needed only to establish its standard characteristics.

From the above it is evident that for the history of playing cards it is essential to propose as accurate a dating as possible for the CY: a difference of a few years can transform it from an insignificant variation on a well known theme to a pioneering experiment destined for a great future. To resolve the problem, the skills of historians of playing cards do not seem sufficient. To be convinced, it is sufficient to read what was written in this regard by one who can be considered the greatest of all (3)
It is impossible to determine if the Visconti di Modrone pack was an isolated experiment, which was detached from a standard already established, or if it is the only surviving example of a primitive stage in which the tarot pack had not yet acquired the structure that was to later become canonical. If it does represent a primitive stage, it is also impossible to determine if it was of a time when there coexisted significant variations in the composition of tarot decks or one in which a precise standard prevailed, different from what was observed later. One hypothesis, advanced, for example, by Dr. Algeri and Mrs. Gertrude Moakley, can be excluded with certainty as completely anachronistic, and that is that it was a Minchiate pack.
3. M. Dummett, Il mondo e l’angelo, Napoli 1993, p. 52. [original in Italian]

Michael Dummett having passed on, we can turn to another scholar of a high level, Thierry Depaulis, whose last book updates with simple precision much of our knowledge about the history of the tarot (4). Here is what we can read on the CY deck:
The first [Visconti di Modrone] has only 67 cards, including eleven triumphs [atouts], but offers some unexpected pictures [figures], male and female knights, maids and valets, and the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, which are not normally part of the series. This atypical tarot could be a kind of trial run, especially the presence in two suits - batons (here, in fact, arrows) and swords – of emblems of the Sforza (the fountain and the quince, mela cotogna) while the other two - coins and cups – bear the emblematic of the Visconti, seems to be explained by the union of two families that the Love card could represent. Only one possible date, 1441, when Francesco Sforza marries, at Cremona, Bianca Maria Visconti, the only child, natural but legitimated, of duke Filippo Maria. It would then be the oldest preserved tarot deck.
The attribution seems reliable to me, because we know that Cremona played a significant role in the production of triumphs in Lombardy; but some conclusions must still be drawn, and some contraindications are still found. A particularly significant one is that very same Thierry Depaulis, also with the book just quoted, has brought to the attention of playing card historians the quotation from the Diaries [Giornali] of Giusto Giusti, in which a triumph pack [mazzo di trionfi] was produced in Florence in 1440 for use in and around Rimini. But if in 1440 "normal" triumph packs already exist, it must be deduced that the CY pack, precisely because of its exceptionality, coexisting among objects of more common use, is of secondary historical significance. If we think instead of a prototype destined to obtain shortly afterwards considerable success in a normalized form, it is necessary to go back to earlier dates, like the year 1428 supported by others. Ultimately, the discussion on the subject is not closed, if we find traces recurring until the last days.

I tried then to seek an answer in one of the forums on the internet that are dedicated specifically to the subject 5. In this case the search for contributions on the subject is easy and assisted by powerful search
4. Th. Depaulis, Le Tarot révélé, La Tour-de-Peilz 2013, p. 20. [original in French]
5. viewforum.php?f=11

engines. The problem is that if you insert “Cary” you get in response: "The following words in your search query were ignored because they are too common words", while if you insert “Cary Yale” the answer is: "Search found 400 matches". There was a time in which the second answer would make me very happy, but now even 40, rather than 400, would be too much; at least for me, and at this age, not only the verba volant, but also volano these scripta [allusion to the Latin adage verba volant, scripta manent: “spoken words fly away, writings remain”].

Let us then try to consult different historical skills, those of the historians, who have devoted considerable attention to the Visconti-Sforza tarot.

4. The questionable discussion of art critics

There is, to my knowledge, no academic discipline with the name “History of card games”, and thus as specialists in the history of card games and playing cards are met only amateurs, with very few exceptions. But as for the history of art, there are many chairs, academics abound, and their writings fill libraries; thus a history of playing cards has everything to learn from experts on the history of art. From the foregoing it is evident that the problem of the dating of the CY pack, which has been shown of enormous importance, one could reasonably expect to find already solved in the writings of historians, who also have paid recurrent attention to this topic.

Unfortunately, the contribution of the art critics does not resolve the problem, but might be said to complicate it more. It seems that for an art historian, the dating of a work of this kind can vary in intervals so large as to render unnecessary and unreliable their contribution, at least until a proposal becomes really more convincing than all the others, which to everybody 'today would not seem accomplished. In this regard have to mention at least one recent publication on the Visconti-Sforza decks, which unfortunately leaves behind the scenes the specific deck at issue here, the CY; however, the treatment of data and the bibliography should still prove useful to anyone wishing to deepen [one’s study] (6).
6. S. Bandera, M. Tanzi (eds.), Quelle carte de triumphi che se fanno a Cremona. Milano 2013.

Among all the stylistic particulars and details in the depictions, none drew the attention of the experts more than the alternating coats of arms on the tent in the background of the Love card; while one is definitely Visconti, the other was variously attributed to the House of Savoy, the city of Pavia, and perhaps to other noble houses. The importance of the attribution is linked to the hypothesis (shared by the majority of the historians) that the deck had been produced on the occasion of a marriage between a Visconti and a Lady X, with its related dating easy to find. Usually, in the case of assignment to the House of Savoy, the wedding would be in 1428, between Filippo Maria Visconti and Marie of Savoy, but even this is uncertain because other critics argue that it is indeed the House of Savoy, but the marriage would be in 1468 between Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Bona of Savoy. The distance between the two cases is such that our request for help is unmet.

[Translator's note: Here is the middle section of the CY Love card, with the coats of arms on top:

The Visconti coat of arms is the viper with the red man in his mouth.]

A different discussion was of the clothes of the characters depicted on the cards. According to some historians the CY deck should be considered prior by a few decades to the other Visconti-Sforza decks. in order to justify the significant difference in the style of clothes. Again art historians have not reached agreement, and in any case the for playing cards it is commonly known that dating the epoch of production on the basis of the clothing of the characters leads to the possibility of big mistakes.

When, as often happens, we are in the presence of historians who do not know the history of playing cards, we find ourselves faced with curious attributions, like that of considering the deck CY a kind of minchiate; it is easy then for a Dummett is to counter, as in the quote above, that minchiate was of an epoch still to come. It is a situation that I know well, because I found myself there, bogged down in my first encounter with the comedy by Notturno (7); also then it was minchiate that appeared before being invented; it is a bit as if one found a manuscript of the Gospels dating from the first century BC ... Nevertheless, the appearance of the female page in the CY deck, and other details that are not secondary, such as the presence of the theological virtues, the interweaving of the swords, and others, cannot but recall the minchiate pack.
7. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 17 No. 1 (1988) 23-33.

5. Connection with chess.

Recently the triumphal cards in the CY pack have been put in relation with the figures of chess, and it has fallen to me to discuss this proposal, advancing reservations (8). However, it is precisely for the CY deck that it is inevitable to recall some reference to chess, even before considering the triumphal cards. In order to advance interpretative hypotheses about the preserved cards, let us try preliminarily to proceed in reverse, trying to "build" a deck of cards on the basis of the pieces on the chessboard. A premise is necessary as to what historically was the case when chess as well as cards passed from the Islamic world to the European one. Originally there were no women on the board, or even civilian characters; they were all soldiers of various degrees around the king. Soon, however, the army of chess in Europe became a representation of the environment of the court, with the queen by the king and then the judges [ or bishops and knights [giudici o vescovi e cavalieri, with a maximum of eight pawns [pedoni, also meaning pedestrians] still with the function of soldiers.

In playing cards there was a similar transformation, although later, be-cause cards came after the transformation had already taken place in chess. Before, they were king, senior officer, and junior officer; then they became king [re], queen [regina] and jack [fante]. For the new pair of king and queen, the situation is closely analogous; for the other chess pieces, in playing cards we can accommodate a limited number: only one in normal cards, only two in the tarot type, while in chess there would be three (bishop, knight, rook [alfiere, cavallo, torre]). Not only that, the three characters that accompany the pair of king and queen are in turn couples, i.e. 2x3 pieces, which would require six cards and then eight including the royal couple. (A further problem is encountered if the couples are separated: including the royal pair, there are four, while the individual pieces in chess are not four but five, for the necessary distinction between the king and queen.)

Even today in chess, the Queen's side is distinguished from the King's side; we speak, for example of the queen’s bishop [alfiere di donna] or the king’s bishop [alfiere di re]. It is not a long way to get to a change of sex of the pieces initially located to the left of the white queen or right of the black queen! So, if you want to fit a deck of cards to the typology of chess

pieces, the easy solution is to construct a deck with eight pip cards corresponding to the pawns and eight court cards corresponding to the chess pieces initially in the first row of the board. It should be borne in mind that a pack of cards has four suits instead of the two sides present on the board (so that historians like Rosenfeld have argued, with little success toward the truth, that chess in four was the primitive form and had the greater influence); thus we get a hypothetical deck of 64 cards, twice as many as the chess pieces.

6. Adding the triumphal cards

In the search for a hypothetical construct a priori of the CY type pack one must proceed with the necessary additional cards with the function of trumps. For these cards it is not even easy to find a suitable name, because the name “triumphs” [trionfi] was used mainly for the entire deck, and the name “tarot” [tarocchi], which was initially adequate, soon passed into indicating, similarly, the full deck. To avoid confusion, the terms “triumphal cards” [carte trionfali] or “higher cards” [carte superiori] might be used. How can these new cards be characterized? As mentioned above, even for these cards an origin has been proposed associated with chess pieces, but I cannot be convinced of the validity of such a proposal. In my opinion, a derivation from chess can serve for the court cards and possibly for some of the higher ones, but not for the whole triumphal series [serie trionfale].

We would be in complete darkness regarding any proposed hypothesis were we not provided the schema of the higher cards designed by Marziano a few years earlier, again in the same environment of the Milanese court, perhaps in collaboration with Duke Filippo Maria Visconti. The number of 16 triumphal cards is also in accordance with the ratio of 1:4 with the other cards in the deck, which can be found in decks of succeeding Bolognese triumphs (9). With this background, it is not difficult to reconstruct the hypothetical full deck. We need "only" sixteen other cards and also, for their type, certain requirements that have to be met, especially two.

The sixteen additional cards must first of all correspond to a series of triumphs, with a hierarchy that is presented as logical and easy to remember, and perhaps if possible organized like the series of the Triumphs of Petrarch, with a clear justification for why each triumphs over the previous card and is overtaken by the subsequent. If the succession in trick-taking power is not clear, it would be necessary to add the sequential numbers on the cards, as was done in the tarot later. The requirement indicated may be the only one necessary, but if following the example of Marziano is desired, there is a second to be fulfilled: sixteen additional cards should also be situable into four groups of four triumphal cards, each at the head of one of the four suits of the 64 card deck identified earlier.

7. Discussion of the pips and courts.

One can proceed to a first comparison between the hypothetical deck imagined before and that of the CY. As for the pips in the deck the CY contains thirty-nine of forty, and nothing suggests that the one missing card (the 3 of Coins) was originally absent. So, compared to the eight pawns of chess we definitely have two extra cards. One might think to take as a model chess existing on 10x10 board, but accommodating the pips in that way departs even further from an accord for the court cards, so you have to find “another way.”

The court cards in the CY deck are six per suit, and this is a real record compared to the three in ordinary card decks and the four usually present in tarot decks; the number of six courts in each suit, although unusually high, cannot suffice to establish a one to one correspondence with the major chess pieces. If we want to insist on the usefulness of the comparison, or the opportunity to find it, there remains the possibility shown in Fig. 1, in which the cards with the numbers 1 and 10 have taken the place of the rooks in chess. (With the final F is indicated the feminine correspondents of the Male Page [fante, in the diagram PM] and Male Knight [cavallo, in the diagram KnM]. To respect the chess positions each P should trade places with a Kn, but here the hierarchy of cards is being respected.) As weak support for the hypothesis in such circumstances, it is possible to advance a few considerations. From the side of chess, it is not easy to Associate

the members of the court to the rooks as it is to the other figures, so much so that also historically, various types of associations have been proposed, and often rooks were artifacts of defense and not characters [personaggi]. [Translator's note: here I have replaced the Italian abbreviations for the chess pieces and cards with their English equivalents.]


On the side of the cards, it can in fact be recalled how in many card games the ace and the 10 had special roles. It is true that in the current Italian game of briscole [trump] the 10 is not used (of course, in the normal deck it no longer exists and was replaced in that function, oddly enough, by the 3); however, it is equally true that in many foreign trick-taking games with trumps it happens that the ace is in fact the highest card and 10 the second, followed in order by the courts. You can push beyond the association with chess, considering the power of the court cards, given that at the time, before the spreading of modern chess with the new queen, precisely the two rooks were the most powerful pieces on the board (like cards 1 and 10 in games of trumps).

In conclusion, a way can be found to move from a fairly logical structure of these number and figure cards and from the obvious type 8 + 8, as in chess, into a type 10 + 6. Fig. 2 shows, according to the diagram, all the number cards and figure cards still present in the CY deck.[Translator's note: In the Word document version of this table, which I used to put in the English abbreviations, the top quarter slid to the right from where it is in the pdf online. I was not able to fix this problem, and I don't think it matters much.]


I will finish posting the translation in another post. There are about 8 of the 19 pages left.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

Here is the conclusion of Pratesi's note, "Ruminations on the Visconti di Modrone or Cary-Yale Tarot", at We are the bottom of p. 11. In the Conclusion, there is one sentence I had difficulty with. After my proposed translation I give the sentence in the original Italian. I apologize for the tilting tables; time permitting, I will replace them with better ones.

8. Discussion of the triumphal cards

The sequence of preserved triumphal cards in the pack is the following: World, Angel, Death, Chariot, Charity, Hope, Faith, Fortress, Love, Emperor, Empress; at least so their order is indicated

in the book cited by Michael Dummett. There remain to be discussed in particular the two highest positions in the Milanese environment, which appear consistent in that order when compared with succeeding packs of the same origin. However, it does not seem that this series is a complete sequence of triumphal cards, although in principle it could be. Dummett has proposed various lengths for the hypothetical original sequence, considering also the practical convenience of maintaining a relationship between the ordinary cards and the triumphal ones that is not too different from what exists in known complete packs.

But we have a guideline to take into consideration for the triumphal sequence, provided by the system described by Marziano with its sixteen deified heroes. Here the characters are clearly changed and already incomparably closer to those that are commonly found in various types of tarot. The only rather unexpected presences are the three theological virtues, which in the tarot are present only in the Florentine (of which, however, it is believed that they were still a long way from birth). In place of the gods of Marziano one can try to insert other cards in the sequence but supposed lost in the original pack, being guided by the Trionfi of Petrarch, as well as other known sequences. The "solutions" may be different, but my attention was drawn by the proposal of Michael Howard, presented in an updated form in the table of Fig. 3, after being presented by him and discussed in past years (10).
10. ... n-why.html



In the second column of Fig. 3, the cards supposed lost are listed in italics and with only one capital letter; the content of the third column will be explained later. The procedure followed for the reconstruction is described by the author.
On the Beinecke Library website the cards are divided into four groups, which correspond almost precisely to the four suits. They are in the following order, with the captions as given:

Swords: Empress of Swords, Emperor of Swords, Love (Swords).
Batons: Fortitude (Batons), Faith (Batons), Hope (Batons),
Cups: Charity (Cups), Chariot (Cups), Death (Cups)
Uncaptioned, Uncaptioned

The last two are first, a scene with knights and castles usually designated “World” (Mondo), and finally, one of the Last Judgment, corresponding to the card known as “l’Angelo” in later lists.

When I emailed the Beinecke about this arrangement (Aug. 25, 2008), curator Timothy Young replied, “Cataloging information about the cards was received with the collection when it was given by the Cary family to Yale. The author of the printed catalogue to the Cary Collection used their descriptions when he created fuller catalog records.” We may wonder how far back these descriptions might go. Nonetheless it is a start. Its principle of division,
11. M. Howard, Personal communication, Jan. 15, 2016

or even why there is one, is not obvious, simply from looking at the cards or from knowing what came later.

First it is necessary to determine what cards are missing. The existing cards correspond to 5 of the 6 Petrarchan triumphs and 4 of the 7 principal virtues of the medieval Church, the 4 cardinal virtues and 3 theological. The missing Petrarchan triumph is that of Time, and we see that in later packs with an old man (Vecchio), holding an hourglass. Together with the Empress and the Emperor, that would make 15 cards. However in the Brera-Brambilla pack, done just a little later than the Cary-Yale according to current thinking, there is a Wheel of Fortune. This also was one of the triumphs in Boccaccio’s Amorosa Visione. That would make 16.

These cards must then be inserted in their proper places. In Marziano’s pack, each of the suits was associated with a bird and an allegorical theme: eagles had the theme of Virtues; phoenices that of Riches; turtledoves, that of Virginities; and doves, of Pleasures. So the CY’s organizing principle might be the four cardinal virtues, each related to three other of the cards. How the cards would follow each other within the groups cannot be inferred precisely, except by reference to the Beinecke’s order, but probably the cardinals would be either at the beginning or the end of the group they dominate. Since the Angel is a fitting climax for the sequence, and Justice was never, in the later lists, put before the Empress, it is possible that Justice was at the end of its group and Prudence at the beginning of its group. If the Beinecke order is strictly followed, Fortezza would have to be at the beginning of its group, while Temperanza could be at either end. After Death is where it is in later Milan lists; so, somewhat arbitrarily, that is where it will be put.
Personally I find it reasonable to set the total number of triumphal cards at sixteen, but I do not see why one cannot rely directly on the minchiate sequence for the reconstruction instead, with the same elements, a different sequence; why not use the one of minchiate if, among other things, precisely the theological virtues are present there? Once we admit the comparison, the match is found immediately. So my proposal, alternatively, is that of Fig. 4, where among other things the order of the two highest cards is reversed against the list of Dummett, supposing that in Milan or Cremona the Florentine order was still in force.

Now I cannot write that then minchiate existed (nor am I convinced regarding the final form of 97 cards), but I cannot also rule out that some kind of Florentine triumphs already existed and would serve as a model for any reproductions and variants.


9. Subdivision of the triumphal cards into suits

With all the uncertainty of the case, the previous point can at the same time be considered a starting point for a further step. Again having the pack of Marziano in mind, it is natural to consider the possibility that the sixteen reconstructed cards can also be seen, in addition to the sequence of numbers 1-16 shown, as formed by four groups of four cards each connectable to one of the four suits of ordinary cards. Though I have tried with the series that I have proposed, I was not able to select four groups in the desired manner; so I give up further attempts in that direction. However, I can continue examining the proposal of Michael Howard, who in some way has managed to carry through for the stated purpose the subdivision into four suits. To achieve this result, Howard used an association of the triumphal cards to the four suits that is present in the archiving of the museum and the documentation that comes from the Cary family, joined with the same pack at the museum. Again in this

I can use, with some relief on my part, the author’s description (12).
The third column [of Fig. 3] follows the Beinecke groupings and order within groups, with the additions.

The character of the four virtues fits that of the four suits: Justice has a Sword; while the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, as Hamlet put it, require Fortitude, an unbending will, like a lance or arrow. The Temperance card has its two cups. The round Coin suggests the Sun, a symbol of God, as well as reward for right conduct.
The allegory would then somewhat as follows. What the Empress and Emperor need most is Justice, because of who they are. Love also must be guided by Justice, which requires respecting the wishes of the beloved. But faced with the apparent misfortune, represented by the Wheel, of Laura’s wish for Chastity he first needs Fortitude; and in general, when faced with the Wheel, one needs also Faith and Hope. These virtues do not triumph over the one preceding, but build on one another. Their nature as triumphal cards is in their victory over vice. In numerous illuminated manuscripts, they can be seen stomping the corresponding vice underfoot, usually represented by a particular personality whose name was written in. The CY theological virtue cards are the same. Under Hope’s feet, with a rope around his neck, is Judas, who had that virtue’s opposite, Despair. Under Faith and Charity are two crowned figures lacking those virtues, probably the heretic Muhammed (parts of the first letters are legible) for the first; for the second, Herodus would have been usual (see Leone Dorez, La canzone delle virtu e delle scienze di Bartolomeo de Bartoli da Bologna, Bergamo 1904, p. 82). [Translator's note: the three theologicals can be examined here: ... thChar.jpg. An example of virtues overcoming vices is the top row here: ... ologna.jpg]

With Temperance – control over the passions – comes also Charity toward others. All these virtues lead to the Triumph of Chastity, the woman on the CY Chariot card. Moreover, it is Temperance that in this life can delay Death; and her cups in another sense – that of the spirit of the Eucharist. can even overcome it. For the last group, Prudence is the governing virtue. The ability to choose the right means to the right end (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa. q. 57, art. 5, ans.). – Prudence guiding all the virtues – leads sometimes to renown in this world, which inevitably fades over Time; but with God’s mercy, leads to glory on Judgment Day.

This kind of allegory is of the type we can imagine Marziano writing to Filippo. To remember the sequence, it is enough to remember the allegory and the placement of the cardinal virtues. The story does not have to go in just this way; this is merely one that respects the groupings and order in which the cards were given to Yale.
The result is presented in the third column of Fig. 3. In that table the sixteen cards are actually divided into four
12. M. Howard, Personal communication, Jan. 15, 2016.

groups, associating respectively the first (1 to 4) to the suit of Swords, the second (5 to 8) to the suit of Batons, the third (9 to 12) to the suit of Cups, and the fourth (13 to 16) to the suit of Coins. The four cards associated with each suit somehow maintain their hierarchy, representing a sort of continuation of the court cards, in such a way that the complete pack could be seen - in a manner not dissimilar from the pack designed by Marziano - in the two alternative ways schematized in Fig. 5 for the structure into five suits and in Fig. 6 for the one in four. (In the two figures a peculiarity of tarot games, and also of other trick-taking games, was not taken into account; so the sequence of number cards 1-10 would be correct only for the "long" suits with Batons and Swords, while it would be the opposite, in ascending numerical order, for the "round" suits of Cups and Coins.)


It is not at all certain that the attempt is successful, however, as we know from Marziano, who shows us that in the early days there was actually a possible interchange between the higher court cards and the triumphal cards. [Translator's note: For example, Franco says in discussion, the Emperor and Empress might have derived originally from the King and Queen.] It also appears likely that there were then various uncertainties in the separation between the two groups, with some higher

characters originally belonging to a suit and then breaking away definitively.


10. Conclusion

For the Cary-Yale tarot (CY, also Visconti di Modrone), various options for reconstructing the complete pack were analyzed, possible logical paths that could have led to that particular structure; in particular, of triumphal sequences there were considered those known from the Trionfi of Petrarch and from other ancient packs of triumphs, including in particular the pack of Marziano, and possible associations with the figures of chess. Once a hypothetical pack with the requirements needed has been reconstructed, it has been determined if and to what extent the CY could be associated with it. [Una volta ricostruito un ipotetico mazzo con i requisiti richiesti si è controllato se e quanto poteva essere conforme al mazzo CY.] There were also presented a couple of reconstructions of the triumphal series considered probable, hypothesized as

sixteen cards of which five have been lost. One of these [reconstructions] is based on the structure of Florentine minchiate, which at the time had not yet been introduced, at least not in the form known later. There was also presented a proposal for division of sixteen triumphal cards into four suits. Several of the aspects discussed seem to favor the interpretation of the CY deck as a precursor of packs of standard triumphs rather than a variant of a type of pack already in common use; but on this point, of great importance historically, significant progress unfortunately has not been made.

Added next day: in the sentence in the Conclusion that I repeated in Italian, I got the verb form of "si è controllato" wrong, Franco says. That has been corrected.

Now I have to put all this on ATF.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

Thanks for your work.


In the work of Evrart de Conty (Eschecs amoureux, 1398) the author presented 16 gods as "somehow" belonging to the theme "chess". The text is very long (about 900 pages). If these 16 gods were related in a clear way to 16 chess figures wasn't detected (difficult old French). It seems obvious that there were 2 groups of 8 figures:

1st group: 7 planet gods + Minerva (the first 8, pictures 5-12)
2nd group: 8 other gods (the last 8, pictures 13-20)

Pictures are given at

The text finishes with a chess game between the author (male) and a lady (female). The 16 figures of the male side are others than the 16 figures of the female side. The 32 figure definitions are (at least partly) taken from the Roman de la rose, which was very popular then. In a not clear way (at least not clear to me) the text followed an earlier anonymous poem (c 1370, as far I remember). The figures have at beginning another position than nowadays:


c1-f1 (4 figures) / c2-f2 (4 figures) / a3-h2 (8 figures)
The short assize" (French court assize = "short sitting") is H. J. R. Murray's name for a chess variant that was played in medieval Europe. It was somewhat like sittuyin but developed independently, probably to get the armies into contact sooner. It was current in England and Paris in the second half of the 12th century, and perhaps at other times and/or places.

The pieces started with the pawns on the third ranks, and the queen on the same square as the e-file pawn. These two pieces could not be moved together, and after that no two pieces of the same color could be on the same square together. But, before either moved, both could be captured together. After that, the usual rules of medieval chess (i.e. shatranj or similar) applied.

Murray records these two starting positions, and writes as if the players could choose the starting positions of their kings and bishops and knights and rooks. It is not known if the game had an initial setting-up stage like in sittuyin.

The ordinary European chess of the time was sometimes called the long assize to distinguish.

The text of the wiki article dates the version to " England and Paris in the second half of the 12th century, and perhaps at other times and/or places". Evrart de Conty wrote 1398.
The situation is so, that we (in the case, that we agree, that early Trionfi card were influenced by chess) can't say, if the authors of such compositions (possibly Michelino deck, Cary-Yale, Charles VI) followed in their imaginations one of the short assize versions (there might have been also others than those shown by Murray) or the modern chess type.

Let's observe the detail of the strange Queen position. She is placed together with a pawn in the front line. How this worked in an actual game is unknown (at least to me).

A similar behavior can be observed in the Courier game, which started with a "Freudensprung" (jump of joy), which moved 3 pawns and the Queen.


In the Cary-Yale discussion we've 7 virtues, which should be chess pawns and not chess officers. There are 8 pawns in chess, and the problems are (1) Which is the pawn, which is too much ? and (2) which is the relevant Trionfi symbol?
The short-assize / Courier versions know an answer to the problem (1), the special pawn should be the Queen's pawn.

Question 2 solves in another way.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

I was expecting another part to Huck's post, an answer to his "question 2". Since none has been forthcoming, I post my reflections, although not on this last post of Huck's but rather on both his and Franco's observations generally, but pertaining to the CY exclusively.

Some post-Pratesi and post-Huck ruminations on the chess-CY relationship

Analogies are just that--similarities, among differences. There are of course major differences between the chess pieces and the CY, as well as between the two games; but there are also similarities.

The first question, I think, is: what is the point of drawing such analogies? I was amused to discover that Gareth Knight, in a book called Tarot and Magic, used the analogy to chess as part of an explanation for why certain cards, in particular the pages, as the equivalent of the bishops in chess, had certain divinatory meanings (p. 194, ... ot&f=false). Even if true, and probably it is, that is at a later stage. In the case we are concerned with, the CY, chess analogies are thought of as having something to do with explaining why the pack is what it is.

So for Franco there is the question, why are there six court cards per suit in the Cary-Yale? He doesn't pose this question directly; but it seems to be what is involved, because he makes a point of there being a male side and a female side in chess, king's side versus queen's. So the chess analogy could explain why the Cary-Yale is the same. For such a purpose, it seems to me that it is not necessary to carry the analogy out to the bitter end, i.e. rooks being analogous to the Ace and the 10. In the game of tarot, aces and tens are just the highest and lowest number cards. That is a poor analogy to rooks in chess. If there are better analogies in other games, the chess analogy might explain the peculiarities of Aces and 10s in those games; but we are concerned with tarot. But as I say, nothing hinges on how convincing the analogy to rooks is. What matters is simply that we have two major groups in the suits, courts and pips, which correspond loosely to the first and second rows of chess pieces. and a male and female side for the CY courts, corresponding to the same for the chess pieces.

That may or may not be the explanation for why there are twice as many courts per suit, a female for every male, in the CY compared to ordinary playing cards. We don't know enough about what ordinary playing cards looked like then.
But from 1377, Johannes of Rheinfelden describes, besides the most common deck with three male courts, some variants with females (Game of Tarot, 1980, p. 12L):
...the text goes on to list a number of variants; one in which all the Kings are replaced by Queens; one in which two of the suits have Kings and the other two Queens; one with five suits; another with six; and, finally, one with four suits, but with five court cards in each suit (King, Queen, the two Marshals and a Maid), making 60 cards in all.
We also know that the Stuttgart Playing Cards, c. 1430, had two suits with three male courts and two suits with three female courts (Husband, The World in Play: Luxury Cards 1430=1540, 2016, p. 26). Below is the Under-dame of Stags, identified as such by Husband (the image itself I get from Pinterest):

Later on there were decks that had female pages in two suits and male pages in two suits; the female suits had Ace high and Ten low while the male suits were the other way around.

So even without thinking of chess, it is a very small step from male suits and female suits to suits with both males and females. It is even easier if there is another way of symbolizing male and female polarities between suits; in the CY, the usual male suits have what appear to be Sforza emblems, and the female suits Visconti emblems. No chess analogy is needed. It might have played a role in taking the step to combine male and female in the same suit--or not.

When we get to the triumphal cards, as Franco calls them, there is indeed the analogy that Huck points out. But here there is a difficulty. In Franco's case, the King in chess was analogous to the King in cards, and so on. The only mildly problematic card (excluding the Ace and Ten) was the Page, which is somehow analogous to the bishop. In most of Europe, it isn't called a bishop. In Italian, the word for that piece, alfiere means "standard-bearer" or "ensign". In Spanish, it is "alfil", probably deriving from the Italian. In German it's "läufer", meaning "runner". It is a wide-ranging piece, able to move as far as it likes as long as it has an unobstructed path. In English, a page is an apprentice knight, one of whose duties is to deliver messages. In the U.S. Congress it is a young person who delivers messages for congresspersons. Gareth Knight observes that this capacity might have given the corresponding cards some of their historical divinatory meaning of "news" or "letter". And the queen could have a female delivery-person as much as the king could a male.

In comparison to the courts, however, most analogies between chess pieces and the postulated triumphal cards of the CY are vastly weaker. What do pawns have in common with virtues, other than that they are numerous? Pawns are lowly, virtues godly. Pawns are sacrificed for the sake of a greater good. Virtues when sacrificed may yield temporary gain but never a greater one in the long run. You can look at a pawn as long as you like, and it will never turn into a virtue. It is only if you already have in mind the seven virtues--usually depicted as similar-looking ladies--that you would think to correlate them with seven of the pawns (and hope you have something comparable for the eighth); it is an afterthought, a parallel once you already have the virtues in mind for the cards and are willing to ignore the dissimilarities.

Petrarch did have pairs of triumphs, bad triumphed by good. Bad carnal love was triumphed over by good chastity. Bad death was triumphed over by good fame. Bad time was triumphed over by good eternity. None of these are pairs in the "chess analogy". And as described by Petrarch, the chess analogy's pairs have little in common visually (the poem is at Take chastity and death. They are depicted simply as armed women. Chastity breaks Love's bow and arrow. Death is another woman, armed with a sword and perhaps some poison. There are no horses. Petrarch's image of Fame is simply a "brilliance"; no towers or trumpets. His image of Eternity is God, with no mention of any Last Judgment, again no towers or trumpets. To be sure, trumpets are associated with Fame, and also with the Last Judgment. It is decidedly odd that there is a tower in the CY's Last Judgment. It takes an artist consciously trying to make the connection to choose those particular images.

It may well be that the chess analogy explains the choice of imagery, such that there is something in common between each of three pairs of cards: Fame's trumpet parallels that of the Eternal, now seen as the Last Judgment. Death was not typically portrayed on horseback; Chastity was associated with unicorns rather than horses. But having Death on a horse and horses drawing Chastity's Chariot make them a visual pair. Petrarch's image of Time is the Sun.The sun, moon, and stars were all images of Time. Another was a clock, in depictions of the virtue of Temperance. Ruins were another way of portraying time. (My source here is "The early Renaissance personification of Time and changing concepts of temporality," by S. Cohen, Renaissance Studies Vol. 14 No. 3.) Time was also portrayed as an old man. But why that image, absent from Petrarch, in particular? The Wheel of Fortune sometimes did have a fourth person on its rim, but he was not usually an old man. Making him so pairs him with Time. In this way the chess analogy of pairs of pieces may have influenced the design of the CY cards. But it was not any analogy with chess that would have determined the subjects of the CY; it would have been Petrarch, Boccaccio, and the medieval depictions of the seven virtues that did that, as 14 triumphal subjects. The card-designer accomplished the "chess analogy" once the subjects had been thought of. The Emperor and the Empress, as ranks above that of King and Queen, then made 16.

So my conclusion is that the chess analogy affects not only the triumphs, as Huck maintains, or the suit cards, as Franco argues, but all of them. Chess permeates all 80 cards of the CY pack, in the one case the subjects but not the designs, and in the other the designs but not the subjects.

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

Question (2): Which is the relevant Trionfi symbol? (at the place of the Queen's pawn)

Alfonso the wise around 1280 commissioned the production of a chess book. He mentions the existence of a "chess with dice".
The rules for "Chess with dice" are given in the translation of Alfonso the wise text with ...
And these movements should be known by all those who wish to play chess well because
without this they could not know how to do it nor understand the chess problems that men
desire to know because of the annoyance given them from the lengthiness of the regular game
when it is played out completely. Also they established for that reason the use of dice in chess so
that it could be played more quickly.
And they assigned the six, which is the highest roll of the die, to the king, which is the most
honored piece on the board. And the five to the fers. And the four to the rook. And the three to
the knight. And the two, to the fil. And the one, which they call ace, to the pawn.

Download address
With this a number relation between dice result and chess figure was born:

6 = king
5 = queen (fers)
4 = rook
3 = knight
2 = bishop (fil = elephant)
1 = pawn

More than 70 years later Petrarca started to write his Trionfi poem. It had 6 chapters with 6 allegories. By the natural row of the chapters these allegories had a hierarchy:

1 = Love
2 = Chastity
3 = Death
4 = Fame
5 = Time
6 = Eternity

One has to observe, that the row of the "chess with dice" and the row of the Petrarca allegories has similarities, but one contradiction:

6 = 6 King = 6 Eternity
5 = 5 Queen ? 5 Time ?
4 = 4 Rook = 4 Fame (connected to trumpets and towers)
3 = 3 Knight = 3 Death
2 = 2 Bishop ? 2 Chastity ?
1 = 1 Pawn = 1 Love

The allegory Chastity makes a good Queen, the allegory Time (Father Time) makes a good advisor (= bishop; an association, which was at least given with the Cessolis interpretation c 1300).

The game of chess had a lot of progress in 14th century, from a game of nobility it advanced to a game for the city populations. Chess became the second hot topic in the general literature of 14th century, at least according the opinion of some specialists for the literature of the time.
for instance:,cma,005,2002,a,02.pdf

For myself I found, that famous works like Boccaccio's Decamerone and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales contain hidden chess associations (both authors used chess scenes in a not hidden manner in their first works), although Boccaccio and Chaucer specialists seem to have overlooked this dimension completely. It wouldn't surprise me, if also Petrarca used a hidden chess code in his Trionfi poem.

From other researches we know about a curious coincidence between "popularity of the Trionfi poem" (starting with a letter from January 1441, which reported the first known full illuminated Trionfi poem edition) and the "use of the word Trionfi in connection to playing cards" (starting in September 1440 with the deck, that Giusto Giusto gave to Sigismondo Malatesta).
It makes some logic to assume, that the popularity of the Petrarca poem triggered the choice of the name "Trionfi" for specialized playing card decks. In the same time the interest in "triumphal processions" increased and the Florentine fashion evolved to decorate cassone and other materials with motifs of the Petrarca Trionfi poem.


From the situation of the Cary-Yale (under the assumption, that it had 16 trumps and that it somehow was related to the 16 chess figures) we have, that there are 7 virtues and somehow these must have had the positions of pawns.
Following Petrarca's row the pawn is Nr. 1 and so the "first pawn", somehow the "first move" of the game. From the perspective of the "short-assize" it's very plausible, that the special pawn (which is not a virtue like the 7 others) is the Queen's pawn and it's nature is naturally Amor = Love.

Petrarca stated, that virtues accompanied the major figure Chastity (and Chastity is naturally the representative for the Chess Queen. However, it are not the usual 7 virtues, but it are - if I can count correctly - 16 virtues, and they walk in pairs (two by two), so that's a 2x8 scheme (as it also appears in chess, where each officer has his own pawn).

Petrarca's text (part of the Chastity chapter) according ... ... ge=II-I.en ... age=II.txt

With her, and armed, was the glorious host
Of all the radiant virtues that were hers,
Hands held in hands that clasped them, two by two.
Honor and Modesty were in the van,
A noble pair of virtues excellent,
That set her high above all other women;
Prudence and Moderation were near by,
Benignity and Gladness of the Heart
Glory and Perseverance in the rear;
Foresight and Graciousness were at the sides,
And Courtesy therewith, and Purity,
Desire for Honor, and the Fear of Shame.
A Thoughtfulness mature in spite of Youth,
And, in a concord rarely to be found,
Beauty supreme at one with Chastity.

So moved she against Love, and favored so
By heaven, and such a host of well-born souls,
That he could not withstand the massive sight.



Armate eran con lei tutte le sue
chiare Virtuti (o gloriosa schiera!)
e teneansi per mano a due a due.
Onestate e Vergogna a la fronte era,
nobile par de le vertù divine
che fan costei sopra le donne altera;
Senno e Modestia a l'altre due confine,
Abito con Diletto in mezzo 'l core,
Perseveranza e Gloria in su la fine;
Bella Accoglienza, Accorgimento fore,
Cortesia intorno intorno e Puritate,
Timor d'infamia e Desio sol d'onore,
Penser canuti in giovenile etate,
e, la concordia ch'è sì rara al mondo,
v'era con Castità somma Beltate.

Tal venia contr'Amore e 'n sì secondo
favor del cielo e de le ben nate alme,
che de la vista e' non sofferse il pondo.
The English translation gives the impression, as if at least "Prudence" would reflect the standard virtue "Prudentia", but the Italian text presents the word "Senno" (something like sense, mental faculty, way, direction or judgment or common sense; according ).

So this is an individual (possibly self-constructed) virtues model, and the case reminds me on the 12 virtues used for the funeral book of Giangaleazzo ... it had 12 virtues, which - however - included normal virtues.


And naturally also the Cary-Yale Tarocchi arrangement had been very likely also such a self-constructed model.

MikeH ...
I know that somewhere on Huck has a picture of the cards as chess pieces, which I couldn't find.
I've placed the links in this thread (above).

Re: New Pratesi note on the Cary-Yale

I did not in my exposition explain with specifics how particular pairs corresponded to particular chess pieces. Emperor and Empress are obvious. Cards with horses correspond to chess Knights. The card with castles corresponds to a chess Rook, sometimes called a Tower or Castle, so the other card with tower also corresponds to a rook (they also both have trumpets). The cards with old men correspond to the bishops, because those are the only ones left, and bishops are senior church officials. This is mostly straight from Huck, except for the part about the bishops.

Also, the power of the chess pieces at that time corresponds roughly to the power of the correresponding cards. The weakest pieces were the King and Queen; likewise the Empress and the Emperor were the lowest cards. The strongest pieces were the rooks, which correspond to the Fame and Angel cards. The others are in both cases in the middle. (I am simply repeating what you have often said.)

So do we agree or disagree? I'm not sure. I am still puzzled about what you have as the 16th card. 6 from Petrarch + 7 virtues + 1 Emperor + 1 Empress = 15. It seems to me that Wheel of Fortune is the only possibility. In your picture, you have Time twice, both with a question mark. There is still another card to account for.

Another question: how modern are the words for the chess piece that don't mean "bishop", i.e. alfiere, läufer?

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