Here is my translation of Franco's most recent note, "1510ca: Assisi – Mazzo completo di 48 carte", dated Dec. 22, 2016, posted at http://www.naibi.net/A/526-ASSISI-Z.pdf
. I have one comment about the note itself: it was not I that brought the Assisi deck into the discussion of the third Rosenwald
sheet, but Huck, at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1105&p=18118&hilit=McLeod#p18118
, with a citation from Dummett and McLeod's 1995 book. I merely brought in Dummett's 2004 article and asked Franco if he could get images of the cards--a request he more than granted. Comments in brackets are by me. Numbers at top left of some lines are page numbers in Franco's original pdf.
Assisi c. 1510 - Complete pack of 48 cards
For several months Michael Howard has voluntarily submitted to the trouble of translating into English my notes on playing cards, written for a few years only in Italian, and also of putting them into a blog of his dedicated just to these translations and his comments (1), making them available for discussion on the Tarot History Forum
(2). I could not hope for anything more, but often it seems to me that my writings receive more attention than they deserve. The discussion takes place in public, open to countless readers and is usually interesting; it can advance our knowledge of the subject, although in fact it remains confined to experts who can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
For me it is difficult to follow these discussions, because usually when I publish one of my notes I just go on to work on a different topic. Unusually, the present study is however no other than a reaction to a reaction to my note on the Rosenwald
and Leinfelden sheets. (3) In the discussion, collected in the publication of Howard’s English translation (4), there appeared the deck of the Crippa collection, deriving from Assisi (5), for which various pieces of information are available, however arising from disparate sources, so much so that I considered it useful to collect and present them together, so as to facilitate the continuation of the discussion
2. Han Janssen
The review begins with Han Janssen; in the small world of collectors and historians of playing cards he is an important author,
known for his pioneering book on the subject (6), and also for a second book, published at a distance of twenty years (7); unfortunately these books, written in Dutch, cannot be read easily outside of his country; so fans of Han Janssen generally know him, more than by his books, by twenty articles published in English in the official organ of the IPCS. In the IPCS Han Janssen has not only been a pioneer and an assiduous member; he also occupied, from 1983 to 1987, the office of president; he is in short an author who understands cards and their history. The deck of cards that is the subject of this review, however, presented him with difficulties from the moment of its discovery.
In 1993 Janssen spent his summer holidays at a friend's house living in Assisi or the surrounding area. Visiting a small private museum of Assisi, like so many in the towns of Central Italy, mainly based on the exhibition of agricultural tools fallen into disuse, he saw on display a pack of old playing cards. He examined them and got permission to photograph them. Then, for several years, it was not the actual deck itself that became of interest to collectors and historians, but precisely those photographs taken then by Janssen, or photocopies of them.
What left the discoverer confused was the typology of this deck that in many respects recalled minchiate, but compared to the typical Florentine deck of 97 cards contained only a part. Although he was an expert on such matters, Janssen decided to obtain the opinion of other experts in the IPCS, and in particular that of John Berry, someone we will soon meet. We will see that the discovery had great resonance in that environment.
3. John Berry and other experts
The first description noted that we can read of the Assisi deck was made by John Berry, an influential IPCS member who at the time edited Playing-Card World
, a [separate] newsletter that then was regularly included in the mailings of the [IPCS] official organ (8). In fact his signature is not at the bottom of the note (Fig. 1), but for those who read the newsletter
6. H. Janssen, Speelkaarten
. Bussum 1965.
7. H. Janssen, De geschiedenis van de speelkaart
. Rijswijk 1985.
8. [J. Berry], Playing-Card World
, No. 79 (1995) 26-27.
it was not needed. The title contributed to the interest of the description, “Found - and Lost?”
It had to be an amazing event, that of a find that would disappear even before being understood in detail and made known to enthusiasts. [For a larger version, click on this: https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-nhzbvqL20qU/ ... 1600/1.jpg
Figure 1 – Note in Playing-Card World No. 79.
The two pages dedicated to the subject contain two figures that are no less than a reproduction of the photographs taken in Assisi by Janssen at the time of the discovery of the deck. Berry tells us all the essentials of what had become known about the discovery, and for clarity I reproduce it in full together with what has been communicated on further developments.
Han Janssen, on holiday in 1993, made a ‘find’ in a small museum in Assisi (of all places), and managed to take a couple of photos, which he then sent to me, remarking that he did not know exactly what the cards were, and asking if it was an incomplete Minchiate pack. (...) To return to facts, Han found these cards at a very small museum (just one room) with household pottery, agricultural tools, etc., owned by an elderly man, who gave permission for Han to take the cards into the street to photograph them. The address is: MOSTRA DELLE ARTI DELLA CASA E DELLA CIVILTÁ POPOLARE, VIA S. FRANCESCO 12, ASSISI.
However, attempts to contact the owner by Alberto Milano and to visit the museum by Jeff Hopewell and by Han’s friend whose house Han had been staying in, have been fruitless: the museum seems to be closed, possibly for renovation. My latest information from Alberto Milano is that someone in Vito Arienti’s family may already have a photograph.
As we see, in addition to the elderly owner of the small museum, who probably had no idea of the importance of his particular deck of cards, a few months after the discovery several collectors were closely interested in the case: Janssen of Holland of course, but also his friend of Assisi, then Jeff Hopewell of England, and Milano and Arienti of Italy. Vito Arienti and Alberto Milano were not just any collectors, the first having been appointed Honorary Fellow of the IPCS for his artisan production of special cards, the second was in addition the president. (Here for Arienti his family is spoken of because 1994 coincides with the year of his death - and also that of Sylvia Mann, whom we find immediately after Berry's description.) All the curious who wanted to look again at those cards close up were unsuccessful because the small museum of Assisi was always found closed.
An important part of the note in question concerns the report on the dissemination of the initial information on the newly discovered deck. In his turn, Berry also found it necessary to engage individually, for judging the merits, other experts of the IPCS, persons of the caliber of Sylvia Mann and Michael Dummett. The discovery was unanimously judged important and deserving of specific publication in the official organ of the IPCS. The article in question was scheduled to go out with the reproduction of Janssen's photos along with a photo in the possession of Sylvia Mann of the corresponding cards from Rosenwald
sheet; it had been recognized that the pack of Assisi did not correspond to a part of minchiate, but was a complete deck, similar to that obtained with the first two Rosenwald
After a while, that publication got behind schedule and, awaiting the finished article, Berry decided (along with Stuart Lawrence, Editor of The Playing-Card
) to immediately publish the photos and a brief description of cards in the newsletter for which he was responsible. The reasons for this acceleration were various; one was due to the fact that Dummett had mentioned it in his communication at the last
IPCS Convention, awakening the curiosity of the participants; another reason was that the photo, or photocopies, had already been seen by a number of members. Therefore, according to Berry, it was time to "let other dogs see the rabbit".
I mentioned the photos to Sylvia Mann, who asked for copies, and she immediately made the connection with the suited cards of the Rosenwald ‘pack’, some of which are reproduced as plate 7 of Michael Dummett’s The Game of Tarot from one of a set of photographs in her possession. We then hatched a plot to obtain similar photos of Han’s ‘find’ and publish them alongside the full set of the suited Rosenwald cards. Unfortunately, our plans have been ludicrously frustrated – though by now, a few people have seen prints or photocopies of Han’s photos. Others were probably mystified by Michael Dummett’s reference to the Assisi cards in his talk at the Vitoria Convention last year. We still hope to publish properly in the Journal, but in the meantime it seemed sensible to let other dogs see the rabbit – and so, with the consent of the Journal editor, I am reproducing Han’s photos here, before I also bow out of the business.
Berry did not just show the photographs, but added a brief description of the figures, which again I allow myself to reproduce below, thus avoiding repeating it in my account.
In case the photographs do not reproduce well enough, I had better point out that it is a complete 48-card pack with turned-over edges (though we do not yet know what the back-design features). The courts are a seated King (with long robes on Coins and Cups, tunic and hose on Swords and Batons); Cavaliers shown as centaurs (all with the bodies of horses – not assorted animals as in the Minchiate pack); Maids in Coins and Cups, but Jacks in Swords and Batons. Incidentally, the cards are NOT from the same block as the Rosenwald suited cards (for instance, the heraldry on the shields borne by two Kings and Jacks is different). On the numerals the Swords are curved and crossed at the ends (except, of course, for the extra Sword on the odd numerals), while the Batons are ‘curtain poles’, crossing at the centre.
There are no tens – a fact which may finally have done away with lingering doubts that such 48-card packs existed.
To me it appears that there is no need to comment on Berry's remarks; I would just underline the use of this deck as a proof for the existence of complete decks of 48 cards, which had been the subject of debate, and the fact that there were four centaurs, unlike the two of minchiate. Another highlight is the final comment that, being able to see these cards, anyone could understand why they had
aroused so much interest and that probably only Michael Dummett would have been able to accurately analyze these cards and their relations with others of the period.
And now you may begin to see why some of us started to get steamed up about this find – though it will probably fall to Michael Dummett to analyse precisely what we might deduce from these hints of relationships.
It seems to me that in two short pages it was just not possible to provide more information, including the two important figures on the cards. To continue, we need to address later times and other writers, starting with the same Dummett, who would be required to resolve the problems that these cards had raised.
4. Michael Dummett
Michael Dummett never limited himself to reproducing contributions and hypotheses of previous authors, but always entered into the details of the questions and usually managed to reconstruct a situation that clarified what had previously been confused; we will find soon a sort of adage that confirms the general recognition of his extraordinary ability to simplify the tangle of conflicting interpretations. However, the case at issue here is one of the few in which his attention seems to have worked in reverse; it is true that the situation on the discovery and composition of Assisi deck was not clear, but his actions in this regard, unusually, managed to make it even more tangled.
Already his speech at the IPCS Convention at Vitoria-Gasteiz (the afternoon of Saturday 24 September 1994), in which he presented "some of the new discoveries", put more collectors in search of the unknown and unobtainable pack of Assisi.
...the first speaker, Michael Dummett, who in “The Early History of the Tarot Pack: Conjectures and Refutations” presented some of the new discoveries which have come to light since the publication of The Game of Tarot (which has produced the simile ‘mysterious as pre-Dummett Tarot’). (9)
9. D. H. Jones, Playing-Card World
, No. 78 (1994) 3.
Before and after that speech, Dummett took part in the discussions reported by Berry. Of what he communicated on those occasions I have not found substantial evidence or published texts, but there remain a number of his writings that we can still consider. A first mention appeared already in the same year of 1994, in an article in which Dummett replied to some remarks by Trevor Denning and also discussed various models of the cards, with swords curved or straight and interlaced. (10)
The first Minchiate pattern has 1½ of the distinctive characteristics of the ‘Portuguese’ subtype: the Swords are straight but intersect; and the lowest court figures are female in the suits of Cups and Coins, but not in those of Swords and Batons. The second feature might impress us were it not shared with the earlier form (for both Tarot and Primiera) of the Bolognese pattern, whose ‘Italian’ character has never been called in question. The straight Swords are surprising, although there are precedents in two of the three hand-painted packs commonly ascribed to Bembo. They are not, however, enough to override the lack of any historical connection between Minchiate cards and those of an indisputably ‘Portuguese’ character. On the contrary, the Minchiate pattern has an evident affinity with that exemplified by the sheets in the Rothschild Collection and by the pack recently discovered at Assisi by Han Janssen, in which, however, the Swords are curved.
But it was especially later, when there was more precise information, that on a couple of occasions Dummett gave us very different versions relative to the deck of Assisi and others similar. Particularly uncertain among these notices appears the role of another Italian collector, Francesco Allegri. Here is how the situation is explained in a short article of 2004. (11)
However, it became clear that a 48-card pack was used in Florence when in 1995 Mr. Han Janssen bought in Assisi a pack – not sheets, but separate cards – with exactly the same designs as on the two sheets; the pack is now in the collection of Signor Giuliano Crippa of Milan. The supposition is clinched by another pack in the collection of Signor Crippa, a photocopy of all the cards of which was kindly sent me by Signor Francesco Allegri of Parma. This is again a 48-card pack, of precisely the same pattern as the Rosenwald/Assisi one, but with different designs and presumably by another cardmaker.
10. M. Dummett, The Playing-Card
, Vol. 23 No. 2 (1994) 40-44. [page with quotation at http://askalexander.org/display/22494/T ... ?pw=Assisi
; for other pages use "back" and "next" arrows.]
11. M. Dummett, The Playing-Card
, Vol. 33 No. 1 (2004) 24-26. [page with quotation at http://askalexander.org/display/22591/T ... ?pw=Assisi
; for other pages use "back" and "next" arrows.]
From this it is understood that Crippa would not have had, of that type, only the deck of Assisi but also a second one that was similar; of this further surviving deck, even more mysterious than the first, Allegri would have sent a photocopy to Dummett. The rest of the article is important because it briefly reviews the little information we have on the spread of packs of 40, 48 and 52 cards in the various Italian regions over the centuries. While the decks of 48 cards in Southern Italy are easily connected with the Spanish ones, missing the 10, for Central Italy there is just the pack of Assisi that is the main clue, confirming that the 48 cards of the first two Rosenwald
sheets could actually correspond to a complete deck.
A different version of events appears in the truly comprehensive book that Dummett published with John McLeod on the history of tarot games. (12)
In 1995 Mr. Han Janssen discovered in a small private museum in Assisi a pack – not just uncut sheets – of cards closely similar to the two Rosenwald sheets of suit cards. This pack is now in the private collection of Signor Giuliano Crippa in Milan. The designs correspond very exactly to those of the Rosenwald sheets, although small details show that they were not printed from the same wood blocks. This confirms the assumption that we have here the Florentine standard pattern of the time.
In the beginning we find something already known, except 1995 which actually corresponds to the year in which the Berry note was printed and not to the discovery, which occurred in 1993. In the continuation of the description, however, we read on the following page a new confirmation, unexpected and independent, of the hypothesis that the deck of 48 cards was really a complete deck.
Nevertheless, Caleffini’s testimony suffices to make it probable that the pack from Assisi was in origin one of only 48 cards. This is confirmed by a pack of 48 cards, evidently complete but lacking 10s, of the same pattern as the Rosenwald/Assisi cards, but with similar but by no means identical designs, in the collection of Signor Francesco Allegri of Parma.
12. M. Dummett, John McLeod, A history of games played with the tarot pack. Vol. 1
. Lewiston 2004.
In short, Francesco Allegri appears again, but his role has now changed profoundly. Before, he had been referred to as the collector who had forwarded to Dummett photocopies of an antique deck that would be present in the Crippa collection together with that of Assisi. He is now presented as the possessor of another old pack, which would pretty much be the third of its kind. Also, the deck in the Allegri collection would be similar to that of Assisi and, like that one, similar to the cards of the Rosenwald
My impression has been that what is present in the Allegri collection corresponds only to the photocopies of the Assisi cards in the Crippa collection and that there have been a few misunderstandings in the correspondence between Allegri and Dummett. I recently had confirmation of my hypothesis; in short, it can be concluded that nothing has been found of the same type beyond the first two Rosenwald
sheets and the pack of Assisi.
5. Giuliano Crippa
After an initial phase in which the deck under examination was only known by the photographs of the cards, with Giuliano Crippa we get to the person who for almost ten years has included the precious pack of Assisi among those of his collection. I think that his main opportunity for displaying these cards in public was an important event organized by Alberto Milano with the assistance of Giuliano Crippa himself. These were two Milanese (sadly, Milano passed away this year) at the top of the field in Italy, internationally known. Giuliano Crippa is now the delegate for Italy in the IPCS, which Alberto Milano had been for many years, also serving as president from 1993 to 1996.
The occasion in question was the exhibition "Drawing room Games - Tavern Games", which took place from December 2012 to March 2013 in Milan's Palazzo Morando. On that occasion, the Assisi cards were presented and nine of them were reproduced in color in the book with the catalog of the exhibition (13) (Fig. 2), enough to clarify the
13. A. Milano (con la collaborazione di G. Crippa), Giochi di salotto – Giochi d’osteria
. Milano 2012.
typology of that production.
Figure 2 – Book with the catalog of the exhibition of 2013.
The description in the catalog due to the owner is very clear, and deserves to be reproduced for the part of interest.
Xilografia colorata a maschera, 48 carte completo, 90 x 49 mm carta. Italia centrale, primo quarto del XVI secolo. Coppe, denari, bastoni, spade, asso da 2 a 9, due fanti, due fantine, quattro centauri, quattro re. Il foglio di mezzo nelle carte è manoscritto in scrittura forse quattrocentesca. È il più antico mazzo di carte italiane conosciuto, completo di 48 carte. (...) Il mazzo è stato ritrovato durante la demolizione di un’antica dimora ad Assisi.
Il mazzo e i due fogli sono la testimonianza di una tipologia di carte da gioco in uso nel Centro-Italia nel XV secolo, la cui relazione con le carte utilizzate per il Gioco delle Minchiate è da analizzare. Gli archi di gusto goticheggiante (coperti dal lembo del dorso rivoltato) che incorniciano le figure dei re fanno ritenere la datazione delle matrici risalente alla fine del Quattrocento, mentre il disegno del dorso che raffigura una “Mora” con scimitarra e seno scoperto porta a datare la stampa del mazzo attorno al 1525. Collezione Crippa.
[Woodcut colored by stencil, 48 cards complete, 90 x 49 mm paper. Central Italy, first quarter of the 16th century. Cups, coins, batons, swords, ace and 2 to 9, two pages, two maids, four centaurs, four kings. The layer in the middle of the cards is hand-written in perhaps 15th century script. It is the oldest deck of Italian cards known, complete with 48 cards. (...) The deck was found during the demolition of a very old house in Assisi.
The deck and the two sheets [of the Rosenwald] are evidence of a type of playing cards in use in Central Italy in the 15th century, whose relationship with the cards used for the game of minchiate is to be analyzed. The Gothic-style arches (covered by the flap of the back turned over) framing the figures of the kings suggest dating the matrices to the end of the 15th century, while the design of the back depicting a "Moor" with unsheathed scimitar tends to date the printing of the deck to around 1525. Crippa Collection.]
In the same description, Crippa makes a useful comparison with the Rosenwald
sheets “della medesima tipologia del nostro mazzo, anche se stampati da altre matrici xilografiche meno raffinate” [“of the same typology as our pack, even if printed by other woodblock matrices, less refined"]. There are at least two important new details, which were not seen in the photographs reproduced poorly in the first communication by Berry: the color and figure present on the back of the card; coloration, in two neighboring colors, red and yellow, was applied on the white background using stencils cut following the profile of the design.
We also find another new and important piece of information: in Assisi those cards were not only kept in the private museum of popular culture, but in that same locality had been found originally "during demolition of a very old house". It is a small detail but gives more importance to these cards, which obviously had maintained for centuries the same location.
A final word of note, because it defines for us the dating for the Assisi pack’s entrance into the Crippa collection: we find in the same book of the catalog, on p. 31, in the part written precisely by the owner of those cards. It turns out that these cards were bought from an antiquarian in Assisi.
6. Depictions of the cards
1998. La mia collezione si è arricchita del mazzo più importante, l’unico mazzo di carte completo di produzione italiana del primo Cinquecento che si conosca. La sua tipologia lo fa collocare tra la produzione del Centro-Italia, e grazie ad alcune carte scollate ho ritrovato, nella carta di rinforzo all’interno, versi manoscritti di grafia quattrocentesca.
[1998. My collection was enriched by a most important pack, the only complete pack of cards of Italian production of the early 16th century that is known. Its typology places it among the production of Central Italy, and thanks to some unglued cards I found, in the sheet that strengthens the interior [of the card], handwritten verses in fifteenth century writing.]
In Fig. 3 are presented the reproductions in black and white of the four complete suits, 12 cards each, of the Assisi pack; for one card the back is also shown, which of course is the same for all cards present. Researchers interested in the images will find what they need in order to discourse about the iconography of these cards. Personally I am not able to add anything significant besides what little is already written, and I will not repeat what I have
already copied above from the authors interested in these cards. I will limit myself to adding a couple of comments.
Figure 3 – Assisi pack (Giuliano Crippa collection, Milan)
[Note: the final set of images, in color, is not included in the note as it appears on naibi.net but was sent to the translator by Franco.]
The Assisi pack, even if only formed of the common cards, is very interesting. The same Dummett tends to give up his explanation of the lack of 10s with woodcut matrices made exclusively for those cards; in short, with the pack of Assisi the completeness of a deck of 48 cards is definitely confirmed. I must admit that to me the idea of a deck of 48 cards is very welcome, as well as that it is pleasant to think of a pack of minchiate also free of the Fool (or possibly a different card), thus resulting in twice as many cards as in a normal deck. To make this idea attractive years ago there was my imaginary "fourth Rosenwald
" sheet, although it was impossible to reconstruct an exact correspondence because, in particular but not exclusively, of the absent queen of batons. (14)
A detail that could serve as a further characterization of the Assisi pack is the figure included inside the circle representing the ace of coins. The dog and the hare present below and above are quite common in older Bolognese decks of [common] cards and minchiate, but the figure inside the circle is definitely not a typical human face as usually drawn in profile in those cards. Unfortunately, the card in question is very worn, and the subject under discussion, perhaps a rampant lion, is not readable with ease. I hope that the rampant lion actually existing in the emblem of the town of Assisi has not contributed to making me see one on the card.
The main question to be resolved concerns the relations between Florence and Perugia. As a first approximation, I am tempted to consider these examples as Florentine, that the cards correspond to the original models, whether coming directly from the activity of Florentine card makers, or from ones that had been copied from local producers, which at that time definitely existed there. It cannot, however, be ruled out that it was instead of an autonomous Umbrian type, with some specific detail in the design that made it different from that of Florence; for a convincing definition it would now be helpful if, from Umbria, but also from Florence itself - where we do not know similar examples so old - dogs discovered some other hare or wild rabbit.
Taking my cue and pieces of information from a recent discussion in the Tarot History Forum
, I thought it useful to collect various notices about a deck of 48 playing cards found in Assisi in 1993 by Han Janssen and now kept in Milan in the Crippa collection. Publications were reviewed on the subject, pointing out some inconsistencies in the testimonies written on the deck under consideration and others similar, mistakenly thought existent. The cards in the deck are represented in their totality.
Franco Pratesi – 22.12.2016