.... so before Franco Pratesi had returned to his articles about playing card history. The focus is on the possibility, that there once might have been Tarot decks with 20 trumps only.
With some distance it belongs to the theme of the Boiardo Tarocchi poem (as recently discussed), in which 20 trumps (as 10 pairs) are encircled by a 11th pair (Fool/World as the first and Fortezza/Lucretia as the last).
... short report about the research of the 5x14-theory and its expansion (as far the "20 figure" are concerned)
Before I can talk of the "20 figure" I've to summarize some elements of the 5x14-theory, otherwise the reader doesn't understand the problem and context.
The 5x14-theory has at its basis the assumption, that the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi should be interpreted as a deck, which in a first stage had 14 trumps (so a 5x14-deck) and that in a later development 6 trumps were added - this was based on the wide accepted condition, that 6 of the trumps (Strength, Temperance, World, Sun, Moon, Star) were created by a second painter.
The first part of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi is calculated to have been produced "after 1450" cause the deck contains Sforza heraldic (Sforza became 1450 duke of Milan). More precisely the year 1452 is assumed, cause for this year a letter exists, which confirms some Tarocchi production in Cremona.
The total structure of Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi (14+6 trumps = 20 trumps) gave reason to the consideration to think about the possibilty, that, before in the game development the common game structure Tarot structure 4x14+22 was reached, ALSO variants with 20 trumps were used (beside the 5x14 structure with 14 special cards and also postulated decks, which associated chess and had 16 trumps - Michelino deck, Cary Yale Tarocchi, Charles VI Tarot).
A more common understanding of the Trionfi development (especially by Michael Dummett) assumes, that (based only on the existence of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi) the later Tarot-structure 4x14+22 was settled in c. 1450 in the decks then called "Trionfi" or "Ludus triumphorum" or similar (and with that it was assumed, that all later similar notes more or less referred to this game).
Inside this theory it is assumed, that the accepted condition of the second painter would explain by the loss or destruction of some cards, which were replaced later (by the second painter).
Michael Dummett later changed his earlier presentation, assuming then, that the Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo Tarocchi possibly was done by two Bembo brothers at the begin of the 1460's. In the relevant article he didn't consider the work of Trionfi.com.
Contradicting to this both other theories the 5x14-theory points to the condition, that no confirmation for the 4x14+22 structure exists till the production of the Boiardo Tarocchi poem.
At the begin of our research the date of production was assumed by different experts to different times between 1461 - 1494, so to the period, when Boiardo was active as poet. Our own research with focus on the Boiardo biography came to the result, that Boiardo made it around January 1487 for the wedding of Lucrezia d'Este, an illegitimate daughter of Ercole d'Este. The festivity was rather opulent with many poets, who made some poems for the honor of the bride.
In Boiardo's poem the highest trump is connected to the Roman female hero Lucrezia, which in the construction of the whole deck looks a little bit strange and in the analysis as the significant sign, which associates the poem to the wedding situation. Further confirmation was found, that around this time the Este court painter Roberti painted the Roman Lucrezia ...
Ercole de Roberti: Lucrezia ... connected to a series of 3 self-sacrificing women
... and also around the time a Ferrarese poet Goggio published a work (finished 1490), in which women were recognized to be "better than men", which is considered in the contemporary literature a novum (by experts in this field). A similar trend (women are better than men) appears in the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, in which ten men (on the trumps) are associated to "stupid fatal errors" and 10 women to "wise noble behavior".
From all this it seems plausible, that Boiardo made the poem around January 1487 and not earlier, and this means for the general Tarot research, that no earlier strong confirmation for the existence and use of the game structure 4x14+22 exists till this date.
A second confirmation (the complete Sola-Busca Tarocchi) is generally (and plausibly) dated to the year 1491. It's also usually seen as a d'Este court production - so "from Ferrara" as also the Boiardo Tarocchi poem.
Now both productions (Boiardo Tarocchi poem and Sola Busca Tarocchi) have considerable iconographic differences to the normal Tarot motifs, which were also used in some Trionfi decks.
So the use of the game structure 4x14+22 for the Boiardo Tarocchi poem not necessarily indicates (with 100 % security), that extant Trionfi decks with common Tarot motifs before 1487 already used just this structure. There are simply ....
Possibility 1: Boiardo imitated the game structure of an already existing Trionfi deck with Tarot motifs (in this case the date of the existence of the "real Tarot" might be before 1487; "real Tarot" shall mean in this context: 4x14+22-structure and all 22 common single trumps are "somehow" present).
Possibility 2: Boiardo (a poet with some personal spirit and creativity) was simply the first who used the game structure 4x14+22. In this case Boiardo influenced the common Trionfi decks (with unknown structure till this point) to adapt the new game structure. This mustn't have happened immediately, but might have happened years later.
The really first evidence for the complete list of trumps is the Trionfi attacking paper of the Franciscan, unluckily not datable with 100% security.
However, an evaluation makes it possible to date it around 1500 and not much later. As place of this production is considered - again - Ferrara.
Both variants are possible.
But there's a strange 22-accident in public life ... in December 1486 (just one month before the Lucrezia wedding) Giovanni Pico de Mirandola started the publication of his famous theses, which also included some notes to Kabbala (and with that to the number 22, which is of special feature in Kabbala ... as the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, which are an often considered topic in kabbalistic texts).
Pico invited a lot of scholars to debate it with him ... a lot of public noise naturally, obviously he somehow attempted to have big workshop to this theme.
The ways of 15th century were slow. In January 1487 it wasn't clear, that this would become a major scandal. The papal reaction started in March, and Pico de Mirandola had to look for an escape. The matter wrote history, and Pico was called the "first Christian kabbalist".
With the help of Lorenzo de Medeci, who arranged a marriage between his daughter and the son of the current pope and with this arrangement created a new political alliance, Pico was saved (but had to accept some censorship till 1493).
Giovanni was the much younger cousin of Matteo Maria Boiardo. Both were able to read Hebrew texts. One might suspect, that the older famous poet had some influence on the development of the young talent Giovanni (* 1463), who wrote his theses in the young age of 23. At least it would have been plausible, that both communicated in this time about their studies.
So Giovanni's detection of Hebrew Kabbala might have inspired the older Boiardo for his much smaller art, the humble but elegant Tarocchi poem - with now 22 trumps. .
The precise coincidence of both actions is rather striking and it's difficult to judge it as "just an accidence".
Under this aspect "unexspected coincidence" the "possibility 2" has the better chances in comparition to "possibility 1": according this it seems, that Boiardo invented the game structure 4x14+22 in 1487 ... and it was just another (unusual) Trionfi game with an unusual structure.
Ferrara had been without doubt the most creative place in the whole Trionfi card development. Having a high member of the Ferrarese court "inventing something related to Trionfi cards" shouldn't surprise. In the year 1505 we have the first note about a Taroch game - in Ferrara. In the year 1442 we have the first Trionfi note - in Ferrara. We have the first list with 22 special cards - from Ferrara. We have experimental decks (Boiardo Tarocchi poem and Sola Bussca) - from Ferrara.
A lost theory: 4x14+22 structure between 1468-1477 ... gone
Inside the development of the 5x14-theory the idea had developed (long ago), that the "6 added cards" of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi were created in 1465 ... during the wedding preparations for Ippolita Sforza, who was on her way to leave for Naples in May 1465.
This is a very old hypothesis (about 20 years) and in the meantime nothing has developed, which gave reason to doubt this, so I spare the details.
For some detailed reasons about the so-called Rosenthal Tarocchi (Kaplan p. 99) and Bartsch Tarocchi (Kaplan p. 100 + 101) and Victoria Albert Museum Tarocchi and some others of the same style (Kaplan p. 104) it was suspected for some time, that this might have been a deck type, which developed since 1468 (marriage Galeazzo Maria with Bona Sforza) and got possibly the structure state 4x14+22 till 1477.
However, arguments appeared, that the Rosenthal Tarocchi might be "later forgery" or "later" and a special problem came up with the used motto "nec spes nec metu" (used at ace of cups in Rosenthal Tarocchi and Victoria Albert Museum Tarocchi), which was used by Isabella d'Este at least since 1505. It couldn't been proven, that the motto was used elsewhere before ... this raised doubts.
So this part of the theory was dropped down (at least for the moment), especially under the pressure of the already given Boiardo /Giovanni Pico de Mirandola 1486/87 observation ... and some others, which will be shown next.
A new theory: 4x14+20 from 1465 - 1486
1. Lorenzo Spirito published a very successful lot book in 1482 and used for it a scheme with 20x20x20x20 structure. It might be, that the first attempt was already done 1473 and also it might be, that Lorenzo Spirito took the whole idea from a German lot book family with 22x22x22x22-structure.
This lot book family I showed in "A lot book of 1450 - with 22 elements" at
With this observation the curious question was given, why, if a Trionfi deck with 4x14+22 structure was already "very popular" in the 1470's, as some researchers believe, Lorenzo Spirito modified the German lot book system from a 22x22x22x22 scheme to a 20x20x20x20 scheme for the Italian market? This would have been a little paradox. Wouldn't he have also taken the 22x22x22x22 scheme, if it was so opportune?
The logical result of this consideration seems to be, that the common Trionfi deck form in the 1470's hadn't 4x14+22 structure, but 4x14+20 (as we get it from the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi, which we date to 1465).
So additional to the events of 1486/87 there's a second big doubt.
2. Minchiate as a word, that means a playing card game, is documentary given for the years 1466, 1471 and 1477 (all from the region of Florence). Unluckily none of these documents gives any information, how much trumps this game had.
It might be, that Minchiate had then already the form, as we know it: 40 number cards, 40 trumps, 16 court cards and 1 Fool. But it's not impossible, that it had another form (less cards, more cards) and there's no guarantee, if the iconographic content differed.
But ... observing Minchiate, we have the following:
a. 20 trumps = trumps 1-15 + 5 unnumbered trumps (usually at place 36 - 40; all these trumps are similar to Tarot trumps)
b. 20 trumps = trumps 16-35 (all these trumps are similar to Tarot trumps)
c. 20 numbered cards (2 suits), which rank from 1 till 10
d. 20 numbered cards (2 suits), which rank from 10 till 1
e. plus 16 court cards and Fool
So we have here a 20+20+20+20 form (inside the Minchiate).
If we repeat now the question from above: "why, if a Trionfi deck with 4x14+22 structure was already very popular in the 1470's, as some researchers believe, Lorenzo Spirito modified the German lot book system from a 22x22x22x22 scheme to a 20x20x20x20 scheme for the Italian market?"
... then the answer would be simple: The author lived in Perugia, and Perugia had naturally (by lcal nearness) some influence from Florence, and so Lorenzo Spirito would have taken the Minchiate as "popular card game" and so he choose to use a 20-20-20-20 scheme for his lot book.
3. 10 pairs (1)
Boiardo Tarocchi poem (1487)
The Boiardo Tarocchi poem has inside the trump structure a 10 pairs model, a virtue (of women) is paired with a vice (of men). The both outstanding cards 0 and 21 (begin and end) are a special pair (0 = in Boiardo Tarocchi "Fool" and "World" [!]; 21 = "Fortezza" and "Fama" with the signifying "Lucrezia"), the others 10 usual pairs in the mode 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 etc.
4. 10 pairs (2)
Sola Busca Tarocchi (1491)
The Sola Busca Tarocchi pairs its cards from 1-20 in a similar way as the Tarocchi poem 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 etc.
This is done only by "body direction". 1-3-5-7-etc are turned from left to right, 2-4-5-6-etc from right to left, so that card 1 looks at card 2, and card 2 looks to card 1.
If you wish to verify this feature for all pairs, use Kaplan or the Sola-Busca gallery of Tarotpedia:
5. 10 pairs development
The general 10 pairs development started with the 9 Worthies (or Neuf Preux) in 1312 by Jacques de Longuyon in his "Voeux du Paon". This literary work became figurative with the time ...
... and later were added 9 female counter parts, creating 9 pairs. Then during 15th century occasionally a 10th special honored (often living) person (or pair ?) was added. This at least happened in Ferrara at one opportunity in the time of the early Ercole I d'Este, as far I remember.
It's easy to understand, that if in a festivity decoration of a wedding appeared 9 preux and 9 preuse, that the 10th pair likely was the young couple.
If a indoor decoration showed for instance only 6 virtues, it was intended, that the missing 7th virtue was presented by the owner (this was done at a door in the Palazzo Schifanoia; the virtue Justice was missing, as this was Borso's personal virtue).
Borso as incorporated Justice
Summarizing we have for the period 1465-1486 some (not totally strong) indications for a use of a 4x14+20-structure, but we have none for the existence of the 4x14+22-structure. With 1487 (Boiardo and the later Sola Busca Tarocchi) we have clear indications for the existence of the 4x14+22 structure, but these decks seem to have by their use of an internal 10-pairs model more relation to Lorenzo Spirito and to the Minchiate.
Naturally: Not totally strong indications are not very satisfying.
But in research one has to take that, what one gets. If a research field gives only small indications of a specific direction in a given question, then that's just the result of the moment. And this result seems to say, that one has to suspect the origin of the "real Tarot" (as defined above) after 1487. Naturally this only has the state of a working hypothesis.
In the given evaluation (based on that, what was known before) now a new factor has appeared with an unknown game called "venti figure" (= "20 figures"). This is reported in the next posts.