The most recent note (so far) is "1426-1440: Firenze – Condanne per giochi di carte nei Libri del Giglio", http://www.naibi.net/A/524-GIGLIO26A40-Z.pdf (1425-1440: Florence - Convictions for card games in the Books of the Lily, viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1120&p=18156#p18156), Nov. 26, 2016.
"Earliest Triumphs" is a long note (32 pages) that Franco recently wrote for a friend of his who knows nothing of tarot but does know Florentine history. It starts out simply but quickly gets much more complex. Although he repeats things he has said in the past, he integrates them and presents the current state of his thinking (well, probably not all of it) on the subject. I have asked Franco numerous questions regarding the translation. I hope that as a result I have at least not distorted his meaning. Comments in brackets are mine, although based on information I have received from Franco. That includes the correspondences, in the footnotes, between pages in his recent book and pieces by him available on the Web. There is also the word "prospettive" in the title. As becomes clear by the end of the note, the word in Italian means not only "perspective", i.e. point of view, but also "prospect", i.e. outlook for future research. "Outlook" in English seems better than either "perspectives" or "prospects", for conveying both ideas. I would welcome any suggestions to improve the translation of what turned out to be a somewhat challenging piece.
Earliest triumphs: contrasting proposals and outlooks
For the history of playing cards and of course the games played with them, there are two important dates in the city of Florence: 1377, the first indisputable date for playing cards in Europe, and 1440, the first ever for the presence of the name of triumphs (same or similar to tarot) among playing cards. In the second case one thinks of an Italian origin; in the first case the story is longer and even less defined: mostly an origin from Egypt ruled by the Mamluks is supposed, with previous passage from Central Asia, originally, however, coming from China around the year 1000.
I have done studies and research on the specifically Florentine situation for both dates, sporadically in the years prior to about 1985 to 2000 and then almost full time since 2011. In 2016 I collected in a book the main studies that I had written previously on the subject (Fig.1) (1); for convenience in the following I will cite my studies using this book (stating in a footnote simply “book” and the numbers of the corresponding pages), but some were published originally in English, even many years ago, at the initial stage of my research in this field. In some cases I will also make ample use of large sections of my notes included at http://trionfi.com and http://www.naibi.net, recycling parts already published. [Translator’s note: assuming that most readers will not have this book, I will be giving also the appropriate references to the original studies, and in English not only to the studies originally written in English but also to translations I have done of studies originally in Italian.]
Fig. 1, book cited in text: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-3Ousw1SHN8s/ ... bilan0.jpg
Here I intend to neglect the problems of 1377, devoting full attention to those of 1440. It has therefore to do with the origin of the tarot. The subject has interested in a strange way many fans of fortune-telling and divination in general; I say strangely because I am accustomed to reading in their books a preference for fictional stories over authentic ones; therefore, if one finds, as I did (2), two triumph players sentenced already in 1444 because they played in the streets of Florence, the thing does not interest or disturb them at all. Instead, I have come to the history of tarot from that of chess and
1. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nella repubblica fiorentina [Card games in the Florentine republic]. Ariccia 2016.
2. Book 2, 257-264. [ http://www.naibi.net/A/424-GIGLIO444-Z.pdf ]
checkers; its use in divination I can respect or not, but in any case it does not concern me; the cards interest me as used in games, and the game done with the tarot was an intelligent game.
Now, after the publication of the book, I intend to take advantage of a pause for reflection before probing other archives, assuming that in the future it will be possible for me to still find fifteenth century documents that are as yet unknown or almost so. The present summary is intended to report problems that remain open and to stimulate some researchers in pursuing this study.
2. Existing Cards
In the discussion about tarot and its basis we frequently encounter speculative reconstructions, taking as their bases decks of cards of which the actual existence remains unproven. Before entering that slippery territory it seems appropriate to recall the bases of departure, in so far as they securely existed during the long life of tarot cards utilized in a variety of card games; the types of cards in question will be summarized, and of the games in which they were used.
2.1 Ordinary deck.
Games with tarot cards belong to the more general field of games with trumps, which have had very wide following among card players, up to the contract bridge of today (in which, however, the term “trump” is never used). For these the presence of a special suit with cards having the function of trumps is not necessary; a typical example, very old, is Hispanic triumphs, a game of the trump type that was done with the ordinary deck without need of added superior cards. Normally it is one of the four suits that assumes the function of trump cards, often based on chance, sometimes, as in bridge, the result of a choice linked to a "contract", with a commitment to achieve a given number of tricks or points.
From ancient times cases have been reported in which some cards of an ordinary deck take on values different from those of their hierarchy in the card's suit. A subsequent case that found wide diffusion in Europe was the Spanish game of Hombre in which, although based on the choice of one of the suits as trump, the first and the third highest trumps were consistently the ace of swords and the ace of staves. Even more interesting in our context are some notices about the very old game of Karnöffel, diffused in Switzerland and Germany. In the ordinary deck, without added triumphal cards, some cards had special attributions: not only did they have special functions in the game, but they were even known by specific names - devil, pope, emperor, etc. -
that strongly recall some tarot cards (which are, however, known from later dates).
2.2 Various Tarot decks
The tarot deck has enjoyed great fortune among card players, undergoing some major and minor alterations depending on the time and place in which it was used. The most common deck has four suits of fourteen cards and twenty-two superior cards. A special feature of this deck is that of having four picture cards per suit instead of the usual three, with the presence of both the queen and the knight between the king and the jack, cards of which in Italy, as an alternative, one or the othe is present, depending on the region. The suits are often the traditional Italian ones of coins, cups, swords and staves, but there are also newer decks with the suits of diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs.
Often the number of 78 cards typically present was considered too high to be appropriate for the game, and therefore the use of reduced decks enters in, mostly with the deletion of some number cards. After the traditional tarot of Bologna (62 cards) and Sicily (63 cards), the most widely used deck by players in Central Europe [here meaning, roughly, Bavaria and the former Habsburg Empire] has become one of 54 cards, in which the number cards are only four per suit. In Florence, however, the most popular deck of tarot cards was for centuries that of minchiate, where the superior cards rose to forty, thereby bringing the total number of cards in the deck to 97.
However it must be recognized that the deck of 78 cards, now used internationally mainly by fortune tellers, was in the past the one most used in the game, with a tradition remaining alive for a long time in northern Italy and France. The main feature of this particular deck is the presence of the series of twenty-two superior cards, which deserve a separate comment.
2.3. Sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards
What the typical composition of the Tarot is, we can indicate in relation to the largest users of today, those fortune tellers who renamed the twenty-two superior cards "major arcana." Already the use of
the word “arcana” sounds foreign to any reasonable historical reconstruction for the oldest times, but the justification can be understood. For those looking for signs to predict future events of concern, we must recognize that cards where angels and devils, love and death, moon and stars, and so on appear, are better suited for the purpose than reading palms or coffee grounds. Also, using a new name avoids the mess of calling both the tarot deck and its superior cards “triumphs,” even if originally the term was used for both. Here, unable to endure “arcana”, and in the absence of anything better, I will speak of "triumphal cards", distinct from the "number cards", from 1 to 10, and the "picture cards": page, horse or knight, queen, and king .
The most firmly established order of rank of the triumphal cards is that indicated in the following table, with the Fool [Matto] understood as out of the ranking because of its different role in the game. [Translator’s note: I assume there is no need to translate the terms in the table for this audience.]
This sequence is the principal object of discussion among historians of the tarot, with understandable attention to its meaning and origin. Predictably, variants also developed in the sequence of triumphal cards, depending on the locations and times where the tarot deck was used for games; however, they are always variations on the same theme, involving minor things, such as a few changes in the order of play or the significance of a tiny minority of the cards. To explain this fact of a widespread persistence of the same model, it is indispensable to suppose either that the first triumphs also had a structure and composition of this same kind, or that this final stage, seen as a development of previous forms, nevertheless is arrived at very soon.
2.4. Special features of the game of triumphs
The notices we have about the game of triumphs presents it as a particular game, in which the skill of the player in the long run can assert itself in spite of the random distribution of the cards. From what we know for succeeding times it can be concluded that the type of game is always based on the taking of the cards played by those of highest value, but different rules can be encountered in detail regarding the obligation to follow suit or play triumphal cards. The final score of the hand could take into account in different ways the greater value of some cards and their combinations.
In the municipal statutes we often find a section on prohibited games, and when we read of the game of triumphs it usually appears as an exception, one of the few card games exempt from prohibitions. This special position must be kept in mind to explain the different situations in which card games in general are encountered, triumphs in particular. To become more aware of the condition, it is useful to consider the other games that are encountered in the laws. Games are given as prohibited as a rule; if there is a game intended as innocent pastime it will not be found among those which lead the city council to take adverse decisions. In fact the games that are always met among those banned are dice games, and especially the one called Zara.
The motivations that evoked the laws of enforcement are primarily of a moral nature: an attempt to prevent heavy losses in the game, with the possible ruin of families, but also the quarrels and blasphemy that often accompany the misfortunes of play (and which at the time were punished with unimaginable harshness). However there were also reasons of a purely political nature: they were intended at the same time to prevent the assembly of people, as players or spectators, who could take the opportunity to agree on conspiracies or revolts of the people. As a result of the above, with dice the problem of possible games to allow only arose in the case of games of the backgammon type, games in which throws of the dice serve only for the advancement of tokens, and the game takes place between two players who employ quite a long time to finish their match. In these cases, the variant was usually admitted in which all the pieces are on the board from the outset, so as to make impractical the use in the course of the game of rolling the dice as in games like Zara.
For cards something similar happens. On the one hand there are extremely quick games where one can also bet big money simply on the outcome of one card; on the other hand, there are also matches between two or four players that require effort and attention for long times. So it is not surprising if most of the testimonies on playing cards divide into two large groups, almost opposites. On one side we find catching and fining gamblers, so we see for inveterate card players a similar environment to that of Zara. At the other extreme we find the cards present in literature and artistic images, in the hands of ladies and ladies of the court, or even of princes or queens.
The practical difference between ordinary cards and triumphs is that it is very rare to find the latter used in games of chance, while it is relatively easy to find them associated with the princely courts. It is no surprise that the game of triumphs often was explicitly excluded from the prohibition on games. In Florence, that happened already in 1450, and the sentencing of the above-mentioned two Florentine players in 1444 to pay a fine because they had been caught playing triumphs was an unusual event; a few years later it would not happen again.
In conclusion, with triumphs we have the advantage of finding them documented in court circles, from which, among other things, documents were compiled and stored much more frequently than from the environment of the people, but with the disadvantage that they [such documents] were not utilized for players of illegal games of chance, and therefore would not be found unless they were mentioned in the records of convicted gamblers, registers which provide useful information on the practice of card games of the era. As a corollary of this situation, one may also legitimately assume that the practice of the game of triumphs among ordinary people was much more frequent than we can find documented today.
3. Studies on the origin and dissemination of the first triumphs
It seems helpful to make a few remarks about how our knowledge on the matter under consideration has developed in recent times: first we recall the great contribution of Michael Dummett, and then indicate the need to update his reconstruction.
3.1 Historical reconstruction by Michael Dummett
Researchers interested in these historical problems have had the good fortune that a great scholar has dealt with them in depth, Sir Michael Dummett, the famous Oxford professor of philosophy; he published several articles and books on the topic, beginning with the masterpiece written with the assistance of Sylvia Mann (3), which reconstructed and put in order all the knowledge in the field. In contrast to many other works written on the subject, this one deals in detail with all the main card games around the world in which tarot cards were used in the past. Understandably taking into account the recent use of tarot cards, fortune telling developments are also dealt with in that volume; Dummett later also published an Italian version, reduced but updated (4), and subsequently, with various collaborators, completed and extended in separate discussions the ludic [pertaining to games] (5) and divinatory (6) aspects.
Out of all his work, we are interested only in the part relating the game of tarot in the earliest times. Even if we stick to this aspect it must be recognized that Dummett did something extraordinary. There were already discussions of the matter, at the head of which was an encyclopedia dedicated precisely to tarot (7) that subsequently came out in four large volumes. However, for the first time Dummett managed to bring together all the many scattered reports into a complete system that was, above all, consistent. Dummett’s reconstruction is the most perfect mosaic that could be achieved with the tiles at his disposal. We will look briefly at the situation that emerges.
In the early history of tarot cards there are two very solid pillars: the ducal courts of Ferrara and Milan. The first pillar consists of the archive documents of the Este ruling family of Ferrara, preserved in Modena. The oldest documentation of triumphs was for nearly a century and a half considered to be that recorded in 1442 in the court of Ferrara (8); the very fact
3. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot. London, 1980.
4. M. Dummett, Il mondo e l’angelo. Naples, 1993.
5. M. Dummett, J. McLeod, A history of games played with the tarot pack. Lewiston etc. 2004.
6. R. Decker, Th. Depaulis, M. Dummett, A wicked pack of cards. London 1996.
7. S. R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. New York 1978.
8. G. Campori, Atti e memorie Dep. di Storia Patria per le province modenesi e parmensi, VII (1874) 123-132.
that for such a long time there were no previous documents, he thought that the beginning of the game had been found. This belief was strengthened also by ancient triumph cards considered, wrongly or rightly, of the School of Ferrara. One cannot be surprised if the fundamental book of Dummett cited was subtitled From Ferrara to Salt Lake City.
With regard to the documentation retained by the court of the Este family, we are especially lucky because it is a very rich collection, and also one studied and described carefully (9); an important article draws attention to the documents of interest to the history of tarot (10). Later, yet another document of the same origin was reported (11). It is conceivable that the wealth of documentation in fact overestimated the actual contribution of Ferrara to the history of the tarot.
The second pillar is the court of Milan: from there comes the Visconti-Sforza tarot, beautiful old cards. If we could collect all the published studies on those cards, we would need a series of large tomes, such as we know more from dictionaries or encyclopedias in several volumes. In particular, many historians have been engaged in reconstructing the artistic paternity of the various decks and their dates, including the different artists of cards apparently belonging to the same deck.
Leaving aside all the broad debate among art historians, professionals and amateurs, there remains uncertainty related to the dating of the first Milanese cards. In particular, the Visconti di Madrone, or Cary-Yale, deck is perhaps older than the documentation of Ferrara; so it remains quite uncertain if the first tarot passed from the court of Ferrara to that of Milan or vice versa. Two conditions remain firm: for both Ferrara and Milan the game was for quite a long time confined within the limits of the environments of their ducal courts. Furthermore, whatever the origin was, the passage between the two courts took place in an extraordinarily rapid manner. The extraordinary nature of the case is accentuated by the fact that the normal spread of tarot around Italy and neighboring countries would instead take place with remarkable slowness.
9. A. Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale. Vol. 1. Rome-Ferrara 1993.
10. G. Ortalli, Ludica, 2 (1996) 175-205.
11. V. Gulinelli, Delle carte da gioco italiane, storia e diletto. Carpi 2011.
Consequently, all other major Italian cities were not candidates for a possible priority. Venice with its port, its international market, its splendor, was sometimes trotted out, but only at the level of items that are not documented. Bologna would be a very promising candidate, also for the longer life of the Bolognese tradition of tarot playing, but local documents are not quite old enough, with a possible exception to which we will return later. From Florence there were neither documents nor cards, until the sixteenth century onwards. From Rome and Naples originate even later documents and cards.
In short, on the history of tarot cards in other Italian cities there was little information, and understandably the lack of documents tends to be associated with the absence of the game. Dummett explicitly concluded that the game from the northern courts from their origin spread only slowly to the general population, and then to Central and Southern Italy. We are interested particularly in Florence, where for centuries the tarot deck took the peculiar form of 97 cards, with nineteen extra triumphal cards. This deck would have been developed at a later time, only in the mid-sixteenth century, when citations appeared first of germini and then of minchiate departing from the "normal" tarot deck, which in any case would in its turn have arrived in the city before the end of the fifteenth century.
3.2. The need for updating
Today the situation is viewed differently, if only because the Florentine contribution proved much greater than expected. Inserting the place of Florence strongly in the front row of the series of the cities concerned was due to the contributions of several authors. In my research as an amateur in the history of games I found a Florentine law which considered triumphs as a permitted game already in 1450, and minchiate in 1477 (12); an art historian, Cristina Fiorini, attributed a Florentine origin to ancient specimens of preserved triumphs in Paris (13); a German professor found in the customs records of Rome many records of decks of cards and triumphs that arrived in that city from Florence soon
12. Book, 157-178. [ http://www.naibi.net/A/426-FI1473-Z.pdf ]
13. C. Fiorini, The Playing-Card, Vol. 35 No. 1 (2006) 52-63. [translated, following my translation of Bellosi, at http://rothschildcards.blogspot.com/201 ... usion.html, along with links to the individual pages in Italian.]
after the middle of the fifteenth century (14); among other things, several records of triumph decks were reported in the sales of Florentine retailers (15); Depaulis identified in 2012, from an edition of the Diaries of Giusto Giusti, the date of 1440 for a pack of triumphs made in Florence for Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini (16); I have recently reported the two players mentioned above, convicted in 1444 for being caught playing triumphs in the streets of Florence.
At this point Dummett’s most valuable text has become incomplete and should be completed at least by a new large chapter on the early days of triumphs in Florence; unfortunately that great author came to the end of his life without being able to deliver an updated work. The book that today can be considered the most balanced is that of Thierry Depaulis (17), apart from the fact that it is a work that is considerably thinner.
In recent times contributions on the Internet have developed widely. A site rich with various pieces of information, not easy to find, is Trionfi.com, but many sites dedicated to the tarot have been activated, too. Noteworthy for above-average reliability are especially two Italian sites maintained by Andrea Vitali (18) and Girolomo Zorli (19); the first is aimed at more allegorical and figurative aspects, the second gives greater prominence to the game. Internet discussion on the subject has also taken ample space in some forums, particularly the Tarot History Forum (20); interventions are usually in the form of verbal conversations among experts, rather than weighty communications, but readers with patience should be able to recognize here valid insights for the discussion.
However, it is certain that today the overall picture needs to be reviewed, with the entrance of Florence to serve as third wheel between Ferrara and Milan. The change of perspective is not simply about the transition from two pillars at first to three now: it is no longer to figure out from which princely court noble players passed on the fashion of that
14. A. and D. Esch, Gutenberg Jahrbuch, 88. Jahrgang (2013) 41-53.
15. F. Pratesi, Playing-cards in 15th century Florence. Norfolk 2012.
17. Th. Depaulis, Le Tarot révélé. La Tour-de-Peilz 2013.
19. http://www.tretre.it/menu/accademia-del ... -di-carte/
aristocratic game; in Florence there was still not a ducal court; it came to exist only in the following century, when the lords of the other regions were already settled a long time and in some cases were now about to disappear. In short, the perspective of the cards and of the players both change. The Visconti-Sforza tarot cards are obviously extraordinary, but just because of their extraordinariness lose much of their historical interest.
4. Candidates before 1440
On the origin of the Tarot there are many reconstructions based solely on the imagination of those who have proposed them. Some will be examined in the next section. Here we only consider examples that have two characteristics that together distinguish them from others: these are cases that surely (or with a fair chance, for a couple of them) date back to before 1440, the year with the first documented triumphs. Even these cases present reasons for uncertainty and discussion, but to a lesser extent than others considered later of only hypothesized existence.
The first two cases both derive from Milan: the first is uncertain whether it can be considered a pack of triumphs as commonly understood; the second is uncertain as to its original composition and date (which may be later than 1440). The third case involves a deck of playing cards of which we know virtually only the name, which was different from the ordinary ones, but which could have had nothing in common with triumphs. The fourth case is from Bologna and does not correspond to a specific deck but to a testimony of priority to be given to that city where the game of tarot has had the longest tradition in Italy.
It would also be possible to discuss other candidatures, for example Venice and Padua, but for those we lack, at least for now, the very basis for a discussion, except generally to consider the first humanism of Padua or the international market of Venice.
4.1 First Milan - Marziano
Today any review of the possible precedents for arriving at the known tarot deck has to start with the Milanese deck of Marziano da Tortona. In fact, in relation to the known Visconti-Sforza decks, we are informed of one pack – and precisely one - definitely from a previous era: the one that was introduced into the court of Milan towards 1420. On the deck of Marziano I have written three notes (21), and already in the first of these, published in 1989, I brought to the attention of the experts that two decks of cards of which we had only vague information, those of Marziano and Michelino, were indeed only one, and its cards, although not preserved, had been described in detail. The full text was later reproduced with translation and comments (22); further information about the author can be found in the catalog of a local exposition (23).
Even on that deck we have concrete information only from the middle of the century, and the same name of triumphs that was attributed back to that period does not come from the time of its origin. This deck, which looks quite extraordinary, was designed by and for Filippo Maria Visconti, described in detail in a literary text by Marziano da Tortona, and then created artistically by Michelino da Besozzo with valuable pictures, no longer preserved. [Translator's note: I assume the names of the gods and heroes do not need translating, except perhaps for "Ercole", meaning "Hercules". Eolus is the god of winds, Daphne a nymph who had herself turned into a tree to avoid defilement by Apollo. The four suits are likewise obvious, except perhaps for the last, pleasures.]
Of the deck in question we have certain testimony on its sixteen triumphal cards, the four kings, and the presence of an unknown number of other cards (number and perhaps also with figures) of the four suits. Unfortunately we do not know if this series of sixteen personages had any preceding or following it, and moreover we do not see the
21. Book, 293-304, 305-313, 315-326. [ http://www.naibi.net/A/25-FIRSTARO-Z.pdf, http://www.naibi.net/A/70-MARZI-Z.pdf, http://trionfi.com/evx-reflection-on-ma ... k-of-cards ]
22. R. G. R. Caldwell, Part I, The Playing-Card, Vol. 33 No. 1 (2004) 50-55; Part II, The Playing-Card, Vol. 33 No. 2 (2004) 111-126. [Online at http://trionfi.com/martiano-da-tortona- ... -16-heroum)
23. Marziano da Tortona e i tarocchi. Tortona 1982.
steps by which this would have led to the standard sequence. To find that deck would be a great discovery, but we can already feel satisfaction from the description of the pictures that had to be present in the sixteen triumphal cards: the corresponding gods, presented as deified persons, are described in fact not only with their respective characteristics and faculties, but also with a sufficiently detailed description of the correct manner of depiction.
The introduction of this deck into the discussion on the origin of the tarot has brought more confusion than clarification. It is not surprising that many experts continue to neglect its importance, considering it (perhaps rightly) a unique example with no effect on the development of playing cards. In fact, compared to serious questions about the decks that possibly preceded and followed it, what remains to be understood about the deck itself even becomes secondary. With only kings being mentioned, there are authors who have assumed that they were in fact the only picture cards present, besides the triumphal cards and the number cards, for a total of 60 cards. The problems about the picture cards do not exhaust the questions, because even of the pip cards we know nothing for sure and their quantity remains the subject of speculation.
The incomplete data that has come down to us on this deck remains very significant. To begin with, to date we know of no example of triumphal cards added to ordinary deck of playing cards that is older than this one; we certainly can imagine even older decks of the genre, but it is needful to find some trace. Another important fact is the coincidence ... Milanese! It so happens that the Visconti-Sforza tarot cards are the most numerous and the most ancient of those that have come down to us. Obviously, it would be much easier to hold that there was no link between those and the deck of Marziano if this deck were not designed precisely for Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan.
This first deck of triumphs is not necessarily the only one to have had unusual features; after this one you can imagine that there existed several intermediate types before reaching the standard recipe. Not only that; you will see below that one of the conceivable intermediate cases can be recognized precisely in the Visconti di Modrone, which, although much closer to the "normal" tarot structures, still has some anomalies.
Leaving Milan, all reconstructions remain largely hypothetical for these years that can be considered the pre-history of the tarot; with one important difference, however: the prehistory may remain partly unknown, but it definitely existed [in general, independently of the tarot]; the "prehistory" of the tarot could perhaps be unknown because it did not really exist. However, as long as we stay in the Milan court it is hard not to hazard any guesses about the possible developments and local refinements of the same idea and the same game.
4.2. Second Milan - Cary-Yale
Remaining in Milan, especially before moving on to Florence, the subject of discussion becomes another Milanese tarot pack, called the Cary-Yale or Visconti di Modrone; in fact, to move properly in the huge bibliography on Visconti tarot we would want the thread of Ariadne. In particular, for the hypothetical links between this deck and Florence we can refer to two recent (24) notes; but all possible shifts between Milan and Florence, in one direction or the opposite, are merely the result of speculation and are not supported so far by corresponding documentation. Among other things, it must also keep in mind that the two cities found themselves in a long war between them in the period of interest.
The incentive to add more hypothetical reconstructions with respect to those supported by the documents (one could say none in this case) comes from the serious lack of evidence adequate to cover the initial and intermediate time intervals. The exact composition of the Cary-Yale deck is also under discussion, with various proposals to suggest how many and which triumphal cards had been originally in the deck, including some that have not come down to us. The Cary-Yale can also be constructed from that of Marziano; if the reconstruction is valid, the conclusion would be that the deck of Marziano was not unique and isolated, but a member of a series that eventually led to the tarot deck. By way of example the following table shows a reconstruction in which two guides are used: the total number of sixteen cards, following Marziano (with, in italics, the
24. Book 519-537; 539-551. [(1) http://www.naibi.net/A/502-CARYYA-Z.pdf, translated at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1086#p16686; (2) http://www.naibi.net/A/506-MIFIOR-Z.pdf, translated at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1086&start=20#p16716, concluding at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1086&start=20#p16721]
cards that would have been lost), and the testified sequence of the cards in minchiate (25).
[Translator's note: In English this table is here: https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-7anMxpyA47Q/ ... ate16a.jpg ]
4.3. Florence - Emperors
Reconsidering the Florentine situation, first from the explicit evidence on triumphs, we have something that somehow may be linked. The production of playing cards was in Florence a superior flowering to other cities, not only for the amount they could produce in the workshops, but also for the quality that was increasingly developing in the same workshops. We have documentation showing the production and sale of card packs of different quality, according to types that soon appear already standardized. In particular, it seems that in particular Florentine cards with a gold background were very popular in other cities, which apparently was included in a local production standard adopted for different images.
For us, for getting to the triumphs, the superior quality is not so interesting as what traces there are of different types of cards. The main type that opens the question of possibly furnishing a new model
25. Book, 529-537 [ http://www.naibi.net/A/502-CARYYA-Z.pdf, translated at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1086#p16686 ]
developing in the direction of triumphs is that of "emperor cards". We have Florentine testimonies of these cards only from Ferrara, where they were used in the mid-century and also produced locally (26). Before being recorded in the mid-fifteenth century account books, it is known from earlier documents of the same court of Ferrara that already they were purchased from Florence, beginning in 1423 (27), for the use of that court, a couple of decades before their production in Ferrara and their documentation of triumphs.
In the first documents about this deck it is called "eight emperors", which might suggest the addition of eight superior cards, above the four kings. It is stimulating to think, but it is only a guess, of a possible analogy with a pack of the Marziano type halved in form, with eight added cards inserted two per suit to the respective kings, and in part as a group in a fifth suit of eight cards; the total number of cards would go from 32 in the hypothetical ordinary deck to 40 in the hypothetical emperors deck.
[Franco has two diagrams, not included on naibi.net, to illustrate this "halving" of Marziano to produce the hypothetical structure of "eight emperors", which I have uploaded: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-02OkepB1eFI/ ... MARZtr.jpg for Marziano and https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Ml6fd_IkIHM/ ... MPEtr1.jpg for emperors. The boxes in red are meant as the special cards in each case, god-heroes and "imperatori", i.e. emperors and/or empresses.]
Of more interest is a possible connection of the game of emperors with the game, in countries north of the Alps, called in the same way, Kaiserspiel [Emperor-game], which seems to be another name for the game of Karnöffel mentioned above. On this possible link between Florence and regions north of the Alps I have already expressed my opinion many years ago in the reference of note (28).
In both cases, we are among the common people, no courts of nobles to lay down the laws and customs. The impression is that neither Florentines nor Germans needed the court of Ferrara to come up with new ideas on how to improve the production of cards, and eventually the traditional game itself. In my opinion, the precious tarot cards used at court in mid-fifteenth century - too often described and re-discussed - were not necessarily the prototypes, which only later slowly spread to the populace. I do not see why it could not happen in the reverse direction, with cards already in use by the people, which were indeed used - in modified versions, in very valuable copies, possibly even, why not?, in single copies - by the noble courts of the major cities of northern Italy.
26. A. Franceschini, Ludica, 2 (1996) 170-174.
27. A. Franceschini, Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale. Vol. 1. Roma-Ferrara 1993
28. Book, 125-128. [ http://www.naibi.net/A/61-FIALEIMP-Z.pdf ]
4.4. Bologna - Prince Fibbia
From Bologna has been preserved very little evidence on ancient triumphs, either in written documents or in playing cards of the era. As for the introduction of the game in Bologna, which could in fact be its home town, the discussion is centered on an inscription in a Bolognese portrait of the seventeenth century, much discussed among historians of the game, showing the following, under the person:
In my first research on the manuscripts of the time I spent many hours in the civic archives of Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Bologna looking for confirmation of this personage; I consulted many documents with the family trees of the noble families involved. Eventually I convinced myself that the person did not exist (29). Today I see that Andrea Vitali has identified a prince Francesco Fibbia who would be compatible with that document, including the important dates given at the end (30).Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, principe di Pisa, Montegiori, e Pietra Santa, e signore di Fusecchio, filio di Giovanni, nato da Castruccio duca di Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa & fugito in Bologna datosi a’ Bentivoglj, fu fatto generalissimo delle arme bolognese, et il primo di questa famiglia che fu detto in Bologna dalle Fibbie, ebbe per moglie Francesca, filia di Giovanni Bentivoglj. Inventore del gioco del tarocchino di Bologna: dalli xvi riformatori della città ebbe per privilegio di porre l’arma Fibbia nella regina di bastoni e quella della di lui moglie nella regina di denari. Nato l’anno 1360 morto l’anno 1419.
(Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, prince of Pisa, Montegiori, and Pietra Santa, and lord of Fusecchio, son of Giovanni, born of Castruccio Duke of Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa & fled to Bologna given to Bentivoglio, was made commander of the Bolognese arms, and the first of this family that was called Fibbia in Bologna, had to wife Francesca, daughter of Giovanni Bentivoglio. Inventor of the game of tarocchino of Bologna: by the xvi reformers of the city had by privilege putting the arms of Fibbia in the queen of staves and those of his wife in the queen of coins. Born in the year 1360 died the year 1419.)
According Vitali, to so advance the date of introduction of the triumphs is in agreement with the time period that usually elapsed between the introduction of a new product (such as the example he considered,He was born of Orlando, son of Errico, eldest son of Castruccio Castracani. ... We have therefore been able to verify that the Francesco Fibbia of the painting actually lived, who was the Prince of Pietrasanta and Monteggiori thanks to a Privilege granted by Lodovico the Bavarian and transmitted to the descendants of the children of Castruccio, who lived in Bologna following the transfer into this city of his family.
29. F. Pratesi, The Playing-Card, Vol. 24, No. 5 (1996) 134-141.
30. http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=107 [English version; in Italian also].
eyeglasses) and its first trace recorded in documents; He reminds us that already Dummett had indicated, for the date of origin for the triumphs, 1425 as probable and 1410 as the absolute limit among those which could be proposed.
Between Bologna and Florence, this opens a kind of second competition for attributing the invention of the tarot, after the first long debate between Milan and Ferrara. Between the two ducal courts there were very close relations, but both Florence and Bologna had adopted the same order of triumphal cards, the order called A by Dummett. Curiously, neither of the two different decks used in the two cities then coincides with the standard deck of 78 cards, but both show characteristics favoring a priority [in time] over those of Ferrara and Milan.
Another document from Bologna is worthy of note, but for years after those that interest us here: This is a contract of commission for the production of cards and triumphs dated to 1477; it is very useful especially for the information that the decks of triumphs cost more than the common decks only in proportion to the greater number of cards that they contained (31). From the data contained in the contract it can be concluded with some plausibility that the triumphs had 25% more cards than normal decks (32).
5. Hypotheses on the earliest triumphs
We have already met uncertain reconstructions, but there are additional ones that must be indicated. A substantial part of the interest of this matter consists in the poor definition of the reconstructed events, which often confronts us with complicated dilemmas. Obviously, the confusion stems from the different hypotheses and reconstructions of a story which itself took place in a unique way but unfortunately is still unknown in detail (and is likely to remain so in the future if as yet unknown documents are not rediscovered). Based on what is now known with certainty, which is not much, we can only examine the various interpretations proposed by choosing those that are the most convincing,
31. E. Orioli, Il libro e la Stampa, II (1908), 109-119.
or propose yet others for the attention of the experts. Overall, the field is open to discussion and research, with the hope that new contributions and findings will quickly advance our knowledge on the subject.
In this section we examine briefly some contrasting interpretations, with special attention to the very origin of the tarot itself, or triumphs, as it was called at the beginning. Today we cannot predict which of these interpretations are going to last; a typical problem of the research is that as soon as you have the satisfaction of being able to put down as an error a given interpretation, new ones present themselves, often more abundantly than before.
5.1. Two divergent approaches (33)
Two different approaches are both present in the abundant literature on the tarot and similar cards; for convenience I will indicate them as "tarot" and "triumphs" respectively
The "tarot" approach assumes the appearance from the beginning of the classic sequence of twenty-two tarot cards. In fact, if desired, any variant of the documented tarot (Bolognese, Sicilian, minchiate, Central Europe [former Habsburg Empire]) can be easily explained by successive changes applied to an original sequence, eliminating some cards or adding to the same sequence a further group of special cards, as in minchiate.
The "triumph" approach, alternatively, gives more importance to previous decks - starting with the first we know of, that described by Marziano - and allows more freedom to try and reconstruct the first "experimental" packs, only vaguely known at best, or more often only the result of reconstructions not confirmable from what has been documented.
Between the two approaches mentioned above intermediate cases are certainly possible. The most obvious way is to suppose that the "triumphs" approach is more appropriate for the beginning period, and to consider that the "tarot" approach becomes valid later. The problem here is that the introduction of the sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards could not be so late as sometimes suggested. It is true that variations in the sequence of tarot cards
33. Book 277-285. [ http://trionfi.com/trumps-trionfi-tarots ]
existed in different cities, but all the variants present themselves as versions of the same series already described. When can it be considered that this series became regularly accepted? I do not know the precise year, but it is plausible to suggest a date around the middle of the fifteenth century or a little higher. Indeed, it seems that we get completely secure claims of the standard set only a few decades later, but to assume that shortly after 1450 that series did not exist yet proves a hypothesis that requires complex and uncertain justifications. A specific case, apparently intermediate, for which a debate between the two approaches is justified is that of two decks of triumphs with 70 cards made in Ferrara in 1457 by Gherardo da Vicenza (34). Nobody knows what these 70 cards were, but it is certain that this deck could not be formed by the same number of cards inside of the four ordinary suits, for the simple reason that that number would be 17.5 cards. In other words, to suppose the existence of a fifth suit becomes virtually inevitable. What can we think of in relation to this fifth suit? We can imagine it in more ways than one.
If we follow the "triumphs" approach it is not difficult to arrive at the proposal supported several times recently by Lothar Teikemeier, of four ordinary suits of 14 cards each, accompanied by the new fifth suit of 14 triumphal cards rather similar in structure to the previous four suits (35). If we follow the "taroccchi" approach to reconstruct the deck of 70 cards, we have to solve the question of how the sequence was then augmented with additional triumphal cards, because it would lack eight cards of the standard tarot sequence. We can assume that there are the same four suits of 14 cards as in tarot cards, and as a result the upper string would contain only 14 cards. This would be the same length as the previous proposal derived from the alternative approach. But here the sequence is imagined with its own configuration, completely independent of the structure of the other suits. We can then suppress two cards from each of the four suits and obtain a proper additional sequence of twenty-two cards: in a rather surprising way, it becomes possible to see the deck of 70 cards in a format "simply" of the merger of two standard parts: the sequence of twenty-two superior cards of the tarot and a deck of 48 cards of naibi [ordinary cards]. It is possible to find explanations, but
34. G. Ortalli, Ludica, 2 (1996) 175-205, p.186.
a date of 1457 for a deck of 70 cards of triumphs still creates problems for us, because by now the triumphs have circulated for years in different cities, and we would have expected by now a standard deck.
Finally, how can we consider the triumphs of Marziano? In regard to the various examples of tarots, it would be an exemplar positioned "below zero" in the scale! With the "tarot" approach it cannot even be taken into consideration. With the "triumphs" approach, it is not certain that it can represent the first example; It is only the first deck of triumphs of which we have so far found documents. However, it is here that the "triumphs" approach finds its best field of application:: in this deck and in other early hypothesized decks, the sequence of the standard tarot is not yet present; apparently, it would have been introduced and accepted only after an imprecise number of years.
5.2 In Florence
To study the first diffusion of triumphs in the Florentine environment, I am using knowledge gained from previous studies on the diffusion, still in Florence, of chess and the first playing cards, or naibi, documented from 1377, and the same competence in writing and arithmetic that was already largely achieved by the Florentine population. The result is that not only do we have to move the first diffusion of triumphs to Florence , but we must also move from the court (which among other things did not yet exist in Florence) to what we might say is of the merchants or even of the people.
It is seen that the cards called triumphs, with the same name as the game played with them, are documented in Florence after 1440; during the next decade, we meet many packs for sale in Florentine shops (36) and some even in the hands of the players, as already reported. On the other hand, we know that just about the middle of the century in Florence, more than in other Italian cities, there developed the production of countless local crafts, a substantial part of whose decorations for some was based on triumphal motifs.
36. F. Pratesi, Playing-card trade in 15th-century Florence. North Walsham 2012.
A problem to be solved is that of the mutual influence of the Trionfi [Triumphs] of Petrarch, triumphs as honors to victors or civic displays, triumphs as playing cards, triumphs as decorative motifs of wedding chests and the like, and maybe even some theatrical productions. I had set out to study the starting dates of the Florentine fashion for the various products of the minor arts, imagining to find them further back in time, in the first half of the fifteenth century, and why not, even in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. Instead I have found that the prevalence of these objects came instead in the second half of the fifteenth century, at least as it happened typically for birth trays (37) and wedding chests (38).
No one knows today how a pack of triumphs was produced and used initially in Florence. Of a deck of tarot cards with that name (presumably with its typical 78 cards) I have found in Florence only one reference, in an early seventeenth century law (39). In 1450 the game of triumphs became permitted by law and by now many decks had been produced for use in the city and also for export. In the city packs of triumphs easily bought from milners’ shops and minor silk dealers. The two who played triumphs on the street and paid the penalty for this infringement in 1444 (before it became a permitted game) have already been mentioned.. Also before the middle of the fifteenth century my hunch in favor of the popular character of the game has found several confirmations. Can we stop at Florence of 1450, neglecting the local pack of minchiate? We may try, although doing so ends up neglecting information that, in what came after, may have retained some significant trace of the past. It remains to understand what happened before 1440. In fact, we can obviously not be sure that the first documentation of the deck in 1440 corresponds to the first deck of this new type of product. For Florence we have unfortunately no other clues to earlier times, unless there is a connection with the emperors’ pack, a connection that remains, however, entirely speculative.
39. F. Pratesi, Giochi di carte nel Granducato di Toscana [Card games in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany]. Ariccia 2015, pp. 23-30.
5.3. Series of twenty-two cards
We have already seen that fortune tellers have attributed great significance to the triumphal cards of the tarot. The problem that arises is not whether these cards are suitable to use for divination; about which we can agree, if desired; the fact is that those cards are given a special sense, which involves the entire sequence as something mysterious, knowable only by the initiated; in short, it would be a "secret book" in which some brilliant philosopher and seer would have composed and concealed a total vision of the world, indeed of all that we can encounter not only on earth but also above, in the depths of the heavens.
Personally, I would even be willing to accept an interpretation of that kind, but only on condition that we went back to an "original" version in early fifteenth century works of literature, philosophy, religion, and especially fine arts. For years I have searched for a match to the series of twenty-two triumphal tarot cards with an identical or very similar series described and illustrated at the time of the introduction of these special cards, but I have not found anything like it, except for individual cards, or at most for isolated islets.
A requirement of the triumphal series is that its components be recognizable as gradually higher than what came before, as a kind of extension of the few triumphs described by Petrarch in his poem. For many of us today this ascending succession of triumphal cards is not clear, and from various indications and evidence we understand that even for its contemporaries, it was often necessary to make agreements in this regard [i.e. before the game started, as to which cards were higher or lower], before the numbers corresponding to the order were written directly on the cards. In short, a simple extension of the Petrarchan triumphs is not immediately to be recognized; but the idea is acceptable in principle, even considering the uncertainties, indeterminancies and minor variations that have occurred.
Another thing, however, is to see explicated in that series a coherent and comprehensive philosophical system. I cannot in particular accept the idea that the hypothetical genius inventor, having once composed his esoteric system and selected its images, would not have found anything better than to camouflage them and put them in a pack of those playing cards, which were already two or three generations in the hands of
players. In some mysterious way, that inventor would have convinced manufacturers and players to add to their decks his special cards; then the hidden meaning would have finally been deciphered by some enlightened visionary only since the late eighteenth century, to the satisfaction of the many fans who still cultivate the field.
I note also that the interpretations of a hermetic type often and variously suggested by the "experts" on divination would perhaps be compatible with the cultural atmosphere that was created by Pico della Mirandola; but this is a period at least half a century later than that of interest and could therefore explain only a few possible transformations of a sequence of triumphal cards already in existence. Before 1440, at the basis of all those pseudo-sciences – be they occult, hermetic or just exotic – enough sources did not exist, or had not been rediscovered.
I must, however, recognize that the hypothesis of twenty-two triumphal cards added quickly in their entirety to the ordinary deck has a very big advantage over other hypotheses. This point in favor of considering the diffusion of the new deck in various cities is appreciated: if the triumph pack was radically altered during the first years or decades it is difficult to consider a diffusion in various locations of types modified gradually with the result of a final form that is everywhere different in only a few details, typically, how the cards were ordered, especially those representing the virtues. The history of playing cards in Switzerland and Germany helps us to see something very different and meaningful with the appearance of several variants of the same names and symbols used to characterize the four suits (40). For the tarot there is no verification of anything similar.
5.4. Fifth suit of fourteen cards, or similar structures
One suggestion proposed by various authors and recently supported more than anything else from Huck (41) is that the first introduction of the superior cards into the ordinary deck consisted in the addition of a fifth suit, with the same number of fourteen cards of the other four. In support
40. M. Rumpf, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde, 72 (1976) 1-32.
several pieces of evidence have been given, such as the documentation of two decks of 70 cards in Ferrara, the production of an isolated group of 14 cards, again in Ferrara, the interpretation of a Visconti tarot deck as consisting of 14 original cards and eight additions afterwards. If the idea of a fifth suit added to the standard deck as a triumphal series has its good points, points in opposition can also be indicated. The most significant among the contrary ones seems to me the standard composition of of cards in each of the suits, with ten pip cards and four pictures: in the new fifth suit, the number cards that would be similarly present, would then be associated, if desired, with various professions of the working classes and not with the members of the court, represented only in the picture cards.
The fourteen new cards should instead be more reasonably associable to the picture cards already in the deck, and even blatantly a grade higher than those, and therefore should justifiably present a pope, an emperor, and even otherworldly entities. It could have such a sequence of fourteen cards, all pictures, with a recognizable hierarchy, which later would be increased in number until reaching the sequence of twenty-two triumphal tarot cards. The hypothesis seems plausible, but it is not immediate to think of adding a fifth suit having a completely different internal structure from that of the other four.
The hypothetical fifth suit could also have been formed by a different number of cards, and in particular by sixteen; In fact, a particular case of a fifth added suit would obtain easily, supposing extending the only known case, that described by Marziano. Anyone proposing to make a new series might find inspiration from his deck, with its triumphal cards, possibly using different subjects. The superior cards there are sixteen instead of fourteen (which in the case of a fifth suit would suggest a complete deck of 80 cards), but they have the great advantage of being able to be considered as a separate series – ascending in number from 1 to 16 – and also as four groups of four cards to be inserted each above one of the four suits. Evidently, if the suit cards were fourteen or thirteen such a structure would not be possible, but would be usable again for a pack of five suits of twelve cards, so that the standard naibi deck would have increased from 48 to 60 cards, or ten with a passage of 40 to 50, or of eight, passing from 32 to 40.
The limitation indicated by the total number of cards in a deck of triumphs is very severe, but if we give up the allocation of additional cards to the four suits in equal numbers, this presents possible new decks of 45 cards with 9 suit cards, of 55 with 11 suit cards, 65 with 13, 70 with 14, or 75 with 15, always respecting the condition of a new fifth suit added with the same number of cards as the four ordinary suits. In fact, a deck of triumphs that is indicated in the early period is precisely that of 70 cards. However we have already seen that finding mention of a pack of 70 cards is not in itself a proof of the addition of the fifth suit with an equal number of cards, because you could get it, for example, from a deck of 48 ordinary cards to which had been added, as it happens, the much discussed sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards.
5.5. Triumphs with images of deities
The first triumphs for which we have a detailed description of its images are those of Marziano, and we do not know, as mentioned above, whether it was a single experiment or part of a series of more or less similar specimens. So far, we have examined it in relation to the number of its sixteen triumphal cards. However, it should be considered also for the images of those cards: one of its few secure features is that its triumphal cards were in that case related to Latin divinities. Is it possible also that triumphs in the Florentine cards around 1440 (and possibly earlier) were of the same type? No one is able to confirm it, but neither to exclude it.
Let us assume then that just this was the initial form of the triumphal cards inserted as a group into playing cards. The simple hypothesis now introduced has important consequences; triumphal motifs that had great vogue in Florence throughout the second half of the fifteenth century were not in fact mostly of this type; if the triumphal motifs were entered into playing cards contemporaneously with their insertioninto the decorations of wedding chests and birth trays, we should expect different images than the Latin divinities, more similar to the triumphs of Petrarch or subjects of that sort.
On the other hand we know that references to classical antiquity were already present in Florentine artistic products. In Florence, the motifs of the Olympian gods did not need the turn of the mid fifteenth century
to have a local following; we can easily go back to Boccaccio and also Dante, in addition to Petrarch. If we limit ourselves to the pagan gods, it would not change much if one had passed to read descriptions and characteristics in Latin originals known only in the fifteenth century, instead of in the vernacular renditions that circulated widely as early as the fourteenth century. (That would not be the case with a triumphant Caesar, first exalted and then seen rather as a bad example of tyranny.)
The fact that those figures of triumphal pagan gods are met in Milan instead of Florence does not exclude in principle a Florentine origin, if we only consider that, before carrying out his functions in the courts of Pavia and Milan, Marziano lived and studied in Florence, where among other things he had deepened his knowledge of the Divine Comedy, so as to devote himself personally to making it known in depth at the Milanese court. The biggest problem is that in this hypothetical scenario, the date will advance even more than one would like, because we would go back to the first decade of the fifteenth century, and at that time there does not appear, at least currently, a witness of such cards for Florence, or even Milan.
5.6. Modifications and hypotheses of evolution
If we do not accept the hypothesis of a deck of triumphs immediately created with the sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards, it becomes important not only to hypothesize the primitive form, but also outline its subsequent developments enabling it finally to reach the normalized form. Having noted that in Florence the fashion of decorations with triumphal motifs blossomed in the products of the minor arts in the middle of the fifteenth century, it is necessary to try to explain the fact that the triumphs had already appeared for years in playing cards.
Unfortunately, no new documents with secure indications have been found so as to move towards a convincing reconstruction of the situation. From what we have found about the triumphal motifs in birth trays and wedding chests, one might suspect that a similar shift toward the middle of the century would have also been addressed in the triumphs of playing cards. That is, the series of deities or other superior subjects introduced first could give way to other types of triumphs, in better agreement with the triumphal motifs that were enjoying great favor in the various products of the Florentine minor arts.
At the basis of the initial series here would perhaps be heroes of classical culture; at the basis of the wider diffusion at mid-century there would be triumphal motifs similar to those of the chests or trays, with possible references to Petrarch, which would replace those used previously. Unfortunately we are in a less than desirable position to speculate on a transition between the two models, neither of which is supported by documentation that has come down to us.
The only document known to us in this respect does not come from Florence and concerns the Milanese deck of Marziano, but we can not exclude that it was unique, unprecedented and not followed by similar decks, without any connection with the Florentine environment . But if we admit that Marziano’s deck corresponded to a kind of prototype of a whole series, one can speculate in various ways on any changes from that one; in each case, it is necessary to presuppose a passage through several intermediate stages, with changes in the images and the number of cards, before reaching the standard set of twenty-two triumphal cards that we know from the tarot, as well, in Florence, the series of forty triumphal cards of minchiate.
Even from the early Florentine humanists we derive only uncertain indications. As a result of the consultation of many unpublished documents, Brucker informs us that Coluccio Salutati had already clearly called, in a letter of 1393, for the need to study and understand classical civilization so as to act in the best ways also in the present time, including civic engagement (42); since that calling was becoming more and more frequent. Along with this, Brucker, however, reports that the consequence of those magisterial solicitations, initially remaining in secluded rooms, occurred on a larger scale within the city only around the year 1415, when in the records of the public activities of the various advisers involved in governing the republic, the comparison of current events with those of ancient Rome increasingly appeared, with a display of unusual rhetoric and classical erudition by the speakers.
The deduction would be that the resurrection of classical culture in Florence (although we could not exactly place the initial nucleus) became fully apparent and increasingly widespread during the second decade of the fifteenth century. Beware though that we still are not
42. G. A. Brucker, Renaissance Florence. Goldbach 1994, p. 239.
in the midst of the renewal that characterized the works of Apollonio di Giovanni and lo Scheggia around the middle of the century. For our purposes related to triumphs in playing cards, the Florentine atmosphere of the early humanists could easily connect to Marziano da Tortona, but less to the subsequent Visconti tarot. The problem is that when the first wedding chests and birth trays appeared with the new triumphal motifs (that hypothetically could have affected even the pictures on playing cards), the cards called triumphs were already in circulation for some time.
The historical reconstruction of the introduction of triumphal cards into the tarot deck has recently made significant progress. However, several points still remain obscure, and others have even been added with the increase in information. The main interest is currently directed towards the use of the tarot in divination, which here is neglected entirely, given that the tarot is being considered as a particular type of playing cards, the obviousness of which is recognized today by only a minority of those concerned. The focus of the experts has continued to turn to the sequence of twenty-two triumphal cards that has been studied by many, to varying degrees of commitment and seriousness, including the extremes.
On the meanings of the individual cards and their related iconography there exists an immense literature, often repetitive. What is needed is a fairly documented analysis of the sequence as a whole and not the individual figures. The problems at the origin of this sequence remain open: there are various proposals in this regard, but none can be considered as definitively proven. In particular, it is desirable that any alleged "explanation" of the origin of the sequence and its meaning be supported by the appearance of the same series in artistic or philosophical-literary works of the era (support I personally have failed to convincingly identify). The analyses made by Michael Dummett on the hierarchical order of these cards, which is a little different from region to region, remains a firm foundation for every possible development.
An alternative explanation of the entire sequence of triumphal cards is that what is to be explained is actually a different sequence, unknown today, which was introduced initially. However, about this there is a distinct possibility that this unknown original sequence has remained
unknown ... because it never existed. Those who hypothesize a different original sequence from the twenty-two triumphal cards, also have the task of identifying possible ways later followed to arrive at the known sequence. In this regard there have been discussed above two cases documented in Milan that preceded the standardization of the Tarot: the deck of Marziano and the Cary-Yale or Visconti di Modrone; if desired, the formulation of a proposal for a unique reconstruction [from Marziano to Cary-Yale only] can be granted here. To assess the extent of the historical importance of the Marziano deck - which can extend from negligible to critical - is in any case as an important problem to solve, but to truly consider that example of significant influence it would be helpful to find some other deck with intermediate features. We can, however, try to take the deck of Marziano as a basis, seeing it as a significant example contributing to the development of the triumphs towards the achievement of the definitive triumphal series: in the path of development from the deck of Marziano towards the tarot of standard form one can suggest including one of the original forms proposed for the Cary-Yale; but we remain in the field of hypotheses and would require independent confirmation.
The close ties between the ducal courts of the Visconti-Sforza in Milan and the Este in Ferrara have been documented and studied for a long time. We have received the most extensive documentation from the court of Ferrara, so that precisely that ducal court was considered at the very origin of the tarot. Some of the painters who worked in the court of Ferrara were certainly able to produce playing cards of high quality, but there are no signs for Ferrara of the ability to produce large amounts of playing cards, usable also for export, as in the first half of the fifteenth century might have been possible in other Italian cities (such as Milan, Venice and Bologna), and certainly in Florence.
The foregoing discussion of a Milanese or Ferrarese priority for the introduction of triumphs is moving toward considering rather Bologna (where a Prince Fibbia was found, compatible with the introduction of the triumphs in Bologna in the early fifteenth century) and Florence. For Florence, currently recognized as a primary center for the production of triumphs, it is unclear what the triumphs of 1440 (the first ones that today are found cited) were like, and what was done in the following years. Still later, remaining with Florence, it is unclear how, when, and with what differences the local tarot decks developed
referred to as minchiate and germini (with the strangeness that the name of minchiate would be documented both before and after germini (43)), without confirmation that it was one new deck, or more decks, albeit slightly different.
Even if we stick to examining the Florentine situation in the middle of the fifteenth century, the hypothesis is not very convincing that the deck of triumphs, now produced for years for local use and for sale in other cities, could still be in an experimental phase, corresponding to an intermediate stage in its development toward new models that would be established subsequently, with different forms and different total numbers of cards. The origin of the triumphal series of twenty-two cards remains uncertain; however, the assumption that it was not yet being standardly introduced and accepted seems plausible only until mid-century or a few years later.
Also, the use of triumphs in the game is poorly documented and leaves open a number of concerns: there are known "high" testimonies in frescoes and works of literature corresponding to a game of nobles, but in cities like Florence and Bologna perhaps the same game was widespread among the common citizens, albeit leaving few traces useful for our historical research. In fact it is precisely such traces that we would look for most insistently, so as to arrive at a more correct and better defined historical reconstruction. In the title of this review, outlooks [prospettive] were mentioned. Now we might conclude that this is the most promising new outlook, [that of finding new information on common cards and common players, as Franco recently phrased it to me,] one not encountered before now.
Today it is as if we were to create a mosaic with an insufficient number of tiles and also with many scraps to identify and remove. There are in fact two related tasks: to find new documents and, in parallel, to select the right hypotheses and eliminating wrong ones. This task is difficult for any researcher; but if the gaps in documentation still found in the documentation persist, the field for uncertain speculation remains open, where all are left a free choice as to which proposal of those already advanced is more convincing to them, and also to advance their own proposals if they seem more plausible.
Franco Pratesi – 04.10.2016
43. Book 157-170. [ http://www.naibi.net/A/426-FI1473-Z.pdf ]