In Bologna and Piedmont there was a belief that the invention of the tarocchi in that city had something to do with the disputes between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines. Andrea Vitali quotes Giuseppe Maria Buini, born 1680 (http://www.letarot.it/page.aspx?id=107
il Ginerlberti ne scrisse la Storia, ed origine facendo vedere, che i Tarrocchini non sono altro, se non se la tragica faccenda de’ Geremei Guelfi, e Lambertazzi Ghibellini, così il Valdemusi da Prusilio ne distese la varia fortuna”
("Ginerlberti wrote the History, making the origin visible, that the Tarrocchini is nothing but the tragic events of the Geremei Guelfs and Lambertazzi Ghibellines, so Valdemusi da Prusilio laid out their different fortunes")
In essence, he argues that the Bolognese Ginerlbelti, writing the history of Tarocchino, claimed that this game was, through images, the tragic history of the struggle between the Guelf family of the Geremei and the Ghibelline family of the Lambertazzi, and that another Bolognese, Valdemusi da Prusilio, described the events.
We do not have the original of Ginerlbelti or Valdemusi. All the same, how would the tarocchi fit such an interpretation? Perhaps the key is the four "papi" that relate to that history.
Recently Ross and Andrea together (private communication) tracked down another source, Giulio Cesare Mamellini (1546-1620), writing in a family chronicle that ends in 1580, recently edited an by Cinzi Fenetti, Memoriali dei Mamellini, notai bolognesi: legami familiari, vita quotidiana, realtà politica, secc. XV-XVI,
CLUEB, Bologna, 2008, p. 171. Mamellini puts these remarks in the chronicle between 1542 and 1543, for reasons unknown, and writes (I give the transcription first, then Andrea's translation into modern Italian, then Ross's translation into English):
I tarocchi dunque, sotto di una politica intrecciata otusità di cose, tengono ascoso tutto il gran negotio de i guelfi et ghibellini, che erano a Bologna le fationi de Geremei et Lambertazzi, essendovi papa et antipapa, vero et scomunicato imperadore, con le città del l'una e l'altra lega, ne chi è de la storia assai perito po' mai arivare al fondo, cioè a scopire sto accoppiamento misterioso, sichè non ha ancho nei zoghi poco Bologna di gloriarsi, tenendosi vera erudittione persino ne' ritrovati divertimenti.Andrea Vitali has adapted
I tarocchi, dunque, sotto un’intrecciata politica di situazioni non chiare, tengono nascosto [al loro interno] tutto il grande affare dei guelfi e dei ghibellini, che erano a Bologna le fazioni dei Geremei e dei Lambertazzi, essendovi [nei tarocchi] il papa e l’antipapa, il vero e lo scomunicato Imperatore, con le città dell’una e dell’altra lega, e neppure chi è un grande esperto della storia potrà mai arrivare al fondo,,,
The tarots, therefore, under an intertwined politics of unclear situations, keep hidden [within them] all the great affairs of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, who were in Bologna the factions of the Geremei and the Lambertazzi, being there [in the tarot] the pope and the antipope, the true and excommunicated Emperor, with the cities of both leagues, and not even who is a great expert of history will ever be able to get to the bottom, that is to discover [the meaning, the meaning] of this mysterious coupling, so that even in the games Bologna has to glorify itself not a little [i.e. it must glorify itself a lot], since even in these retrieved amusements there is a real erudition.
We have here the pope, the antipope, the "true Emperor" and the "excommunicated" emperor. Now the question is, did he have particular individuals in mind, or was he speaking in general terms? Or both?
It is easy enough to find popes and and antipopes. They were endemic, although with gaps, up until Felix V, the last antipope, resigned in 1449. The biggest gap is the entire 13th century (Wikipedia has a list, taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article "Antipope").
Does that make a difference? First we need to know in what time period "Guelfs" and "Ghibellines" were terms applied to factions in Italy. According to Wikipedia's article on them it started in the time of Emperor Frederick I and ended in the time of Charles V. That is about five centuries.
We might also ask, when did those particular factions in Bologna, the Geremei and the Lambertazzi, exist? I don't know. Andrea tells me that the contention started in 1217 and the Lambertazzi family was expelled in 1280. But the factions (fazione, in the quote above) likely continued. There is a late 14th century illustration from a chronicle of Lucca showing the two factions standing opposite each other in a piazza of Bologna:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Comm ... cambi).jpg
Perhaps we can limit the time to those, in general, when there were excommunicated emperors.
Here are the relevant emperors; my sources are the articles about them on Wikipedia:
1. Frederick I, emperor from 1155, excommunicated 1160 (invading Lombardy), submitted to the pope, excommunication removed 1177, died 1190 in the Holy Land.
2. Henry VI, emperor from 1191, later opposed by the pope but not excommunicated, died of malaria or poison in 1197.
3. Otto IV, Emperor from 1209, excommunicated 1210 (for taking over some papal states), defeated in battle 1214 by forces loyal to future Frederick II, forced to abdicate 1215, died 1218.
4. Frederick II, Emperor from 1220, excommunicated 1227, 1228 (both for not going on crusade), 1234 (for invading Guelf Lombardy). Died of dysentery 1250.
I am not sure whether Frederick II's sons and grandson Conrad, Manfred, and Conradin count. They continued seeking Frederick's ambitions and of course were excommunicated, among other things. The last was Conradin, killed 1268 in captivity.
5. Henry VII, emperor from 1312 to 1313, not excommunicated but probably would have been, as he was trying to impose imperial rule over all of Italy. Died of malaria 1313.
6. Louis IV, emperor from 1328, excommunicated earlier, 1324, by John XXII. Louis had himself crowned by "the captain of the Roman people", an aged senator, and picked a spiritual Franciscan to be "pope" Nicholas V. He defeated the pope's candidate for emperor, Charles of Bohemia, in battle 1346 but died of a stroke in 1347
7. Charles IV, emperor from 1356 to 1378, no conflicts with popes.
Then the emperor-elect was Wenceslaus, who didn't go to Rome, was deposed 1400 [corrected from "1390"], a deposition not accepted by Wenceslaus. His successor was Rupert, the pope's choice as well as the electors', but who wanted to conquer Lombardy on the way to Rome, did not succeed and died 1410 [corrected from "1210"]. He was followed in 1411 [corrected from "1211"] by Sigismund, to whom Wenceslaus yielded and the pope supported.
So we have the general period 1160-1410, although strictly speaking 1160-1356. The only time a true emperor fought an excommunicated one was Louis IV vs. the future Charles IV. The latter was defeated by the excommunicated one but eventually became emperor. So we have:
excommunicated emperor = Louis IV
true emperor = Charles IV
antipope = Nicholas V
pope = John XXII
In relation to Bologna there is the fact that one of the Ghibellines excommunicated under John XXII was Castruccio Castracani, who was expelled with his Ghibelline family from Lucca in 1300, became a condottiero in France, then returned to take back Lucca from the Guelfs and get elected Duke. The 17th century "Prince Fibbia" painting in Bologna claims him as an ancestor to the Prince who, it claims, invented the tarocchini, probably meaning the tarocchi (for which see Andrea's "The Prince"). Castracanni as duke was in service to Louis IV (before having himself crowned emperor), although he became disenchanted with him at the end of his life, according to Wikipedia.
So it makes perfect sense, aside perhaps from the date, that Castracani's descendant Fibbia, deceased 1419, also a Ghibelline and also exiled for that reason (Andrea tells me), might have put his ancestor's masters in a game with an "equal papi" rule - or if not Fibbia, then some other disillusioned Ghibelline, or member of neither faction, at any rate someone disenchanted with all the great ones. The labels "antipope" and "excommunicated" vs. "true" are those of a later perspective, when Bologna was dominated by the papal view of this history.
That a disenchanted perspective was traditional is evident in the associations the Bolognese gave to these cards in their tarocchi appropriati
: for the parishioners post-1725, those assigned those cards were "uomini tutti quattro reguardati preso che insufficienti, e buffoni" (all four men regarded as insufficient, and buffoons); and for the ladies pre-1725, "tutte piene di dabbenaggine" (all full of nonsense). These are not so much jokes about particular Bolognese as about the dignitaries on the cards. Higher cards had higher characterizations. (These are from Vitali and Zanetti, Il Tarocchino di Bologna,
2005, pp. 167-168; p. 168 is reprinted as fig. 11 at http://www.letarot.it/page.aspx?id=199
, Italian page only).
From a Ghibelline perspective, the labels also fit Otto IV as excommunicated emperor and either Frederick I or Frederick II as true emperor. If Frederick II, that would have been when the particular family mentioned by the sources was in Bologna. But the Fredericks, unlike Charles, were also excommunicated. To a Ghibelline that may have been less important or justified. There was no antipope during the time of Frederick II, his sons and grandsom, but there were several recognized as pope by Frederick I in the previous century.
So if a particular set of personages is wanted, the period 1238-1247 fits the bill nicely. And more generically, the whole period up to 1411.
From such a perspective the four "papi" would have had all-male counterparts in Bologna from the beginning, in a particular as well as general way. The other triumphs above them would show the rule of various forces over them: love, fortune, death, fame, the virtues, conquest, old age, and whatever other cards there were: the devil, sudden unexpected death (Lightning card), the cutting of the thread of life (Son), visits to the land of Jesus (Star), whatever. And the twists and turns of their lives show that, in one way or another, all four had times when they prevailed against another, and others prevailed against them, in various combinations, justifying the "equal papi" rule in an allegorical sense.
Such an interpretation is of course not proven, nor is it necessary, as ludic considerations alone are enough, the papi having as their model a game where there were trumps but no trump suits. four extensions of the four suits, equal because the suits were equal. But they could also have reflected real history, and have been done that way for a specific allegorical purpose, as part of a game about the folly and wisdom of princes and those who follow them, whatever their titles.
There are other problems, such as how to explain the "equal papi" rule in Piedmont given this perspective, but I'll deal with them later.