Visconti: suit - impresa
• Coins – radiant sun (with dove on dress of court cards)
• Cups – palm&laurel fronds within ducal crown
Sforza: suit – impresa
• Swords – pomegranate
• Staves/Arrows(pips) – fountain
It has always bothered me that one does not find the fountain anywhere in the numerous manuscripts, Sforza castle reliefs, etc., as supported by the lack of the same in Storia di Milano’s webpage: http://www.storiadimilano.it/arte/imprese/Imprese08.htm
Yet Kaplan includes the fountain in his chapter on “heraldic devices” in his Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume II, 1986: 49-51. He misleadingly refers to it as the “fountain of youth” (51) when in fact it should more properly be called a 'fountain of love' (as found in a walled-in 'garden of love'), as will be demonstrated below. In Dummett’s discussion of the PMB’s Ace of Cups featuring a fountain, a publication dating from the same year (The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards, 1986) but evidently influenced by Kaplan, he avers that “the fountain was an emblem of Francesco Sforza” (48). What is not disputed is that a fountain does indeed feature on the Stave court cards (see female knight and queen below) as well as on the groom of the Love card (and a reminder that the stave's pips feature love’s arrows instead of staves/batons):
If not a Sforza impresa, why are fountains shown on his person in the Love trump and on one one of the two suits, staves, associated with him?
Before discussing the contemporary meaning of the fountain, it is important to note that the CY deck uses a monstrance-shaped chalice for the Ace of Cups (with the Visconti viper within), not the fountain shown in the PMB for the same card, and the fountain instead appears on the garments of the suit of staves court cards. The designers of the PMB clearly wanted to find a way to reference the fountain featured in the earlier CY, perhaps merely as an homage, but the meaning on the fountain in the CY has to be solely looked for in the circumstances in which it which the CY was produced – the singular appearance of a fountain in the PMB does not help here.
Often “fountains of youth” are either misidentified or perform both functions, love driving them to the location where they are transformed. Much more common are fountains of love, many derived from the literary source Roman de la Rose. The 'Story of the Rose' was composed in France at the height of courtly love by Guillaume de Lorris (1230s), but was finished some 40 years later by Jean de Meun, made controversial closer in time to the CY, when Christine de Pizan's book Le Dit de la Rose (The Tale of the Rose) was published in 1402 as a direct “feminist” attack on Jean de Meun. Pizan's book helped cause a literary dispute in French courtly circles (and one should note Giangaleazzo had invited Pizan to Milan so she was hardly unknown there, and of course his daughter Valentina was Duchess of Orléans). Regarding the fountain, the protagonist’s quest for the Rose/lover leads him into an enclosed garden, where he is tutored in the art of courtship by the winged God of Love and encounters a series of allegorical characters. Typical illustration of the entry into the garden below, Harley MS 4425 f12v:
Although de Meun added a misogynist twist, the Christian origins for the enclosed garden – in Latin, the ‘hortus conclusus’ – was as a symbol of the perpetual virginity of Christ’s mother, Mary, metaphorically applied to her from a verse in the biblical ‘Song of Solomon’: 'A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.' Of course, the chastity angle was not always apparent in depictions of the garden of love, although the implication was that the groom was driven by love but that virtue prevailed and lead to matrimony. In this light, consider the wide array of Italian nuptial gifts on which the fountain of love was applied – left to right below: c. 1350 cassone in the Victoria & Albert Museum, c. 1400 forzerino with birth of Venus on right end out of photo also in the V&A, another cassone from c. 1400-1425 also in the V&A, and finally the c. 1410 birthtray detail with the Boccaccio theme of Ameto's Discovery of the Nymphs:
Perhaps more noteworthy is the large fresco cycle in the Castle of Manta, c.1420, in the Salone Baronale,painted for the House of the Margraves of Saluzzo. The relevance for the Visconti was not only were the Saluzzo owners of a fief buffered between the Duchies of Savoy and Milan, but they also intermarried into the Visconti and Valois court in France. Thomas II marquess of Saluzzo married Ricciarda Visconti, daughter of Galeazzo I Visconti and Beatrice d'Este. A later Ricciardia, Marchioness of Saluzzo (1410 – 1474) married Niccolò III d'Este, and was the mother of Ercole d’Este (1431 – 1505). Thus the Saluzzo were not some inconsequential principality but intimately involved with the dynastic politics of Northern Italy, notably so with two houses associated with early tarot – the Visconti and d’Este. It was under Ludovico I del Vasto, Marquess of Saluzzo from 1416 until his death in 1475, that the great fresco cycle was painted, and that Filippo Visconti had threatened after taking Genoa in 1424 through his condottiero Francesco Bussone, often called Carmagnola, a town in the Piedmont he was count of, not long after the fresco cycle was painted (Delfino Muletti, Memorie storico-diplomatiche appartenenti alla città ed ai Marchese di Saluzzo, Vol. 5, 1831: 14). To the point, through family and diplomatic connections, the fresco must have been known to Visconti, and was at least indicative of north Italian courtly interests at this time. One intriguing detail mentioned in Decembrio's Vita of Sforza, is his mentioning of of a Saluzzo marriage in connection with the original betrothal of Sforza to Bianca:
[Sforza 18] ...the Marquis Niccolo d'Este tok a his wife a member of that most noble House of Saluzzo...
[Sfora 19] In that same year, which we number as the year of our Lord 1431, Filippo Maria's daughter Bianca Maria, who today rules over the Duchy of Milan togther with her hsuband, was betrothed to Francesco Sforza. Francesco thus began displaying the Visconti heraldic devices of his father-in-law: clearly he was already at this point destined to rule Milan and had become the adopted son of Filippo Maria." Pier Candido Decembrio, Lives of the Milanese Tyrants, tr. Gary Ianziti, 2019: 185)
Back to the fresco…
Perhaps influenced by the Pizan “Rose” controversy, the Nove Prodi, the Nine Worthies, have their female counterparts; the break between the lines of 9 males and 9 females appropriately faces a fountain of love on the opposite wall (of some relevance is the presence of Pizan in the library of the Saluzzo; see
Gianni Mombello "Christine de Pizan and the House of Savoy", (187 - 204) in Reinterpreting Christine de Pizano, ed. Richards, Earl Jeffrey, 1992: 197-200).
The Nine Worthies features a basis of three (3 pagans, 3 Jews, 3 Christians) and pairing them with women is suggestive of the CY court cards of three men for three women (as shown in the love card of the CVI deck). Also note that the depiction of the female heroes, almost all with gauntlet armor over the hands/wrists, finds a further echo in the PMB queen who wears the same:
Regarding the fountain depicted in the Saluzzo fresco, note the cupid shooting arrows as the top “finial” and couples sexually frolicking in both the upper and lower basins; there is no question love is involved here. In right image below, Venus’s “children” from Cristoforo de Predis’s De Sphaera (1450s? Biblioteca Estense Ms. lat. 209, f10r, opposite Venus proper on f9v, made for Francesco Sforza), frolic naked in a Fountain of Love, which is shaped like a monumental goblet, not unlike the Saluzzo fresco. Below, in between the fresco and the astrological manuscript, I’ve placed the CY Love card, which although not clear at this scale, depicts Sforza with the fountain device used on the suit of staves court cards, but here beneath Cupid.
What then does the fountain mean within the CY? Again, there is no evidence of Sforza using the fountain as an impresa once he became duke of Milan and the pre-ducal Pisanello medal for Sforza, contemporary with the CY, merely shows a horse head, sword and stack of books. Contemporary comparable uses of the fountain show it clearly was associated with Love, even in the Sforza manuscript. The internal evidence is also clear – the Cupid above the couple in Love trump holds long arrows like those used in the pips of the suit of staves, which is also the suit with the fountain “impresa.” Sforza then is assigned the fountain of love symbol on this occasional basis: his marriage. Keep in mind this is a Visconti court production, and as such they wanted Filippo’s son-in-law to be depicted in conformity to fashionable French conventions, as in Christine de Pizan version of L'Épître Othéa dedicated to Isabeau of Bavaria, queen consort of Charles VI of France (and sister-in-law to Valentina Visconti), in 1414, where the God of Love presents a letter to a messenger (Epistre au Dieu d'Amours), thus not a menace “girded with hearts” as described by Marziano, but a fellow courtly figure (Harley MS 4431, f. 51r)
So again, the male protagonist’s quest for the lover, as in the Rose, is lead to place marked by a fountain of love (usually in an enclosed garden), where he is tutored in the art of courtship by the winged God of Love, but in Sforza’s case, ultimately channeled to the virtuous maiden, Bianca. If the fountain has an undue erogenous aspect – which it certainly does with nude people bathing in it – that is offset by reinforcing the virtue of Bianca, shown with chastity’s jousting shield on the Chariot trump, a semblance of Mary’s virginity in a hortus conclusus.
The fountain is never to be seen from again in connection with Sforza. It is only directly associated with his person in the CY Love card, where we find a low matrimonial bed in the tent behind the couple conjoined with a handshake. Sforza, not directly connected to the royal houses in France from whence came the impetus for impresa in Italy (see Kristin Lippincott, "Un Gran Pelago: The Impresa and the Medal Reverse in Fifteenth-Century Italy" in Perspectives on the Renaissance Medal: Portrait Medals of the Renaissance, ed. Stephen K. Scher, 2013: 77), and merely an usurper in the Marche, has no collection of impresa, just the cotigno/pomegranate of his family's hometown of Cotignola. Lacking such courtly paraphernalia, Sforza is thus assigned a symbol of the Dieu d'Amours - in a chivalric sense (also connoted in the CY "World") and accordingly used in conjunction with the wedding to the duke's daughter.