Second Start: Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot

Well, this should become a prolongation of the thread at Aeclectic, which was disrupted by some internal changes.

Started c. 2012 - 03 - 27
Partcipants: RLG - Huck - Teheuti

Post 1: from RLG

One of the intriguing questions in Tarot history is the idea of an 'Ur-Tarot", from which all other tarots are derived. There can be no doubt that there was a first time that trumps were added to the deck of regular playing cards, thus allowing for the game of triumphs. Who created this first tarot, where and when it occurred, are questions that have not been completely resolved. What we do know is that there is much evidence from the mid-15th century for the first appearance and spread of tarot decks in Italy. The signifying feature of these decks being the trumps, the related question of the order of these trumps also comes to the fore, (since order determines how tricks are taken in the game).

There are three main 'families' of trump orders, which show some significant variations within portions of the sequence, and significant invariances in other portions. From this evidence we can conclude that whatever the earliest pattern of the trumps may have been, the makers of tarot decks saw fit to change that order to suit their own tastes, but within certain limits. The reasons for these changes may have been influenced by iconography, occult significances, ease of game play, or some other factors. But the singular thread among all these changes is the fact of change itself. The trumps were not understood, at least in the early stages, to have an immutable order or immutable imagery.

Centuries later, the French occultists began to impute occult significance to the trumps and their sequence, continuing in the tradition of the mutability of tarot, albeit more focused on the change of the symbolism and its meaning rather than alteration of the sequence itself. To the present day, this imputation of occult significance has continued. And in the last few decades, the types of symbolism used in the tarot trumps has exploded to include all manner of decks, depicting a bewildering array of genre subjects, mystical themes, dragons, fairies, Norsemen, etc. The modern creators of tarot have followed in the footsteps of their forbears by adapting the tarot to their own purposes; adhering to the traditional iconography more or less as they see fit.

But whether it is an adaptation of the Tarot de Marseilles, such as the Crowley-Harris deck, the addition of a whole suit as in the Deva tarot, the use of concocted alien forms as in the Terrestrial Tarot, or the redaction of a classic deck such as the Camoin Tarot de Marseille, all modern tarot creators are doing precisely the same thing that was done in Italy at the dawn of tarot in the 15th century; they are adapting a set of conventions and changing them for a certain purpose. It may be only for looks, like a stained glass tarot, or for esoteric purposes, like the Magickal tarot, or paying homage to earlier decks such as the Medieval Scapini. None of these modern creations are different, in essence, from the earliest adaptations of the tarot in Bologna, Ferrara, or Milan. Such regional variants were similar in iconography with one another, but not in sequence. And slowly the iconography itself diverged - a hanged man with bags of coins, or not; a Hermit with an hourglass that morphed into a lantern, or the multitude of names for the XVI trump - the Blasted Tower, the Arrow, the Fire, etc. The only constant here is change.

On the one hand, this is an argument for the legitimacy of any and all variants of the tarot, whether stylistic or philosophical, or both. For the tarot has never had an inviolable form, either in sequence or iconography. On the other hand, it is an argument against the importance of whatever intended meaning the Ur-Tarot might have had, if there was any. For if we presume that some brilliant genius intended the Tarot to encode the Qabalah, neo-Platonism, the Celtic alphabet, or the metaphysics of the Cathars, exactly what would that signify other than the intentions of one person or persons who had a brilliant idea? If the Tarot really came from Egypt, would it entail that all other non-Egyptian tarots were illegitimate? Hardly. For whatever the intended meaning of the Ur-Tarot was, it does not seem to have been either fully understood, or accepted, or both, by those copyists in Italy who created their regional variants so early in Tarot history.

One might even argue that the existence of so many variants so early in its history, indicates that the brilliant idea of adding trumps to a deck was perhaps not fully understood by its originator, thus the form was not set in stone. As others picked up the idea, the fluidity of the concept allowed them to change it to suit this or that purpose, be it occult or mundane. But even if the Ur-Tarot only had the mundane purpose of playing a card game, and nothing more, it would not immediately make all esoteric tarots invalid, either. For the power of symbolism, even simple curves and straight lines, catalyzes the human mind to search for a meaning and an order, regardless if one were ever intended.

The creation of the Ur-Tarot is much like the invention of the laser. No one had a clue to what purposes a laser could be put when it was invented, and certainly the originator of Tarot had no clue how far this idea would be taken. But so long as one has a set of four suits, and a fifth set of special trump cards with iconic images on them in a certain order, one can have a Tarot deck.

Is there an authentic Ur-Tarot? There must have been. Is the intention of that Ur-Tarot the only 'authentic' intention tarot can have? Of course not. But it seems important to the historians of tarot to prove one way or the other what that intention was. If and when they do, and the purpose proves to be mundane, it is no argument against the usefulness and power of an esoteric perspective on the tarot. And conversely, if the Ur-Tarot turns out to have been the work of a neo-Platonic mastermind, it does not vitiate the use of these cards to play a trick-taking game.

By looking at the tarot as a set of cards whose meanings have been fluid from its very inception, we do away with the need for proving that the tarot came from this or that sector, with this or that agenda, in order to bolster the arguments for card playing versus esotericism or vice versa. The fact is that the tarot has always been in flux, because at its core are symbols, which are malleable to our heart's content. We do know one thing for sure, early players of the game, regardless of what they thought the images of the cards meant, knew that they were also useful for playing that game. And almost certainly, very early in its history, those images also sparked the imagination of many, who shuffled them around and changed their appearance and made their game more interesting, as well as possibly embedding hidden information in them.

It seems wise to strike a balance here. Rather than make claims unsubstantiated by evidence, those who believe in the occult significance of tarot should take heart in the fact that the sequence is a skeleton that they can hang their metaphysics on without embarrassment. Whether it was intended to be an esoteric tool is hardly relevant any longer. It is one now. And the historians should admit that their own evidence shows the tarot underwent transformations right from the start, and that esoteric meaning given to images and numbers is a game far older than the tarot itself. We can admit, also without embarrassment, that some metaphysical speculation may have played a role in the early development of tarot, without undermining the primary evidence that for all their possible meanings, the cards were used to play a game.

To my mind, the originator of the tarot created better than he or she knew. But the mere fact that the extra suit had a number of allegorical images strikes me as at least prima facie evidence that something more than playing cards was intended here. If the idea was simply to take tricks, another numbered suit, perhaps with Roman numerals and a new signifier like 'crowns', could have easily been introduced in order to play the game of Tarot. One need not have Virtues, Popes and Emperors and the like in order to take tricks. But this is speculation, for which I proffer no historical evidence. And this brings us back to the earlier point. Who made the Ur-Tarot, and why? Whether we ever discover the answer to that, all the descendants of tarot will still retain their legitimacy and their power. And you can use them to map the universe, tell fortunes, or play a wicked game of cards.


Post 2: from Huck
The earliest deck - a quasi Ur-Tarot - which with Tarot similar games were played, was likely a common playing card deck, from which some cards were defined as "trumps". Likely these predefined trumps were the cards at Ober and Unter position, and their iconography was that of soldiers or marshals, possibly soldier with horse (Ober) and soldier without horse (Unter).

The military outfit likely indicated the trump function, the ability, to conquer other cards by
force inside a trick.

A game-family with this game structure is known from the border of the older Bohemia, in the North with a game called "Deutscher Schafkopf" and in the West known with "Bayerischer Schafkopf", in English language countries known as "Sheephead". The existence of this game name reaches only till c. 1700, but the connected game strcture should be much older.

Bohemia is suspected to have had a very early and stronger distribution of playing cards. This suspicion is partly based on the not totally sure report of F. Hübsch ...

... who in the year 1849 wrote about early Bohemian trade, second on the condition, that Bohemia and also the somehow connected city Nürnberg as only few places in Europe, hadn't been involved in the first big wave of the plague 1348-50 and third to the condition, that Bohemia ad been the home location of the German Emperor Charles IV (1346-1378).

According Hübsch playing cards had evidence in Bohemia since 1340. Hübsch speaks also of Polish nobility, which played with playing cards before 1340. Independently from Hübsch indeed two early reports (in essence also insecure documents) about playing cards could be found, one speaks of card playing prohibition against knights by the master of the German knight order Werner of Orseln (1324-30)

Werner von Orseln

and another of a lightning accident 1303 in Brieg, where 3 card players were killed during a game (the knight order master had its residence in Marienburg, nowadays Northern Poland, and Brieg is located in Southern Poland).

Brieg 1303

A usual Bohemian trading way went from Prague to Breslau to Brieg to Kiew, which in 13th century had been a very high populated city (maybe 100.000 inhabitants), which suffered strongly when conquered by the Mongols.
If the idea is right, that Mongols brought playing cards from China (where they were known at least since 12th century), the trading way from the Kiew region (in 14th century ruled by the Golden Horde) to Prague naturally went through Poland, so anyway, this way would have been independent of any Mamluk playing card tradition.

In 1377 Johannes of Rheinfelden reported as one of the first of the playing card invasion in his city Freiburg im Breisgau (near Strasbourg).

Between usual card decks with 4x13 structure he also reports the existence of a very valuable deck with 60 cards, 4 suits with 15 cards each, from these 10 number cards connected to professions and 5 court cards: King, Ober and Unter, a Queen and a Maid, so actually a deck with 60 figures.

A comparable deck to these luxury cards survived through the Habsburg court, the Hofämterspiel, This has 48 figures, from which 24 figures might be considered as court cards - King, Queen, 2 Marshalls (Ober and Unter), Maid and Fool in 4 suits and the 4 suits connected to nations: Germany, France, Hungary and Bohemia. This luxury deck likely was made for the young Bohemian king Ladislaus posthumus in 1455.
From this condition it might be concluded, that the 60-cards-deck from Johannes of Rheinfelden ALSO had been made in Bohemia.

The year 1377, in which Johannes reports the playing card invasion to his home town was naturally preceded by the year 1376, and in this year a large Bohemian delegation inclusive Emperor and his oldest son Wenzel went from Prague to Aachen (Aix-de-chapelle, city of Charlemain), the crowning city or German Kings and Emperors. Wenzel was crowned as German king, and, likely made for the crowning celebrations, a larger number of playing cards (likely) left Bohemia and were distributed in German parts outside of Bohemia.

That's this part of the story. Then we have another part, which refers not to a usual playing card deck, but to a deck, which was called Ludus Triumphorum in the year 1449, although it should have existed at least in 1425.

The Michelino deck, (likely) with 60 cards, and as it is only known by description, we cannot see it. It uses birds as suits and it has 16 trumps, 4 kings and (probably) 40 number cards.
Well, I write "likely" and "probably", as description sometimes forget to make themselves very clear. So it's a possibility, that the author simply forgot to mention other court cards or forgot to tell, that the numbers were reduced.
In the given situation it is not totally clear, if was a deck with 4x15 structure (as the 60-cards-deck of Johannes of Rheinfelden) or if it should be described as 4x11+16.

As it has to be assumed, that trumps were already known (Schafkopf-structure; Ober and Unter = Trumps), one might conclude, that such a deck also should be described as 4x11+8 and not as 4x13. But this actually is "too complicated", and everybody talks of 4x13 decks (just as everybody knows, that trump-definitions belong to the game rules - software - and not to the deck structure - hardware). Similar there is reason to assume that the Michelino deck had been recognized as 4x15 deck... but, as the 16 gods are quite other motifs, and we see, that this harmless difference later led to the game structure 4x14+22 (a real hardware change), it's just an open question, how it was seen in c. 1425.

Filippo Maria Visconti (commissioner of the Michelino deck) knew playing cards since his youth ... being of high birth we likely have to assume, that he got some nice decks.
In 1395 (Filippo Maria Visconti 3 years old) there was intensive diplomatic exchange between Prague (capital of Bohemia and the Empire) and Milan. Giangaleazzo, ruler of Milan, bought for much money the duke title from Wenzel, King of the Roman Empire.

This was easy earned money, and it was followed later by many similar deals between Emperors and Italian rulers, but in 1395 it caused a scandal, which formed the reason, why Wenzel lost the throne in the year 1400.
Nonetheless this should have been the opportunity, when some Bohemian playing cards went from Prague to Milan. So - with some plausibility - Filippo Maria Visonti knew the 60-cards-playing-card-deck of Johannes. He imitated it with the Michelino deck, but a lot of things were different.


This should be - more or less - what we could know for the current moment about the "first generation Ur-Tarot".
Post 3: from Teheuti

Post 4: from RLG

Thank you Huck, that was an excellent synopsis. I have long admired your tenacious work in the area of card history.

And yes Mary, I was using the term Ur-Tarot to denote the prototype or first tarot deck of cards, with pictorial trumps, which appeared as far as we know in Northern Italy in the 15th century.

Post 5: from Huck

Thank you Huck, that was an excellent synopsis. I have long admired your tenacious work in the area of card history.

And yes Mary, I was using the term Ur-Tarot to denote the prototype or first tarot deck of cards, with pictorial trumps, which appeared as far as we know in Northern Italy in the 15th century.


It isn't easy to fix this form of U-Tarot.

First: The word "Tarot" wasn't in use in 15th century. But decks with pictures similar to Tarot cards were in use in 15th century. These seem to be addressed as Ludus Triumphorum, Trionfi cards and other similar expressions.
But from the case of the well documented Michelino deck we know, that this type of expression could also be used for decks as different to Tarot as the Michelino deck: 60 cards, birds as suits, the trumps are Roman gods. You wouldn't recognize "Tarot", if you could see this. But from explanation it's clear: A game with some similarities to later Tarot game rules.

We've two types of documents: written documents and playing cards dated to 15th century.
If a deck was called Trionfi deck in a written document, we can't assume with 100% security, that the document talks about an object with cards similar to Tarot cards. Actually the objects might have been rather different.

If we have playing card documents (with some security, that they really were made during 15th century), we can see, if these cards or decks have Tarot character. A good part of surviving cards have Tarot character, but another, not too small part, has it not (Sola-Busca Tarocchi, Boiardo Tarocchi poem, Goldschmidt and Guildhall cards, Mantegna Tarocchi [with great doubts, if these had playing card character], Michelino deck, Cary-Yale-Tarocchi in parts].
A further problem is, that all decks from 15th century are not complete in the sense, that they NOT precisely have 22 special cards.

From the situation have developed two major lines to interpret the situation:

Ross assumes an "Ur-Tarot" with 22 cards similar to Tarot motifs (a deck with before the first appearance of the Trionfi word family, which is now "before September 1440".

Me and some others meanwhile prefer an evolutionary model, in which it was experimented with decks with different game structure, 60 cards/19 trumps like the Michelino deck, Karnöffel/Imperatori structures with possibly 8 trumps, 5x16 decks (as assumed for Cary-Yale), 5x14-decks as assumed for the version of the first painter of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck, decks with 16 trumps without knowledge about the structure of the pips (as in the Charles VI deck), decks with 20 special cards and finally the real Tarot structure 4x14+22. The evolutionary model developed from the earlier 5x14-theory, but was modified into a model, which considered a larger Chess influence.

If Ross would be right, the question for the Ur-Tarot would have been answered. If the evolutionary model would be right, the question for the Ur-Tarot somehow becomes an idle game. Then there were lots of variants and finally a winner of the most used variation. Calling this late version then "Ur-Taot" makes not much sense.

The first use of the 4x14+22 structure appears in the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, apparently something with much distance to "common Tarot". It's dated for good reasons (which, however, failed to get larger acceptance) to January 1487.

For the current moment we've reached, that lots of new documents (Trionfi and playing cards) appear, especially through the work of Franco Pratesi. This is still marching on, and it's appropriate to wait a little bit, if the situation stabilizes ... one can only build good hypotheses, if one has a state of full information.

It was long a debated point, when mass production of cheap Trionfi cards started. Through new documents (Esch report 2007, which became known to us in October 2011) it has become clear, that at least since 1463/64 mass production was a factor of the development. Perhaps further information will be reached, when Esch's source might be studied. But this is a gigantic archive and there's momentary no practical solution to do this.
We're just very happy, that the cooperation between us and Italian researchers has been intensified and that - as part of this cooperation - in short time lots of new results were gotten. Definitely we have reached a new level with far better chances.
Post 6: from RLG

Thank you Huck for clarifying the two main possibilities: an Ur-Tarot proper - i.e., a 4x14 +22 structure that was in existence as a precursor to future tarots; and an evolutionary scenario where the card games slowly changed into a structure that became stabilized later as 4x14 + 22 as the most popular for whatever reasons.

I cannot offer any hard evidence, but it seems from some of the material you have presented that the evolutionary model makes more sense. There seems to be no doubt that card games have evolved over time, (and continue to do so to some extent), and I don't think anyone believes that Tarot/Trionfi was somehow created in a vacuum. Obviously decks of four suits existed prior to the tarot as we know it.

But within the evolutionary model, there must have been a point of 'punctuated equilibrium' where someone decided that a 4x14 + 22 structure was appropriate. This would be the ur-tarot with a lower-case 'u'. Not so much the grand precursor of all tarots created by a lone genius, but a refinement of existing games that managed to catch on and become very popular. I think in this sense it still is applicable to use the term 'ur-tarot', but a better one might be substituted, such as the original 78-card deck (implying a 22+56 structure).

Playing cards, allegorical imagery, and numbers all preceded the tarot proper. It was simply a matter of synthesizing these elements into a usable and popular form. But the evolutionary model naturally suggests the question - why use a 22+56 structure? Why not 60 cards, or 70, or some other number? I think this is where the esotericists jump in with all their fantastical theories. 22 was settled on because of Hebrew letters, or the Latin Alphabet (minus the letter 'I'), and so on. While the answers might not have any historical evidence, the questions are genuine - why exactly 22 trumps? (or 21 and an 'excuse'); why an additional face card in the four suits?

These questions then lead on to the imagery - why a female pope? and so on. And the imagery that is used may help answer the question of trump numbers and sequences - was 22 used because it took exactly that many cards to tell a story? to show a hierarchy? to illustrate a doctrine?

I know those are all big questions, and I'm not trying to answer them here. But I do feel that it's possible the answers provided by designers of tarot evolved over time, and this is why the structure and imagery of the cards changed over time. Which gets me back to my initial post - the constant in the tarot is change. Even if there were a lone genius that designed the 78 card deck structure and images, the reasons were soon lost, or misunderstood, or improved on ... in short, they changed. This is part of the reason that the esoteric theories are hard to root out; because there was enough fluctuation in tarot design to allow people to infer numerous things that they have little evidence for. The situation is not true for the 'Mantegna' designs, where you have 5 groups of 10 cards per suit, with very obvious meanings in most cases. The didactic purpose of such a deck must have been clear to the viewer. Such a purpose, if there was one, in the trionfi decks was probably not as clear, which allowed it to be shuffled around by individual designers, who certainly didn't feel that the tarot structure was set in stone.


Re: Second Start: Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot

Well, the oldest known 22 in Trionfi card context is that of the Boiardo Tarocchi poem.

This was dated by myself to January 1487, other researcher not connected to Tarot research offer dates from 1461 till the "death of the author (in 1494).
The reason for the dating of 1487 was the name Lucrezia at the "highest card" 3 (indeed 4, cause it is last card) line text, related to the Roman heroine Lucrezia. Ercole d'Este, chief of poet Boiardo, had a natural daughter Lucrezia before his marriage and this had her wedding with remarkable festivities in January 1987.
Around the same time a literary theme developed in Ferrara, according which "women are better than men." This was qualitative a new feature, as earlier literature had only ideas, that women might be or should be possibly considered as similar good as men. This theme seems to have accompanied the 3 weddings of the 3 d'Este daughters in 1487, 1489 and 1491. A greater book publication is known from 1490 (manuscript; from Goggio). In the Boiardo poem (for the wedding of the first daugther) might be the first variant of the new idea, as the presented men have a lot of errors (vices), and the presented women stand for women with virtues.
Further: Ercole Roberti painted a Roman Lucrezia around the time with two other famous women pictures.

These observations created the dating. Once the dating reached a state, that it was accepted by myself, the additional observation was done, that in December 1486 Pico de Mirandola published his Kabbala hypotheses and a month later the wedding took place (likely with the Tarocchi poem by Boiardo). This was a strange coincidence, cause both (Boiardo and Mirandola) had made studies of Hebrew language and they were cousins, though of rather different age. And both had in their works 1486/87 something with a "22", Pico the Kabbala and its focus on Alphabet with 22 letters, and Boiardo with his strange card deck with 22 trumps.

From this it might have existed the condition, that Boiardo and Pico influenced each other in their activities. When Pico made his publication, he seems to have been optimistic, he invited scholars to discuss his thesis and promised to care for the costs of their travels. The papal condemnation followed end of February/March 1487, till then the general mood of the both might have been rather well.
Perhaps Pico stimulated the elder Boiardo to give his card game 22 trumps, although other card games didn't use this number in their structure. Then Boiardo would have been the first, who used the 4x14+22-structure, though with rather different motifs, other trumps and other suits.
Four years later appears the Sola-Busca, also likely made in Ferrara and also rather different from the normal Tarot. About this there exists my assumption, that it was made for the wedding of Alfonso d'Este with Anna Sforza in January 1491. Alfonso accompanied soon later his father Ercole to Venice on a state visit, this might explain, why a card of the deck exists, which had a hand painted Venetian date of 1491 on it.
Generally it might have been, that the whole Trionfi card business went down with the murder of Galeazzo in Milan 1476 and the attack on the Medici brothers in Florence 1478. For instance we have no San Giovanni festivities in Florence from 1478-87. In this period we have wars and especially Ferrara suffers(1482-84). After this Ferrara is actually exhausted and it needs some years to recover.
Ferrara and Florence are for the moment the most mentioned cities in documents of Trionfi card productions. If both stopped with their productions and interests for the cards, it might mean, that Boiardo Tarocchi card poem stands for a new begin of the genre. Ferrara detected in these hunger years after the war the great theater shows with thousands of onlookers. Thinking about the economical situation it must have been a cheap way of amusement, which didn't take much money, at least not as much as other sort of earlier festivities.

We've no confirmation for the 22 inside card playing life till then. Instead we have a strange signal in 1482. Lorenzo de Spirito publishes a lot book with a system working with 20x20x20x20 structure + somehow "7 planets".
This production is sure ... far less sure is a production, which possibly took place in the year 1473, also from Lorenzo Spirito and also a lot book, but this is very insecure.
Strange is the sure production of a German lot book in 1450. This used a scheme 22x22x22x22 and at least the scheme had much similarity to Lorenzo Spirito's scheme. As far it is researched by us and perhaps generally, Germany had possibly much more lot books than Italy. The suspicion, that Lorenzo Spirito copied the scheme from a German lot book, is given. But if the major playing card form of Trionfi cards in Italy already had 22 trumps, wouldn't Lorenzo Spirito eagerly have used the German 22x22x22x22-scheme for his Italian version? No, he used the 20x20x20x20-scheme, which would be perfect, if Italy had a dominant card game based on the number 20.

Italy has such a game, and it's called Minchiate. But under this name it appears only in Florence (in 15th century) and not very often. Possibly it was elsewhere known with another name (perhaps also running as Trionfi cards).

In the recent 1/2 year we had a lot of research progress. Especially Florence has gained a lot more documents, and is now at the same high level as Ferrara. Dummett and Kaplan around 1980 more or less had nothing about Florence and not so much about Ferrara.
Florence stands for Minchiate. Possibly an early mass production in Florence, possibly with Minchiate alias "Trionfi" cards, had filled the market and possibly caused, that Lorenzo de Spirito used a 20x20x20x20 scheme.

The German lot book of 1450 is a very interesting object, but it is NOT comparable to the usual Tarot. There exist 2 other versions, one, which possibly goes back till 1425, another printed version of 1520. A fourth version is modified, maybe from c. 1515 and the famous Splendor Solis has same similarity in its system. All 5 related texts are from Germany and the scheme uses a recognizable 13-months-astrology.

I worked about it, but beware, it's a monster.

I also worked about the Lorenzo Spirito text. That's easier, but also much to read.

There's another object, which also possibly adds to the question, what had been before Boiardo.

All are longer researches, attempting to get an idea, what might have been relevant for the 1470s/1480s, and just getting 3 sources tamed and made a little bit more useful.

A suspicion about the number 20 developed, but not a sure evidence about the existence of the 4x14+22-structure till 1487.
I made a sort of summary connected to the observation of a game named "20 figure" in 16th century.

For the moment - as already indicated - we make a lot of progress through the work of Franco Pratesi
Some of the articles are big revolutions, but mostly only, if one knows about the early documents.
Further big progress is expected, if we get somebody working on the custom documents in Rome. Possibly we get then big lists with a lots of data (imports to Rome) over the period of some decades. Actually we have for the moment always only short spotlights of the development of playing cards, but in the customs register possibly is opportunity to get an overview, when mass production surely started, when numbers increased and when Trionfi cards definitely existed in greater numbers. But this seems to be connected to MUCH work, and possibly nobody will do it. But at least we know, that there is something.
One article ...
... speculates on the Rosenwald Tarocchi and thinks about the possibility, that it might have been part of a Minchiate ... possibly with 96 cards only ... possibly very early, maybe around 1463/64, the time, when we have confirmation of first mass productions and when the first Minchiate-as-word document (1466) isn't far. For this (only possible) version we possibly would have merged the Fool with Magician ... well, just only a possibility.

From my own extended impressions we have as plausible and occasional sure dates:

Michelino deck: before 1425, not before 1418 - 16 trumps, possibly a Chess Tarot model
1.1.1441: a note about 14 painted objects in Ferrara
Cary-Yale deck: a good date would be the 1441 wedding - reconstructed as 5x16 deck, looks like Chess Tarot model
c. 1452: Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck of the first painter, 5x14 model with some decent association to chess
1455: Hofämterspiel with strange similarities to Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo
June 1457: 70 cards note of Ferrara, likely 5x14 model
possibly 1463: Charles VI deck (Florence) - assumed to be a Chess Tarot model with 16 trumps, with similarities to the Chess Tarot model in the Cary Yale
c. May 1465: addition of 6 cards to the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo model, so now with 20 trumps
1466 : first note of Minchiate (Florence)

Now we have as a new entry: 1463/64 clear sign of mass production for Trionfi

We had already earlier from Ferrara: Borso stops internal Trionfi card production in 1463, possibly indication of change in the production methods
We had already earlier from Florence: the Minchiate note (1466) involves Luigi Pulci and Lorenzo Medici. Pulci worked for the Medici since 1460. Charles Vi was possibly made for Lorenzo Medici in 1463.
We had already earlier in 1463: second repeated allowance in Florence possibly cause Lorenzo di Medici became 14 years.
We had already earlier In May 1465 (Milan) possibly the addition of 6 cards cause of developments in Florence.

This naturally had been partly more the character of speculation than of facts ... but anyway, the speculation was based on the intensive research of facts. And somehow it's for the moment not really surprising, that we've now factual evidence for mass production just in 1463/64.
Well, as we have been overrun in the last months with new real facts by Franco Pratesi, it's a good question, what else will come next. Maybe some further surprises.

For Minchiate had been the situation: we've the word Minchiate, but we don't know what it is. Lorenzo Spirito (20-20-20-20) in 1482 seemed then indirectly to state, that Minchiate should have had 40 trumps.
Franco Pratesi's recent "half-speculative work" (I mean only the Rosenwald Tarocchi article) seems to suggest, that the Rosenwald Tarocchi might have had at least 96 cards, just for technical and costs-sparing reasons. Naturally printers of mass market cards have an interest to think about cheap solutions. 96 cards was ideal.

Then we have a Fool in the 16 trumps of Charles VI (given to Florence), but NOT a Magician.

In the Rosenwald Tarocchi we've a Fool-Magician, a mixed card with elements of both. From woodcuts of Baldini (dated to 1464-65) we've these mixed Fool-Magicians in two variants appearing on children of the Moon pictures (with thanks to Michael Hurst for this observation).

Well between 1465 and 1487, just 22 years, we've not much iconographic material from playing cards.

We've the Este Tarot (incomplete) but with Magician and Fool as different figures (as we had it already in Pierpont-Morgan-Tarocchi) , but both as "giants" as the Fool in the Charles VI Tarot. The Fool in the Charles VI possibly had been a giant, cause Pulci wrote the "Morgante" and Morgante appeared as a friendly giant. The Morgante text expanded to a larger version and a second giant appeared, "Margutte". That's possibly the context.

Well, and we've the Mantegna Tarocchi, which gives to 1474/75, not, as others, to 1465.
We've the Pre-Mantegna text of Lazzarelli, who had 27 figures, and who got into the hands of Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, likely 1474.
Montefeltro then developed a love to the number 28, 1475-76, possibly in relation to a chess version (Tamerlane chess).
Then we've Lorenzo Spirito with a possible involvement with an older German lot book with 22-22-22-22-scheme, but himself using 20-20-0-20 and so something suggesting, that Minchiate-structure exists, at leasts in parts.

Then we've Boiardo, but the Boiardo Tarocchi poem is very different to usual Tarocchi. The trumps consists of 10 pairs ...

1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 etc., 19-20
.. and an 11th pair 0-21

Odd numbers (1-20) are connected to men and vices, even number to women and virtues. ... :-) ... as already stated, "women are better than men".

Well, I'm not so sure, that they make the better Tarot historians, usually... :-)

If you wish to hear about details, I could easily point to the relevant articles, but I didn't want to overload this. At the above given links you can see, what it might mean, when I say "there was a German lot book" ... :-) ... there was a lot of work, and these works often became a labyrinth, difficult to see the original line of exploration.

It's typical for these research threads, that the author doesn't know, where it will go to.


Own photoshoped Magician-Fool composition with Rosenthal-Fool-Magician and Magician-Fool of Baldini

Re: Second Start: Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot


As a summary I might give the statement, that the period "after 1465" till "Boiardo poem" for the momentary situation of research doesn't deliver factual evidence for the existence of the 4x14-22 structure, but also (naturally) doesn't deliver evidence for the non-existence of the 4x14+22 - structure, cause that's simply impossible. You also can't find complete and 100% evidence for the non-existence of the 4x14+22 structure in 14th century .... that what we have from the past is full of informative holes, so there lots of things, which REALLY might had been, but they simply don't appear in available documents.
Naturally the period of 1465-1486 is more hopeful, that once evidence will be found for the existence of the mentioned structure than in the situation of 14th century. Nonetheless we see at practical examples, that some more speculative hypotheses build ideas, that Tarot developed from the Cathars in 13th century. Well, one can comment this only with "very much not likely" ... not with "impossible", just cause the many holes in our knowledge about 14th and 13th and also 15th century (and all things, which belong to "past").

Alright. Before the period 1465-1487 we have a Tarot-Trionfi development, which I (but not much others) more or less design as CHESS TAROT.

This wasn't always so. There was earlier a dominance of the 5x14-hypothesis. When this manifested in its beginnings (1989) in relation to a reduced Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck (reduced of six cards, which were painted by a second painter), it naturally also was investigated the Cary-Yale deck and its position to the new hypothesis. It was clear in this position, that, if the later Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck had followed a 5x14-structure, that under this condition the earlier Cary-Yale (which clearly had 16 cards for each suit) should have then (likely) a 5x16-structure. In the attempt to reconstruct this 16-trumps-version, also the hypothesis was considered, that Chess played a role in it ... cause Chess operates with 16 figures for each player.
But - as the Cary-Yale appeared to have been a single deck-form of not to much influence, the Chess idea wasn't followed with much intensity.
The state of the ideas to the Cary-Yale in the year 2003 might be observed in ....
... which is in its content a little enlarged copy of an earlier Geocity page.
2003 was the year, when started.

A revolution happened in the winter 2007/2008, when the suggestion appeared, that the Charles VI deck, considered earlier globally as "from Ferrara" and "c. 1470", might be from Florence and much earlier. Well ... this changed the situation totally. Actually we had already done some exploration of the Florence situation.

In 2002 some contact was realized to Franco Pratesi. Franco Pratesi had then retired from his playing card research and had started to become interested to write the history of Go in Europe - which he meanwhile has written and its the best, what Go History in Europe has. Franco Pratesi wasn't fixed on playing cards before, he has also worked on Chess and Checkers. Franco had been then very generous in sending copies of his earlier works and other information, especially about the Michelino deck - which he personally had located in the BNF in Paris and visited and reported in IPCS articles in 1989. On the base of his studies we took up the research on the Michelino deck, which in 2002 had been reported only in a short web article by Tom Tadfor Little at, a domain, which had its merits in early Internet Tarot History and now has disappeared. Perhaps one should save somehow the earlier content somewhere, which likely is still given in some archive.

Well, we quickly made much more of the finding and Ross even translated the source: ... -16-heroum

Well, this became a great success, and the knowledge about it is far spread in the web, though most new reports forget to tell anything of the research development.

Well, Lothar, master of, as a retired Go-Player helped a little bit in the Go History books, and Franco helped a lot in the beginning of Also he expressed the opinion, that, although Florence wasn't known by much Trionfi documents and Trionfi cards then, that the general cultural influence of Florence in Italy should guarantee a major role in the distribution of early Trionfi cards in Italy. In the view of the situation of 2012 with many new documents about Florence by Franco Pratesi, it's clear, how good the advice indeed was.

As we had - thanks to the advice - an open eye on developments in Florence, in winter 2007/2008 it was quickly realized, that, if the Charles VI would have been really from Florence and from "earlier than 1470", that then there would be chances, that it wasn't a deck with 4x14+22 cards, but a deck with less trumps. As the Charles VI deck had 16 trumps + a court card, it was clear, that it couldn't have been part of the 5x14-family, but what about the 5x16-family?
If it were part of this development, one might check, if it would be interpretable as a Chess composition. This was attempted immediately, and in a quick course of development it was clear, this wasn't a problem. The result had similarities to the earlier Cary-Yale reconstruction, but some parts were in deciding manner changed. And - as there were already some studies made about the Florentine situation, the dating c. 1463 was suggested.

Well, there was a lot to learn about chess to refine these very quick ideas, which happened in discussions at Aeclectic (I might look the threads up there, if you're interested).
My chess learning took place here ...

Well, with 13.000 views it's the second most viewed thread in the Research part of the forum, and somehow I think, that it attracts a lot of views from outside of the Forum, likely chess players interested in chess history. actually I would think, that Tarot history has more web articles than Chess history articles, although it by far is the less known game.

Now, back to chess inside Tarot development, some time two overviews were produced to make the understanding of the main lines of the Cary-Yale and Charles VI Tarot Chess easy. It was much work, so they are copyrighted.

Cary-Yale Tarocchi

with a larger and readable version at ..

Charles VI Tarot

with a larger and readable version at ..

It just marks the major ideas around these decks.

Re: Second Start: Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot

I just read this thread and absolutely loved it, especially Robert's very sensible statement at the beginning. It makes me wonder why I bother puzzling over how it all began, when what is more interesting to me is what happened next.

In this regard, I need to add to something Huck said, about 22 in relation to Pico.
These observations created the dating. Once the dating reached a state, that it was accepted by myself, the additional observation was done, that in December 1486 Pico de Mirandola published his Kabbala hypotheses and a month later the wedding took place (likely with the Tarocchi poem by Boiardo). This was a strange coincidence, cause both (Boiardo and Mirandola) had made studies of Hebrew language and they were cousins, though of rather different age. And both had in their works 1486/87 something with a "22", Pico the Kabbala and its focus on Alphabet with 22 letters, and Boiardo with his strange card deck with 22 trumps.
Since this Pico connection was in part my contribution, I need to say something. Pico didn't say anything about the alphabet with 22 letters in his 900 Theses. He said a lot about Kabbalah and made it fashionable. So naturally the 22 letters would get associated, perhaps reinformed by their apparently mystical use in the Sefer Yetsirah. Pico probably knew the Sefer Yetsirah but didn't mention it in his Theses that I can find.

What Pico did do, however, is extremely relevant to Boiardo's poem. In the section on "Mercury the Egyptian" i.e. Hermes Trismegistus (specifically, 27.9-27.10) he referred to the section of the Corpus Hermeticum (Book XIII, 7-8) in which 10 virtues drive out 12 vices. This is a somewhat unfair fight. Nowadays, scholars say that two of the virtues are named twice in different terms. Pico seemed to get this, but Boiardo probably didn't. Evening the sides, Boiardo has 11 female virtues driving out 11 male vices, according to Huck's summary. So you can see a direct correlation here.

Another thing Pico said was that the 12 vices correlate to the 10 kelipoi, or punishers, of the Kabbalah (that's why I think he gets that two vices are named twice). He didn't say anything more about them, saying it is secret. But he does say a lot in his Kabbalistic theses about the 10 sefiroth, so presumably they are the dark sides of the sefiroth. Also, Pico presents the Kabbalistic tree as though it were another way of talking about the 10 spheres above the earth through which the soul passes to and from the earth, from the moon to the Empyrean. This is in the Corpus Hermeticum, too, and is standard astrological lore. The soul descends through the spheres in a precise way at the moment of birth, and then has to return the same way. Dante, for example, couldn't get above the fixed stars until the constellation of his birth-time came around, Gemini I think it was.Then he could go higher.So we have two sets of 10 steps. There is also a third thing, the En Soph. Pico talks about it as both the "abstract unity" of all ten enumerations (11>4) and totally separate from them (11>35). So it is an 11th thing, connected to the "enumerations" but not one of them. The Fool might qualify, as unnumbered. Maybe the World card would, too, as being not just 21 but every number above that. So again we have 22.

If you want to read more, including the quotes from Pico and the Corpus, see the first 11 or so paragraphs of my blog, "Matteo Boiardo's late 15th century poem on 11 pairs of virtues and vices," at ... -poem.html
After the first 11 paragraphs, I get rather convuluted; it's not necessary to reconstruct Boiardo's precise relationship to the virtues and vices in the Corpus Hermeticum. It's the general idea that counts.

That's how Pico relates to the 22. For those interested in esoteric lore of the prisca theologia, ancient philosophy, 22 is a fine number.

Re: Second Start: Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot

I have a question due to.........

It was clear as mud but it covered the ground
And the confusion made the brain go 'round.
I went and ask a good friend of mine,
Known to the world as Albert Einstein.
He said "Son, from the beginning of time and creativity
There existed the force of relativity
Pi r square and a minus ten means a routine only when
The solar system in one light year
Make the Hayden planetarium disappear
So if Mt Everest doesn't move
I am positive that it will prove.......
Song from Harry Belafonte -Just to show my confusion on the subject.

It seems to me that the premise that chess was for men and cards were a toy for women and children (is wrong).....
Why Huck do you say this?
Those handpainted cards had a co joined set that was obviously a copy of mamluk cards with some adjustments.
Who played with those?
They were in existence before the Triumphs were added. They were played with by men.
Soldiers and sailors played with cards along with dice and backgammon.
Most likely those Mamluk cards came in via Venice with the Arab silk traders.
So it looks like to me that there was this Ur-deck that was copied in Gilt and paint and made personal to the Visconti family at around 1440-ish- so the Ur-tarot was already been played with prior to that.
What have I got wrong at this point?
So it seems to me that you can start at that point and take yearly steps backward to find this Ur-Tarot.
Am I wrong?
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Second Start: Perspectives on the Ur-Tarot

You may make a test and go into a chess club ... likely 95% men

It belonged to the virtues of the knights, that they could play chess.

A law in Savoy 1430 and repeated later allowed card-playing for men only, when they played with women.

Many old card playing pictures show women.


My point was made in regard of the upper society. The lower part of society might have given quite another picture.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 9 guests