Actually, you have to pay to get the Playing Card
articles. Or join IPCS. If you just get their journal electronically, membership is 12 British pounds or 17 Euros per year.
This year I actually went to the IPCS Convention, mainly because it was in Sicily, which I was interested in experiencing, and because I wanted to see the so-called "Alessandro Sforza" cards. I was not disappointed on either count; but the convention itself was surprisingly fun and enlightening. I say "surprisingly" because I am not very interested in historical playing cards except as they relate to the tarot, nor in trading or buying old cards. That it was so interesting has I think mainly to do with the people who did the preparatory work, namely, the members in Sicily, Emilia Maggio in Palermo and the Associazione Culturale Gioco Tarocchi Siciali "Michael Dummett" in Catania, where the convention was held.
The first event of interest to me was the tour of the Palazzo Biscari. I had not been aware that it was the Biscari collection of antiquities from which the Catello Ursino had received ten of its famous tarot cards. The Count himself - or at any rate a Biscari descendant - conducted the tour of his decaying ancestral home, entertaining us with stories about his ancestors and the likely skeletons in their closets, amid this monument to Baroque and Rococo elegance. This is a tour that has to be arranged in advance, and I am glad the organizers did so.
Next - the same afternoon - was the former Benedictine monastery, which had acquired 5 of the Castello Ursino cards. This, too, was more interesting than you might guess, partly because of the different historical layers - pre-Greek, Greek, Roman, pre-eruption Benedictine, post-eruption Benedictine, and post-1861, when it was nationalized and made a university building; It was also of interest because of all the lava that surrounded the old structure (without penetrating it), one of the few places in Catania it is really visible today.
Then in the evening came the presentation and practice session of Sicilian tarocchi, of a particular sort found in one or maybe two Sicilian towns. It was a partnership game in which the partners change each hand, and who they are is known to only one of the players. I never would have imagined such a thing, but there it was. And other wrinkles. The exhibition catalog (on which more later) has a two page summary of the rules, in Italian. The "unknown partner" mechanism is dealt with there, whether in enough detail to be comprehensible to someone who has not seen it in practice I do not know. It works.
The next morning we went to the opening of a special exhibition at the Castello Urbino, in which the Associatione Culturale "Michael Dummett" had played a major role. It included not only the famous Castello Ursino cards but many other historical examples of Sicilian tarocchi and regular playing cards. Anyone interested in this subject should get themselves a copy of the exhibition catalog Tarocchi in Mano
, with color reproductions of most of them plus internet links by means of those square things with dots in them called QR codes. On the internet a price of 20 Euros is listed , very reasonable for a 160 page book of 8.5x11 inch pages most with color illustrations on them - and many QR codes, for accessing supplementary material online. (You scan the code on a mobile phone and it apparently comes up. I have not tried it.) It is mostly in Italian, but with some translations or abstracts in English.
One surprise for me in the exhibition was that the famous "stag-rider" tarocchi card was not called Temperance, but the Fool. The blurb, by Emilia Maggio, explains that it is not Temperance because there is only one vessel. It seems obvious to me that more needs to be said. I mean, can't it be a satirical representation of Temperance,, in which the figure's sex organ is the other vessel? Also, Temperance was sometmes represented with a vessel of water in one hand and a torch in the other. Again a ripe object for satire. Ron Decker told me later that he asked Emilia about this, and she said that in the historical iconography there existed two such stag-riders (both male), one considered good and the other bad, i.e. a wise man and a fool. Well, I would still like to know more, such as where and when such iconography appears.
Another oddity is that the catalog calls the Ursino tarocchi "Ferrarese". In the accompanying blurb by Maggio there is a question mark by that word, as indeed there should be. In the exhibition (but not the catalog) the Ursino cards are put alongside reproductions of the "Charles VI" cards from the Bibliotheque Nationale, to show their similarity, although without dating or saying what city they are from. But of course both Maggio (in her "Palermo Empress" essay, discussed here at http://www.forum.tarothistory.com/viewt ... =11&t=1112
) and Depaulis (In Tarot Revele
, 2013) agree that the "Charles VI" is most likely Florentine, even if Depaulis says c. 1460 and Maggio, at least now, an earlier date, c. 1445 (she said late 1430s in her article).
The afternoon was devoted to presentations by members on some aspect of playing card history. Maggio, who was awarded the annual Sylvia Mann prize for her essay, led off by detailing a 1925 typescript found by Castello Ursino staff in 2014 that contains the fullest account known of the Ursino tarocchi cards, written by the Czech archeologist and art connoisseur Ludwig Pollak. Maggio's essay is reproduced in Italian and English abstract in the catalog, with a QR code linking to her English translation of Pollak's text.
What is especially interesting is Pollak's mention of an abrasion on the back of the "Stag rider" card through which writing could be seen from a middle layer of paper, including the date 1428. As is well known, card makers typically recycled previously used paper to stiffen playing cards in between their fronts and backs. This writing is no longer accessible to view, due to indelible mounting put on the backs of the cards by the 1987 restorers. Since this same date of 1428 is visible on the inside of an Empress card of similar style and dimensions in Palermo, Pollak's observation confirms that this Empress is part of the same deck as the Ursino cards. It also of course makes it clear that whenever the cards were made, it was after 1428. I would have liked to have seen a reproduction of that writing with "1428" on the Palermo card. Unfortunately not even the front side is in the catalog. The front can be seen in Maggio's "Palermo Empress" article; there is also my scan of it on THF at the above link.
In the question period someone asked why the deck was dated in the exhibition (and catalog) to the middle of the 15th century, as opposed to simply "after 1428". Maggio said it was due to the similarity to the "Charles VI" cards, which she dated to c. 1445 (in her Palermo article she had said late 1430s) and Depaulis to c. 1460. Even though not by the same artist, they are so similar that they are probably of the same workshop, or at least milieu. Also, if the writing was a legal document, it would take some time for it no longer to be of any use to one party or another of the contract or other document that was drawn up in 1428.
This argument, if meant to be for c. 1445 for the Catania cards, does not seem convincing. It was pointed out by someone in the audience that what were recycled were frequently documents which had errors on them and were discarded for that reason, in which case the length of time between first and second use could be quite brief. Secondly, it seems to me, workshops that produced cards among other things sometimes lasted a long time under one master. The known card maker Lo Scheggia, who did a cassone lid figure rather similar to the stag-rider, had his own workshop by 1429, according to Wikipedia, and has major works at least until 1457; he died in 1486. Thirdly, there is much similarity between the Palermo Empress and the Rothschild Emperor. These Rothschild cards, or at least their Knight of Swords (which actually isn't in the Rothschild collection, but in Bassano), were attributed by the famous art historian Luciano Bellosi to Giovanni dal Ponte, who was active from the 1420s through 1430s, dying c. 1438 (I translated and scanned Bellosi at http://www.forum.tarothistory.com/viewt ... 089#p15089
). The same attribution of the Knight of Swords was made by the curators of the Accademia (Florence) Gallery's exhibition catalog devoted to dal Ponte in 2016, albeit with a question mark (Giovanni dal Ponte
, 2016, pp. 128-129). It seems to me we have only a broad idea (i.e. 1430-1460) of when the particular characteristics of the Ursino cards started being used by Florentine artists and artisans.
at https://giocotarocchisiciliani.jimdo.co ... li/maggio/
the translation of Pollack's report links the "1428" with the name "Bernardin...", probably "Bernardino", in which case the date might refer to something Bernardino did in 1428. In that case it might have been written after Bernardino's 1444 death. That decreases the chance that the writing was done shortly after 1428. Pollak himself dated them to 1450. See post 6 below for more.
The next presenter was Ron Decker, who argued that the six "second artist" cards of the PMB/Colleoni deck were painted by Cristoforo de Predis, based on his known association with the Sforza and similarity in details and composition with Da Sphaera.
I hope we will see this argument in print or on the web at some point. I myself see too much stylistic affinity with Ferrara in those cards to associate them with de Predis; but that style is unfortunately much in the eye of the beholder, and Decker does not agree..
Another presentation, by Cristina Dorsini, discussed the different milieus of the Milanese and Ferrarese courts. Her essay, in its original Italian version, is included in the catalog, with an English abstract. Then I gave my "Marziano da Tortona and the Ludus Triumphorum", in a new revision, much reduced, of what I have presented a couple of times already on THF. It is something I have revised numerous times in draft over the past year, and it may need more yet. Maggio gave me a few new supporting arguments in the question period. I have since put my current version, with her suggestions, online at https://marzianotoludus.blogspot.com/
After that, Salvatore Bonnacorsi, president of the Sicilian tarocchi association, gave a short introduction (a longer version in Italian is in the catalog, with an English abstract)) to the history of the last Sicilian playing card company in Sicily, which closed in 1980. to whose production is probably owed the survival of the Sicilian game. Since the factory, or what is left of it, still stands, sitting idle, we all got up and walked there, not far away, where we looked at the presses and other machines, watched some demonstrations of various operations, and listened to verbal explanation by former workers, translated as they went. It was of course a "modern" operation of the late 19th to 20th century type. Management and workers were largely women, and they enjoyed enlightened policies and benefits.
In the evening came the banquet, where I was fortunate enough to have Ron Decker on one side and on the other, after my wife, some of the Sicilian tarot players who had done so much to make the convention a success. While I was discussing tarot history with Ron, my wife was being charmed by the Sicilians' (native and adopted) warmth, humor, and general welcoming, which gradually included the rest of us. Of this banquet I share the cover of the menu, an example of Sicilian wit, a play in tarocchi on the day, year, and place of the banquet, also referring to the cover of the exhibition catalog.
The final day had a business meeting and two more talks, one by an Austrian member, Wolfgang Artfahrt, about playing card manufacturing in a small town in western Slovakia, Trnava, during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the other by another American (the third out of seven presenters), Tom Gallagos, "Putting the Magic Back into the Tarot, Part I", arguing for the implausibility of the assumption that tarot cards were not early on used for divination. The final event was a silent auction, but I didn't stick around to watch, in favor of exploring Catania one last time. I loved the place.
I cannot recall where the 2020 convention will be held. The 2021 convention will be in Madrid, co-hosted by the Spanish association there.