Andrea Vitali has recently drawn my attention to a new essay in his "hosted essays" section, "I Tarocchi Sola-Busca, Il segreto dei segreti: una possibile verità", by Mauro Chiappini, http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=523
. It is a condensation of a book Chiappini published recently by the same name (http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=524
). I have several questions about the essay, which I want to raise for discussion.
His contention is that the inscriptions painted on the Sola-Busca deck (the actual SB, as opposed to the unpainted individual cards that are in various collections) are anagrams that show the true circumstances of its production, while the engraved inscriptions give clues regarding the family for whom the engravings were done.
As an example of this idea of messages encoding anagrams, he gives the example of Galileo's communications to Kepler. I do not know about them, but the Hypnerotomachia
of 1499 Venice has them, if memory serves. However it seems to me that in that case the originals were nonsense words, thus begging to be deciphered. I do not know about Galileo's.
In the book, he says, he has shown rigorously that the trumps are of the C order, i.e. Lombardy, and that therefore the deck, both engraved and painted, was done for families in that region. And since numbers were not put on cards in general in Lombardy until after 1500 (as shown by the Cary Sheet and a card in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris, which lack numbers), they must have been done after that date. This would apply to the engraved deck in all its versions, as well as the painted version, since the numbers are engraved.
Gnaccolini, if I remember correctly, said the order did not correspond to any of Dummett's three types, but (in a footnote) she adds that it does have some elements that seem to draw from both B and C. In my view (as, I think, in Gnoccolini's) there is no reason to insist the order to be one of the three, because the order is clearly given by the numbers. Given the general creativity of the deck, creativity in the order can be expected as well. At least we all agree that the subjects are the usual ones, just represented in an unusual way, and in more or less the usual progression!
Chiappini's argument for the C order, unfortunately, does not appear in his essay, except a brief argument for why the cards are not of the B order. There he says only: (a) the B order has the 8th trump as Love, and Nero cannot correspond to that trump; and (b) the B order has its 20th trump as Justice, and Nembroto, with the lightning bolt through him and the broken tower behind, cannot be Justice. Neither of these arguments seem to me persuasive. Divine Justice can easily be associated with a lightning bolt and a broken tower. But more easily the card would correspond to Sagitta, the Arrow, i.e. the Tower card. In the C order, the 8th card is Justice; Gnaccolini argued that Nero was associated to that virtue "sarcastically". It seems to me that the same could be said about Love, that Nero might represent the opposite of Love. Or it could be some other card, such as the Hanged Man (since he is holding an infant upside down over a fire). To be persuaded that the sequence was of type C and thus of Lombardy, I would have to see the argument in more detail.
As for the painted inscriptions, they are the following:
- S.P.Q.V. on the shield of the triumph Metelo (XV). Also on the same card, the base of the column, the inscription VF
- D.P. on the Queen of Batons.
- M.S. on the Aces, except that of Coins.
- SERVIR CHI PERSERVERA INFIN OTIENE on the Ace of Coins. On the same card TRAHOR FATIS that we find on the Ace of Cups.
- ORFATIS on the triumphs POSTUMIO (II) and CATONE (XIII).
- SENATUS VENETUS on the shield of the triumph MARIO (IIII).
- ANNO AB URBE CODITA MLXX on the shield of the triumph BOCHO (XIIII).
The longest one, on the Ace of Coins, is the most informative. He notes the misspelling of "OTTIENNE" (and likewise of "CONDITA" on another inscription) and says it is likely not accidental, because it allows the following decoding:
“HO TRIST’A FAR PER SERVIRE RINO FIESCHI VENETIAN”
In other words, the anonymous Venetian artist assigned to paint the cards is sad to have to serve the Rino Fieschi. "Rino" is short for "Etore", Chiappini says, and there were indeed many of that name, of a noble Genoese family; . It might be that "Venetian" is an adjective applying to him rather than to the artist. It was not unusual for a family to be part of the nobility of both places, as for example the Cibo family earlier:
Che i Fieschi fossero aggregati alla nobiltà veneta non è un fatto eccezionale, in quanto, già in precedenza, altre famiglie genovesi, tra cui quella dei Cibo, avevano ottenuto lo stesso beneficio.
(That the Fieschi were added to the Venetian nobility is not an exceptional fact, in as much, already previously, other Genoese families, among them that of the Cibo, had obtained the same benefit.)
I do not know how unusual it was. I know that Venice and Genoa were maritime rivals. I would think that if the Fieschi were ennobled by Venice, that could be verified. However it may be that it is only the painter who is Venetian, giving his origin at the end. Chiappini does say that the painter is Venetian.
I wonder at the spelling "VENETIAN". Is that really in good Venetian? Wouldn't it be "Veneziano" or "Venetiano" (given that the Latin has a T, and the word "Veneto" for the region controled by Venice)? But perhaps the "o" could be dropped.
Another problem is that the "solution" has two more letters than the original, an extra V and N. So instead of "VENETIAN" we have "EETIAN". But that still doesn't look much like "Venetiano".
I continue. In one case, a Rino Fieschi married a Genoese noblewoman named Tommasina Spinola, or Masina Spinola for short. Hence the "M S" painted on several of the cards. The two crests on the cards, Chiappini says, match those of the two families:
Lo stemma degli Spinola è d’oro con riquadri mediani in rosso e argento, gli stessi colori che ritroviamo sulle carte, con la variazione della fascia attraversante che appartiene allo stemma dei Fieschi.
The crest of the Spinola is golden with median squares in red and silver, the same colors that are found on the cards, with the variation of the band across belonging to the crest of the Fieschi.
This marriage was in 1584, which fits the late date Chiappini estimates for the deck. But what to make of the "ANNO AB URBE CODITA MLXX" on the BOCHO card. Well, it is decoded as:
XX ABBIAM DE L’ANNO TURCO.
In other words, 20 years after the year of the Turks. That would be the battle of Lepanto of 1571, in which the alliance of Genoa, Venice, and Spain defeated the Turks. So the deck is not 1491, as others think, but actually 1591, exactly 100 years later.
He has no comments on the other painted inscriptions. Instead he moves on to the engraved inscriptions, shared by other engraved examples of individual cards. What anagrams may reveal information there?
First, he notes that in the suit of Cups, there are the inscriptions NATANABO on the Knight, POLISENA on the Queen and LUCIO CECILIO R. on the King. If these are combined we have an anagram for:
L’OCIO LUCICA PIANTO A L’INSANO BERE
which is a warning to observe moderation in drinking as in the rest of life, a moral instruction related to the suit object. He notes that a Fool card described by Cicognara, in a deck now lost, had him drinking from a jug labeled "MUSCATELLO". That label could be an anagram for "“Mescolal tu”, comparing the craziness of the game to the loss of reasoning ability from wine. (The word "mescola" means "mixed"; I cannot find a comparable word with an "l" added.) I would think that the implication was there even without supposing an anagram. Chiappini does not have any comparable examples for the other suits. One is apparently enough to demonstrate the point.
In addition, there are two engraved inscriptions on the trumps:
- "SC" on the chariot of the Triumph DEO TAURO (VII) and the flag on top of the pole on the Triumph METELO (XV).
- "SPQR" (Senatus Populusque Romanus) on the quiver of the Triumph CARBONE (XII)
He says that the second of these is related to the historical figure represented on the card, something he explains in the book. As to the other, SC, he disagrees with the usual interpretation, proposed by Hind, that it means "Senatus Consultus", because it does not explain the inverted ivy leaf that surrounds the letters on the chariot of DEO TAURO. He proposes instead that they denote "BUSCA", which of course is the name of one of the two families associated with the deck. The Busca in mid-16th century were located in Pavia and Milan. He suggests that the upside down ivy leaf was an old crest of that family. The reasoning is that the Busca were originally, from the 12th century, lords of Cossano Belbo in Piedmont, and even today the crest of that town is an inverted ivy leaf, with the letters "CB" rather than "SC". So likely in the mid-16th century the ivy leaf with "SC" was still a crest of that family. That family commissioned the engravings and later got possession of the painted deck.
I hope I have represented Chiappini correctly. It is certainly an ingenious set of ideas.