Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

I was reading Giordano Berti's essay "I tarocchi in Piemonte" in Tarocchi: le carte del regno: la storia, i simboli, il mito (Faenza: Associazione Le Tarot, 1997) and came across this sentence:
Stando a recenti recerche eseguite dagli esperti giocatori del Gruppo "Usus te plura docebit" di Voghera, il libretto di Piscina contiene alcuni suggerimenti che fanno presumere la sua conoscenza del cosiddetto "gioco dei pesi", di origine bolognese.

[ According to recent researches carried out by the expert players of the "Usus te plura docebit" group of Voghera, the Piscina booklet contains some suggestions that make one think that he knew of the "game of weights", of Bolognese origin. ]
In his essay, Berti gives no further information about this group or their findings. Does anyone know anything about this group or any other details of their work?

I assume the "gioco dei pesi" is the 17th century game described on pages 269-276 of Dummett and McLeod's A History of Games Played With the Tarot Pack, Vol. 1, (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004) or one of its successors; Dummett and McLeod say this game was called "Partita a Pesi" in the 18th century, and the pesi were a central feature of the scoring method. But I don't know exactly what the "suggestions" were in the Piscina text which gave rise to the conclusion that he knew of that game in particular. Maybe "gioco dei pesi" was simply intended as a reference to Bolognese tarocchino in general, and the hint that Piscina knew of a game like that is the "equal papi" rule, which is mentioned in the text.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Good eye, Nathaniel. I think that in referring to the "game of weights" Berti means the game described in the old manuscript Pisarri in 1754 said he had a copy of, "molto antico," thus, as Cuppi interpreted the phrase, at least a hundred years old if not two hundred. It is similar to that played in Pisarri's own day, except that the scoring system was somewhat different, in which the term "Pesi" was used instead of the word "Partita" as in Pisarri's day. So the "game of weights" is the old form of Tarocchino, however old that is (probably the same one as described in Dummett and McLeod, although I do not have that book). "Game of weights" is apparently just an easy way of referring to that game in particular, as you say, and not about its particular scoring system, to which I cannot find anything in Piscina comparable.

See Dummett, Game of Tarot, pp. 327-328, and Lorenzo Cuppi, "Tarocchino Bolognese: Due Nuovi Manoscritti Scoperti e Alcune Osservazioni – Parte I," in The Playing-Card 30, No. 2. The Pisarri book, Istruzioni necessarie per chi volesse imparare il giuoco dilettevole delli Tarocchini bolognesi, is online in Google Books. What Berti calls the "game of weights" is discussed in Pisarri's Chapter One.

Besides the "equal Papi" rule, there is also the role of the Fool in that game (as also later) to stand in for missing cards in the middle of sequences. This feature was preserved in Pisarri's day (and also today) but apparently dropped in other places and in Minchiate. But it is seen in Piscina's account. See in particular the editors' note 7 and the corresponding text in Piscina. The editors (Caldwell, Depaulis, and Ponzi) say of this rule "As Franco Pratesi and Giodano Berti have observed, this rule can however be compared to a similar practice in the Tarocchino Bolognese, where not only the Fool but also the Bagat may substitute for missing cards in combinations." They go on to point out that it also survives in the earliest German rules, the Regeln bey dem Taroc-Spiele (Leipzig, 1754), which they say "faithfully followed French usage." So probably it was a general feature of the game early on, not particular to Bologna's "game of weights".

In my view the "equal papi" rule probably also was a general rule early on and later dropped, although in this case there is no direct evidence of its presence anywhere but in Bologna and Piedmont. It is merely the distance between the two places that lends credence to that hypothesis, although I suppose the game could also have been introduced in Piedmont by returning Bolognese students.

So there are two features in common between Piscina and Pisarri. I cannot tell whether Pisarri says that these two features are also present in the "molto antico" document, but since they are also in a slightly earlier document by Pedini (for which see Cuppi), it is reasonable to assume that they were. Pedini is also online, both Cuppi's transcription (I think) and in more readable form by the Commune of Bologna ( ... izione.pdf).

Whether the features in common between Piscina and Pisarri's and Pedini's manuscripts are of Bolognese origin is not known. It may be that Piedmont and Bologna were just exceptionally conservative, the one perhaps due its isolation and the other to a belief that the game originated in Bologna and therefore needed to be preserved and played as much as possible in its original form.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

You're right, the rule about the Fool as a wild card in the sequences is another thing that could explain the statement attributed to the "Usus te plura docebit" group, as well as the "equal papi" rule.

But there is nothing that really suggests that this rule was ever used outside the Bolognese tradition of gameplay, which the Piedmontese games were part of. The existence of the rule in early French tarot games simply looks like yet another of the many indications that early French tarot was influenced not only by the Milanese tradition but also by the Bolognese (via Piedmont/Savoy and probably also via Switzerland), as one would indeed expect given the proximity of Lyon to Savoy. There is no reason to conclude that it must have been one of the original rules of the tarot game, any more than there is for the equal papi rule. Both simply reinforce the impression that tarot in Piedmont and Savoy was based directly on Bolognese tarot, and that French tarot was influenced by it in turn.

Moreover, the idea that a game could cross the distance between Piedmont and Bologna is not at all difficult to accept, because the road through Asti and Chambéry to Lyon was the route for nearly all the overland trade between Italy and France—as I've said before in posts in another thread . Bologna was a major trading center, so the traffic of merchants traveling between Bologna and Lyon via Piedmont and Savoy would have been huge—certainly far more than the handfuls of students returning from Bologna's university. So it seems much more likely that the Bolognese game would have been introduced to Piedmont and Savoy by Bolognese merchants than by returning students. And, conveniently for all concerned, the merchants could also have sold the Bolognese tarot decks to the Piedmontese and Savoyard players, as well as teaching them the game.

Also, please check your PMs, Mike :-)

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Thanks, Nathaniel, that's what I like, thoughtful critique. Here's my reply.

About merchants spreading the game to Piedmont. If they did, they would be doing so in order to sell cards. The evidence in Piscina suggests that Piedmont used French/Lombard style cards (i.e. the Fool looking over his should, as we see later in Piedmont, the Bagatto as innkeeper as in Alciati, the World with the four evangelists, in a Lombard order, with Justice immediately after Love, then the Chariot, then Strength, and Temperance after Death. As I have argued somewhere, even the practice of having the Angel last probably existed early on in Lombardy, if the Cary-Yale World card is a this-worldly scene (as opposed to the A and B cards). If so, all three practices (angel last, equal papi, Fool in combinations, as we see in Piedmont) would have been fairly widespread early on. So you're reduced to saying that Bolognese merchants produced French/Lombard style cards for the French/Lombard market and also sold them in Piedmont on their way to Lyon. In the mid-16th century when Piscina was writing, teaching them a mixture of Lombard and Bolognese rules. Well, besides that curious phenomenin, Lyon was at least as active as Bologna in producing tarot decks and wouldn't have appreciated Bolognese competition. Bolognese merchants would have carried more saleable items to Lyon, and thus to Piedmont, than tarot decks.

As far as the Fool not being used in combinations elsewhere, your assertion that its appearance in Piscina and elsewhere is solely due to Bologna, I reply that the most reasonable way in which Piedmont and France would have had such practices is if they already existed in Lombardy, which had the style and order of trumps that influenced French decks the most, had rules most similar to French rules, and had the most contact with Piedmont. ).

In favor of the "equal papi" rule being original, I think Ross's argument is a very good one, that having four equal Triumphs in a sequence with strict hierarchy otherwise is inherently anomalous and unstable. I add to it the consideration that four Papi are a logical extension of four kings, one step higher, a fifth rank in a fifth suit, and perhaps connected with the game of "VIII Imperatori", as an Emperor and Empress for each suit. There is also the fact that in the Bolognese game three or four Papi constitute a bonus combination of their own, like three or four Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages. That is not parallel to the three or four on the other end of the sequence, because the Bagattino need not be present, whereas the Angel must be present for a hierarchical sequence of Triumphs to count. The parallel for the Papi as a combination is only to the court card, and just as there is no priority among suits or Kings, there is no priority among Papi. These are not proofs, just points in favor of the hypothesis.

I've now responded to your pm. Thanks for drawing my attention to it.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

mikeh wrote: 23 May 2021, 08:00 So you're reduced to saying that Bolognese merchants produced French/Lombard style cards for the French/Lombard market and also sold them in Piedmont on their way to Lyon. In the mid-16th century when Piscina was writing, teaching them a mixture of Lombard and Bolognese rules.
What makes you think that I'm saying this happened "in the mid-16th century when Piscina was writing"? I don't mean that at all.

I'm talking about the introduction of tarot to Piedmont for the very first time—Piedmont's very first experience of tarot. Do you really think that first experience could possibly have happened in the mid-16th century? Surely it would have happened about a hundred years before, in the period when tarot spread throughout most of the rest of Italy.

My hypothesis is that tarot arrived in Piedmont in the mid-15th century, directly from Bologna, brought by Bolognese merchants plying their trade on the route to France.

Which leaves plenty of time for tarot (the game and the deck) to spread onward into France in a Bolognese/Piedmontese form...

...and plenty of time for the French to then become greatly influenced by the Lombard tradition later, supplanting almost-but-not-quite all features of the earlier Bolognese-style game and deck...

...and then for the French cardmakers to gain such dominance over the Piedmontese market that we find Piscina using an essentially French, largely Lombard-style deck (probably a lot like Viéville's) by 1565.

There is substantial historical evidence to indicate that every one of these three steps occurred.

I'm also not suggesting for a moment, moreover, that the Bolognese ever had any significant influence on tarot in Lombardy. Look at a map: The main road from Bologna to Asti bypasses most of Lombardy, and goes nowhere near Milan. And in any case, tarot was probably already established in most of Lombardy (and in its Lombard form, obviously) by the time the Bolognese game was brought to Piedmont.

( That's an ancient road, by the way. It was already the main route to France even in Roman times, when the Via Emilia ran from Rimini via Bologna to Piacenza, joining the Via Fulvia which ran from Piacenza via Asti to Rivoli (west of Turin). The modern autostrada still follows the same path today—largely unchanged for more than two thousand years. )

What I am suggesting is simply that Bolognese merchants brought their tarot game directly from Bologna to Piedmont, in the mid-15th century, without substantially influencing any other region on the way. Because that is what all the available evidence suggests.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Nathaniel wrote ...
There is substantial historical evidence to indicate that every one of these three steps occurred.
... hm ... perhaps you could give some details.

I remember some longer list of French events long ago ... perhaps it is of some help especially the French developments.

Well, if Rabelais makes a journey to Italy and after it wrote a long list with a Tarau on it, then it is not really a guarantee, that Tarot was well known in France. Or, when an Italian text is translated to French and Tarot is mentioned in it, that also doesn't prove something. Or, if Philibert had some adventures in Italy fighting a French army in 1529, that also does mean nothing.

I remember, that Steven once worked a longer time on French dates, which wasn't included on the old list. I don't remember, what were the earliest dates in this collection.

My own conclusion was, that there was not much in France till 1574 and the time of king Henry III. Henry III loved Italian customs and then the French Tarot notes exploded. Around the same the game Troggn developed in Switzerland.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Nathaniel, I can see your objection to my " In the mid-16th century when Piscina was writing, teaching them a mixture of Lombard and Bolognese rules." The time when that happened was not the main thrust of my argument. I should have written "by the mid-16th century..." The rest of my argument still stands. There is no reason to think that there was any substantial trade in tarot decks from Bologna to Lyon. Lyon did have them by around 1500, but the Lyonais were producing them themselves and sending them to Piedmont, as the Avignon document shows. Before then, and especially before the French invasions of Italy, there is no evidence of any trade. See Depaulis, "Trionfi alia franciosa finiti e non finiti - Le Tarot en France avant 1500" The Playing Card, Jan-March 2015 (vol. 44, No. 3) which I have uploaded and translated at I have my reservations about his general thesis, but they only concern the nobility who were already connected with Italy and far from Lyon. For Lyon around 1500, see his Le Tarot révélé (La Tour-de-Peilz 2013), p. 46, which I have translated at, and also his articles “Des cartes Communément Appelées Taraux.” The Playing-Card, 32(5), 2004, pp. 199-205, and “Des cartes Communément Appelées Taraux: 2ème Partie.” The Playing-Card, 32(6), 2005, pp. 244-49.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

We have the date of 1557 for the Catelin Geofroy deck and is said "from Lyon" .... I actually wonder, what makes this "from Lyon". So I just ask the question, what's the documentary evidence for this.
I remember, that we've found the name Catelin Geofroy (? or similar) in a work about a cardmaker, who was active in Lothringen (Lorraine) late in 16th century, about 30 years. The matter of this text was to import Tarot cards to Lorraine, and inside the context it seemed, that before there were not Tarot cards in Lorraine.
Somewhere in this Forum-jungle should be the source for it, perhaps I find it.

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=611&p=8910&hilit=g ... ancy#p8910
Mémoires de l'Académie de Stanislas (1850/51)
Memoires de La Society des sciences, lettres and arts de Nancy
... Recherches sun L'industrie en Lorraine,
et principalement dans le Departement de la Meurthe
par M. Henri Lepage

the interesting articles are:

Page 1.
Chapitre II
des Papeterie
as "somehow related to our theme" and ...

Page 51 till 105
Chapitre III
De la Fabrication des cartes a jouer
... that, what interest us

At page 74 and page 75 appears that, what interests us especially: There is noted a card maker in Lyon "Cathelin Geoffroy" ... well. that one, which is known as a card producer of some fragmented Tarot cards (oldest known French Tarot cards) in 1556 ..., but in the context of the article it is meanwhile 1599 (!!!), so possibly it's not the one Catelin Geofroy, but another with the same name or the same fabrication.

I don't find this, but ... this ... ... frontcover

... and this at
This man is known to have worked as a cardmaker in Lyons from 1582 to 1603 – in that source the name is spelled Catelin Geoffroy, and in yet another Cathelin Geoffroy.
From this I've to assume, that there was a Catelin Geofroy (or similar) in Lyon from 1582-1603 and there was another or the same Catelin Geofroy 25 years earlier in "somewhere" (possibly in Lyon, but not naturally in Lyon), who made the Catelin-Geofroy-Tarot-deck 1557 and this included card motifs of Virgil Solis, a card producer and artist from Nuremberg (far away in 800 km distance) ... and a very active man. Virgil Solis died 1562, still living in 1557.
And the capital of Lorraine, Nancy, has a distance of 400 km to Lyon. And in 1599 the year 1557 had been 42 years ago.

So Lyon 1557 might be correct for Catelin Geofroy, but is a little bit vague. Virgil Solis ...
Virgil Solis wuchs als Sohn eines zugezogenen Malers in Nürnberg auf. In seiner Gesellenzeit besuchte er sicherlich Augsburg, vielleicht aber auch Zürich und Rom.
The father of Virgil Solis came from a place outside of Nuremberg. Virgil Solis probaly studied in Augsburg, Zürich and Rome. Likely it was normal, that talented artists attempted to get occupations in cities with good printing conditions as in Lyon and Nuremberg.


I've given earlier a lot of arguments, that the Tarot de Paris was made in 1559 and not in c. 1600 as otherwise claimed. The base for this argument I gave an analysis of the coin suit. There was heraldic shown of the female lover (Diane de Poitiers) of King Henry II., who died in a knight tournament in 1559. Also there were heraldic of the Italian Gonzaga (Mantova) and Strozzi (Florence) family.


... it's a long thread.

It's very probable, that after the death of Henry II there was no reason to spend some personal honor to Diane de Poitiers. On the other side members of these families had fought on the French against the Habsburg dynasty, both had reason to spend some Italian culture in France and were possibly the promoters of this deck.

The Diane de Poitiers heraldic at the begin of the coin-9.

Analyses of the heraldic specialist Michel Popoff ...

The H for Henry II at the begin of the coin-10.

Analyses of the heraldic specialist Michel Popoff ...

compare: ... ew=theater


Popoff wrote for the 2 of Coins: "1. Gonzague, ducs de Mantoue 2: Strozzi"

I suspected earlier in the context of Gonzaga/Strozzi ...
If the 1559 interpretation is correct, and the commissioners were indeed Louis Gonzaga (20 years old) and Filippo di Piero Strozzi (18 years), these funny and careless elements perhaps are explained by the youth of the soldiers, who perhaps wished to amuse their French comrades with a new Italian game (new in France, not in Italy).
Strozzi heraldic:

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Huck wrote: 24 May 2021, 12:35 Nathaniel wrote ...
There is substantial historical evidence to indicate that every one of these three steps occurred.
... hm ... perhaps you could give some details.
I was almost hoping no one would ask that question, because I don't really have the time to spend on a huge discussion of the details right now. But I will write something soon which will present the evidence that I am aware of—as briefly as possible (which, I fear, will not be very brief at all)

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Nathaniel wrote: 27 May 2021, 15:16
Huck wrote: 24 May 2021, 12:35 Nathaniel wrote ...
There is substantial historical evidence to indicate that every one of these three steps occurred.
... hm ... perhaps you could give some details.
I was almost hoping no one would ask that question, because I don't really have the time to spend on a huge discussion of the details right now. But I will write something soon which will present the evidence that I am aware of—as briefly as possible (which, I fear, will not be very brief at all)
I asked about this evidence too, in a post from last year you linked above. viewtopic.php?p=22369#p22369
You didn't have time then, either.
Nathaniel wrote: 07 Jul 2020, 00:15
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote: 06 Jul 2020, 17:32
I don't know anything about direct trade between Bologna and France in the 15th century. Can you suggest some convenient references to start with? Can we assume that this well-established direct trade route, bypassing the city of Milan, is the missing link between Bologna and Savoy that Dummett and other researchers have missed when trying to explain the Piedmontese game's Bolognese features?
I don't know much myself, it's something I'd like to look into more, but I don't really have time right at the moment. That's why I asked in my last post if anyone has explored this topic already. It certainly seems like it could be a fruitful avenue of research. All I know at this point is that there was a major trading route from Bologna to Asti (and there is still a major autostrada that follows that same route today) and of course it's clear that the overland trade between Italy and France would have gone through Piedmont, the main route being the one from Asti to Lyon via Chambéry.