Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

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I think one would have to admit The Visconti Sforza card we call the Fool is a world apart from the
Tarot de Marseille-ish card that is numbered and named. It is almost as if they represent two entirely different streams of thought and image that goes to make a card game, but using the same math to construct the game. I often think it is like the old song “You’re a pink Toothbrush, I’m a blue toothbrush, but we both use the same toothpaste”
For me the confusion of the origins of Tarot comes from thinking, because of the similarities between the hand painted cards and the printed ones in subject matter, they are the same species because they are in the same pond. Looking at one species and applying a hypothesis to cover both will bring the wrong result in understanding.
One way to make my point clear and to illustrate the idea, is the aboriginal artwork on the cave walls at Kakadu National Park in Northern Territories, Australia. It is thousands of years old and thought to illustrate the ‘Dreamtime’ of the origins of the people- the astrological birth of their world- their God beliefs and all the sacred things and secret events and rituals, and the animals and hunts etc. These images do that, but also there is a second layer using these same images, only lately realised. The images show a practical function of getting the best out of life, best food when and where, how to make your day fortunate, what is the best cut of game, how to share it equally, what are the morals for happiness and the order in which you do things to survive. It is a Bible on a wall using exactly the same images to depict all of the above.
This site explains the multi function of Kakadu Rock paintings. ... index.html

So what do I want explore? The Visconti-Sforza of course!
Giordano Berti writes in the book of the Visconti Tarots about The Fool…
The Fool is represented as a poor person, dressed in dirty, torn clothes, barefoot, with no trousers and a large club resting on his right shoulder. He is unshaven and seven pens are entwined in his hair, a symbol of the ‘Lightness’ of his thoughts.
I am convinced that the seven pens are a sign of his unemployment and the ‘lightness’ of his pocket.
In other words his reduced state of well being. He is now the underclass of Florentine society and in need of Charity.
In Late medieval Europe, however, new contexts of religious experience were taking shape: the pious confraternities and compagnie that flourished under the impetus of Franciscan and Dominican spirituality from the trecento to the Council of Trent. These privileged devotional environments allowed their members to touch sacred realities through liturgical, penitential, and Charitable activities formerly reserved for the clergy.
Timothy Verdon, Christianity and the Renaissance.
Although there is castato and Notorial evidence that about the Bounomini di San Martino in 1427, the confraternity appears to have been formally established in 1442 with the function to intercede for the ‘shamed poor’ with the privileged. The Bounomini solicited money and collected alms and sought out the recipients of this Charity. From the records it would seem, that before 1470 all recipients were artisans.

Now these 12 worthy men or patrons of this particular fraternity followed the Charitable acts as given by Saint Antonius in his ‘Summa Theological’ - distributing food and wine, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, Hospitality to pilgrims, freeing prisoners (especially debtors) burying the dead, dowries for marriageable girls -all written in two ledgers one for the Patron and one for charity given. This form is still used today- with the appearance of anonymity. (Dale Kent)

From William Parkinson we get..
In those days of uncertain Fortune, amid the swift political changes of the time, there were many whom, doubtless, he saved (saint Antonious) from degradation or suicide. I Proveri Vergognosi- the poor that are ashamed, it was these he first took under his protection. We read of him sending for twelve men of all classes and various crafts, and laying the case before them, re-founding a charity which soon became the mouth of Florence.
Is the magician one of the Twelve good men?
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The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

Misere and Fol are possibly related as ciphers algorisme -- figures having no value for a card with no value. The seven feathers are possibly an identification with Lent. "Wings of seven feathers" was also an old memory/rhetorical scheme for structuring courses, poems and sermons. St. Bernardino of Sienna's 'seraphim' course of Lent sermons for example were structured around a figure with six wings of seven of feathers (and the artificiality of the scheme results in some strained, to the point of bizarre and ludicrous, divisions of the subject). The French 12th century Romance of the Wings by Raoul de Houdan explains how the prowess of knights is born aloft on the two wings of largesse and courtesy, each of which has seven feathers. In terms of the Tarot de Marseille we may say the pilgrim's (the fool) virtue (seven middle cards) rises from the two wings of cupiditas and caritas (the love of man in the first seven cards, the love of god in the last seven), from which 'perfect love' (the love of God and of one's fellow man) perfect virtue is born.

(In the translation of Vitali's text, 'pens' is probably better translated as 'quills'?)
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

Hi Steve!
Whilst I agree in some senses with what you have said- there is this nagging idea in my head that in looking at the Visconti cards there is this divergence between lay religion and clerical religion.
What you speak of is clerical religion. These philosophical ideas- lofty indeed are a huge breakaway from the subject of card playing. Piety and learned spirituality are distinct experiences and what one experienced in the everyday life is what is before you in these pictures. There is nothing that points to the Visconti Fool having no value- in fact the recipient of ones Love of God and Love of Man makes this fool a starting place and of great value in your Love of God- through Love of Man in the form of Charity. It is where you start. In those days you avoided purgatory, by your acts of Charity. To the Christian it was living your faith, or to state 'Le spitual vecu' your spiritual experience as it was really lived; it was not some symbolic environment decided upon in the intellect. That was the part of clerics like the Dominicans and the theologians. So am I to think that these painted cards were decided by monks and priests who had read Plato and Augustine, thought upon Cicero and Thomas Aquinas- then made these cards? Nay from me- it pictured what the artist knew. I think it was probably self deprecating humour of the vagaries of life and fortune. It is said of Cosimo Medici the Elder- he was really concerned about purgatory and this was the driving force of all his Charitable patronage- just another form of buying indulgences- a ticket to heaven.
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

One suspects that the impression made by the arrival of the penitenti in the towns, gives
no way for us to feel the emotional or spiritual response to the human columns wending their way through the narrow streets, entranced in song and self-flagellation. Yet the impact was clearly enormous and immediate.
So as the Visconti seems to be from Milan, was there a confraternity in Milan like the Buonomini of Florence?
Yes there was and like those in Venice and Bologna for which there are records, they seem to have started from the impetus of Franciscan Teachings via Sermons. La Sculoa della Divinita was started in 1429 by Donato Ferrario, a very rich merchant; it was governed by laymen but attached to Monasteries of one particular order- the Camoldese.
These charitable institutions came about because of the political, social and economic conditions of the time. The Monasteries within the city walls and without were known as 'Cities of God' amongst the 'City of Men' This ecomonic pauperism with the rise of spiritual and religious tensions developed a climate for the absolute need of charitable confraternities. Like the Bounomini of Florence, the members were twelve good or worthy men who by the statutes dispensed charity without specific distinction- but there was by the records a distinction- artisans and craftsmen who had became the 'Noble Poor'. The ashamed poor would go on a wednesday with a ticket and get bread/grain and wine and they would be entered in a ledger.
Donato Ferrario was in the dungeons of the Duke of Milan for tax evasion when God visited him in a dream and told him to use his considerable fortune, to assist the poor of the city and redeem himself as an usurer (money Lender), thus avoiding the eternal flames of hell. On a secular note he would also increase his earnings because of this non profit organisation, whilst having a big concern for the fate of his soul. #:-s

here is the Statute of the Charity
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The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

It has been intersting reading about the sermons preached in the cities that had these charitable organisations.
I had preciously thought that sermons were always given in the Church- but no, often in the piazzas, in the case of Florence in the square where the Bounomini had it's headquaters.
John Howard writes (mainly about Saint Antonius) in his essay on Preaching Magnificence..
Since we have come up here to speak to high-minded and humane men about humble precepts, it is now up to us to use magnificent and illustrious words." Archbishop Antonino's words indicate the extent to which public oratory oratory, the art of swaying an audience by eloquent speech. In ancient Greece and Rome oratory was included under the term rhetoric, which meant the art of composing as well as delivering a speech. in Renaissance Florence was serious business. Florentines studied it, thought about it, performed it, heeded it, or ignored it at their peril. The city's culture was very much one of the public, spoken word, as much as one of visual "outward splendor." Popular attention focused on public speech as the medium of communication by which cultural values were defined, reinforced, and, indeed, created. Public speeches, like sermons and the orations of humanist chancellors, forged a shared culture among Florentines. While reading texts was an option for some, all Florentines participated in the culture of hearing. It was a vernacular, not elitist e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism
n. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources. , experience; it was for the multitude, not for a privileged few. As Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) comments when writing about piazzas in his De re aedificatoria De re aedificatoria (English: On the Art of Building) is a classic architectural treatise written by Leon Battista Alberti in 1450. Although largely dependent on Vitruvius' De architectura : "[to hear sermons] the people would gladly converge there of their own accord for amusement, and be more exposed to efforts to persuade, exhort, and advise them to denounce vice for virtue, and ignorance for an understanding of things noble."
and the people came in their thousands...
The reason saint antonius's words are here is because they have his Zibaldone or notebook and his aid to memory. He apparently used a three part order starting with a Psalm and then on to Virtue, then use a ancient figure like King Solomon or even Aesop, then another Virtue etc etc.
Giovanni Dominici a dominican preacher was fond of using a 7x7x7 format. Franciscan preachers used another format using the Planets and the Virtues and started with quotes from Ecclesiateses for example Where King Solomon (who was supposed to have written Ecclesiastes) For everything there is a season.... or Better is a youth poor and wise, than a King old and foolish,who no longer knows how to take advice....
The point is they used a particular format and one can almost imagine Tarot as flash cards to aid them in their long sermons. I counted four sermons that used the Wolf and the Dog from Aesops fables.It has been popular since antiquity as an lesson of how freedom should not be exchanged for comfort or financial gain. It reminded me of the Moon card. King Solomon was often used- as he was rich and he met the Queen of Sheba who asked him riddles. Saint bernadine had a different format-but I have not read his sermons yet.I gather he started with Job Chapter 2..
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

The Buonomini of Florence were a confraternity of the Dominicans (Kent, p. 50). The preacher of the Steele Sermon, who castigated the tarot as the work of the devil, was a Dominican. And he certainly didn't think of the Fool as anything but a Zero. Savanarola, who burned cards in bonfires, was a Dominican. These were later than the formation of the tarot, to be sure, but the milieu would have been there.

If that milieu existed earlier in the century, and the Buonomini produced the tarot, then the Dominicans didn't run a very tight ship--something I wouldn't expect of the domini cane. Also, when I look at Dominican artwork about the virtues and vices, such as the Spanish Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, nothing is reminiscent of the tarot. Perhaps I have missed some: I think it is good to keep track of what religious orders were connected with tarot-related art or literature. When I look for points of contact between members of religious orders and the tarot, I do find Augustinians (the imagery behind the Bartolomeo book, for instance; or Erasmus; or the heart with the three swords through it in the Sola Busca (which I think reflects a famous vision of Augustine's)). According to Dorez, there was an intense rivalry between the Augustinians and the Dominicans. Maybe when Dominicans are attacking the tarot, they also mean to be attacking some other order that justifies the tarot deck's existence.

I am not against your idea, in general. Maybe there were confraternities of some other order that took up card-playing with tarot cards. (O'Neill promoted that idea, although his idea that Cathars infiltrated the confraternities doesn't quite produce the Tarot.) It's just hard to believe that it would have been one connected with the Dominicans. Charity--or helping the "shamed poor"--was not unique to them, even though they may have had the only organizations exclusively devoted to it.

As for the Franciscans, well, Bernardino was a Franciscan, and he burned cards. He's close to the right period, but I don't know if his influence would have prejudiced the order against all card-playing.

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

Hi Mikeh
The Bounoimini was not a confraternity of the Dominicans. It was refounded by Antonious or by his initiative and it's main patron was Cosimo, who seemed to agree with Antonious as a social reformer.Possibly Antonius was Cosimo's confessor.
I am not suggesting that Dominicans or any Monastic order created Tarot.
I am suggesting that The card we call the fool, was an ashamed Poor- a destitute artisan/craftsman- who was the well known subject of the creator of Visconti cards. Not the Lord of Misrule or anything like that.
The poor were a constant subject of preaching as how to Love God through loving the poor- like Saint Martin where the Bounomini were housed or met. San Marco was Dominican, not San Martino; there are records of the Buonomini back in 1427 as there was in Milan, Venice, Bologna,etc....this seems to be because of Franciscan preaching of that time.
What was interesting about the preaching is that there are within it, images not unlike Tarot- because as Tim Wu Lee on his essay on Biblical preaching notes..
In the 12th Century onwards, the clergy began to put more emphasis into sermon preparation and the people began to show greater respect for preaching. This revival of preaching was not only partly because of the work of heretics awakening the orthodox clergy, but also due to the stimulus during the crusades. There was also an increase in the usage of preaching in the language of the people.....this was a high point of preaching, as vast crowds listened to the homeletics. Preaching as noted for it's popular elements and adapted to the needs of the poor and uneducated, By the reformatory period 1361-1572 preaching as said was popular, but it was coarse and vulgar, dealing more with legends than with scripture. When scripture was used, it as often mishandled and was fanatic and extremist
Antonius himself used examples of King Solomon and the sands of time, the queen of Sheba and Aesops fables, all to give emphasis to his preaching.
Within the ranks of Artisans was a network and as they found work they dropped of the ledger, and sometimes became one the twelve good men themselves. Confraternities were secular organisations , purposfully kept out of clerical hands. If anything I am suggesting that Tarot came out of the artisans hands, from the sermons, plays, poetry etc...and God help me perhaps even Petrarch :ymsigh:
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

Thanks for the clarification about the Buonomini and the relationship of the sermons to the cards, Lorredan. When you say:
The point is they used a particular format and one can almost imagine Tarot as flash cards to aid them in their long sermons. I counted four sermons that used the Wolf and the Dog from Aesops fables.It has been popular since antiquity as an lesson of how freedom should not be exchanged for comfort or financial gain. It reminded me of the Moon card.
you don't mean that the preachers themselves used the Tarot as flash cards, but rather the artisans and their customers who were inspired by the sermons. Well, your language is a bit confusing to me. Or do you want to say that the preachers would have then used the cards, developed by others, in their sermons? The problem then is that it would appear that they were endorsing possession of the cards, used otherwise for gambling.

The dog and the wolf were indeed important images to the Dominicans. You can see them in the Spanish Chapel, the Dominicans as the dogs protecting the sheep, i.e. the faithful, from the wolvish heretics. However these animals do not appear on any early Moon cards. Even on the Cary Sheet card, which is the most similar to the later Marseille, they are not there. Also it is not clear how the Dominican wolves and dogs, whether Aesopian or Domini cane, relate to the Moon. There are better explanations for how these animals got on the card.

One problem with your idea that the Sforza Fool represents the "ashamed poor" is that it is not clear how the "ashamed poor" got associated with folly or craziness, as in the Steele Sermon. They were not considered fools or crazy persons, except perhaps by people less sympathetic to them than the preachers and Buonomini. I suppose you could say it was a later misinterpretation. Perhaps you want to say that there were prominent examples, in fiction or in life, of "ashamed poor" who lost their minds as a result of their poverty. When I look at the Charles VI or d'Este Fool, I see someone who doesn't have all his wits. Perhaps you'd say that the chains around their necks are emblems of former status now lost, qualifying them as "ashamed poor". But I'm not sure you would agree. Say more.

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

Are you asking me what I believe about Tarot cards?
I do not think the VS card we call the Fool is the same Fool of the Tarot de Marseille-ish cards of some hundred or more years later, or 80 years later of the Steele sermon.
I put them side by side in the opening post.
I believe the VS cards are a ‘catholicised’ set of images, for want of a better word; and they have taken their form from a game we do not have examples of now. That does not mean the game disappeared for a hundred years or more- we just do not have the examples except in these hand painted cards and odds and ends that have survived. I guess I am saying we have a fundamental reference point with the hand painted cards.
When Sforza asked his secretary to go find some Triumph cards in 1441- he meant ones that were already
In a pack. That is where the mystery of Tarot is- what were these Triumphs? Were they like the VS or more like the Tarot de Marseille? Were they like the Mategna images? Whatever they were like the secretary knew what to get (and could not) . When Malatesta asked Bianca for a deck- was it like the Visconti cards or something else? So what have we got ? We have an idea only. Allegorical images as a 5th suit. I guess the secretary would purchase cards from the same place they had got playing cards from. So these Triumphs were already designed.
So that takes us back to the images in the VS .
Does the VS Fool look mad? Does he look like a pilgrim? Does he look ignorant? Does he look like Folly?
Does he look like the Lord of Misrule?
He looks wretched to me.
He has not had iodine in his diet for sometime(no meat or eggs) or he is a survivor of the plague and those things on his neck are Black death scars- more likely poor diet. If you were a starving adult with goitre- that does not send you mad. He is dressed like a toddler in a clout(diaper) and chemise(shirt). Convince me otherwise, that he is not the ashamed poor of the sermons in Lombardy and Tuscany, I will listen. As to this ...
When I look at the Charles VI or d'Este Fool, I see someone who doesn't have all his wits. Perhaps you'd say that the chains around their necks are emblems of former status now lost, qualifying them as "ashamed poor". But I'm not sure you would agree.
Nope- I would say those Fools?- that they are pre -lenten figures- like carnival Kings-all the mad behaviour before Lent and ancient Roman ritual rolled into one- very different from the VS Fool. In astrological terms, March the start of the year and strangely enough the first card. I do not think you quite see the 'personality disorder' the 15th Century people suffered from.They were Roman in behaviour, Catholic in Ritual, somewhat pagan in belief, Loyal to family and district, and scared of the Christian God and when abused by nature in Famine and plague etc. thought they were themselves to blame- so like pagans they beat themselves in Pentience. In some ways the Mafia is a perfect explanation of an Italian community. In Florence the Godfather was the Medici, in Milan Visconti then Sforza..... Never the Pope even if he was called Papa, and the Chruch as not in charge of Community welfare.

The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: Proveri Vergognosi or The Ashamed Poor

Yes, well, your account is worth thinking about. One slight correction, lest it get out of hand: the stuff with Sforza and his secretary was 1450, and with Malatesta, 1452 (

What I was concerned about was the term "Matto"-- crazy person, Madman--which seemed to be applied to cards of the general design of the PMB card. Also, the term "Stultitia", foolishness, was famously applied by Giotto to a rather similar-looking figure with quills in his hair and dressed in rags (but not so thin; Giotto's either ate well at Carnival, was only a pretend-poor person, or pregnant. I think the latter, given the quills, probably standing for the weeks of Lent.) According to you, then, terms like "Matto"" and "stultitia" are just a misreading of the card. Or are you saying that the "ashamed poor" were considered foolish or crazy to have gotten themselves into that mess? Perhaps you are.

Also, I wonder about drawing sweeping conclusions from one card, one which is quite different from any other version of this card, and with puzzling aspects that we might be reading too much into.

So far we have absolutely no evidence of early church or confraternity support for tarot cards. We have the court purchases and records of two purchases by notaries, one in 1441 to be given to Malatesta and another in 1451, for the purchaser's own use. Notaries were typically humanistically inclined. Here is James Hankins, in the middle of talking about Cosimo's relationship with the humanist movement ("Patron of Humanistic Literature", in Cosimo 'Il Vecchio' de Medici 1389-1464, p. 81:
For the humanist movement was, as it were, a flower growing out of the dungheap of late medieval notarial culture. If its most glittering recruits came from the ruling classes, its rank and file were overwhelmingly drawn from the notarial profession and the grammarians who taught them. Notaries formed the largest part of the audience for humanism; many successful humanists themselves began as grammarians, notaries, or failed lawyers.
Most successfully, Hankins says, were Salutati--who corresponded with Petrach--and then Bruni, both notaries who became chancellors of Florence and champions of humanism.

On the other hand, perhaps notaries were the most likely to keep good records of their purchases.