Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

For the Ace of Coins, the best image I could find was in Dummett's The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards. Then it is a matter of trying to bring out what is lost, i.e. not there, so with some imagination.


What I see is the Biscione, i.e. Visconti Viper, on the upper right, of which I have put a simplified sample, from the CY Love card, next to the shield. I say "simplified" because the Love card version has one less coil on the snake. That part seems rather clear. Then for the upper right I would say the "rearing horse" from the suit of Coins in the CY/Brera-Brambilla. Below that is even vaguer. My guess would be a smaller shield with the white cross on red of Pavia (the other banner on the CY Love card), or conceivably the red cross on white of Milan. The lower right seems to be a castle rampart of some kind. I may have seen something like that connected with the Visconti or Sforza, but I don't recall. So it seems to be like the logo of the Alfa-Romeo, a composite, but with four instead of two, rather ambitious for such a small card.


Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

Dummett's The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards, which Mike just referred to, is the only work I'm aware of where there has been any discussion of these shields. Dummett thought they were most likely just plain red and silver, divided vertically, with no further design elements at all (p. 28, p. 74). He bases that mainly on the Knight of Batons and Knight of Swords, where the shield (always the same shield, it seems) is better preserved than on the Ace of Coins. The images he prints in the book of both of them are clearer than the image Ross used in his post above:
PMBBatons-shield.jpg PMBBatons-shield.jpg Viewed 5958 times 73.79 KiB
PMBSwords-shield.jpg PMBSwords-shield.jpg Viewed 5958 times 119.72 KiB
On p. 74, Dummett wrote "It does not seem to be the coat of arms of any Italian city, and the only family I have found with those arms is the Bon family, patricians of Venice, with whom there is no reason to suppose that Francesco Sforza had any particular connection. Since we do not know the history of the cards between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries, it is possible that they were once owned by the Bon family, who had their coat of arms overpainted onto the cards."

This sounds very plausible to me, especially in light of the fact that the Batons and Swords suits otherwise contain very different heraldic emblems: the Venetian lion of St. Mark on the shield of the King of Swords, and the Visconti-Sforza dove-and-nest device on the clothing of the King and Queen of Batons. It looks as though the original idea was that the Batons suit represented Milan and the Swords suit (the other "martial" suit) represented its great rival Venice—and in that context, the shields on the horses' caparisons seem completely out of place. You would expect a Visconti emblem on the Batons horse and a Venetian one on the Swords horse. You certainly wouldn't expect them to be the same.

Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

Dummett's conclusion is indeed suggestive. However it would not extend to the original design. Why the Bon family in particular? In any case, it would be worth seeing an image of that Venetian family's coat of arms, as a clue to what its images might have meant in the 15th century.

Nathaniel's quotations from Dummett prompted me to look again at what he says about the Ace of Coins (The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards, p. 28):
The shield on the coin was originally red and silver; the silver has tarnished. It has been postulated that there was a design on the silver half of the shield, but it seems more likely that it was plain, like the shields on the caprisons of the horses ridden by the knights of batons and swords.

The Fournier Museum set includes an ace of coins but it is quite different: the single coin bears a design of a three-tiered castellated fortress.
It seems to me fairly clear that Dummett notwithstanding, there was a design on the silver part, both upper and lower, the upper being the Biscione. The lower may well be the "castellated fortress" of the Fournier card, perhaps the basis for my memory of castle ramparts: however my memory is of an image, not of words. It would be worthwhile seeing an image of the Fournier card; my cursory look on Google Images did not turn it up. It would be also worthwhile knowing if this "castellated fortress" appears elsewhere on any Visconti or Sforza card.

If in fact the left side of the card we have was red, that speaks in favor of the lower left having a red background. If so, the most logical choice for a design would be the white cross on red background, since the Biscione is there diagonally opposite, the device on the other banner of the CY Love card. If the others are Visconti heraldics, then probably so is the fourth. That speaks, however hypothetically, in favor of the white cross on red background on the Love card being that of Pavia rather than Savoy or someplace else. I do not recall that the Visconti ever appropriated that device of Savoy as their own.

Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

Of marginal interest , for its castle ramparts, is this, from . It is reputedly the arms of the Rezzonico family,, but the palazzo was originally of the Bon family, so perhaps the Rezzonico took over some of the Bons' devices. In 1500, Wikipedia says, it was two houses, which Filippo Bon started making into one palazzo, until his money ran out. My only interest is in the castellation, which seems similar to that in the Ace of Coins shield. Of course this coat of arms is much later, but these things sometimes come out of something earlier. Castellation is probably very common, however.

Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

Information about the Bon family's coat of arms is here: ... iane_(Bon)

Images of it down the centuries are here (following a link from the page above)—the earliest is dated to ca. 1500:

http://bibliotecaestense.beniculturali. ... 7boni.html

As you can see, it is a perfect fit for what we see on the Knight of Batons and Knight of Swords, and there is really no good reason to think that the shield on the Ace of Coins looked any different before the white paint deteriorated. So Dummett was probably right.

If we want to find out what those shields looked like originally, we would have to use X-rays or something like that to find out what is under that red and white shield, because I think it's highly unlikely that there was ever any other design on top of it.

Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

Dummet is a wild guess based on thumbing through stemmari that provides zero rationale (and I'm not sure from whom he took the idea that the gold color on the right is "tarnished silver", but that is simply wrong - items like silverware sometimes get tarnished to a golden hue, but not silver leaf used in medieval illuminations: ... 018-0172-7 ). Why the Sforza regime would have given a "PMB" deck to any Venetian - especially as they were entertaining ideas on how to poison him before 1450 and went to war with him afterwards - boggles the mind. Especially with the King of Swords ironically holding a shield with the Lion of St. Mark on it while the Fortitude trump's imperator threatens a lion into prone submission. Clearly the PMB was made during hostilities with Venice, not after the 1454 Peace of Lodi.

There is no new evidence so I'm not sure why Ross is broaching this question again, but I may as well repost my own interpretation (my original thoughts on that matter: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=963&p=14119&hilit= ... %2C#p14119 )

1. Bartolomeo Colleoni, Sforza's must valuable lieutenant, was being induced back to the Venetians before the Peace of Lodi in 1454. If anyone would be getting a PMB deck, it would be him.
2. Colleoni hailed from the Bergamasque and wanted to acquire a fief in his home - Sforza was willing to do that, as indeed Venice did as well (they actually were in possession of Bergamo - taking it from Filippo years before - so Sforza's promise was based on more military action). I would then argue this most complete PMB-type deck was made for Colleoni, showing the arms of Bergamo as they were understood in Milan, per the Stemmario Trivulziano. The first thing Sforza did when he took Milan was to dole out various fiefs in Lombardy to his lieutenant condottieri. This was standard practice (indeed, Filippo Visconti was in the same boat in 1412 when he took Milan with Facino's Cane's men, and did the exact same thing)
3. The Bon family, a family of sculptors that somehow had patrician status, can be loosely connected to Colleoni through mutual Venetian patrons, but that would mean an overpainting by Bon after they acquired it after Colleoni died at a later date (over paint of the Ace of coins at least, the only one that shows traces of white). And that's assuming those two flecks of white on top of the gold is precisely that.
4. Silver oxidizes not to gold but a dark grey to an almost black (I can post countless contemporary examples of that, but skip down to the bottom of this linked British Library page for an example ... GlossO.asp) and there is no indication of that on any of the stemma in the PMB - just a yellow-gold, and aforementioned white flecks on the ace. I'm well aware that the red/gold colors are usually shown reversed in Bergamo, but in Milan - where the deck was commissioned - we have an unimpeachable source for Bergamo red-then-gold made for Sforza:
Stemmario Trivulziano is probably the most famous of the stemmari Italian Renaissance among scholars and art historians from around the world, this lavishly illustrated manuscript – probable by Gian Antonio da Tradate – is preserved in the Biblioteca Trivulziana Castello Sforzesco di Milano, together with the magnificent treasures once belonged to the powerful and abundant family of Trivulzio. This code back to the years when the condottiere Francesco Sforza became Duke of Milan (1450-66) [others have narrowed it to 1461-66] … It reproduces – along with the coats of arms and enterprises members of the Ducal House – approximately 2000 coats of arms of families and municipalities of the Duchy, but also some families connected, for different reasons, to the Duke...
Edizioni Orsini De Marzo-Milano-2000

The Commune stemma of Bergamo, an exact match for the PMB stemmi:

5. Colleoni is connected with a later variation of the PMB showing his family stemma (see below), not that of the promised Commune stemma of Bergamo (which he was eventually nonetheless ruling for Venice). Presumably in possession of an original PMB deck he wanted decks that reflected his own interests, hence the decks with the "three testicles" stemma. The Bon family is not connected to tarot, period.

Colleoni's family stemma:


Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

The Bergamo stemma is red and gold, yes? Or possibly red and yellow. It certainly isn't red and silver, or red and white. The three shields in the PMB deck were painted red and white. I think that's pretty clear, however the colors may sometimes appear on digitally reproduced images (let's not get into an argument like the one about that blue and white dress or whatever it was). So Bergamo is not relevant here.

Also, no one has suggested that the shields originally had genuine silver on their right half. Normally white paint was used in place of silver when painting coats of arms, in the same way as some shade of yellow was used in place of gold. For obvious reasons.

Dummett wasn't suggesting that the Bon family had anything to do with the cards when they were originally created. He meant that at some stage between their creation and the nineteenth century—a period for which the whereabouts of the cards is completely unknown—they were acquired by the Bon family, who decided to vandalize them by painting their own arms on these three shields. That seems entirely feasible.

Re: Arms identification in Visconti-Sforza

Nathaniel wrote: 31 May 2020, 07:21 The Bergamo stemma is red and gold, yes? Or possibly red and yellow. It certainly isn't red and silver, or red and white. The three shields in the PMB deck were painted red and white. I think that's pretty clear, however the colors may sometimes appear on digitally reproduced images (let's not get into an argument like the one about that blue and white dress or whatever it was). So Bergamo is not relevant here.

Also, no one has suggested that the shields originally had genuine silver on their right half. Normally white paint was used in place of silver when painting coats of arms, in the same way as some shade of yellow was used in place of gold. For obvious reasons.

You're wrong on all accounts.
1. The PMB deck areas have no white, except for some minuscule traces of over-painting only on the Ace of Coins (more on that below). Given that the Ace of Coins is usually the "signature" first card of a deck it is not surprising to find over-painting here, by the Bon or whomever.
2. Dummet didn't merely suggest but stated the right half was "tarnished" silver (Michael Dummett,The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards, 1986: 24), as even he recognized the golden hue on all of these arms (e.g., for the Knight of Batons, "plain red and silver divided vertically", ibid, 74).

As for point number 1, the only place white makes an appearance is on the badly abraded Ace of Coins - there are what appear to be some surviving flakes of white top center and along the curving bottom of the right half of the shield. Otherwise there is "tarnished silver" (gold actually), and below that a base of red which clearly was over-painted from the gold, then white.

To see just how clearly white played no part in the original design, look at the Knight of Baton upon a white close juxtaposition it is clear his stemma is not white, forcing Dummett into his "tarnished" (into a golden hue) silver theory. Consider the white, silver and gold on the Knight of Batons and a comparable within the deck, the Queen of Coins (per Dummet: "Her robe is the same color as the jack's tunic, and bears the same design, but in silver", ibid, 32)


The British Library's on-line example of oxidized silver, whose scientific description I linked above (a "chemical reaction resulting from exposure to oxygen....fade and/or turn a silver-black and to bleed), looks exactly like the quatrefoil design around the stemma and the oxidized silver background of all the CY suit of swords; the BL example of oxidized silver:
manuscript silver oxidation example.JPG manuscript silver oxidation example.JPG Viewed 5687 times 43.53 KiB

Per the scholarly article on silver oxidation that I linked above, the degradation mechanism of silver in medieval illuminated manuscripts: "In most of the cases, silver colours present dramatic blackening, but in some manuscripts, the metal brightness is still present." There is no brightness and there is no dramatic blackening on the PMB stemma; for extreme examples of the latter see the banner on the CY Judgement trump or the Ace of Coins, reproduced below (the level of graying/blackening depends on the chemical pigment underlying the silver leaf):

Gold may get smudged, over-painted and chipped....but it does not tarnish, unlike silver.

There is no question that the PMB is red and gold - neither "tarnished" silver nor white - and that it perfectly matches the Stemmario version of the Commune di Bergamo made in Milan for Sforza, who was the commissioner of the PMB. Oxidation issues aside, matters couldn't be more black and white.