Sola Busca Deck

Open this thread for analyze the Sola Busca deck.

Huck said:

(Original: ... fonso+1491)

In the article

"The Master of the "Sola-Busca Tarocchi" and the Rediscovery of Some Ferrarese Engravings of the 15th century"
by Mark J. Zucker
Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 18, No. 35 (1997), pp. 181-194
Published by: IRSA s.c.

the author Mark J. Zucker presents various engravings, from which he assumes, that they possibly were produced by the unknown artist, who was responsible for the Sola-Busca Tarocchi ... the arguments are given on the base of stylish similarities.

Between these pictures is one, which shows a man with a "snail helmet" ....

The author Mark Zucker seems to be not aware, that another Tarocchi set exists, which also uses the "snail helmet" ... it's on the Fool card of the Leber Tarocchi. In the picture, which is assumed to be produced by the Sola Busca engraver the snail-head is at the backside and the image is a portrait, in the picture of the Leber Tarocchi the snail head is at the front and the fool is presented with full body, but the appearance is similar. The habitus of the portrait might be called "foolish" (the man has a rather extravagant nose and a putto is climbing on top of the helmet) ...
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The relevant picture of the Fool of the Leber Tarocchi in a nice reproduction of Leber looked this way:

In a bad copy of the original it's this picture:
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Leber's reconstruction shows not the strange "8"s, which are probably painted on the original. It's our suspicion, that these are meant to be bees. Fools with bees around them (indicating honey-stealing) are motifs for German engravers ca. 1540.

Zucker gives as Sola-Busca reference (his reason to assume an identity of the engraver) the Baton-4 (as an example) ...

The detection might lead to the (plausible, but not totally secure) idea, that Sola-Busca and Leber Tarocchi were engraved by the same artist.

But ... naturally the similarity might also have the reason of a lower graded relationship: one engraver copied the other or was influenced by the other ... or a snail helmet was simply a common motif ... or it refers to a general joke, and both artists contributed in their individual design without any personal interaction between them.

In the question of the "unknown artist" Zucker mentions ...

Artist in the circle of Cosimo Tura (opinion Arthur M. Hind)
Tura's follower (opinion of Giordani Berti and Marzia Faietti)
Tura himself (Konrad Oberhuber)
Franco de' Russi (J. Byarn Shaw)
Marco Zoppo (Eberhard Ruhmer)

Zucker himself sees relationships to the "generation between Tura and Zoppo", but also to Amico Aspertini and Lodovico Mazzolino, also he mentions Peregrino da Cesena and Gianfrancesco Enzola.

In his reflections Zucker doesn't mention the year "1491" as probably production year and it's apparent, that he doesn't know about it. Also he doesn't note anything about the persons Ercole d'Este and Savonarola in the deck ... knowledge about this would have probably excluded his suggestions for the artist Gianfrancesco Enzola.

General informations to Sola Busca and Leber Tarocchi: ... Leber Tarocchi ... Sola Busca Tarocchi

btw. the strange inscription "Velim Fundam Dari Mihi", translated by Ross with "I wish the purse to be given to me", might explain, that the card of the fool was connected to "luck in the game" or to lucky points, which in their final consequence had the result, that the player with Fool card had higher chances in the game (as it appears in rules, which are known only from later times).

btw. "snails" are considered to present "wisdom", at least at the Sebaldusgrab in Nurremberg, relatively contemporary, but at another location.
Perhaps we have to interprete, that the snails below the helmet are considered to present "leaving snails", as Fools are left by wisdom.
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: Sola Busca Deck

Another important post by Huck.

Huck said:

The following aims at the dating problem of the Sola-Busca Tarocchi. In the starting article I mentioned something about Ercole d'Este and Savonarola in the deck ...
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It's obvious, that Savonarola "somehow" is good recognizable, although a white cloak at the head is a little unusual.
Ercole is difficult, I personally know of no portrait, at which he likely would be this man.
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[img] ... 7_4_de.jpg[[/img]

We made some longer researches about the Sola Busca context and found the following most promising.

Arthur M. Hind (specialist on early Italian engraving) in 1938 gives this comment on the 2-of-cups card:

"The two engraved profile heads ... present an attractive field of conjecture. Allowing the design to be Ferrarese of 1491, or not much earlier, it would be natural to accept the upper head as that of Ercole d'Este, but the identity is far from convincing apart from preconceptions of the origin of the cards. Whether it be Ercole or not, he is represented in the guise of a Roman Emperor in laurel wreath. The lower head presents a superficial resemblance to Savonarola, whose connexion with Ferrara might account for his appearance here, but the lower lip does not protrude like Savonarola's. On the whole I think the soilution for the identity of both both portaits must be looked for elsewhere. The contrast of Roman Emperor and Venetian Doge would be an apt form of decoration, though the cap is not strictly that of a Doge, but more typical of a student."

So Hind parts our own impression, that there is something wrong with the recognition of Savonarola and Ercole d'Este. And Hind turns his head towards that, what is clearly given in the handcolored version of the Sola Busca:

The deck is made in Ferrarese style, but the inscription points to Venice and to the year 1491. The dating is only handcoloured and this specific version is only in existence by a photography, the deck itself is lost. It's shown by comparition with real existing prints of the Sola Busca elsewhere (the Vienna edition), that occasionally in the handpainted version printed details have disappeared by the colors.
In the question, if the both heads on the 2-of-cups were only "handpainted" or really printed, there seems to be only a photography and no possible way to explore this detail.

From the viewing point of the engraving production it would have been logical to leave the place of both portraits free to fill it with handpainted portraits of the possible owner of the deck (which the engraver didn't know at the time of production). Similar behaviour could be seen in the use of engravings in book production. Heraldic devices were created in a neutral way and left free for the addition of familiary details of the exspected future unknown owner.

So we cannot rely on "Ercole d'Este" and "Savonarola".

However - specifially by the assumption, that the Sola Busca was in its "Venetian outfit" individualised by handcoloring - we may ask, what happened 1491 in Venice. And that research was surprizingly successful.

Ercole d'Este visited Venice in 1485, 1488 and 1491. The most glamorous moment was in 1491.

*1485 - this was a triumphal event, which celebrated the new peace between Venice and Ferrara, in which Venice had won and Ferrara more or lesss lost. A tournament took place, and the organizer was the general Roberto Sanseverino.

* 1488, Febrary - this seems to have been a short visit to welcome the new doge Agostino Barbarigo, a political meeting. Ercole was accompanied by his son Alfonso, 12 years old. Probably for both sides a reassurance of the general peace after some wars in Southern Italy.

* 1488- 1491 - In the following years we have some additional informations, which might refer to the problem of the correct date in the form of a small series of 3 dates of allowances of Trionfi games (and all from cities, which belong to the political region Venetia in this time): 1488, 1489 and 1491.


The allowances for the Trionfi game of Brescia 1488, Salo at the Lago di Garda 1489 and Bergamo 1491 are all very near to each other in time; they fall in time together with the assumption, that a specific deck, the Sola Busca Tarocchi, was produced in Venice in the year 1491. Another point joins all 3 cities: Brescia, Salo and Bergamo all belong to the Venetian republic in this time, all near to each other in the Western region of the state, near to Milan.
A logical conclusion would be, that Trionfi cards were prohibited in all the Venetian republic before, but started to become allowed or reallowed.

A logical reason or this politic might have been, that the war between Ferrara and Venice 1482 - 1484 caused a contemporary prohition of the game - if this is true, the 3 new allowances in Venetian cities might indicate, that the Ferrarese region was a major producer of the Trionfi decks and that a prohibition of the game in the Venetian region might have caused difficulties in the adversary state.

Another possibility it is, although perhaps less probable, that Trionfi as game was never allowed in the Venetian region .... perhaps according to a local perception in Venice, that the whole fashion of the Trionfi movement was regarded as not conform with the ideas of the Republic. The war between Venice and Milano till 1454 was a long one, perhaps the antipathy between the states was still strong long years after it, and the old trouble raised ccasionally its head (for instance in the time of Galeazzo Maria Sorza).
The allowance for the Trionfi started at the Western border of Venetia, near to Milan. Perhaps there is the indication, that the Trionfi cards (and the related game) invaded the region from Milan.

There are reasons to assume, that Venetia hadn't Trionfi card decks and possibly even prohibited them, perhaps already since 1441, when the Venetian Senatus made a law, which should protect the local card producers. Trionfi cards with Emperors etc. possibly weren't attractive in a republic (Venice and Venetia didn't belong to the Roman-German Empire and the general Trionfi customs were in the republican evaluation possibly connected to "high nobility" and this was "their" customs and not really "Venetian").
This probably long and old Venetian politic seems to have melted away between 1488-1491, after the Ferrarese war, in which Venice had been the major enemy of Ferrara.
Generally it's also stated by neutral art historians, that Venice till ca. 1490 didn't partake too much in the general form of "Trionfi activities".

* 1491, April - this is the probable moment of the Sola Busca Tarocchi, Ercole d'Este visited Venice accompanied by his son Alfonso d'Este. In contrast to 1488 this is a "great moment", as Alfonso, the heir of Ferrara, is now grown up - and more than this, he had married short before (January/February) with great festivities, the daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan, Anna Sforza.
Considering the long wars between Venice and Milan this was a "dangerous marriage" from the perspective of Venice, and the visit had to reassure the wish for peace again.
Alfonso's (15 years old) journey to Venice is comparable to Bianca Maria Sforza's journey to Ferrara in 1440/41 (Bianca 16 years old), to Galeazzo Maria Sforza journeys since 1457 (Galeazzo 13 years old) and Lorenzo de Medici's journey in 1465 (Lorenzo 15 years old) ... all great events and all connected to Trionfi card productions (for 1441 with some insecurity and 1457 this is proven by document and for 1465 this is assumed cause many reasons by

The new engraving technique might have made it possible, that Alfonso distributed some Trionfi playing card decks in Venice, naturally as a part of Ferrarese cultural propaganda and natural guest presents, also it would been logical, if he used the marriage deck from his own wedding for this reason. In the real marriage deck the two of cups probably would have been filled with Alfonso and Anna Sforza, his new wife.
In the Venetian version, however, thought as a present for foreign persons, probably was shown Alfonso (not Ercole) and a free place, which could be filled with the new owner of the deck.

The young Cesar with laurel at the top of the card has a beard ... and pictures of Ercole d'Este never showed the person with beard, also I don't know pictures of Leonello d'Este and Borso d'Este with beard. This whole generation seems to have prefered a shaved face.
The pictures of Alfonso, son of Ercole, showed always a strong beard, rather vital dark hair, as it is often seen by persons from South European countries. An already stronger beard with 15 years is possible for persons with this descendance. Alfonso's genetic influence came from the family of Leonora, who got it from Alfonso of Aragon, a Spanish line is decipherable.
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One should observe, that the portrait at the two-of-disks showed a flat nose and compare this with the nose above and two other portraits at this page ...

A detail of the wedding is described here:,M1

... which is too short and missing details, it is obvious, that there were many other festivities, between them also theatre activities, which alone filled 3 evenings with 3 works:,M1

It was given

1. "Menaechmi" from Plautus
(already given at 25th of January 1486, at Ferrara's first great theatre event, again given in Milan 1493 by Ercole's ensemble)
2. "Andria" from Terence
3. "Amphitrione" from Plautus (in the version of Pandolfo Collenuccio)
(this work was already given at 26th of January 1487 - marriage of Lucrezia d'Este)

The second work, "Andria" knows a hero named "Pamphilus" ... the name is interpreted as from 'pan' and 'philos', a "friend to all".
In the story Pamphilus is "Simo's son publicly betrothed to Philumena but privately promised to Glycerium".

In the Sola Busca Tarocchi all the trumps more or less have their "probable identity" in generally known Roman heroes.
Exceptions are the figure of Panfilio at the important position of the magician, naturally also the Matto at the also important position of the Fool at the begin (position 0 and 1) and further Nenbroto and Nebukadnezar, Babylonian Emperors (at the finishing positions 20 + 21), probably understood as an evil and dangerous influence of the East.

(In the rules of Tarot, as far they are known, usually the cards 0, 1 and 21 have special function, occasionally also the group 0-1-20-21 with the inclusion of the 20. The iconography of the Sola Busca seems to express this idea).
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Although "Andria" is noted to have been shown at the school of Fra Giorgio Antonio Vespucci (uncle of the explorer Amerigo Vespucchi) in 1476 in Florence as one of the earliest experiments with public theatre, it seems to have been a novelty in Ferrara in 1491, in contrast to the both other works.

The 3rd piece, which has as topic the "birth of Hercules", is apparently aiming at Ercole d'Este, Alfonso's father, cause the name, so it may be concluded, that it was intended to honour Alfonso specifical with the second work "Andria" and the hero "Pamphilus" ... if we assume, that the Sola Busca was the marriage deck of Alfonso, the figure of Panfilio in the deck gets a new face.

And finally ... :-) ... another charming detail: The father of Pamphilus in Terence' work is "Simo", an Athenian nobleman. This is interpreted as "From 'simos', flat-nosed" ... at least in the Wikipedia article.
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: Sola Busca Deck

Thank you for resurrecting these two fine old posts by Huck, mmfilesi. They are worthy of a reply. I have just done so, mainly regarding the second one, in a different place, viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530&p=7916#p7916. I didn't reply here because I am replying in terms of a "unicorn" theory I have about the SB pips as a whole--and only the pips--one that interprets the cards in terms of the Greek text Theology of Arithmetic and Neopythagorean texts available in 15th century Italy more generally. So I thought my reply belonged on the thread I initiated on the Unicorn Terrace. I am not actually trying to refute Huck--refutations are difficult in this area--but just to present what I think is a worthy alternative, for the 2 of Coins specifically.

The snail helmet is another topic, one I do not care to engage in except to say that I think more than a few artists did snail helmets then.