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ItalianTarotinthe15thCentury

TheFirstTarotDecks
Bythelate15thcentury,tarothadsettledintothestructurewerefamiliarwith
today:twentytwoillustratedtrumpcards,andfoursuitswithfourteencardseach,
includingfourcourtcards:king,queen,knightandpage.Sincetrumpcardsdidnt
havenumbersornamesprintedonthem,wecantbecertainoftheirorderorwhat
peoplecalledeachcard.
Earlytarotimagesmayseemexotictous,buttheywereveryfamiliarto
15thcenturycardplayersfromwallfrescoes,illustratedbooks,playsand
pageants.Fromthestart,alltarotdecksexhibitedagreatdealofconsistency.
Theyallhadthesametwentytwoimageswerefamiliarwith,andnoother.For
instance,theStarcardcoulddepictanastronomer,theMagifollowingthestarof
Bethlehem,orawomanholdingupastarbutthecardwaseasilyrecognizableas
illustratingtheconceptofStar.
CreativeTarot
Tarotsformativeyears,fromabout1440to1475,wereagoldenageoftarotcreativity.Wealthy
aristocratscommissionedoneofakinddecksthatusedthetarotstructureforexpressingtheir
personalinterests,muchastarotartistsdotoday.Afewofthesedeckshavesurvivedin
museums,andreproductionsareavailableforcollectors.
In1465,CountMatteoMariaBoiardoofFerrarausedTarottocommentonthenatureoflove.
HistrumpswerenamedafterhumanconditionslikeIdleness,Reason,DesireandSecrecy.The
cardsofthefoursuitsEyes,Whips,DartsandVasesaredescribedbythreelinepoems
conveyingasometimescynicalmessageaboutlove.ThepoemswerepublishedinVenicein1523andthecards
wereillustratedbyMaurizioBonorain1995.
TheSolaBuscadeckwasprobablycreatedinFerrarainthe1470sor1480s.Itstheonly
complete78carddeckwehavefromthe15thcentury,anditsourbestproofthatthedeck
structurewehavetodayhadbecomestandardatthisearlydate.Thiswasaoneofakind
deckwithmilitarygenerals,Romanheroesandbiblicalfiguresonthetrumpcards.Itsalso
thefirstengraveddeck,andoneofthefirstdeckstohaveillustratedpipcards.These
illustrationsinspiredPamelaColmanSmithwhenshedesignedtheRiderWaitedeckinthe
early1900s.
CardsforCommonFolks

Noinexpensivewoodblockplayingcardssurvivefromthe
15thcentury.Ouronlyevidenceforwhatthesecardsmayhave
lookedlikecomesfromuncutsheetsofcardsdatingfromabout
1500thatwereunintentionallypreservedbecauseprinting
mistakesmadethemunusable.Insteadofcuttingthesheetsup
intoindividualcards,theprinterusedthemasfillerorendpapers
inbookbindings.Theseunusedsheetsofcardswerepreserved
withthebooks,andseveralhavefoundtheirwayintomuseums.
Itsstillanopenquestionwhichcamefirst.Weretheluxurious
handpaintedcardsmodeledonmassproducedtarotdecks,ordid
aprintermodelhisinexpensiveblockprintedtarotdeckonthe
aristocratichandpaintedpattern?Sincethephysicalevidenceis
sosketchy,wecantbesurewhichcamefirst,orhowcloselythe
aristocratichandmadedecksresembledthecardsusedforgame
playing.
RootsoftheTarotdeMarseilles(TdM)
HistoriansusedtothinkTarotdeMarseilles(TdM)pattern
wasinventedinFrance.Butearlyinthe20thcentury,two
possiblyItalianprecedentsforthesedistinctiveTdMimages
werediscovered.
Asheetofuncutcardsfromabout1500,believedtobefrom
Milan,andnowintheCarycollectionatYaleUniversity,
hasthedistinctiveTarotdeMarseilleslightningstruck
Tower,theStarwomanpouringwaterfromtwojars,and
theMoonwithtwodogs,towersandacrayfish.Italso
showshandsholdingthesuitsymbolonalltheAces.These
cardsseemtobeabridgebetweentheirItalianpredecessors
andearlyFrenchTarotdeMarseillesdecks.
WhenawellattheSforzaCastleinMilanwascleanedout
intheearly20thcentury,numerousplayingcardswerefoundatthebottomthatweredatedtoabout1500andhad
typicalTdMimagery.Basedonthisevidence,tarothistorianshaveconcludedthatthedistinctiveTdMimagery
originatedinnorthernItaly,probablyMilan,andthatdeckswiththeseimagesweretakentoFrancebysoldiers
returninghomefromwarsinItaly,orbyItalianmerchantsandbankerswholivedinallthemajorcitiesofEurope.
Ontheotherhand,itsalsopossiblethatthecardsatthebottomofthewellcamefromFrancewiththeinvading
Frencharmy.Eitherway,thereseemstobealinkbetweenFrenchandMilanesetarotdatingtotheearly1500s.
Sofewcardshaveremainedfromthe15thcenturythatitsimpossibletocreateacompletestoryaboutthelinesof
influencerunningbetweenItalyandFrance.Allwecandoisconnectthedotswiththefewcardsthathave
survivedandhopethestorywetellresemblesthetruth.
Onthenextpage,TarottravelstoFrance.