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Florentine provenance for "Charles VI", Rothschild-Bassano, and Catania

("Alessandro Sforza") cards. Here is some more background information for those
wondering what Giordano and I are talking about -

From Thierry Depaulis, foreward to Franco Pratesi, “Playing-Card Trade in 15 th Century Florence” (IPCS
Papers no. 7 (2012)), p. 8:

“Florence’s silence [on Tarot] in the 15th century was not a true documentary silence. It was only due to
the fact that playing cards had been neglected, being over-looked when the archives had more –
Florence’s brilliant artistic production – to offer. It is therefore a grand arrival among the above-
mentioned centres highlighted by Dummett – Bologna, Ferrara, Milan. This major change has been
dubbed “The Arrival of Florence into Tarot History” by Ross S. Caldwell (1). Caldwell traces the “history”
of the latest discoveries made by Cristina Fiorini, Thierry Depaulis, himself, and of course Franco Pratesi.
With Cristina Fiorini (2) we have the cards, the so-called Rothschild Tarots and a cavalier of Batons in
Bassano, which, as she has convincingly shown, can nows safely be attributed to Florence. Ross Caldwell
holds the “Tarot de Charles VI” (BNF) and the Catania cards (Museo Civico) also for Florentine outputs.
The Florence “files”, which were empty thirty years ago, are now crammed with archival records (Pratesi,
Depaulis) and with actual cards (Fiorini and Caldwell). Who can complain?”

(1) A paper given to the Issy-les-Moulineaux IPCS Convention on 16 September 2012…


(2) Cristina Fiorini, “I tarocchi della Collezione Rothschild al Louvre: nuove proposte di lettura”, *The
Playing Card*, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Sep. 2006), pp. 52-63.

The paper of mine that Thierry refers to follows. Note that it was accompanied by a lot of illustrations
originally.

The Arrival of Florence into Tarot History

Four major developments in the last 7 years or so have conducted a sort of quiet revolution in playing
card history, and particular the history of the game of Tarot; they have greatly clarified the picture of the
diffusion of the game, and brought into focus the role of Florence in its earliest history.

Among the earliest card games of Europe, the game of Tarot is the one about which we know the most.
We have more cards from Tarot packs in the 15th and early 16th centuries than any other kind of playing
cards, and we can reconstruct the earliest rules of the game with tolerable certainty. But unlike with
other kinds of card games, Tarot exercises a particular fascination because of the esoteric mystique that
grew up around it in the course of the last two centuries. This means that researchers into its earliest
history are generally not content to merely try to find a vaguely satisfying solution to its place of origin
and what kind of game it was, but want instead to *solve* what appears to be the genuine riddle of the
conception of the game, both the source of the idea of permanent trumps and the meaning of the
selection of images used to illustrate those trumps. Therefore serious researchers of Tarot are more
demanding of the precise details of this kind of pack of cards than of other kinds. One of the outstanding
questions, which will assist the would-be interpreter, is exactly where the game was invented, and when.

The late Michael Dummett established the foundation for research into Tarot history already over 30
years ago. On the question of where it was invented and when, from the data he gathered and analysed
in *The Game of Tarot * (1980), he established that there were three original centres of the game:
Ferrara, Milan and Bologna; and he could narrow down the invention of the game to within 20 years of
1442 (the earliest reference known at the time). In the years following the publication of *Game of
Tarot*, much more information was brought to light, which refined his model somewhat. In particular,
archival research in Florence by Franco Pratesi in the late 1980s showed that Tarot was known in Florence
earlier than Dummett was able to report, earlier in fact than Bologna, which is in the same family of Tarot
iconography and games as Florence, and therefore placed Florence squarely in competition for the title of
earliest city of Tarot.

Thus the situation remained until quite recently. The four areas where consensus has changed or
discoveries have been made are:

*Florentine cards (Fiorini, Depaulis, Caldwell). In 2006, Cristina Fiorini (Catholic University of Milan)
showed convincingly that the Rothschild Tarot (Louvre and Bassano) could be attributed to Florence; at
the same time, Ross Caldwell proposed that the "Charles VI" (BNF) and Catania Tarots could also be
attributed to Florentine workshops.

*Roman imports of Florentine cards (Depaulis). In 2006 Thierry discovered notes in the Roman archival
research of Arnold Esch which showed Florentine cards, including Trionfi or Tarot cards, imported into
Rome in the 1470s. He published his findings in 2007 in the Playing Card.

*Florentine cardmakers (Pratesi). In 2011, following further discoveries in the work of Esch, Franco
Pratesi began studying Florentine archives for evidence of cardmakers which had to be there. He found a
great deal of it, including named cardmakers.

*Earliest documentary reference to Tarot pushed back to 1440, from Florence (Depaulis). To cap off this
rush of discovery relating to Florence, Thierry found a reference in the 15th century diary of Giusto Giusti
of Anghiari to a pack of Trionfi cards that he had commissioned in Florence in 1440. September 1440 is
17 months earlier than the previous earliest known reference to Trionfi cards, from Ferrara in February
1442.

Despite the wealth of new documentation of the existence of the game in Florence, now including the
very earliest attestion of its existence anywhere, this evidence itself provides no indications whatsoever
about the rules of the game, or the would-be iconographic interpreter's concern, the style of the trumps.
In the matter of whether the sequence of trump subjects has a narrative meaning, then, and what it
might be, we remain only slightly better off than Michael Dummett left us 32 years ago: the same
standard set of subjects, and three families of trump orderings, identified with three cities or regions -
Ferrara, Lombardy, and Bologna-Florence. It is a testimony to Dummett's analytical brilliance that, after
more than 3 decades, the framework he established remains solid, with all of the new discoveries only
bringing additional clarity to the theoretical model he established.