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Debating the Italian Origin of Tarot Cards

To: alt.tarot,alt.magick,alt.divination
From: (Huck)
Subject: Debating the Italian Origin of Tarot Cards
Date: 13 Mar 2004 13:14:54 -0800

Hi, the following is from a debate at Aeclectic. It was my answer to
the question, if everybody is convinced of an Italian origin of
theTarot cards.

I'm convinced, that the Tarot cards started in Italy - in a somewhat
not totally identical form to later developments.

The number 22 and its use inside systems with allegorical content,
even printed on playing cards, is not from Italy. It already happened
in China. These cards were related to Domino.
But all figures on these cards are Chinese figures, iconographically
rather different.
Other schemes using the number 22 are also known from before, very
prominent is the Hebrew alphabet, which also was interpreted
Allegories on playing cards before Tarot are also known. Johannes of
Rheinfelden describes such a deck 1377, the location is Freiburg in
southern Germany, not Italy. The used allegories are professions and
the professions relate to planets, as it was already given by
contemporary chess-allegories.
Other decks with similar allegorisation can't be excluded, we don't
know enough. Even a modell with 22 special elements could have been
there, but we've not a single evidence, just the fact of "missing

The idea of special cards - beside the normal suits - appears first
(to our eyes) with the 8 Imperatori cards, mentioned in Ferrara
(Italy) 1423.
Near to this time is the Michelino-deck (Milano, Italy), which is
later called a "ludus triumphorum (1449). The motifs are rather far
from the standard of the later Tarot cards (similar far as Sola-Busca
and the figures in the Bouiardo-poem), and espcially their number is
wrong: 16.
Evidence for decks with "special cards outside the suit-system"
outside of Italy in the early time is not given, the first, which
(perhaps) belongs in this category, would be the Guildhall- and
Goldschmidt cards.

Around 1441/42 2-3 documents appear in Ferrara, which testify, that
the name "Trionfi" in relation to playing cards exists, and one
document speaks of "14 figure". The specific situation of the 3rd
document gives reason to assume, that it refers to the criticalmoment 
of invention of this type of deck. Of course, this assumption is not
totally provable in its truth.

At the same time probably the Cary Yale appears, and as far we
understand the situation of 1441, the Cary-Yale is personally
relatable to the same situation of January 1441 (assumed invention).
The Cary-Yale is likely to have had originally a 5x16-structure, in
the "invention-situation" probably a 5x14-deck was considered.

After this for a pause probably not much happened, but Trionfi-decks
must have had a small form of distribution, as Marcello gets 1448/1449
a deck as present.

After Sforzas occupation of Milano (1450) the interest in
Trionfi-decks explode in the course of some years. In this time likely
Bembo got the commission to produce a Trionfi-deck, the
Bembo painted only 14 trumps (which we know), 6 other cards were
painted by a second artist, a likely date for the production should be

Now explain this condition. The 20-trumps-composition of the deck is
very near to the later Tarot, but the 6 added cards are likely much
later done.
Ordinary playing card research came to the conclusion, that some cards
were lost and some cards were replaced. Their assumption: The
Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-Tarocchi testifies the existence of the
complete Tarot-sequence, the origin of it must be searched before the
production date of this date.

Autorbis argues, that this testifies, that Bembo painted a 5x14-deck
and that this is recognizable by the cards inside this group of 14
cards and inside this group of 6 cards, as they are - as he shows it -
as groups closed and complete ideas. Involved in his interpretation
are also numerological details, which sum up to a high degree of
unlikeliness of accident, which he calculated beside arguments from
other fields already as under 1:100.

Additionally to this suggestion arrived the confirmation of a document
in Ferrara in 1457, which talks clearly of 70 Trionfi-cards, not of

From all this it is very, very likely, that decks with a 4x14 + 22 -
structure before 1457 didn't exist. Of course the possibility can't be
completely excluded, but the assumption of it is very near to be poor
fiction. There is no evidence of any 22 before 1457 in context to
playing cards beside the Domino-cards in China - and that's rather
There is virtually nothing really opposing beside not being good
enough informed, not looking precisely enough and personally motivated

The Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-Tarocchi clearly is a mother-deck to the
later Tarot-development. It had only 14 trumps.

Where outside of Italy should have the further development have taken
place? Of course it was in Italy.   Even when single motifs like Devil
and Tower (which are not part of the 20

Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-Tarocchi) finally might have developed in
France (a good chance), one has to see clearly, that the whole concept
was born in Italy and probably we even do know the persons connected
to  deciding developments by name - real persons, not fictious
Templers, wise men, magicians or hidden orders.

Probably 3 young girls, teenagers in the age of 14-16, had the most
deciding influence. It was the youth, who loved this colourful cards,
and it was women, who played cards, men prefered chess.

Domino-cards in China

Johannes of Rheinfelden   
see menu: Johannes 

Imperatori in Ferrara 
see menu: Imperatori-decks in Ferrara


Dating the Cary-Yale
see menu: Dating

Cary-Yale as 5x16
see menu: Cary Yale

Ferrara 1441

Analyses of the documents

Documents 1441/1442
see menu: "14 Figure", Doc 1, Doc 2

Document 1457
see menu: Doc 16

Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-Tarocchi, 5x14-theory

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