Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

The Prince, Inventor of the Ludus Triumphorum

In Bologna of the first years of the 15th century


 Essay by Andrea Vitali, 2003


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012, who also translated the additions, Dec. 2017


This essay written by Andrea Vitali is an expanded version of the chapter “Triumphs, Tarot and Tarocchini in Bologna from the fifteenth to the twentieth century” included in The Tarocchino of Bologna. History, Iconography, Divination from the fifteenth to the twentieth century by Andrea Vitali and Terry Zanetti. (Martina Editions, Bologna, 2005)


A famous painting, until a few years ago in Palazzo Felicini in Bologna and now mysteriously disappeared, portrays in 17th century clothes Prince Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, descendant of the famous  condottiero [leader of mercenary troops] Castruccio Castracani. The work was painted by an unknown artist around the 30s of the 17th century (1). The painting shows the Prince standing near a table holding some whole-length Bolognese Tarocchino cards (the first, visible, is the Emperor). Other cards are on the ground (the Queen of Staves and the Queen of Coins, while a third card is unrecognizable); another is shown falling from the table (the Eight of Coins).


Under this painting there are the following words:


(Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, Prince of Pisa, Montegiori, and Pietra Santa, Lord of Fusecchio, son of Giovanni, born of Castruccio Duke of  Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa & fled to Bologna in service to Bentivoglio, was made commander in chief of the Bolognese army and the first of this family, which was called Fibbia in Bologna; married Francesca, daughter of Giovanni Bentivoglio.

He was the inventor of the game Tarocchino of Bologna. By the XVI City Reforms he had the privilege of putting the Fibbia coat of arms on the Queen of Staves [card] and that of his wife’s on the Queen of Coins. Born in the year 1360, he died in the year 1419) (figure 1).

That the affirmation that this Prince invented the game of Tarocchini appeared about 130 years after his death (2), united with the fact that he never married Francesca Bentivoglio, has led tarot historians to summarily affirm, without however carrying out a thorough historical investigation at the archives, that this Prince never existed and that attributing the invention to such a person was nothing more than a device to inflate the prestige of the family of Antelminelli Fibbia, since the cards of the Tarocchini at the time of the painting were rather loved by the Bolognese.


But if we investigate thoroughly what was written, once the existence of that Prince is verified through documents and some apparent historical inconsistencies are carefully evaluated, we must read the affirmation about the invention of Tarocchini as about the invention of Tarot (in Italian, Tarocchi), or better, of the Ludus Triumphorum or game of Triumphs, as that game was called from its origin and throughout the fifteenth century.


First of all, the history, attested by documents that are found still today, tells us that Francesco Antelminelli Castracani did exist and was not born of the imagination of the one who commissioned the painting. As we have said, the wording on the painting has some errors. Giovanni wasn’t Francesco’s father, son of Castruccio Castracani. Giovanni Castracani Antelminelli was in fact the son of the condottiero, as we are informed by various chronicles that treated of that noble Tuscan family. Direct information comes from a will of Castracani made a year before his death, which was fully reported by Aldo Manucci in Le attioni di Castruccio Castracane degli Antelminelli Signori di Lucca con la genealogia della famiglia (The action of Castruccio Castracane of  Antelminelli Lord of Lucca with his family tree) (3), where otherwise we can find interesting news about the condottiero's last living moments and about his children.

Here are some revelations: “…avendo fatto il suo testamento l’anno adietro del MCCCXXVII alli 20. di Dicembre, in Lucca…ma sentendosi mancare, & essere sopra fatto della gravezza del male; & avendo discorso con li suoi Segretarij, & dati molti ordini; fece chiamare à se la Duchessa sua moglie, M. Nicolo Castracani Antelminelli, Principal Vegli, Duccio Sandei, & F. Lazaro, Priore di Altopascio; & lasciolli nel testamento tutori, con Enrico, Valevano, Giovanni & Verde, suoi figliuoli; a’ quali con volto intrepido diede la benedizione paterna e l’ultimo bacio” ( …having made his testament the year before, MCCCXXVII on December 20th in Lucca,…but feeling lacking & being above the fact of the gravity of his illness, he spoke with his secretaries, giving them lots of orders; he desired to see his wife, the Duchess,  M. Nicolo Castracani Antelminelli, Principal Vegli, Duke Sandei, & F. Lazaro, Prior of Altopascio & executor of the will, and Enrico, Valevano, Giovanni & Verde, his sons, to whom he gave with intrepid face the paternal benediction and a last kiss) (4). Castruccio expired on 23th September 1328 at the age of XLVII, five months, & five days” (5). Giovanni died still young in 1343 and he was buried in Pisa, near his mother in St. Francis Church (figure 2 -  Giovanni Castracani's tombstone / figure 3 - Coat of Arms of the Castracani Family on the tombstone): “In the same temple Giovanni, son of Castruccio, is buried, a knight and important man in many battles. His upper body is sculpted, armed, and dressed in Chivalric clothes, with the emblem of his family: & the inscription said: “Virtutis exemplum. momentaneo iuventutis flore clarescens, praematurae mortis in cursu praeventus, tegor hac in petra Ioannes, natus olim Illustris Domini Castruccij, Lucani Ducis, altissimae mentis, indelendae memoriae, libertatis patriae defensoris, hostibus semper invicti. Anno MCCCXLIII. Die XIJ.Maj”. (Exemplar of virtue. While I got fame in the flower of youth, anticipating the path of premature death, I lie covered by this stone, me, Giovanni, son of the famous lord Castruccio, Duke of Lucca, of the highest intelligence, of indestructible memory, defender of the homeland, never defeated by the enemy. 14th May 1343) (6). It is clear, based on the inscription under the painting, that Francesco wasn’t Giovanni’s son, because he was born 17 years after his death.


Like his brothers, Giovanni was a Prince of many Tuscan cities, and in particular Prince of Pietra Santa and Monteggiori, thanks to a charter given by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, who “Volendo poi finger alcuna dimostratione di benevolenza e, meschiarla alla grande ingratitudine, confermò alli 10. di Aprile alla Duchessa, moglie di Castruccio, le entrate, che gli aveva lasciate il marito; e diedegli libera podestà, & dominio sopra il castello di Monteggiori, & suo distretto come Patrimonio, con tutte le ville nel Contado, & terre sopra Pietrasanta; assegnando quattromila Fiorini d’oro l’anno sopra esse Vicaria, a lei & à figliuoli, & e loro discendenti. & alli 17. di dicembre fece due Privilegi à quella Signora, à Valerano, e Giovanni predetti, confermandoli Signori di Monteggiori, & loro successori, con la istessa entrata” (Wanting to demonstrate benevolence, mingled with great ingratitude, on 10th April granted to the Duchess, wife of Castruccio, all the real estate left by her husband; gave her free power & dominion over Monteggiori Castle and all the towns in Contado and the lands above Pietrasanta; assigning four thousand gold florins per year on this Vicarage, to her, her sons and their descendants; making on 17th December, two charters to the Duchess, and to the aforesaid Valerano and Giovanni, confirming them and their successors as Lords of Monteggiori, with the same income) (7). Manucci has the whole text of this charter in his work, as well as the Castruccio will.

So who was this Francesco in the painting?  Manucci, and also other documents and family trees referring to this family  (figure 4), said that he was born of Orlando, son of Enrico, first-born of Castruccio Castracani. From Manucci we discover that Enrico, Giovanni’s brother, had a son named Orlando, who had four other sons, Castruccio, Enrico, Francesco and Rolando.

A Fibbia descendant, Padre Flaminio Fibbia, who was a member of the Order of the Benedictines, sent a letter on 12th March 1594 to his cousin, informing him about a family tree in the house of “Signor Bernardino l’Antelminelli Gentiluomo dè Principali della Città” ("Lord Bernardino l’Antelminelli Gentleman of the City of Lucca”), which he himself had seen, of which a copy in copper had been bequeathed.  He writes that this Lord of Lucca thought that the family in question descended from a man named Francesco, son of Rolando, who was born of Enrico, son of  Prince Castruccio; and about the emblem he says: “Ora io non dubito punto, che la Famiglia nostra Cada da questa degli Antelminelli per mezzo di Castruccio Castracane, et me ne da grande Argomento l’Arma, la quale è l’istessa che la nostra non alterata, già la nostra sa vostra Eccellenza è il cane da mezzo in su col colare in Campo azzurro, et le Fibbie in Campo bianco, et l'Arma antica vera delli Antelminelti usata da Castruccio Castracane e il mezzo Cane bianco col Colare in Campo Azzuro, Coperto dal mezzo in giù da un Campo bianco schietto, nel quale noi v’avemo poste le Fibbie Causa della variazione del Cognome; già l’Aquila vi è aggiunta da poco in qua. Egli hà biasimato, che vi si ponghi l’Aquila, et sebbene io v’hò detto, che questo fu un dono che Carlo Quinto fece alla nostra famiglia, mi rispose, che egli ancora l’hanno da imperatori in Dono … ma che la vera [Arma], è il Cane Bianco col Colar posto in Campo azzurro, et di sotto tutto il resto dello Scudo bianco, in che noi, come o detto, abbiamo posto le Fibbie”. (“Now, I have no doubt that our family came from Antelminelli, through Castruccio Castracane, and this is Proved by the (coat of) arms, which is completely identical to ours, which, as your Excellency already knows, represents half a white dog with a Collar on a blue Field andBuckles (Fibbie) on a white Field, and the true ancient emblem ofAntelminelli used by Castruccio Castracane is the white half Dog with Collar in a Blue Field, covered from the middle down by a white Field  in which we have put the Buckles (le Fibbie), because of the Surname change; the Eagle was added recently. He disapproved of the Eagle put there, although, as I told you before, this was a gift of Charles V to our family, he told me that it was had in Gift from the Emperors, but the real [Arms] is composed of a White Dog with Collar in a blue Field, set in a white Shield in which, as I told you before, we put the Buckles(Fibbie)”. The Benedictine lists all the names in the family tree, beginning with Castruccio Castracane, Prince of Lucca, who “ebbe Enrico, et di lui Orlando, dal quale nacque Francesco, che abitò in Bologna, et da questa derivò la Famiglia ora detta – de Fibbia – o – dalle Fibbie – siccome volgarmente parla la Città di Bologna, et gli Anali di detto, aggiungendovisi però nelle Scritture, alias de Castracani, questo Francesco ebbe due figliuoli, Perazzino ed Antonello” (“had a son Enrico, and from him born Orlando who begat Francesco, who lived in Bologna, and from him followed the Family now called Fibbia - or Fibbie, in the manner of the people of Bologna and its Annals - adding that texts about the Castracani say that Francesco had two sons, Perazzino and Antonello.”) (8).


As for the presence of the Eagle in the coat of arms, it came from Emperor Charles V, who decreed it, in a letter-patent, on 27th February 1533, to the "Doctor and cavalryman of the Pope’s army", Alessando Fibbia, our descendant. And later, in another letter- patent dated 1st October 1533, he granted the honour of placing a black eagle with a buckle (fibbia) in its mouth on his family’s coat of arms (9). There is evidence in many of the works by historians in Bologna, such as Dolfi (10) or Montefani (11), both inspired by Alidosi (12), that Francesco was the son of Orlando, born of Enrico, son of Castruccio. This progeny is in another family tree, found in the Bologna State Archive (13).


There is no doubt about the fact that the branch descending from Enrico moved to Bologna, as we can see from the will dated 5th November 1561, drawn up by Joannis Baptista Frassetti, where Francesco Fibbia, son of Vincenzo, states that his noble family came from Francesco “descendentis a stirpe Henrici primogeniti Castruccii de Castracanis, olim Lucae Principis, qui Henricus expulsus fuit Anno 1328, & in hac civitate Bononiae Domicilium elexit, et habitavit in Domo Magna, sub Capella Sancti Prosperi, quam Vincentius praedictus postea vendidit illis de Desideriis Anno 1475" (descendant of the family of Enrico, first-born of Castruccio Castracani, formerly Prince of Lucca. This Enrico was ousted in the year 1328 and came to Bologna, where he lived in a big house in the parish of San Prospero which the aforesaid Vincenzo then sold it to some of Desideri in the year 1475) (14).

So we have been able to discover that the Francesco Fibbia in the picture was real and that he was Prince of Pietrasanta and Monteggiori, thanks to the charter of Ludwig the Bavarian, transmitted to the descendants of the children of Castruccio; we also understand that he lived in Bologna following the transfer to this city of his family. Clearly he never married Francesca, daughter of Giovanni II Bentivoglio, because she married Galeotto Manfredi, Lord of Faenza in 1482 in Bologna. The marriage didn’t last, because in 1488 her husband died, killed by assassins under her orders, and she was free to marry Count Guido Torelli, a Vatican Chancellor.


The fame of this sequence of events that negates a possible marriage between the Prince and Francesca Bentivoglio has led tarot historians to negate completely what was written in the painting. But you need to know the medieval attitudes about family alliances and read them in the right way. That marriage contracts never actually occurred with persons of noble origin was a continual practice throughout the Middle Ages, up to the seventeenth century, as Professor Rolando Dondarini, a professor of medieval history at the University of Bologna, reminds us: "Attempts to give character and prestigious ancestry through false unions and fanciful ancestors were particularly frequent in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when many biographers took advantage of powerful families with their invented and servile reconstructions. There is the controversy that Cherubino Ghiradacci had to face when he claimed that the Bentivoglio in origin were of low birth, while their descendants boasted of being descended from King Enzo and his purely legendary relationship with Lucia of Viadagola, to whom King Enzo would have said: ‘Indeed I am fond of you’ [Ben ti voglio]".


There aren’t any sources to testify to the presence of another Francesca, whether daughter of Giovanni I or a descendant from a secondary branch of the Bentivoglio family, of which the matrimonial stories aren't known with certainty. But the Fibbias were closely tied to many Lords of Bologna, because many held office in the Bentivolgios' Army, as I have found in all the documents above quoted. It is recorded, on this point, that a Biagio, called the Bolognino, joined up in 1420 with Bentivoglio to conquer Castel Bolognese. The family tree Discendenza di Guarniero I. Progenitore della Nobilissima Famiglia Antelminelli (Descendants of Guarniero I, Father of the aristocratic Antelminelli family) bears the same inscription as the painting: “Biagio detto Bolognino Principe di Monteggiori e Pietrasanta Fugito in Bologna datosi a Bentivogli fu Generale Capitano. dell’Armi in Bologna. E creato Cavagliere fu de’ Signori” (Biagio called Bolognino Prince of Monteggiori and Pietrasanta, fled to Bologna, in service to Bentivoglo, was General Captain in the Army of the Bentivoglios. Was made a Knight and Lord of the Signori). The same words are also in the inscription under our picture: “Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Signore di Fusechio Conte Palatino, fugito in Bologna, e fatto Nobile Cittadino fu detto dalle Fibbie” (Francesco Antelminelli Castracani, Lord of Fusechio, Count of Palatino, fled to Bologna, and made a noble citizen was called Fibbia) (15).


We know that the Fibbia and the Bentivoglio (coat of) arms, as the writing on the painting affirm, were printed on the 17th Century Queen of Staves and Queen of Coins, for example, in the “Alla Torre” tarocchini, dated to the XVIIth century, where the Fibbia (coat of) arms appeared on the Queen of Staves (the Queen of Coins is  missing from the pack). These (coats of) arms also appear in the same cards in many decks from the XVIII century, such as “Al Mondo”  (figure 5 - figure 6) (16) and “Alla Colomba” (figure 7) (17). The ability to insert coats of arms of any nature, noble or not, in the oldest decks of cards was not subject to particular authorizations, so that any printer could do it. On this point one must wonder why these emblems inserted were those of the Fibbia and Bentivoglio, if not based on a tradition that saw in the Fibbia and their allied family the origin of these cards.


Continuing our discussion, it should first be said that whoever commissioned the painting did not know the exact time when the tarot was invented, as those who dealt with them in the sixteenth and following centuries did not know, to the extent that at the end of the eighteenth century the tarot was even given an Egyptian origin. If we investigate the documents that historians of the fifteenth and sixteenth senturies coonveyed about the inventor of that game and the period of its existence, no one admitted to having the information, so that various people hypothesized that the tarot was invented at the time of ancient Greece or in an epoch even older, when we know that playing cards themselves did not exist. One of these was Flavio Alberto Lollio (1508-1569) who, in his Invective against the Game of Tarot (18), writes in this regard, drawn to the game he loved but never given the right cards to win: “He who invented such nonsense / showed himself to have little to do, / and truly to have diarrhoea of the mind; / we must suppose that he was a worthless painter, / out of work and penniless, / who, in order to earn his bread, /started making such childish gibberish. / What else do the Bagatella (Magician) and the Fool mean, save that / he (the inventor) was a trickster and a cheat. /What else can they signify, the Popess, the Chariot, / the Traitor, the Wheel, the Hunchback, / Fortitude, the Star, the Sun, the Moon, / Death, Hell and all the rest / of this revolving bizarrerie / Save that he had an empty head, / full of smoke, caprices and idle tales? / She who empties the wine-bottles (Temperance) shows / that it is also true that he was a drunkard. / And that whimsical and bizarre name /of Tarocco, lacking an etymology, / makes it manifest to everyone that his fantasies / had damaged and ruined his brain" (19).


From this passage we understand that the meaning of the word “Tarocco”, a term that replaced in its ludic use that of “Triumph” at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was unknown, as well as its etymology. Today, thanks to documents of the time, the meaning of that word and its etymological derivation have been clarified by the writer (20).


On the picture it is written that Francesco Fibbia was the inventor of Tarocchini, but we know that this term represents a XVIth century variation of the game of tarocchi (tarot), previously existent in Bologna since the XVth century, when it had the name of Triumphs. All this means is that the author of the inscription, pointing to someone living between the XIVth and the XVth century as the inventor of Tarocchini, did not know the correct form of the game at the time of its creation, considering Tarocchini as the original form and not a later variant. The fact that the Bolognese had forgotten the word “Tarocchi” and its game of 78 cards is not surprising. On this point, Michael Dummett writes: "Although still in existence in 1588, the old form and complete pack had been completely forgotten by the mid-seventeenth century, although the name Tarocchini persisted" (21).  [... ]. If Prince Fibbia had something to do with the game of tarot, it is far more likely that he was the inventor, not of the Bologna variant of the game, but the game itself,...  It may well be that in the mind of whoever composed the legend of the portrait there was not a clear distinction between the invention of tarot [tarocchi] and the invention of tarocchino; he might have thought that there were no other forms of the game and even that it was unknown outside of Bologna and its surroundings. If so, Prince Fibbia could really be the first inventor of the tarot pack and the game practiced with it" (22).


Dummett, who we may recall taught Formal Logic at Oxford University as well as writing monumental historical works on Tarot, does not give examples of this claim that the Bolognese had forgotten the name of Tarot [Tarocchi], probably taken by him for granted. I will therefore offer one of many. There was a work in six cantos published in 1736, L’Dsgrazi d’Bertuldin dalla Zena (The Misfortunes of Bertuldin of Zena), in which Giuseppe Maria Buini (born 1680) put into verse of the Bolognese dialect, with “remarks” on his text in standard Italian, an earlier work from the 16th century, Le Disgrazie di Bartolino dalla Zena. (23) In his "Remarks on Canto One”, regarding the line in stanza XXXII, “Dù zugavn’ di stanza a taruchin”, Buini defines “di stanza” as a “Specie di gioco pres[s]o noi usitata, che si fa con le carte dei Tarrocchini, gioco inventato dalla studiosa mente dei Bolognesi, del quale Gregor. Tolos. Syntag. Jur. Lib.30. cap.4. num.11 disse trovarvisi dentro semi di buon fine, e di scelta erudizione” (“type of game used by us, done with the cards of Tarrochini, a game invented by the studious mind of the Bolognese, of which Gregor Tolos. Syntag. Jur. Lib. 30 cap. 4 num. 11 said he found himself among suits of good purpose and refined erudition") (24).


In essence Buini is citing how the well-known French lawyer Pierre Gregoire, known as Tolosano (1540-1597), wrote in his Syntagma Juris Universi, that the cards possessed educational qualities that were full of erudition. The invention of that card game, which to Buini meant the game of Tarocchino, went to Bologna.


In fact, if we investigate what the famous French jurist Pierre Gregoire wrote in his Syntax Juris Universi of 1582 (25), we read that the jurist speaks of Tarot and not Tarocchini: "Inventi tamen ludi sunt foliorum, in quibus dum luditur, vestigia quoque quaedam eruditionis apparent, ut in Tarotiis, & ijs cum quibus excusae sunt unà sententiae sacrae paginae & philosophorum, apud Vuechellum Lutetix typographum" (However, games of sheets of cards have been invented in which, while they are played, there are also traces of a certain erudition, such as in Tarot, and in those in company with the highest sacred and philosophical writers, at the Vuechello typographer in Paris) (26). Which means that for the Bolognese Buini, Tarotiis was Tarocchini, and not Tarocchi, the term and the game by now unknown to him.


The writer Giambatista Giusti (Lucca 1758 - Bologna 1829) author of several works that made him one of the leading personalities of his epoch, in his Sermoni (Sermons) intended satirize the bourgeoisie of the time, with its luxuries and decadence. In Sermon III entitled Conversazioni all’amico Lorenzo Callini [Conversations with his Friend Lorenzo Callini], Giusti, speaking on the customs concerning the card game, writes:


Altrove quattro giocatori assidonsi
Al Tarocco: o divin trovato! o illustre
Concittadino mio! fuggisti il nostro

Miserando paese dalle parti

Diviso: e qui t’accolse ospite albergo,
E d’ospitalità nobil compenso
Il tarocco inventasti, e premj e onori
Furono dal Senato a te largiti.


In another space four players sit

Playing tarot: O divine find! O illustrious

Son of my city! You fled our

Miserable land, divided

By (political) parties and, received here hospitably,

As a reward for this noble hospitality,

Invented the tarot, and awards and honors

Were bestowed upon you by the Senate (27).


The author, as he writes in the notes to his verses, refers here to Prince Fibbia and to that Privilege, mentioned in the painting depicting him, which was granted to him by the government of the city. A precious testimony that highlights how his invention of the game was well known even in later periods. The lines "Miserable land, by parties / Divided" refer to the struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, which inflamed Italy from the 12th through 14th centuries, a struggle which, as expressed, was meant to be reflected in the cards of the Triumphs. Our Prince, of Ghibelline conviction, may have decided to transfer the fratricidal war that had led him, in the second half of the 14th century, to take refuge in the city of Bologna, fleeing from Tuscany where the Guelphs had been victorious over their opponents.


But there is more, since Buini, continuing to write on Tarocchino, attests that “il Ginerlberti ne scrisse la Storia, ed origine facendo vedere, che i Tarrocchini non sono altro, se non se la tragica faccenda de’ Geremei Guelfi, e Lambertazzi Ghibellini, così il Valdemusi da Prusilio ne distese la varia fortuna” ("Ginerlberti wrote the History, making the origin visible, that the Tarrocchini is nothing but the tragic events of the Geremei Guelfs and Lambertazzi Ghibellines, so Valdemusi da Prusilio laid out their different fortunes") (28). In essence, he argues that the Bolognese Ginerlbelti, writing the history of Tarocchino, claimed that this game was, through images, the tragic history of the struggle between the Guelf family of the Geremei and the Ghibelline family of the Lambertazzi, and that another Bolognese, Valdemusi da Prusilio, described the events. The same origin is mentioned by Ercole Mamellini, son of the notary Andrea, in the latter's Liber [Diary] through an addenda between the dates of December 1542 and February 1543, as identified by Ross S. Caldwell. As the struggle between the two factions took place in Bologna in the 13th century, seeing the war between these two families imprinted on those cards inevitably leads us to think that the historian Ginerbelti believed that the invention of the Tarocchino dates back to many years before their actual appearance. This once again attests that the Bolognese believed their game to be very ancient, the original form from which the tarocchi would later be derived.


As additional testimony to the fact that the Bolognese thought that the invention of Tarocchini was very old, Ross Caldwell, our partner, has brought to our attention that Carlo Pisarri writes in his 1754 Istruzioni necessarie per chi volesse imparare il giuoco dilettevole delli Tarocchini di Bologna (Instructions necessary for those wishing to learn the amusing game of Tarocchini of Bologna), a technical manual on the game of Tarocchini: “Questo Giuoco è antichissimo talmente, che non si ha cognizione nè dell’Inventore, nè del tempo, in cui fu ritrovato; ben è vero però, ch’egli è particolare della Città di Bologna, e fu inventato per passare l’ore nojose con qualche divertimento” (This Game is so ancient that we have no knowledge of its Inventor, nor of the time in which it was created; it is certainly true, however, that it is specific to the City of Bologna, and was invented to pass tedious hours with some entertainment)  (29)


From what we have been able to substantiate, no erroneous information is attributable to the inscriptions in the painting, except for the irrelevant attribution of the Prince's paternity. The alleged error of the Prince's marriage with Francesca Bentivoglio must also be interpreted in light of what has been expressed above.


Finally, we come to the reasoning that assigns for certain that Prince as inventor of the Ludus Triumphorum. The dates indicated on the picture are very near to those hypothesized for the time of the birth of the game of Triumphs, and this could not surprise us more. As the oldest known documents about the game of triumphs date back to 1440 (Florence) and 1442 (Estense Court) (30), by historical assumption regarding the practice of use [practica d’uso], the game must date back to at least twenty/twenty-five years earlier, a period which matches with the Prince’s presence in Bologna.


This conjecture in reference to the practice of use is commonly supported by historians of the Middle Ages. A single example will suffice: from Chiara Frugoni we are informed that eyeglasses were invented around the year 1285, based on the fact that the Dominican Giordano da Pisa, in his sermon of 1305 delivered at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, cites them as dating back to about twenty years before:: "Not yet twenty years have passed since the art of making eyeglasses was invented, for seeing well; one of the best and most necessary arts that the world has, and it is from such a short time that it has been invented: a new art, which previously did not exist.” And the reader [Giordano da Pisa] said: “I saw the one who first invented it and practiced it, and talked to him”. (Non è ancora venti anni che si trovò l’arte di fare gli occhiali, che fanno vedere bene; ch’è una de le migliori arti e de le più necessarie che ‘l mondo abbia, e è così poco che ssi trovò: arte novella, che mmai non fu. E disse il lettore: io vidi colui che prima la trovò e fece, e favellaigli) (31).


So not only did the good Dominican communicate during the sermon that eyeglasses, still unknown in Florence, had been invented about twenty years earlier, but also asserted that their invention had occurred very recently. A statement which suggests that for people then, twenty years must have been considered a short period of time, since he called it a recent invention. The Dominican did not say that he was the first to comment on this invention. So, in order to better substantiate Prof. Frugoni’s statement, we have to establish that there is no credible record of their presence anywhere else in the 15-20 years before his report. In fact investigators have found two such reports, in 1300 and 1301 Venice. The 1301 regulation is the first to specify lenses made of glass. The 1300 regulation speaks of lenses made of crystal put next to the eyes and prohibits the production of counterfeits using clear glass; it also says that this regulation is a copy of a guild regulation of 1284. Since the 1284 date agrees closely with our Dominican's dating, the two references together constitute double evidence for this example of the 15-20 year lag (32).


It is therefore obvious, given that the first documents on Triumphs belong to the early fifteenth century, we must look for their creation 20/25 years or more earlier.


This type of assumption, with reference to practice of use concerning a situation like this, is commonly supported by historians of the Middle Ages. Specifically, Professor Rolando Dondarini, professor of medieval history at the University of Bologna, Professor Paolo Aldo Rossi, historian of tarot and professor of scientific thought at the University of Genoa, and Professor Franco Cardini, one of most prominent medievalists, are in agreement with the writer. Also, their content must be related to the cultural contexts of the time, a subject that in specifics has been dated back to the end of the XIVth century or the beginning of the XVth by Professor Franco Cardini.


We should actually consider the time needed for this game to become so popular that it is the object of artistic illuminated production in the courts (that is, current practise). In the same period when the first illuminated triumphs appeared, cards of popular manufacture were used in Bologna by the common people (1442), testifying to a long-existing practice (33). The fact that popular cards failed to survive is due to the conditions of their manufacture, as the paper and cardstock they were made of would easily deteriorate. 


Agreeing with the writer on the date of invention of the game are three leading experts: R. Decker, T. Depaulis and M. Dummett. In the book A wicked pack of cards: The origin of the Occult Tarot they write: "A lower bound for the date of the invention is harder to determine. It probably occurred around 1425; the earliest date with any claim to be plausible would be 1410" (34). The era that saw our Prince at Bologna.


If the inscription’s author had mentioned a date later or earlier by one or several decades in comparison to the one we nowadays know as the realistic time of origin of the Triumphs - the period between 1410 and 1420 - we would have immediately understood that this was a type of operation conceived to strongly highlight the role of this Family, since the tarot  was really loved and used in Bologna at every social level. 


Is it by pure chance that the author of the inscription indicated dates so close to reality, an unconscious ”hit”, wanting to promote the image of his own family, or is it perhaps more plausible that he has come into possession of an old document that has reported this, knowing that this also would bring prestige to his family. To speak of a coincidence would be really unpropoundable!


What is more, Francesco Fibbia lived in an historical period that saw the beginning of the construction of the Basilica of St Petronio (1390), and the construction of the Bolognini Chapel (1400-1420), in which there is the image of the Hanged Man, adopted in the Triumphs of those years to represent the figure of the Traitor. In addition the Chapel in question was also entitled The Magi, who have always been represented in the Star card of the Bolognese tarot, together with the gastrocephalic devil [devil with a head on its belly] towering at the center of Hell, again found in the iconography of the old Bolognese tarot (35).




1 - The dating of the painting is by Dr. Elisabetta Gnignera, our scientific consultant and one of the leading international experts in the history of costum.

2 - Tarocchino (also called “Tarocchini”) was created in the middle of the sixteenth century, when the Bolognese, to streamline the game, took several cards out of the deck of 78 cards, narrowing their number to 62.

3 - The work was printed in Rome in 1590. 

4 - Ibid, p. 95

5 - Ibid, p. 97

6 - Ibid, p. 107

7 - Ibid, p. 105

8 - Adolfo Cavazza, Notizie intorno alle Famiglie Fibbia, Fabri, D’Arco, Fava e Pallavicini (Information about the Fibbia, Fabri, D’Arco, Fava and Pallavicini Families), Bologna, 1901, pp. 7-8. 
9 - Ibid, p. 11. 
10 - Scipione Pompeo Dolfi, Cronologia delle Famiglie Nobili di Bologna (History of  Bologna Noble Families), 1670, p. 320.
11 - Lodovico Montefani, Famiglie Bolognesi (Bolognese Families), Bologna, University Library, ms. n. 34, c. Pallavicini, Bologna, 1901, pp. 7-8.  
12 - Cfr: Gio. Nicolò Pasquali Alidosi, Delli Antiani Consoli di Bologna, e Confalonieri di Giustitia della Città di Bologna, Libro Quinto (Ancient Consuls of Bologna, and of the Captains of Justice of the City of Bologna, Book 5), Bologna, Per Sebastiano Bonomi, 1621.

13 - Bologna, State Archives, Archive Section (Fondo) Fibbia- Fabbri, Family Trees, Envelope 1. 
14 - This will was printed from the original manuscript by the typographers Longhi in Bologna in 1764. Bologna, Archiginnasio Library, 17 Historical Biographies - Wills, Cap. I, n. 12.
15 - Bologna, Archiginnasio Library, coll.32.E.10. In this document the year of the Prince’s death is recorded as 1399.

16 - Collection Giuliano Crippa, Milan. 
17 -Bologna, Archiginnasio Library, Playing-cards, 16.Q.V.23.
18 - Flavio Alberto Lollio, Invettiva di M. Alberto Lollio Academico Philareto contra il Giuoco del Tarocco (Invective of Mr. Alberto Lollio Academic of Philareto, against the Game of Tarocco), Ariosto Municipal Library, Ferrara, ms. CL I, 257.

19 - Ibid, lines 205-226: “Ei mostrò ben d’haver poca facenda, / Et esser certo un bel Cacapensieri / Colui, che fù inventor di simil baia: / Creder si dè, ch'ei fosse un dipintore / Ignobil, scioperato, et senza soldi, / Che per buscarsi il pan, si mise à fare / Cotali filostroccole da putti. / Che vuol dir altro il Bagatella, e 'l Matto, / Se non ch'ei fusse un ciurmatore, e un barro? / Che significan altro la Papessa, / Il Carro, il Traditor, la Ruota, il Gobbo: / Là Fortezza, la Stella, il Sol, la Luna, / E la Morte, e l'Inferno: e tutto ’l resto / Di questa bizarria girandolesca, / Senon che questi havea il capo sventato, / Pien di fumo, pancucchi, et fanfaluche? / Et che sia ver, colei che versa i fiaschi / Ci mostra chiar, ch'ei fusse un ebbriaco: / E quel nome fantastico e bizarro / Di Tarocco, senz’ethimologia, / Fa palese a ciascun, che i ghiribizzi / Gli havesser guasto e storppiato il cervello.” The entire Invectiva is reported by Girolamo Zorli on his site at the link

The English translation is taken from Michael Dummett, The Game of Tarot, from Ferrara to Salt Lake City (London: Duckworth, 1980), p. 434, where the relevant part of the original also appears; it is online at

20 - See our essays The meaning of the word ‘Tarocco’, Tarocco sta per Matto (Tarot stands for Fool, currently in Italian only), and About the Etymology of Tarocco.

21 - Michael Dummett, Il Mondo e l’Angelo. I Tarocchi e la loro storia (The World and the Angel. Tarot cards and their history), Naples, Bibliopolis, 1993, p. 224.

22 Ibidem, p. 219.

23 - L’Dsgrazi d’Bertuldin dalla Zena, Miss in rima da G. M. B. [Giuseppe Maria Buini] Accademic dal Tridell d' Bulogna. Accademic Con le Osservazioni, e Spiegazioni dei Vocabili, ò termini Bolognesi del Conservatore della Società de’ Signori Filopatrij di Bologna, Bologna, Per Costantino Pisarri sotto le Scuole all'insegna di S. Michele, 1736. (The Misfortunes of Bertuldin of Zena. Put into verse by G.M.B. [Giuseppe Maria Buini], Academic of the Tridell [a word for low-quality bran] of Bologna. With Observations and Explanations of the Expressions, or Bolognese terms, from the Conservatory of the Society of the Patrimony-Loving [Filopatrii] Gentlemen of Bologna, Bologna, By Constantine Pisarri under the Schools of St. Michael, 1736). The earlier work, Le Disgrazie di Bartolino dalla Zena, by Count Pompeo Vizzani (or Visani) (c.1540-1607), was first published in 1597 Bologna   “presso gli heredi di Gio. Rossi” (by the heirs of Gio. Rossi).

24 - Ibid, p. 98. For completeness of information, we report the stanza and as much as Buini clarifies in his Observations referring to this stanza XXXII. (A very rough English translation follows immediately after the Italian/Bolognese original.)


Canto Primo - XXXII


In quell mentr, ch’j asptavn’, ch’s’amanvass,

      Dù zugavn’ di stanza a taruchin,

      E dù altr’ a caplett’ in s’un tavlin,

      E dù a batt’ mur, e un d’lor stava a spass,

      Ch’ s’ i truvavn del lit, al sentenziava,

      E tutt’ l differenzi l’accumdava. (p. 9)


(In quel mentre che tutti aspettavano che si apparecchiasse / Due persone giocavano ‘di stanza’ a tarocchini / e altri due ‘a caplet’ [a cappello] su un tavolo / e due a ‘batt’mur’ [battere muro], e uno di loro stava ozioso, / il quale, se qualcuno litigava, con le sue sentenze / tutte le differenze di opinioni conciliava [cioè metteva d’accordo tutti]


 Osservazioni al Canto Primo - XXXII


v.1. Ammanvass - Che restasse ammanito, ed approntato, manibus aptatum prandium, direbbersi latinamente.

v. 2 Di stanza - Specie di gioco pres[s]o noi usitata, che si fa con le carte dei Tarrocchini, gioco inventato dalla studiosa mente dei Bolognesi, del quale Gregor. Tolos. Syntag. Jur. Lib.30. cap.4. num.11 disse trovarvisi dentro semi di buon fine, e di scelta erudizione, e il Ginerlberti ne scrisse la Storia, ed origine facendo vedere, che i Tarrocchini non sono altro, se non se la tragica faccenda de’ Geremei Guelfi, e Lambertazzi Ghibellini, così il Valdemusi da Prusilio ne distese la varia fortuna” (p. 98).

v. 3. A Caplett - Gioco vigliacco affatto, e di mera fortuna detto cosi dal chiudersi in un capello diversi quattrini di rame di nostro conio; uno de' giocatori chiama lettera, e l’altro lione, che sono le cose in quelli improntate, rovesciato poi il capello, vince chi ha indovinato l’una, o l'altra delle apparenze chiamate. Se non fosse, che i soli Birrichini [nullatenenti e questuanti], e Filatoglieri vi giocano, ragazzi di niun conto, e per i soli stessi quattrini, certo che il gioco sarebbe affatto proibito, essendo una specie di Bassetta. (p. 98)

v. 4. A batt mur - Questo è pure gioco vile, mentre per le strade usasi con battere una delle monete suddette nel muro, quale dee battersi con tale artifìcio, che caduta a terra si accosti alla moneta, che l’altro prima nella stessa maniera gittò a terra, quanto è la lunghezza d' una misura fra le parti convenuta (p.99).

 v. 4. A spass - Senza impiego, ozioso, e che stava a vedere gli accidenti, che ai compagni occorrevano. (p. 99).


In quell mentr, ch’j asptavn’, ch’s’amanvass,

      Dù zugavn’ di stanza a taruchin,

      E dù altr’ a caplett’ in s’un tavlin,

      E dù a batt’ mur, e un d’lor stava a spass,

      Ch’ s’ i truvavn del lit, al sentenziava,

      E tutt’ l differenzi l’accumdava. (p. 9)


(In which while they all waited for things to be set up / Two people were playing “di stanza” (in the room) at tarocchini and two others “at caplett” (at hat) at a table and two at “batt'mur” (bat-wall), and one of them was lazy, who, if anybody litigated, with his judgments / all differences of opinion conciliated [i.e., all were put in agreement]).


Observations on Canto One - XXXII


l. (line) 1. What would remain ammanite, and prepared, manibus aptatum prandium, to speak in Latin.

l. 2. di stanza (in the room) -  Type of game played by us with Tarrocchini cards, a game invented by the scholarly-minded Bolognese, of which Gregor. Tolos. Syntag. Jur. Lib.30. chapter 4. Num.11 said he found himself in suits of good purpose, and refined erudition, and Ginerlberti wrote the History, making it known that Tarrocchini is nothing but the tragic events of the Geremei Guelfs, and Lambertazzi Ghibellines, as Valdemusi da Prusilio laid out their different fortunes" (p. 98).

l. 3. A Caplett (At Hat) -  a cowardly game, of mere luck, so called by putting a few coins of copper into one person’s hat; one of the players calls a letter, and the other Leone, which is the things in the ones marked, then the hat is spilled, the winner is the one who guesses one or the other of the appearances called. If it were not that onlyBiricchini [pauper and beggar] and Filatoglieri are playing, bad guys, and for the same quarter-pennies, it is sure that the game would be forbidden to all, being a kind of Bassetta. (p. 98)

l. 4. A batt mur (at bat-wall) -  This is also a vile game; in the streets one throws one of the above coins against the wall, which must fall close to one thrown by the other player in the same  way. In general the winner was the one who threw his coin closer to a previously established land measure. (p.99; this is a translation of a summary provided by Andrea Vitali, as a literal translation would not explain the game).

l. 4. A Spass - Useless, lazy, seeing what was happening with his companions. (p. 99).)

25 - Pierre Grégoire (c. 1540-1597), Tertia ac postrema Syntagmatis Juris Universi Pars, Pars III, Liber XXXIX (contrary to the citation of XXX in Buini), Cap. 4, n.11 (Ludi foliorum qui innoxj, & ludi & lusoris mala), (card games here innocent & games & the evil of the player). Lugduni (Lyon), Apud (At) Antonium Gryphium, M.D.LXXXII. [1582].

26 - Ibid, p. 818.

27 - I Sermoni del Cavaliere Giambatista Giusti (The Sermons of the Knight Giambatista Giusti), Florence, Piatti Printing House, 1827, pp. 22-23. 

For more details read the article The Sermons of Giusti.

28 - See note 20, Observations on Canto One, III, line 2.

29 - [Carlo Pisarri], Istruzioni necessarie.., op. cit. in the textChapter I: “Dell’Antichità di questo Giuoco, e come gli Antichi lo giocavano” (Of the Antiquity of this Game, and how the Ancients played it), In Bologna, by Ferdinando Pisarri, under the sign of S. Antonio, MDCCLIV [1754], p. 5.  That the game of tarot was invented in Bologna is also attested in the volume Museo Cospiano: attached to that of the famous Ulisse Aldrovandi and given to his homeland by the illustrious Lord Ferdinando Cospi, Patrician of Bologna and Senator, Book III - Ch. XXVIII, in Bologna by Giacomo Monti, 1677, where we find the following:

12 - All these Games of Cards were derived from that of the Tarot, invented, as is known, in Bologna, and, more than anywhere else, practiced there, when the Bentivoglio exerted the Princely authority. The cards presented here give testimony.

13 - TAROT [TAROCCHI] CARDS, used in Bologna CLXX and more years ago, as evidenced by the backs of the cards, on which the Arms of the Bentivoglio are printed, as used at that time when they exercised princely authority, i.e. with the red Saw and nothing else in the shield, and a Panther above the Crest, with the motto FIDES, ET AMOR. They are much larger than ordinary ones, and likewise painted in a variety of colors. The Game with them is more ingenious than of luck, but the Holy Figures do not make for good harmony, such as that of the Pope, such as that of the Pope, which does not seem to me proper to put among things of play, so much so that even the Heterodox are scandalized by such abuse (p.307).

30 - See our essay Bologna and the Invention of Triumphs.

31 - Chiara Frugoni, Medioevo sul naso. Occhiali, bottoni e altre invenzioni medievali [Middle Ages on the Nose. Eyeglasses, Buttons and other medieval inventions], Rome, Laterza, 2001, Chap. I p. 3. See: Giordano of Pisa, Florence Lenten Sermons 1305-1306, critical edition edited by C. Delcorno, Sansoni, Florence, 1974; Sermon XV (23 February 1305), p. 75.

32 - Vincent Ilardi, Renaissance Vision from Spectacles to Telescopes, Philadelphia 2007, pp. 8-9, accessible at I am grateful to Prof. Michael S. Howard, associate of our Association, for this information. 

33 - In this regard see the essay Bologna and the invention of Triumphs. 

34 - London, Duckworth, 1996, p. 27.

35 For further discussion on Prince Fibbia and our hypothesis on the early triumphs conceived by him, read the Addenda to the essay The Order of Triumphs.


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