Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Bologna and the invention of the Triumphs

Triumphs, Tarots and Tarocchini in Bologna from the XV to the XX century



Essay by Andrea Vitali, 2004


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012

I have shared with other historians, on the occasion of the great international exhibition on the tarot that took place in the Este Castle of Ferrara in 1987, the hypothesis that the game of Triumphs was conceived in Ferrara or in Milan in about the first half the XV century (Information and video of the exhibition at the link:  The Cards of Court. Tarots).

Since that time, researches have brought to light numerous documents that have given rise to perplexities about things that had been taken for granted before then. Today I believe that the palm for the invention of the game of Tarot should go to Bologna, as I have already clarified in other articles (1).

First of all it should be understood that the date of the first known historical document in which tarots are quoted, cannot be considered their 'date of birth', but it simply constitutes a terminus ante quem: and it means that we know that at that date the tarot existed, but we cannot say with certitude for how long.

Regarding the triumph cards, thanks to documents discovered thus far, we know that the notary and public official Giusto Giusto of Anghiari, who entertained friendly relations with Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, in 1440 brought him as a present a deck of triumph cards that he had commissioned specially in Florence with Malatesta's coat of arms: “Friday 16 September, I gave to the magnificent lord sir Gismondo a deck of triumph cards that I had commissoned [fatto fare, literally "caused to make"] expressly in Florence with his arms, exquisitely done, which cost me four and a half ducats. (Venerdì a dì 16 settembre donai al magnifico signore messer Gismondo un paio di naibi a trionfi, che io avevo fatto fare a posta a Fiorenza con l’armi sua, belli, che mi costaro ducati quattro e mezzo) (2). Two years later, at the Este Court on February the 10th 1442 the Register of the Wardrobe made annotations for four decks of triumph cards: "Master Jacamo painter called Sagramoro today February the 10th  in remuneration for his work of having painted and coloured 4 pairs of triumph cards,... which serve our Lord for his use..." (Maistro Iacomo depentore dito Sagramoro de avere adi 10 fiebraro per sue merzede de avere cho(lo)rido e depento.... 4 para de chartexele da trionffi, ... le quale ave lo nostro Signore per suo uxo...) (figure 1). These documents only attest that in Florence and Ferrara in those years someone produced triumph cards and not that triumphs were invented in those cities and in that period.

In reference to the above mentioned manuscript, we don't know of how many and what cards the triumphs consisted, since 22, their canonical number, was not standardized in that epoch yet. Rather, we know in fact that the various courts invented personal card games, as happened, for instance, in Milan between 1415 and 1420 when duke Filippo Maria Visconti commissioned to Marziano of Tortona  to design a deck of a new conception, according to the habit of Filippo Maria and his court of inventing new decks of cards with related rules of play. We are informed of this by Pier Candido Decembrio (1392-1477), courtier and diplomat, to whom is credited the Life of Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milan from 1412 to 1447. Of the passion of the duke for the game, he writes: "Variis autem ludendi modìs ab adolescentia ujus est; nam modo pila se exercebat, nunc folliculo, plerumque eo ludi genere, qui ex imaginibus depictis fit; in quo praecipue oblectatus est; adeo ut integrum earum ludum mille & quingentis aureis emerit, auctore vel in primis Martiano Terdonensi ejus Secretario, qui Deorum imagines, subjectasque his animalium figuras & avium miro ingenio, summaque industria perfecit" (3).

Marziano da Tortona commissioned the job to Michelino of Besozzo (1370 ca.- 1455 ca.), painter and miniaturist, considered today one of the greatest exponents of Gothic art. Marziano wrote a manual to accompany the game (now in the National Library in Paris), the first known to be combined with a deck of cards. Oddly he didn't write about the rules of the game, but only of the allegorical contents of the figures. We are able in fact to define those cards, unfortunately lost, as an ensemble of icons structured on philosophical and moral contents; regarding the numeral cards of the four suits, comprised of Eagles, Falcons (or Phoenices), Doves and Turtledoves, the author combined figures taken from Greco-Roman mythology with allegorical values:  the Eagles were led by Jupiter, then Apollo, Hermes, Hercules (Virtue); the Falcons (or Phoenices) by Juno, then Neptune, Mars, Aeolus (Wealth); the Turtledoves by Diana, then Vesta, Pallas [Athena], Daphne (Chastity). and finally the Doves led by Venus, then Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid (Pleasures). This deck, later called "of the gods", was then purchased by a Venetian captain named Jacopo Antonio Marcello, who in 1449 gave it to Isabella of Lorena, wife of Renato d’Angiò. In his  accompanying letter, Marcello defined the deck "novum quoddam et exquisitum triumphorum genus", hence a deck of triumphs, even if it had nothing to do with the canonical triumphs that we know.

A deck of cards called "of the VIII Emperors" was requested in Florence in 1423 by Parisina, a Lady of Ferrara, but we don't know with precision how it was structured. Likewise we cannot define as a canonical game of triumphs the oldest known Milanese deck, the so-called Visconti of Modrone deck (now in the  Yale Library). From this deck remain sixty-seven cards, eleven triumphs and seventeen figures, but among the former we find allegories that don't belong to the classical tarots, namely Charity, Hope and Faith, theological virtues that we will find again in the later Minchiate of Florence. Besides, the court cards are six instead of four, with the addition of a Female Knight (figure 2) and Page in each suit. We don't know therefore of how many triumphs the deck was composed, which certainly had rules of play different from those of the tarot triumphs, also for the greater number of court cards in it.

In an Este Commissions book, Dated January 1st 1441 we find: "... to Master Jacopo of Sagramoro painter for XIIII figures painted on cotton paper and sent to Madam Bianca of Milan to celebrate the evening of the Circumcision of this year" (...a Magistro Iacopo de Sagramoro depintore per XIIII figure depinte in carta de bambaxo et mandate a Madama Bianca da Milano per fare festa la scira de la Circumcisione de l'anno presente). Also in this case we don't know which game it was, but only that the game was composed of 14 cards. Lothar Tekemeier holds that those 14 figures were made so as to be combined with a traditional deck of four suits (swords, staves, cups, coins), and further, a fifth suit composed of triumphs. With this theory of his, called the 5 X 14, I find myself completely in accord, even more considering that the twenty triumphs of the more famous Visconti-Sforza deck, now preserved between the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and the Academy Carrara in Bergamo, were drawn by two different artists, of whom the first created 14 triumphs and the second, 6, and moreover in a later period (the Devil card is lacking).

This means that the Ludus Triumphorum was initially formed by 14 allegories.

A further document from Ferrara dated on July 21st 1457, reports the following information:  "Master Girardo de Andrea da Vicenza painter having today July 21st  ...for havng painted two big Triumph card decks, 70 cards in each deck” (Maestro Girardo de Andrea da Vizenza dipintore de avere adi 21 de luglio ... de avere depinto para due de carte grande da trionfi, che sono carte 70 per zogo) which is to say 14 cards in each suit and 14 triumphs.

After this investigation we can formulate some important considerations, that the Courts invented triumphal games unconnected with the triumphs of tarot, that the number of these triumphs varied depending on the kind of game, that the triumphs in the beginning in the canonical game were 14 and only later became 22. Such increase was due certainly to the necessity of structuring the images according to a hierarchy of values that reflected the concept of the Christian Mystic Staircase (please read The Celestial harmony section of the essay The History of Tarot).

To be able to understand when this increase happened, in my opinion we need to analyze the so-called Sola-Busca Tarot of the end of the XV century and the work Cinque Capitoli, sopra el Timore, Zelosia, Speranza, Amore et uno Triompho del Mondo (Five Chapters on Fear, Jealousy, Hope, Love and one Triumph of the World) written by Boiardo in approximately 1461 and first published in 1523. The first four chapters allude to the suits of the cards while the fifth, structured with 22 tercets, refers to the triumphs. It would be difficult to connect this work to the tarot without the presence of two sonnets placed at the end of his essay: in the second of these, called  Sonetto excusato (Excuse Sonnet), he apologizes to the readers  for this composition, while in the first, entitled Argumento de li detti capituli di Mattheo Maria Boiardo sopra un nuovo gioco di carte  (Argument on a new card game), the author offers the real key to interpreting the work. The relationship between the figures of the triumphs and the abstract entities which are the subject of all the tercets is not immediate, and this means that Boiardo, in composing his verses, was referring to a fantasy type of tarot deck.

The Sola-Busca cards can also be considered fantastic tarots because the author (probably the miniaturist Mattia Serra, from the MS monogram engraved on many cards) didn’t represent  the traditional figures of the triumphs, apart from the Fool, but warriors and figures of classical antiquity (Lempio, Catullus, Nero, Sabino, etc.), while in two cases the figures derive from biblical tradition: Nabuchedenasor (Triumph XXI) and Nenbroto ((Triumph XX). About Nenbroto it is possible to form a parallel with the meaning of the Tower because he is portrayed in front of a column hit by fire descending from heaven. The 56 minor cards show scenes of everyday life and fantasy. We do not know how these cards were used. From the presence of historical figures it is possible to think that it was an educational game, entering in this way within the category of those cards done on encyclopaedic subjects of a moral and ethical character.

At the beginning, the Ludus Triumphorum was not an exclusive prerogative of the nobility, as the survival of illuminated cards would let us suppose, but was known and practiced also at a popular level. The fact that only illuminated triumph cards have come down to us doesn't mean that these were the first ones to be used. It is evident that being considered, then as today, as real artistic works, the nobles who possessed them preserved them with due respect. The lack of popular triumph cards in the XV century is easily explained by the fact that, being constructed simply of thick paper and being continuously used, they quickly got consumed. When they became useless they were thrown away, since they didn’t have artistic value. If, as we know, in Florence of 1450 a Provision relating to permitted card games included also the triumpho, and even before, in 1442 (as we will see later), the Court of Ferrara bought from a merchant of Bologna a deck of triumphs of a popular type, then the Ludus Triumphorum was already known and practiced for a long time by the common people, at the same time that in Ferrara and in Milan the nobility could afford illuminated cards.

So, if in 1442 there were illuminated triumph cards and popular ones, this means that their origin is to be found in the preceding decades. It is in fact a formulation based on the historical method of attribution for which, in this case, it is necessary to consider the time needed for this game to become so popular as to be produced even as works of art in the greatest Courts of Northern Italy. The date of the invention of the canonical triumphs is therefore expected to be in the first decade of XV century, a date that corresponds to a series of situations in Bologna from which we can hypothesize that it was the city to give them birth.

The Documents

The famous sermon preached in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna during Lent in 1423 by St. Bernardino of Siena against games had as one result the burning of numerous recreational objects offered by the people. instigated by the convincing words of the Saint, including cards composed of "reges atque reginae, milites superiores et inferiores", which means, of the court figures of the four suits. The English historian Michael Dummett writes of the Actas Sanctorum of the Bollandisti (4), in which three separate lives of the Saint are brought together; they even talk about Triumphales charticellae (5), but it seems that the insertion of the latter was done only later, that is in the Life composed in 1472,  and that it was not there in the first in chronological order, dated 1445. However, a doubt remains.

On July 28th 1442 the court of Ferrara paid Marchionne Burdochi, merchant of Bologna, for the supply of  "one deck of triumph cards; preserved by Jacomo the cross-eyed footman, for Masters Erchules and Sigismondo, brothers of the Lord" (uno paro de carte da trionfi; ave Iacomo guerzo famelio per uxo de Messer Erchules e Sigismondo frateli de lo Signore) (6). Footmen, (Famiglia, from the Latin Famulus) were adopted men who lived and served in the Court. In this case, the pack of cards was kept by James the cross-eyed, toward the eventuality, when  he was asked, of giving the deck to the brothers mentioned above.

The document refers to a relatively cheap deck, since it had a price of nearly five soldi. The main point to consider is that while the Este Court just in that year ordered from the painter Sacramoro, as we have reported above, a deck of illuminated tarots, in Bologna a merchant sold cards of triumphs of popular manufacture. This means that this type of cards must have been present in Bologna for many years.

Bologna at that time was a populous and resourceful city-state with a university frequented by students coming from the whole of Italy and Europe. In such a situation it was inevitable that the number of taverns and inns was very high, cantinas but also places to play cards and triumphs. A way of life belonging even to noblemen. In fact if the Este Court addressed the merchant Burdochi so as to purchase triumphs for the court, it means also that the nobility of Bologna played, a nobility that later will contend even to have invented tarots (Concerning this, please read what has been written about Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia in the essay The Prince).  

A  document of 1427 reports that Giovanni da Cologne, manufacturer in the city of "cartesellas depictas to ludendum", broke a jug of water on the head of the supplier Zohane from Bologna, manufacturer of paper. Girolamo Zorli affirms that “The presence of a German card producer in Bologna suggests technology with the standards of the innovative and flourishing industry of the German press. In 1463 the definitive deck of triumph-tarots was constituted already for a long time. The printing houses were at work. and they primarily produced series for use in Emilia and Tuscany. Italy, even Milan, conformed to the model of Emilia".


Continuing with retrieved documents, from the judicial chronicles we know that a servant of the Podesta [Governor] of Bologna, a certain Floriano, by profession a barber, was accused of theft by Bindo. Tortured, the suspect confessed his guilt and the subsequent search at his house led to the discovery, among other things, of unum par cartarum to triumphis (one deck of triumph cards) (7).

From Bologna could have originated the so-called Tarot of Charles VI (now in the National Library in Paris) of the second half of the XV century, so called because in the XIX century it was wrongly identified as a deck mentioned in 1392 in an accounts book of the French king. Only 17 cards remain, 16 Triumphs and the Page of Swords. The order that distinguishes these cards, if the Roman numerals on the cards are contemporary or slightly later than the cards themselves, is very similar to those of the Bolognese and Tuscan Tarot - of which the latter were imported from Bologna and produced before the appearance of the Minchiate, consisting of 97 cards - with the Angel above the World and with minor variations in the numbers of some cards. However if the numbers on the cards were inserted much later, the deck may have been made in Ferrara and then bought by a Bolognese resident who would have numbered the cards in the Bolognese order. Unfortunately we don't know how the situation developed over time. In the illustrated diagram  (figure 3) the order of the Tarot of Charles VI is compared with the traditional one of Bologna. 

Some of these cards have iconographic details typical of the traditional Bolognese Tarot, with least variations:  in the Chariot we find a standing warrior on a cart dragged by two horses with a sword in its sheath and a halberd in his hand (figure 4); Strength is represented by a young girl in the action of breaking a column in accord with the iconography of the Christian virtue Fortitude (figure 5); the Hanged man holds in his hands two pouches of coins, as we find again in a tarot of Bologna of the XVI century (figure 6); Death is represented by a skeleton on a horse (figure 7); the Tower possesses the same aspect of a castle door (figure 8); the Moon is connoted by the presence of astrologers (figure 9); the Sun by a woman who is spinning (figure 10). Finally in the World we find a woman (Fame) set with her feet on top of the earth depicted inside a circle (figure 11).

In 1477 the notary Alberto Argellata stipulated a contract between Roberto Blanchelli of  Rimini, who lived in Bologna, as buyer, and the teacher Pietro Bonozzi, leader of the Council of Elders. The latter was forced to make his son observe some pacts concerning "the profession of making cards and triumphs for gaming" with the aim of providing Blanchelli a certain quantity of playing cards of two different kinds,  that is, normal cards and Triumphs.

Here is a summary of what is specified in the contract, as Emilio Orioli reported in 1908:  "In this contract, besides the agreed price, was also established the way the cards had to be made, according to a prepared model preserved by a third person, so that if they were not identical or badly done, Pietro Bonozzi was required to do them over; and they could not have on their backs any paint but had to be perfectly white. Master Pietro was also required not to allow his son or other people work or sell cards to others, unless for Blanchelli, neither to help nor give advice to other people about such profession, nor teach it to others; he instead promised that for the following eighteen months he would be entirely dedicated to preparing cards and triumphs on behalf of Blanchelli, who, in turn, must supply paper and the necessary cardboard to make "said cards or true triumphs". Besides the payment agreed upon, Blanchelli also had to add eighteen soldi for expenses for every 120 decks of cards, or as many corresponding decks of triumphs, keeping in mind the greater number of pieces needed to form a deck, since "the deck of triumphs has more cards than the simple one " (8).

In 1588 the papal authorities granted to Achille Pinamonti the right to receive tribute on playing cards in the measure of 10 soldi for one tarot deck (9).

A document present in the State Archive of Bologna that doesn't directly concern the Bolognese tarot, but that gives emperor Theodosius’s depiction (figure 12) as it is in the so-called Mantegna Tarot (figure 13), is the manuscript codex Constitutions and privileges of the Bolognese study of 1467 (10). Actually, the series of 50 engravings of the Mantegna Tarot (ca. 1465) represents a case apart, special, because it doesn't deal with a true tarot deck. A wrong nineteenth-century evaluation attributed it to Mantegna, but art historians are in agreement in assigning it to an author from Ferrara near Francesco del Cossa. Nevertheless the order of the figures, illustrating the human Conditions, the Virtues, the liberal Arts, the Muses and the celestial Spheres, dividing them into five well separated groups, expresses  in a still more finished sense the same meaning of Mystical Staircase present in the tarot cards, and that we find again in this series of 15 images.

In the Medieval Civic Museum in Bologna there is a stone bas-relief (11) from  the same period that shows  Charity (figure 14) with the Misero (The Impoverished One) and Zentilomo (Gentleman) as represented in the Mantegna Tarot (figure 15 - figure 16).

In the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna some frescos painted by Niccolò dell’Abbate (1512-1571) represent men and women engaged in diverse pastimes. One shows them while playing cards, of which the Six of Coins and of Swords and the Four of Staves are easily identifiable; but since images of triumphs are missing, we don't know if the game was tarot. Bartholomeo Crivellari, from these frescos, created some engraved copies inserted in the work of Giampietro Zanotti, The Paintings of Pellegrino Tibaldi and  Niccolò Abbati, printed in Venice in 1757(figure 17).

Concerning the documentation on the tarot used as a game, we must observe that the first description regarding rules and methods really originates in Bologna. This precious information is due to Lorenzo Cuppi, researcher and historian of the Academy of the Bolognese Tarocchino. It had already been quoted in 1754 by Carlo Pisarri in his Istruzioni necessarie per chi volesse imparare il giuoco dilettevole delli tarocchini di Bologna (Necessary Instructions for one who wants to learn the delightful game of Tarocchino in Bologna) (12), but it had been unknown until research conducted by Lorenzo Cuppi in the Library of the Archiginnasio allowed tracking a copy of it in ms. Gozzadini 140, written by the Prior of the Serviti Vincenzo Maria Pedini at the end of the summer of 1746. Various passages allow identification of the document as a copy of the same manuscript by Pisarri (13). The fact that Vincenzo Maria Pedini and Carlo Pisarri, a short time apart, saw and copied the document, defining it as ancient (14) besides many other observations, among them the mechanism of the stakes and the absolute silence to be observed during the game (unlike the large number of legitimate expressions of the mid-XVIII century), have led Cuppi to date the original document, which nobody found till now, to the middle of the XVI century (15). Since the deck already appears to be reduced to 62 cards, its terminus a quo is considered the beginning of the XVI century. And more, since Pisarri and Pedini, consider it ancient - a term that all dictionaries (16) from the beginning of the XVII century to the first years of the XIX century invariably define as "a great deal time beforehand:  many centuries past" - it is not past the end of that century. 

Other fundamental works dealing with the methods of the game are:  Il gioco pratico (The practical game) by Raffaele Bisteghi, which appeared in Bologna in 1753; Lettera d’un dilettante della partita a tarocchi ad un Amico desideroso d’apprendere un metodo facile per conteggiare colla massima sollecitudine li diversi giuochi, che in essa si apprendono (Letter of an amateur of the game of tarot to a Friend desirous to learn an easy method of counting with maximum solicitude the different games, to be learned by reading) by Camillo Cavedoni, printed in Bologna in 1812; and finally Il Tarocco, ossia gioco della partita (The Tarot or to play the game) by T. Verardini Prendiparte (1841).

However there is no doubt, since the deck was shortened around half a millennium ago, that the system of the game, in its popular form called by Pisarri Partitaccia,  has remained unchanged in Bologna to this day, while a modality very near to that of the XVII century is used in the ancient enclave of Castel Bolognese.

The Tarocchino

In the XVI century  a reduction of the Bolognese deck was made that brought the total number of the cards to 62, with the elimination of the numeral cards from 2 to 5 in every suit, originating the so - called Tarocchino (Small Tarot) deck. This happened after the introduction into Italy of a fashion coming from Spain that spread everywhere: the Sicilian tarot counts 22 triumphs against 41 suit cards, the Austrian tarot 22 against 32 suit cards, while the Germini (or Minchiate of Florence), count even 41 triumphs against the 56 suit cards. These variations, each one born independently of the others, clearly originated from the greater interest that the game assumed from the power of the suit of triumphs, which increases the role of the trumps over the other suits through an arithmetic mechanism in the deck.

In the new order, derived from the order defined as type A, we find the Angel as the highest card, while the three virtues are gathered together:

          The Angel
          The World
          The Sun
          The Moon
16      The Star
15      The Arrow
14      The Devil
13      Death
12      The Traitor
11       The Old Man
10      The Wheel
9        Strength
8        Justice
7        Temperance
6        The Chariot
5        The Lovers
          The Four Popes
          The Magician
          The Fool


The numbering given above was added towards the end of the XVII century; one can see that the last four and the first five triumphs remained with no number. The cards of the Pope, Popess, Emperor and Empress cards were called Popes, from the habit used in playing, in which each of these cards had the same value. The substitution of the figures of the four Popes by four Moors happened, as we will see later, in 1725.


Certainly two sheets of the XVI century come from Bologna, one of which is in the École des Beaux Arts in Paris and the other one in the Rothschild collection in the Louvre Museum, both belonging to the same deck, in which we find the Sun, the World, the Hanged Man, the Wheel, the Angel, and the Hermit in the former (figure 18), the Tower, the Star, the Moon, the Devil, the Chariot and Death in the latter  (figure 19). These images are truly similar to those of the Bolognese Tarocchino of the XVI century, as Michael Dummet has perceptively underlined: even in the smallest details, such as the characteristic groups of concentric arches on the two upper corners of the cards” (17).

A wonderful example of the XVII century Bolognese Tarot is conserved at the National Library of Paris: it is a deck composed of 56 cards (out of a total of 62) engraved on wood and then stencil-painted, as reported in the work Fine Cards Dalla Torre in Bologna (figure 20 - figure 21). The images are quite similar to the ones present in the cards of the two sheets mentioned above; the figures of the Four Popes highlight very well their masculine and feminine aspects, and the imperial or papal authority that they represent. On the Queen of Staves appears the coat of arms of the Fibbia Family
(figure 22) (About this, please reed the essay The Prince).


The first complete example of Tarocchino cards belongs to the XVIII century, when the famous engraver Giuseppe Maria Mitelli created a deck between 1663 and 1669for the Bentivoglio family. Subjects pertaining to cards and players were not unusual for Mitelli, who produced several engravings of this sort, such as Considerable Conversation, which shows us various caricatures of card players around a table (figure 23), the engraving Who plays for money loses by necessity, with a man who is going to denude himself because he has lost all his goods (figure 24), and also an engraving taken from the series The twenty four hours of Human happiness of 1665, representing  a player almost dancing near a table on which there are cards, dice and money, elements that are on the floor as well (figure 25). Under the figure there are two quatrains as moral teachings. The first one, entitled The Player, has the following verses: “Playing has always been my fun and care / since we have good time playing / and I earn from playing much more than from every other activity else/ and even if I’m not Jewish, I live on usury”. In the second one, entitled Death, is written: “From youth to old age / playing is for man is an unsettled fortune, / and even if you can earn from it / more often you lose your soul for it". 

The Card Game of Tarocchino was engraved by Mitelli in six sheets: two for eleven cards and four for ten. The iconographical variants in comparison to the preceding decks concern several cards: in the World there is Atlas; in the Sun Apollo; the Hermit shows us a wayfarer under a starry sky with a burden on his shoulders and a lamp in his hand: in the Tower a man is struck by lightning that substitutes for the fall of the fortress door; the Hanged Man-Traitor shows us a man beating a sleeping person on his shoulder with a great hammer, evidently recalling the biblical tale of Cain and Abel; Fortune is represented by a naked girl who sits on a wheel with her right arm up and in her hand a bag from which coins fall down; in the Chariot we find a woman who holds reins tied to two birds; Love is represented by a  blindfolded Cupid with bow and arrows raising, with his left hand, a burning heart, according to an iconographical tradition of the Renaissance;  the Magician becomes a kind of dancing jester (
figure 26 - figure 27 - figure 28).

The substitution of the Four Popes - Popess, Empress, Emperor, Pope - with as many Moors was done in 1725 by a sacristan named Montieri, who published a geographic Tarocchino, combining the small images of the triumphs, painted on the upper parts of the cards, with geographical information concerning Italy, Europe and the whole world, and inserting coats of arms in the suit cards. This game, called L’Utile col diletto, ossia geografia intrecciata nel giuoco de Tarocchi con le insegne degl’Illustrissimi ed Eccelsi Signori Gonfalonieri ed Anziani di Bologna dal 1670 al 1725 (The useful and the fun, or gography weaved into the game of Tarot with insignia from the banners of the Illustrious and High Lords and Old Nobility of Bologna, from 1670 to 1725) follows a trend of the XVII and XVIII centuries, which aimed to teach the most diverse topics through playing cards, according to the concept of the ars memoriae. We might remind ourselves, as an example, of the famous Game of Geography, a deck engraved by Stefano della Bella for the King of France. 

Montieri illustrated “The ten principal parts” of Europe, America, Africa and Asia with figures of Moors that represented, even better than the Popes, the exotic aspect of the latter three continents. In the game booklet combined with the deck, printed August 6th  1725, he explained that “the four Popes have changed into four Satraps, and these make the same game of Popes, that is, one takes the other” (18).

In fact, on the orders of Cardinal Ruffo, the good man was arrested, and together with him, everybody who was involved in publishing the deck, since he had described the card of the Fool (
figure 29as Misto [Mixed], the Government of Bologna being at that time part of the Papal States, even if according to an accord it enjoyed since 1447 a broad autonomy.  The bull, put out on September 12, 1725, cited “a thousand vain irregularities, and improper ideas, deserving the most exemplary punishment, as well as burning them, and forbidding their use and trade, with the publication of our Bull”. Fearing that a severe punishment would have been interpreted as a too repressive, the sacristan and the other persons who had been imprisoned were freed by the authorities in a short time (19). In consequence of that event all the printers of Bolognese Tarocchino inserted Moors in place of Popes, judging as a possible eventuality a further retaliation by the Papal authorities because of the presence in the deck of the figures of the Pope and the Popess.   

The production of cards in the XVIII century was very widespread. The workshops that manufactured cards didn’t produce just popular cards or tarots for Bologna, but also various decks to be exported outside the region, such as the Florentine Minchiate. There were many workshops, whose names came from the symbols that hung above the doors outside the shops, such as the Lyon,  the World, the Eagle, the Dove,  the Soldier, the Emperor, and in these shops worked famous artists such as Davide Berti, Giacomo Zoni, Antonio Comastri, Angelo Marisi and Gaetano Dalla Casa. Card production made in “the manner of Bologna” represented, as we would say today, a guarantee of quality, because of the materials used and of the care in painting and colouring. In the second half of the XIX century Alessandro Grandi, Luigi Montanari, and Gaetano Provasi created cards, and at the end of the century there were Emilio Nardi, Pietro Barigazzi, Federico Rinaldi and Pietro Marchesini.


1 -
To understand completely the hypothesis of Bologna origin, see the articles The Prince and The Order of Triumphs. If we would identify the place of origin of the triumphs relying on the 22 structure base, which, as we reported several times, adhere to the concept of the Mystical Staircase (about the Staircase see the essay The Mystical Staircase and the section "Celestial Harmony" in The History of Tarot),which sees in knowledge of the Divine (represented in the triumphs by the World card) the last step to be reached, the objection that might arise about the attribution to Bologna, is the higher position of the Angel than the World, as we find in the triumph order of that city. It would be more plausible to ascribe the invention to Milan or Ferrara, where the World is above Judgment. But as we have repeatedly expressed, the triumphs became 22 after several years, that led the initial 14 triumphs to become 16 and finally 22. The concept of the Staircase did not permeate the triumph cards from the beginning, but only later when they were brought up to 22. Since in the mid-fifteenth century neither in Bologna nor Milan nor Ferrara did people play with 22 triumphs, but with a lower number of cards, it is clear that the origin of Ludus Triumphorum must be sought in other causes, irrelevant in this context, for the role of the Angel as the highest card. Among all these, Bologna is the most eligible city.
2 - Nerida Newbigin, I Giornali di ser Giusto Giusti d' Anghiari (1437-1482) (Giusto Giusti's Journals). Year 1440, in "Letteratura Italiana Antica" (Ancient Italian Literature), III (2002) 41-246. See also Dizionario Biografico degli Italian (Italians Biographical Dictionary), Treccani, Vol 57, 2002, under "Giusto Giusti”. The information on this text has been sent to the scientific community by Tierry Depaulis. For more discussion on the document, read the article Studies on Giusto Giusti by Franco Pratesi at link
3 - This description was also reported by Muratori in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, Book 20, "Vita Phil. M. Visc." C. 61. Decembrio translated the Vita di Filippo Maria Visconti (Life of Filippo Maria Visconti), which Polismagna composed for Borso d'Este around 1465. This is the translation he made of the passage:“Alcuna volta zugava a le carte de triumphi. Et di questo giocho molto si delectoe per modo che comparoe uno paro di carte da triumphi compite mille et cinque cento ducati. De questo maximamente auctore et casone Martinno da Terdona suo secretario, il quale cum meraviglioso inzegno et soma industria compite questo giocho de carte cum le figure et imagine de li dei et cum le figure de li animali et de li ocelli che gli sum sottoposti”. (Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena. Estense, It. 99 = alfa. P.6.9. The entire translation from c. 27r  to c. 71r).

4 - Tome XVI (May, Vol. V), Antwerp 1685, may 20. The quote is mentioned by M. Dummett, Il Mondo e l'Angelo, Napoli, 1993, pages 217-218. 

5 - Ibid., p. 267, col. 1.
6 - While the discovery of the document Burdochi is due to Bertoni, Ross Caldwell has been credited with identifying the Bolognese origin of the merchant. Below is a summary of the story transmitted by the same Caldwell: "The Marchione Burdochi story has basically three acts, with increasing detail; 1)  Bertoni cites it without precision, and he does not mention Burdochi; 2) Franceschini finds it, and notes that it is in Burdochi's accounts; 3) I find that Burdochi was Bolognese.
- 1904/1917 - Giuseppe Bertoni publishes a paraphrase of the reference of 28 July, 1442, from the Ferrara archives in Modena. He doesn't state exactly where it was, and he doesn't mention that the account was Burdochi's (1904 - Nuovi tarocchi versificati, in "Giornale storico della letteratura italiana", vol. 43, p. 57 n. 5; 1917 - Poesie, leggende, costumanze del medio evo, pp. 126-127).
- 1993 - Adriano Franceschini publishes Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale. Testimonianze archivistiche, vol. I, Dal 1341 al 1471 (Ferrara-Roma, Corbo, 1993). He has edited accounts pertaining to artists at the court of the Este family, and includes several mentioning Marchione Burdochi (also Burdochio). However, he doesn't include the carte da trionfi reference, because it does not have to do with an artist.
- 1996 - Adriano Franceschini publishes "Note d'archivio sulle carte ferraresi" in Ludica 2, pp. 170-174, which describes how he searched for Campori's reference and found it. He mentions that the record was of accounts for Marchione Burdochi (p. 170).
1442 [28 July – credit to Marchione Burdochi, merchant]:
E adi dicto per uno paro de carte da trionfi; ave Iacomo guerzo
famelio per uxo de Messer Erchules e Sigismondo frateli de lo
Signore. Apare mandato a c___,………… L. 0.XII.III
[Franceschini, 1996: 170; cf. Bertoni, 1917: 220 note 3].
- 2003 - I go through Franceschini's volumes carefully, looking for references to cards. I assemble a list of references to Burdochi. The earliest mention of the phrase "chartexele da trionffi" occurs in carta 33, of the "Account of Debits B", (document 01) in volume 4 of the Guardaroba of the Camera Ducale Estense, in the Archivio di Stato di Modena, dated 10 February, 1442. This volume covers the entire calendar year (January - December) of 1442, as edited by Adriano Franceschini in 1993 (Artisti a Ferrara in età umanistica e rinascimentale, Corbo, Ferrara-Roma, 1993, no. 841 (pp. 221-222).
This volume of the Guardaroba accounts also appears to contain the first mention of "Marchione Burdochio da Bologna, merzaro", who appears in carta 5, dated January 2. He is being paid for bringing fabrics (taffetà), to be used by Sagramoro to prepare "standards and banners for the sepulcher" of Niccolo d'Este, who had died a week before.
On March 8 of 1442 (from a different account book, the "Amministrazione dei principi" A, "Regnati" 4, Memoriale; carta 30: Franceschini ibid. no. 482b (p. 223), Marchione is mentioned having supplied fabric for pennants to Sagramoro. No payment is noted.
He seems to have become useful to the court. On July 27 (carta 135 of volume 4 again), he is credited Lire XII, soldi XVIIII, denari VI for bringing more taffetà, this time so that Sagramoro can paint a depiction of the upcoming feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (August 15).
The day after, July 28, he is paid soldi XII denari III for a pack of carte da trionfi, given to the servant Iacomo "the cross-eyed" for the use of the boys Ercole and Sigismondo (this is also recorded on carta 135 of the Guardaroba volume 4, but (no doubt) because Marchione Burdochio is a merchant, not an artist, Franceschini did not include the reference in the 1993 volume. He published it in his 1996 article Note d'archivio sulle carte ferraresi in "Ludica" 2, p. 170).
On September 12 (carta 216 of the same volume), Marchione Burdochio is credited for the "tranza de folexolo", coloured red, green and white, that he was supplying to Sagramoro between March 8 and December 11, for the latter to make around 24 pennants with the arms of the Signore. Giovanni di Pavia is mentioned in connection with him.
On December 20, Sagramoro is paid for the pennants and Burdochio is mentioned in passing, again with "Zuhane de Pavia".
Since Marchione Burdochio was Bolognese, I suspected his pack of carte da trionfi was also Bolognese". 
7 - E. Orioli, Sulle carte da giuoco a Bologna nel secolo XV (About the game of cards in Bologna in the XV century), «Il libro e la stampa»  (The book and the print), year II, 1908, pages. 109 - 119, p. 112
8 - E. Orioli, op. cit., p. 113
9 - L. Frati, La vita privata di Bologna dal secolo XIII al secolo XVII (Private life in Bologna from the XIII to the XVII century), Bologna, 1890, p. 133
10 - COD ms. 40, c. 2r
11 - Inventory 1571
12 - In particular on pages 5-9
13 - Some examples can be found in L. Cuppi, Tarocchino bolognese: due nuovimanoscritti scoperti e alcune osservazioni (Bolognese Tarocchino: two new discovered manuscripts and some observations) «The Playing- card» 30 (2001- 02) in particular at page 84
14 - Cfr. Ms. Gozzadini 140, 40v, Bologna, Archiginnasio Library and C. Pissarri, Istruzioni necessarie per chi volesse imparare il giuoco dilettevole delli tarocchini di Bologna (Necessary Instructions for those who want to learn the funny game of Bolognese Tarocchino), Bologna, 1754.
15 - Cfr. L. Cuppi, op. cit., 82-83.
16 - Compare for example: L. Salviati, Dictionary of the Crusca Academicians, Venice 1612; A. Cesari, Dictionary of the Crusca Academicians, I, Verona 1806; even the Bolognese P. Costa - F. Cardinali, Dictionary of the Italian language, I , Bologna 1819  
17 - M. Dummett, Il Mondo e l'Angelo (The World and the Angel), Naples, 1993, p. 222
18 - Page 10. The booklet was printed in Bologna " per il Bianchi alla Rosa" (by Bianchi alla Rosa)
19 - A complete report of this event can be found in Gian Battista Comelli, Il «governo misto» in Bologna dal 1507 al 1797 e le carte da giuoco del can. Montieri (Mixed govern in Bologna from 1507 to 1797 and The game cards of  Montieri), «Atti e memorie della Reale Deputazione di storia Patria per la Romagna» (Acts and memories of the Royal Deputation of Fatherland History for Romagna), series 3, Vol. XXVII, 1909 


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