Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

From ‘Barocchi’ to ‘Tarocchi’

The evolution of the term ‘Barocco’ into ‘Tarocco’


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, February 2014 


After our inquiries  addressed to solving the problem of the etymology of ”Taroch” and “Tarochus”, it seems almost certain that it must be related to the card of the Fool. This is not just because the words Taroch and Tarochus in the literary field possessed that meaning (1), but also because of the different evaluations ascribed to the Fool card from a philosophical point of view (2). If nothing else, one could think of a convergence of meanings, also admitting the possibility of an attack (t'arocco, t'arocho, ti arocco, ti arocho, ti rocco, ti rocho = "I overpower you, I force you to entrench yourself," in chess, “I force you to castle”)  with cards of greater value (3), victorious over those of rivals (after all, what is the game of tarot if not a war among the players?).


Since the Tuscan tarot, that is, Minchiate, was also called by the name of Ganellini, a term which in the singular was identified with the Bagatto card (4), it is consistent that the word “Taroccho” may have been related to a playing card also in the tarot outside of Tuscany.


One might wonder why people of the sixteenth century did not understand the meaning of 'taroccho'. Some of them had guessed that it somehow had to relate to madness, for example Lollio: "quel nome bizzarro / Di tarocco, senza ethimologia, / Fa palese a ciascun, che i ghiribizzi / Gli havesser guasto, e storpiato il cervello” (that bizarre name / of taroccho , with no etymology, / that shows everybody that fancies / had rotted and mangled his brain); (5) or Berni "viso proprio di tarocco colui a chi piace questo gioco, che altro non vuol dir Tarocco che ignocco, sciocco, balocco ... " (Let him observe, he who is pleased with the game of Taroccho that the only meaning of this word Tarocco, is stupid, foolish, simple) (6). The problem that beset them was obviously an etymological misunderstanding, so as to give the term a transalpine origin, as affirmed Francesco Vigilio, called Francesco Mantovano (of Mantua), in the dialogue Italia e Mantua (Italy and Mantua) (1532-34) where he writes that "Con barbaro rito senza alcuna relazione con il Latino, lo chiamano Taroch" (Barbaro ritu, taroch nunc dicunt nulla latina ratione)(now with the barbarian rite, without relationship to the Latin, they call it Taroch) (7) .


The analysis we want to perform here should be taken as one possibility, because in the current state of research, we have recruited only one document in support of our hypothesis. The hypothesis concerns the possibility that before the Ludus Triumphorum was called Ludus Tarochorum, there could have been an intermediate term between the two. Our proposal should not be considered as a mere stylistic exercise but as further support of the attribution of the term tarocco to the card of the Fool. We will see why.


We believe that the intermediate term (replaced after a few years) was Baròco or Baròcho or Barocco (plur. Baròchi, Baròcchi), a medieval word (XIIIth century) that came to assume a plurality of meanings, including that of strange, extravagant, bizarre (the latter term also mentioned by Lollio), different, irregular, all attributes that well characterize the figure of a madman.


In the Abrege’ du Dictionnaire de la Crusca’ (Compendium of the Vocabulary of the Crusca) reported in Italian, with ‘explanations in Latin and French’ in the Dictionaire Italien, Latin, et François by Abbot Antonini, the word BAZZA is thus interpreted: “Buona fortuna. Metafora tolta dal giuoco dei Trionfini (8), e de’ Barocchi, quando si piglia la carta data senza trionfo; e quando non è presa, ne con trionfo, ne senza, è di bazza. (Lat: de lucro est) (Good luck. Metaphor taken from the game of Trionfini (8), and of  Barocchi; when one wins a [valuable] card placed  [in the game by the opponent] without [using] a trump; and when it [one’s own valuable card] is not taken, either with a trump or without one, it is also called Bazza. (Lat: de lucro est) [It is of economic benefit]) (9).


(Here "bazza" is probably when the valuable card won is a court card won by a higher court card, and the same for when the valuable card played is not won by another player: again, it is probably a court card that is meant. As the  explanation by Girolomo Zorli later in our essay makes clear, court cards are point-getters but also vulnerable to being captured in tricks by trump cards).


The term Barocchi appears in our edition of  reference dated 1745 and also in the one published in Paris by Prault in 1743, where the Crusca Compendium is always in Italian. In the 1743 version by the same publisher entirely in French, the term Bazza is not listed among the words. Other independent editions of the Vocabulary of the Crusca report 'Trionfini e Tarocchi'. One might wonder whether this is not a typographical error. entering ‘Barocchi’ instead of Tarocchi, but the fact that the term Barocchi appears also in a version two years earlier and that the error could have escaped   the experts of the Crusca - you must consider that we are talking about a dictionary - seems rather unlikely.


Among other things, it is among the accredited hypotheses that Baròcho might be derived from Baro (cheat), a term connect to card games together with the verb Barare (to cheat) (10).


The famous philologist Pietro Fanfani (1815-1879) in his Vocabolario dell’Uso Toscano (Vocabulary of  Tuscan Usage), following Prospero Viani (1812-1892), who was a member  of the Crusca Academy, writer, historian and literary critic, believes that “Baròcco” is derived from the Greek paracopto (I am delirious, I am crazy) and, quoting Francesco Malizia (1725-1798) identifies it as a "superlative of bizarre, excess of the ridiculous", affirming, with the expression "si trasporta pur anco ad altri oggetti", i.e. to be used for any subject. that it is a term commonly and suitably used (11).


The Crusca Academy gives almost the same meaning in its Vocabulario: BAROCCO is said of any work of art, of style, of reasoning, of thinking, etc. when it has something both strange and awkward together, along with "a kind of usury and illicit gain" (12), of which the latter may have a lot to do with games, while "strange and awkward" are qualities that undoubtedly belong to the category of fools.


Mario Apollonio in his Storia della Letteratura Italiana (History of Italian Literature) writes that "It is called 'Barocco' from an old Tuscan word, Barocco and Barocchio, which meant illicit gain" (13); like him are many others, including Giuseppe Manuzzi, a respected philologist of the Crusca Academy (14).


Francesco Galluzzi in his critical inquiry on the Baroque writes that "an hypothesis on the origin of the term refers to the Tuscan baraccolo or Barocchio, attested in the fourteenth century in a novel of Sacchetti, which indicates certain forms of deception in the economy and trade, derived from ecclesiastical tradition (for example, in its Latin form it is met in St. Augustine, and  the sermons of St. Bernardino), from there passed into legislative language, and then entered into common parlance to denote scams and tricks in card games" (15).


For Benedetto Croce baroco is a term indicating a pattern of medieval syllogistics, created by the masters of logic to help students to better memorize the fourth mode of the second figure of the syllogism (16). To understand the 'syllogism in Baroco', we employ an example described by the humanist Lorenzo Valla (1405/07-1457): "Hoc non est bipes, non quadrupes, non volucre, non reptile…ergo non est animal " (this is not a biped, not quadruped, not a bird, not a reptile ... so it is not an animal), a syllogism that can be formulated as follows: "Species animalium sunt omnes bipes, quadrupes, volucris, reptilis, aquatilis: hoc e nulla illarum est, ergo non est animal " (All species of animals are bipeds, quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, fish: this has none of those [characteristics], so it is not an animal" (17) .


Giovanni Gherardini in the Supplemento a’ Vocabolarj Italiani (Supplement to Italian Vocabulary), defines the term as follows: BAROCCO. Masculine noun. Term of Dialectic used in the following expression: ARGUMENT IN BAROCCO. Kind of syllogism used by the Scholastics. Even the French say Argument en baroco, Syllogisme en baroco. The Complém.. Dict. Acad. franc, considers Baroco the same as Baralipton, saying likewise Un argument en baralipton, Un syllogisme en baralipton. These days by “Argument IN BAROCCO” is meant “bad reasoning” (18).


In English, a baroque argument is one that is circuitous or hard to follow. It may be valid, however, just as the example of Lorenzo Valla’s is valid.


In philosophy already in the sixteenth century, the term Baroco pejoratively identified a false way of reasoning (19), and an "argument in baroco" something extravagant and captious, with the generic meaning and value of an adjective applied to anything that was irregular and bizarre (20).


Thus the Crusca expressed about this term in its Vocabulario: BAROCCO and BAROCO. Masculine noun, Term with which the Scholastics referred to a Manner of syllogism, properly the Fourth mode of the second figure. Commonly, however, it is said for joke Reasonings, or arguments in Barocco, bad Reasonings or arguments (21).


Ottorino Pianigiani in his famous Dizionario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana (Etymological Dictionary of the Italian Language), broadens the possible etymological derivations, something that does not fundamentally alter the concept assumed up to now, which Pianigiani derives from the Crusca: Barocco seems able to be explained, on the basis of Diez, by the Portuguese BARROCO (Spanish BARRUCO and Berrueco)  pearl that is unequal [to others], non-spherical, jagged rock, [hence the French BAROQUE, properly inégal, irrégular: different, irregular] that could be the Latin BIS-ROCA bad rock (BIS sometimes - DIS Pejorative particle) or the Latin VERRÚCA(botch)- Strange word invented by the Scholastics to designate a kind of indirect syllogism, and which counted as bad Reasoning or Argument. Then it was said as added to any work of art, of style, of reasoning, of thinking, etc., when it is both strange and awkward together" (22).


We have reported the derivations of Pianigiani for the meanings cited by him of "uneven, irregular", adjectives that take us back to the Fool card in reference to its use in the game. To understand the role of the Fool in the game of tarot we will use the comment of Puccio Lamoni (Paolo Minucci) to Il Malmantile Racquistato by Lorenzo Lippi (1606-1665), comments that appear as a thorough work of philological art (23), the explanations given by Francesco Zanotto in his Vocabolario Metodico Italiano (Methodical Italian Vocabulary) (1857) (24), and the expertise of Girolamo Zorli, one of the leading contemporary authorities on the game-playing use of tarot cards (25):


Puccio Lamoni


“Non è numerata né anche la carta 41 ma vi è impressa la figura d'un Matto; e questa si confà con ogni carta, e con ogni numero, ed è superata da ogni carta, ma non muor mai, cioè non passa mai nel monte dell'avversario, il quale riceve in cambio del detto Matto un'altra cartaccia da quello, che dette il Matto: e se alla fine del giuoco quello, che dette il Matto, non ha mai preso carte all'avversario, conviene che gli dia il Matto, non avendo altra carta da dare in sua vece: e questo è il caso, nel quale si perde il Matto”


"Card 41 is also unnumbered, but is engraved with the figure of a Fool; and this fits with every card, and with every number, and is beaten by every card, but never dies, never goes into the pile of the opponent, who receives in exchange for said Fool another card from the one who played the Fool: and if at the end of the game, the one who played the Fool has won no cards from the opponent, it is proper to give him [the opponent] the Fool, having no other card to give in its stead: and this is the case in which the Fool is lost".


Francesco Zanotto


"Voce Matto, carta da tarocchi e minchiate, ch' è figura di conto, la quale si confà con ogni carta e con ogni numero, e non può ammazzare nè essere ammazzata".


"The word Fool, a card of tarocchi and minchiate, which is a figure that counts and fits with every card and every numeral, and cannot take or be taken".


Girolamo Zorli


"I tarocchi sono un gioco di presa con obbligo di risposta e taglio. Rispondere significa calare una carta dello stesso seme della carta d'attacco. I semi considerati sono cinque, i quattro ordinari di Spade Denari Coppe e Bastoni e il quinto seme dei trionfi. I ventun trionfi sono un seme sovrumano che taglia le carte ordinarie e deve essere giocato in taglio solo quando non si possiedono carte di risposta. Questa regola vale anche se è stato precedentemente giocato in taglio un altro trionfo. Quindi i sovrumani trionfi non intaccano la regola universale della presa con obbligo di risposta. Anzi, ne sono occhiuti guardiani. In nomen omen, il Matto non è un trionfo, il Matto è una carta pazza. Il Matto se ne infischia dell'obbligo di risposta: può essere calato in qualsiasi momento, a piacere del possessore, anche se il possessore è in possesso di carte rispondenti. Il Matto se ne infischia dell'obbligo di presa, che è prendere o essere presi. Il Matto non prende neanche la cartina più bassa, e non viene preso neanche dal Trionfo più alto. In qualsiasi circostanza, il Matto può apparire fugacemente in mano al possessore che subito lo ripone tra le sue carte incassate. Nel Tarocchino bolognese e nelle Minchiate fiorentine sono conteggiate le carte che si combinano sequenzialmente con altre. A Bologna erano premiate le combinazioni di figure dello stesso seme capeggiate dal Re. Nelle Minchiate erano premiate le sequenze ininterrotte di certi trionfi-tarocchi, sequenze dette verzigole. In entrambi i giochi, chi ha incassato il Matto conta una carta in più di ogni combinazione incassata. Insomma, il Matto si sposa con tutte le altre carte e ne fa le veci, venendo conteggiato più volte in più combinazioni”.


"Tarot is a trick-taking game with an obligation either to follow suit or to trump. To follow suit means to play a card of the same suit as the first card led of the trick. The suits are five: the four ordinary ones of Swords, Coins, Cups, and Batons, and the fifth suit of triumphs or trumps. The twenty-one trumps are a superhuman suit that beats [trumps or ruffs] the ordinary cards and can be played to win only when you do not have cards to follow suit. This rule applies also if someone has previously played another trump. In this case, the obligation is to play a higher trump, if available, or to discard whatever lower trump you have  So the superhuman trumps stick with the above recalled universal rule of following suit. The Fool is not a trump; in nomen omen [as the name describes], the Fool is a crazy card. The Fool does not care about the obligation to follow suit: it can be played at any time at the pleasure of its holder, even if the holder has cards to follow suit. The Fool does not care about the law of  trick-taking, which is to take or be taken. The Fool does not even take a lower card, nor is it taken by the highest trump. In whatever circumstances, the Fool may appear fleetingly in the hands of the owner, to be put among the other collected cards. The game of tarot is based on taking  combinations of cards. In classic games, like Tarocchino Bolognese, prize combinations are Kings and their court cards, combinations that are called “sequences”. Florentine Minchiate prize combinations are certain trumps in uninterrupted sequence, trump sequences that are called “verzigole”. In both games, whoever has the Fool counts one more card in every combination collected. In short, the Fool is combined with all the other cards and takes their place, being counted multiple times in multiple combinations”.


At this point, summing up, we have seen that the meaning of the word Barocco, together with its variants, acquired different meanings: a kind of syllogism of a bizarre and awkward character, bad reasoning; illicit gain if it derives from the Greek 'paracopto', the admission of being crazy, delirious; and if it derives from the Latin 'Baro', a crook. And the world of the card game was so full of cheaters. But as we have seen from the reports of Lamoni Puccio and Girolamo Zorli in reference to the function of the Fool in card games, the card of the Fool does not take and is not taken, unlike all the other Triumphs, being different, that is,  unequal [to the others]  and irregular, both meanings attributed to the term Barocco, and at the same time aspects that identify well the character of the Fool. The card of the Fool in the field of play can to be worth all or nothing, as indeed it also is in philosophical terms.


The editors of the Abregè (Compendio) inserted in Abbot Antonini’s Dictionaire called that card game  Barocchi because, obviously, as scholars, they knew that that term had  the same meaning of Tarocchi, and in referring to it in that way they knew that their readers - because it was a Dictionary it is assumed they possess a certain culture - would have understood. So in all likelihood, pending further documents, those cards could also be called Barocchi, a term that after the one of Triumphs, had to precede that of Tarocchi.


It is an attribution that, in any case, had to have a short life, maybe for its excessively educated quality.


Nevertheless, the memory of the attribution of the name Barocco to the card game must have remained, if in the eighteenth century, as we have seen, philologists of the Crusca identified it by that name. The fact remains that Barocchi and Tarocchi are terms that lead back to the figure of the Fool.  




1 - See the articles About the etymology of Tarot and Taroch -1494.

2 - See the articles: The Fool, Folly and ‘Melancholia’, Wise Madness-Pleasant Madness, Theroco Wind, and specifically Tarochus Bacchus Est,  as well as Dionysus and the Historical Tarot I - II - III - IV by Michael S. Howard. 

3 - See the article Rochi and Tarochi.

4  - Read the article Treatise on the Game of Minchiate.

5 - Read the article About the etymology of Tarot.

6 - See the article  Tarot in Literature II.

7 - See the essay  Taroch: nulla latina ratione.

8 - See the essay Triumphs, Trionfini, Trionfetti.

9 - Our edition of reference: Abbé Antonini, Dictionaire Italien, Latin, et  François, contenant non seulement  un abrege’ du dictionaire de la Crusca; mais encore tout ce qu’il y a de plus remarquable dans les meilleurs Lexicographes, Etymologistes, & Glossaires,  qui ont paru, en differentes Langues, Première Edition, Tome Premier, A Venise,  Chez François Pitteri,  1745, p.77. The original edition of the Dictionaire, completely in French, was published in Paris by Jacques Vincent in 1735.

There is also the Paris edition of the Dictionaire Italien, Latin, et François, 1743, Chez Praut fils. Publisher, online at

10 - Ottorino Pianigiani, Dizionario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana (Etymological Dictionary of the Italian Language). See Baro, online at link

11 - Pietro Fanfani, Vocabolario dell’Uso Toscano (Vocabulary of the Tuscan use), Firenze, G. Barbera, 1863, pp. 114-115. See also: Prospero Viani, Dizionario di pretesi Francesismi e di pretese voci e forme erronee della lingua Italiana, Vol. I, Firenze, Felice Le Monnier, 1858, pp.196-197.

12 - Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca (Vocabulary of the Crusca Academics),Vol. II, Florence, Tip. Galileana di M. Cellini e C., 1866, p. 78.

13 - Mario Apollonio, Storia della Letteratura Italiana (History of Italian Literature), La Scuola, Brescia, 1969, p. 303.

14 - Giuseppe Manuzzi, Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana, già compilato dagli Accademici della Crusca, ed ora novamente corretto ed accresciuto (Vocabulary of the Italian language, already compiled by the Crusca Academy, and now newly corrected and augmented),  Primo Tomo, Primo Parte, Firenze, David Passigli e Soci, 1833, p. 395.

15 - Francesco GalluzziIl Barocco, Newton & Compton Ed., Rome, 2005, p. 20.

16 - Fabrizio Rondolino, L’Italia non esiste (Italy does not exist), Mondadori, Milan, 2011, p. 32.

17 - Marco Laffranchi, Dialettica e Filosofia in Lorenzo Valla (Dialectic and Philosophy in Lorenzo Valla), Series: Vita e Pensiero, Università Cattolica, Milan, 1999, p. 178.

18 - Giovanni Gherardini, Supplemento a’ Vocabolarj Italiani (Supplement to the Italian Vocabularies), Vol. I A-B, Milan, Gius. Bernardoni di Gio., 1852, p. 699.

19 - Il concetto di Barocco (The concept of the Baroque) , in “Letteratura Italiana”  online at link

20 - Alessia Muliere, Benedetto Croce e il termine di Barocco (Benedetto Croce and the term Baroque)online at link

21 - Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca (Vocabulary of  the Crusca Academicians) op. cit., p. 78.

22 - Ottorino Pianigiani, Dizionario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana (Etymological Dictionary of the Italian Language), online at link

23 - See the article Il Malmantile Racquistato.

24 - Francesco Zanotto, Vocabolario Metodico Italiano (Methodical Italian Vocabulary), Part One A-L, Category: Ancient and modern games, Section Three: Tools and properties of the games, Venezia, Giovanbatista Andreola, 1852, pp. 650-651.

25 -  Girolamo Zorli, partner of Le Tarot Association, is responsible for the website of traditional Italian card games