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Tarocco Siciliano

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mjhurst  mjhurst is offline
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Tarocco Siciliano

The Sicilian Tarot is an obscure and odd little thing, with some interesting points of history. It's also rather well described and illustrated online. Here are some of the best sources of information including some decks.

THE PLAYING-CARD (Volume 33, No.3 January-March 2005)
The Sicilian Trumps by Michael Dummett

Andy's Playing Cards
REGIONAL TAROTS - 1 (Bologna and Sicily)

Tom Tadfor Little's Hermitage
Tarocco Siciliano

IPCS Pattern Sheet 12 (Tarocco Siciliano - Early Form)
IPCS Pattern Sheet 13 (Tarocco Siciliano - Later Form)

Worldwide Web Playing Card Museum (The Russian Joker)
Tarocco Siciliano Decks

"Lorenzo di Lorenzo" (Italy), XIX c.

"Modiano" (Italy)

"La Fortuna" (Italy), XIX c.

"Tuzzolino" (Italy), XVIII c.

"Concetta Campione" (Catania, Italy), 1930-1975
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mjhurst  mjhurst is offline
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I searched for any threads on the Sicilian Tarot... didn't find much, so maybe it's time. Sicilian Tarot is unusual in a number of ways. Tarot was apparently not introduced to Sicily until the 17th century. It was such an obscure deck in the late 20th century that Michael Dummett was surprised to learn it even existed, and its popularity was so localized that most Sicilians didn't know that the game was still played -- or that it *ever was*. It is a stripped deck of 64 cards, much smaller in size than typical Tarot decks, and the suit-signs are from the Portugese suit system. There are a number of novel trump subjects. Most of those reflect the kind of changes that were repeatedly seen in other Tarot decks: medieval Christian images were replaced, often with classical subjects. Dummett's article does an excellent job discussing the changes.

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mjhurst  mjhurst is offline
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The Ship & Tower in Tarocco Siciliano

What is at first sight the most puzzling [of the Sicilian variations], 14 the Ship, is in fact the most easily explained, because Villabianca gives the explanation. The Ship occupies the place at which we should expect to find the Devil. Villabianca tells us that in his youth trump 14 had shown the Devil, but that, in about 1750, Rosalia Caccamo, duchess of Casteldaci, had the Devil replaced by the Ship. The image of the Ship is obviously borrowed from trump XXI of the Minchiate pack. [...]

The present harmless appearance of the Tower is also to be explained as an alteration made by the duchess Rosalia Caccamo. In a bit of the opuscolo which is now damaged and very hard to read, Villabianca says that in his youth trump 15 showed “il novissimo dell’... ”; the last word is illegible, and I am unsure what it could be. Villiabianca further says that the duchess had its subject changed into the Tower. Traditionally, trump 15 was sometimes known as “the House of the Devil” or “the House of the Damned”, and occasionally outright as “Hell”; Minchiate trump 15 shows a devil emerging to drag a woman down to hell. I suppose that it was something of this sort that the duchess replaced by the Tower as we now have it. Villabianca states that she paid the expense for the change of subject in trumps 14 and 15; I suppose that she paid cardmakers to make new wood blocks incorporating the new designs.
(Michael Dummett, "The Sicilian Trumps", The Playing-card, Jan-Mar 2005.)
The Devil was changed to a ship, the Tower card was changed to what Dummett called a harmless looking Tower, and the two changes were imposed at the same time. Dummett discovered and presented the Sicilian decks, the games played, and the history of both with his usual thoroughness. However, he didn't explain why those choices were made, i.e., the meaning behind the subjects. AFAIK, no one has. When Dummett says the Ship is easily explained, he refers only to the historical fact of the Devil’s replacement rather than its iconography. In referring to the replacement, Dummett noted "the subject substituted for it was evidently chosen arbitrarily from the Minchiate pack". (The Game of Tarot, 377.) The ship in the Minchiate deck symbolized one of the four Aristotelian elements, Water, which makes little sense as a replacement for the Devil. Likewise, he offers no explanation for the “harmless appearance” of the Tower. Both, however, can be explained. The Duchess was not the first to object to Tarot’s Devil and Tower cards. From the first century of Tarot there are many surviving examples of hand-painted cards, commissioned by nobles like the Duchess. However, only one hand-painted Tower survives, and no hand-painted Devil cards. This would be an extremely unlikely outcome unless these cards were either not produced or were at some point selectively discarded as even more undesirable than the other Christian subjects of the trumps.

One of the most beautiful hand-painted playing cards is the ship embroidered with a motto from Horace: Odi profanum volgus et arceo, (Odes, Bk. iii, 1, 1). Ross Caldwell wrote (on "This card was the subject of an article by Pierre-Yves Le Pogam in "The Playing Card", vol. 33 no. 1 (July-Sept 2004), pp. 27-38, entitled "Entre tarot et jeux de cour: une carte à jouer italienne" (Between Tarot Cards and Courtly Games: An Italian Playing Card)." Apparently two theories are presented to explain this card. One is that the card was Water, XXI, from a Minchiate deck. However, it seems likely that all Minchiate decks, with their large number of trump cards, were numbered, which this card is not. Also, the Minchiate hypothesis ignores both the meaning of the Water card and the motto on this card, making nonsense of both. Apparently this idea was rejected by the writer in favor of another. The second thesis appears to be the main subject of the article, judging from the title. It involves an elaborate speculation about a supposed "game" of supposed "cards" called the "Mantegna Tarots", and making some conflation of that (imagined) card game and appropriati. Given that the falsely so-called Mantegna Tarocchi were neither cards nor a game, this can be ignored entirely. The card itself cannot.

As an alternative explanation, perhaps the Devil card was considered an example of the vulgarity of the profane hoi polloi, as rude as vulgar language and an offensive element in the game of Tarot. Perhaps in some locales, when the Devil was not omitted (or discarded) from the hand-painted decks, it was replaced with an emblem specifically designed to reject such vile things. The motto on the Ship card and thus the meaning of the emblem are clear: "I hate secular vulgarity and go away from it". Consider the baptismal formula: "Do you renounce Satan? And all his works?" This emblem is an answer to that: "Yeah, I turn my back to such things and leave them behind." Perhaps this emblem was precisely such a rejoinder, designed as a replacement for the Devil card which is present in the popular decks printed for mass markets but not in the hand-painted ones. It would be an anti-Devil card. The common yet versatile nature of a ship image should be kept in mind -- like the Tower, it can illustrate many different subjects. For example, it was repeatedly used by the emblematicists with a variety of meanings.

Regardless of that speculation, as replacements for the Devil/Fire cards in Sicily, the Ship/Tower cards can be easily explained: Sicily is an island; threats come from the sea; watchtowers triumph over that threat. The tower depicted in the Sicilian Tower card is a short, fat building with sloping sides. Such guard towers formed a chain around Corsica and served as a symbol of "homeland defense" in the Mediterranean. Far from being harmless, they were considered so militarily formidable by Lord Nelson's British Navy, (those buggers who ruled the seas and remain legendary today), that the Brits adopted the practice of ringing their own coast with such fortifications after a particularly nasty encounter at Mortella Point, Corsica.

Martello Towers -- those squat, circular buildings on lonely stretches of coastline -- have been part of the [British] seaside scene for over 150 years. This book -- the first of its kind -- describes how and why they were built, their history, and what they are used for today. Copied from a defensive tower in Sicily, the first Martello towers were constructed by the British at vulnerable points of the Channel coast when Napoleon threatened invasion in 1801. Later towers were built during hostilities first between the British and French in North America, and then between Canada and the United States. Strategically sited to protect potential invasion sites and vital installations, they survive in many places, in particular on England's south coast, in Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Orkneys, Canada, the United States and South Africa.
(Shiela Sutcliffe, Martello Towers, 1973.)
The islands of Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily, off the west coast of Italy, were apparently subject to raids by Saracen pirates dating back to the 1500s. Later, other sea powers active in the greater Mediterranean area, most notably the British, were a recurrent threat. That threat came in SHIPS. In response to that threat, the islands (most notably Corsica, under Genoese rule) were ringed with guard/watch TOWERS. Sicily being Sicily, i.e., a perennially threatened island kingdom, towers were important. In Corsica many of these (Genoese built) towers are still standing, more or less. Some have been adapted for other uses, but most are in ruins to one degree or another. These are almost all squat little round towers, many with tapered sides, built like tanks with walls many feet thick. Today they are of interest primarily to sightseeing tourists. Here are a couple picturesque examples from Corsica.

More examples can be found simply by using Google and any two or all three of these keywords: genoese corsica towers. This kind of guard/watch towers are the subject shown on the Sicilian Tower card. The offending Tarot card was replaced with a related subject, a different kind of Tower card with no fire from heaven or fiery doorway. That replacement satisfied the Duchess' desire for a less offensive deck; it would not require the card players to learn and remember anything too novel; and it would be an emblem of local pride -- coastal guard towers. The Devil was replaced with the evil of foreign invaders, a ship, over which the Towers were to triumph. The ship is shown (like the Minchiate Water card, from which the design was taken) leaving, sailing away from the viewer or, by extension, away from Sicily. Again, that would satisfy the Duchess, it would be neatly paired with the Tower making the transition trivially easy for card players, and the two cards together convey a positive tale of the strength of Sicily.

It's worth noting that the Florentine decks, most obviously the Minchiate, also redesigned a pair of cards in such a way as to maintain some continuity with earlier decks and yet tell a different story. The Florentine inversion switched the World and Angel; turned the New World of Revelation into a Eurocentric map of the Earth, indicating dominion over a very different New World (recently discovered by Columbus); and they turned the Angel of Resurrection into an allegorical Fama, trumpeting the triumphs of Florence, whose skyline is shown on the card. This is local pride on steroids! (The Medici coat of arms should also be noted, but we'll leave that for another post.) However, the same basic idea was present in all the local variations, most commonly seen in the change in sequence of trumps. Every locale wanted their own version of Tarot. That is why almost all of the early listings of the trumps are unique. Every locale had it's own version of Tarot, as a sign of civic pride.

There are also some versions of the Sicilian Tower card that appear to show a lighthouse, (six-sided, gaudy) and there are also other examples of stubby towers. For example, an interesting image of a squat, tapered tower with concave sides appears in Jacob Bryant's _A New System: An Analysis of Antient Mythology_, (1st ed. 1774-6). The picture is supposedly an ancient fire-tower, identified with the mythical Tower of Cronus, in Monte Pelegrino, Sicily. (Bryant references Paolo Paruta as a source.) Bryant, writing at the same time as Court de Gebelin, was a similar sort of learned man: widely read, enthusiastic, inventive, fond of philological fantasy and generally untroubled by concerns of evidence and sound reasoning. One description of his book: "fantastic and now wholly valueless." Nonetheless, he provides an illustration of a supposed Sicilian lighthouse, rather similar to the Sicilian Tower card, and calls it the Tower of Cronus. (Extraordinary speculation has grown from far less suggestive beginnings, so I might pass it along in the spirit of Waite's Albigensian fantasy.) Despite that fantastic aside, such a tower -- a lighthouse -- might be a familiar landmark, even an identifying one.

A New System: An Analysis of Antient Mythology

A few futher notes on lighthouses in the lore of Sicily and on Martello Towers, stuff gleaned from the Web:

The territories of the kindom of Naples were similarly well defined, stretching from the border with the Papal States in the centre of the Italian peninsula to its southern costline. Within it were the regions of the Abruzzo, the Molise, and the Terra di Lavoro (the hinterland of Naples and Salerno) in its norther part, Puglia, Basilicata, and Calabria in the South. Less straightforward, however, was the formal title of the kingdom's ruler, which was not king of Naples. Instead the historic title was "king of the Sicilies", a title which covered both the Regnum Siciliae citra farum -- the kingdom of Sicily on this side of the lighthouse (of Mesina) -- and the Regnum Siciliae ultra farum -- the kingdom of Sicily beyond the lighthouse. The former designated the kingdom of Naples as already defined (the phrase "kingdom of Naples" was used even though the title "king of Naples" was not); the latter applied to the island of Sicily, likewise known as the kingdom of Sicily.
John Robertson, The Case for The Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples 1680-1760, 2005.
Finally, a few more words about Mortella Towers. There are entire books devoted to these British towers, such as Sutcliffe's, quoted above. The image below shows a plan for such towers. This, and another image showing an an architectural elevation can be found here:

National Maritime Museum / Collections & research

One of [Nelson's] fiercest fights was to capture a defence (Genoese-built) tower at Mortella point, manned by only a midshipman and 36 men. Admiralty reports of the event led to the construction of 74 so-called Martello towers at 600 yard intervals along the south coast of England from Folkestone to Eastbourne. It was ironic that Napoleon was to be kept at bay with the use of a Corsican defensive measure.

One British response to the threat of Napoleon was to ring the English coasts with a series of heavily fortified observation towers. Over 200 of these towers were eventually built at enormous expense, not only on the British Isles, but in Australia, the West Indies and the Mediterranean. After the Napoleonic Wars some of the towers were demolished for building materials but many were dressed into service for storage and residence. While 43 towers survive in the British Isles, the most famous and the most frequently visited is the one outside Dublin at Sandycove. This was once the residence of James Joyce and is today a major James Joyce museum.
W.H. Clements, Towers of Strength: Martello Towers Worldwide
So, beyond the simple notion of a ship triumphed over by a guard tower, there are a number of other possible connections with Tarot history as well as Sicilian history. We have two suggestions with regard to the origin of a Ship as replacement for the Devil, one that might precede Sicilian Tarot and have been borrowed in a different context, the other simply a replacement of the Devil with a more localized threat. Likewise, the Sicilian Tower might be either a lighthouse or, more likely, a coastal watchtower. The Ship/Watchtower interpretation is consistent with the images on the cards and with the facts of local history. In addition, these new meanings are consistent with the two recurrent practices in the evolution of Tarot symbolism: eliminating Christian content and proclaiming a local identity via the deck.
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Mabuse  Mabuse is offline
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Yes, this is quite an interesting deck.
Thanks for uploading all those pics.
It is my understanding that this deck is only published these days by Modiano.
I have found a freeware version of Tarocco Siciliano game that may be downloaded.
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philebus  philebus is offline
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I've only been able to buy the Modiano, if anyone else makes them, they aren't listed on the sites that I can find.

I haven't tried this program but there is a better version of the game. It is essentially the same except for a couple of interested features. The first is a round of bargaining, where players bargain with game points to discontinue the hand (damage limitation). The other is a curious round to determine a partnership. If a player has 20 or more points in 5 or 10 points cards, then he/she can bid "20". If they aren't overbid, then there is a second round to determine a partnership. Any player with 15 or more points in 5 or 10 points cards, can call "15" to become partner to "20".
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le pendu  le pendu is offline
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le pendu 

Fantastic information Michael, thanks so much for posting this!
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Rosanne  Rosanne is offline
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Thank you for your post mjHurst. I have been engrossed in Sicilian history for some time. It is very interesting- the number of names that appear in the history of Sicily and Tarot connections. I am primarily interested in the astronomical connections, but have reading about the village processions and the legends and myths, plus the garbled lives of Saints which bought these about.
Anyway the point of post is to question the reasons that the Devil and the Tower may not be in Visconti decks and no longer in Sicilian decks.
From various history books- On March 31 King Ferdinand decrees the expulsion of Jews. Sicilian notables write a petition to the Spanish King, only succeeding in delaying the expulsion. After a presence of more than 1500 years, Jews officially disappear from Sicily. Up until this time Jewish persons were able to live in relatively happy relationships with other Sicilians. I wondered, as I have in other threads, whether this was due to the fact the Devil and the Tower(not a fortification tower) were cards that would have offended, not only those who agreed with the expulsion, but those who did not have any antagonism towards Jews. For example in Italy Jewish bankers were welcomed to finance cities and general development. So cards that would be seen as depicting Jews (devil) and the biblical quotes thought to be the destruction of The Catholic Church/ or Jewish scriptoriums (tower) would be deleted.
I guess I disagree with this statement
Tarot was apparently not introduced to Sicily until the 17th century. It was such an obscure deck in the late 20th century that Michael Dummett was surprised to learn it even existed, and its popularity was so localized that most Sicilians didn't know that the game was still played -- or that it *ever was*.
The village parades and processions are too descriptive- even though in many places the original reasons have been forgotten.
Edited to add: In many books about Sicilian History and the the time of Tarot it is noted that witnesses recounted the sight of the Jews of Palermo waving from the departing ships at their former neighbours as they were bourne away. So maybe this could also explain the ship in the cards.
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Moonbow  Moonbow is offline
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Thanks for this Michael, it's an amazing read. I spent some time reading through the links yesterday and this is an interesting little deck. Mark Filipas also has some information about it on his page:

This is, of course, the modern version of the deck which is still available today.

I'm curious about the shields with faces on which some of the courts and Constancy show in the links, and do you know why Constancy appeared in this deck?

Since reading the links I see that you have added more about the Tower. I was going to say that they seem more reminiscent of lighthouses to me then Martello towers. As mentioned in the Andy Pollett site, it's a peaceful looking Tower!
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kwaw  kwaw is offline
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Originally Posted by Rosanne
Edited to add: In many books about Sicilian History and the the time of Tarot it is noted that witnesses recounted the sight of the Jews of Palermo waving from the departing ships at their former neighbours as they were bourne away. So maybe this could also explain the ship in the cards.
If the devil was changed to the ship in the late 17th century then I think the chronology would be out for this: why commemorate in the 17th something that occurred in the 15th? I'm pretty much persuaded by Michael's explanation.

The Edict of Expulsion from Spain1492:

On Jews in Sicily specifically:

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philebus  philebus is offline
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Mark Filipas mentions on the linked page that Modiano closed in 1988. Can anyone confirm that? I would hate to think that when the existing stocks are gone, then the cards are gone also. It is always sad when a little of the world's diversity is lost.
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