Florence 1440 - New Earliest Reference to Tarot

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Ross G Caldwell's Avatar
Ross G Caldwell  Ross G Caldwell is offline
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Ross G Caldwell 
Florence 1440 - New Earliest Reference to Tarot

Thierry Depaulis has found a new reference to Tarot from Florence in 1440, two years earlier than the previously known earliest reference, from Ferrara in 1442.

The source is the diary of the Anghiara notary and public official Giusto Giusti
which covers the years 1437 to 1482, recently edited for the first time by Nerida Newbigin http://sydney.edu.au/arts/italian/st...newbigin.shtml
, professor emerita of Italian Language and Literature at the University of Sydney.
See Nerida Newbigin, ed., "I "Giornali" di ser Giusto Giusti d'Anghiari (1437-1482)" in Letteratura Italiana Antica, III, 2002, pp. 41-246.

An entry for 16 September, 1440, reads (p. 66):

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.

Friday 16 September, I gave to the magnificent lord sir Gismondo, a pack of triumph cards, that I had made expressly in Florence, with his arms, and beautifully done, which cost me four and a half ducats.

"Gismondo" is Sigismondo Malatesta.

Other notable details are the location where the cards were made, Florence; the unique term "naibi a trionfi"; and the price of four and half ducats.

It has been 138 years since Giuseppe Campori published the earliest known reference to Tarot cards - "carte da trionfi" - in the account books of the ruling Este family in Ferrara - and since 1874, research, both accidental and determined, has found many more references to the cards and the game of Triumphs, all of them after this previously earliest documented reference on 10 February, 1442. The picture of the game of Tarot's spread in the 15th and subsequent centuries has been amply filled out - more, perhaps, than for any other 15th century card game - but with this new discovery a little light is beginning to be shed on an earlier time.
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PathWalker's Avatar
PathWalker  PathWalker is offline
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Wow, such gems as this are brilliant - thanks for bringing this one to greater attention

interested but rusty
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Huck  Huck is offline
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Looks like a great finding ....

The reporting man was born in Anghiari and at Anghiari took place a battle at June 29, 1440, which is 2 1/2 months before the date of 16th September with the Trionfi cards.

The battle became VERY famous and actually one doesn't know, why.

Fiorentinipontifici: 8000 uomini. Durata: 4 ore. Scontro tra le opposte cavallerie pesanti; quella fiorentina, divisa in tre schiere, affronta a turno gli avversari. Dei viscontei sono fatti prigionieri 22 capisquadra, 400 connestabili, 1440 uomini di taglia e 3000 cavalli; i morti sono 70 (60 milanesi) ed i feriti 880 (400 fra i ducali). Sono pure catturati 1200 contadini (aspiranti saccheggiatori) che seguono le truppe di Niccolò Piccinino. I prigionieri sono rilasciati quasi subito, secondo i costumi del tempo.

Not many were killed. Condottieridiventura knows of "70", other voices (ironically) of "3" (who dropped from their horse and had a fatal accident)
A great number of prisoners, who were robbed and set free.

In 1439 had been the council of Ferrara ... it's said, that there were at least 3 great festivities. The Florentines learned to "celebrate".
The victory of Anghiari a year later might have given another reason for a "great party". Perhaps the Florentines had learned, that one could win with propaganda about a victory more than with the battle itself. This party was so big, that it was still remembered in the time of Leonardo da Vinci (about 70 years later). The battle of Anghiari became a symbol.

When Alfonso of Aragon made his Trionfo in 1443, and a Florentine delegation participated, then the report of this festivity mentioned, that the Florentines had already much experience with triumphal celebrations.

Sigismondo Malatesta didn't take part at the party ... but he changed from Milan side to Florentine side.

In March 1440 he fought for Milan against Florence. In August 1440 he was engaged for Florence against Milan ... although he isn't in the region of Florence, but in the Romagna ... In September/October (at 16th of September is the Trionfi card action) condottieridiventura reports:
Occupa Bagnacavallo, Massa Lombarda ed altre terre dell’imolese; non può, o non vuole, impedire a Francesco Piccinino l’ingresso in Forlì. Danneggia molti villaggi e tenta di espugnare il capoluogo. Vista l'inanità dell'impresa, si sposta prima a Forlimpopoli con gli altri condottieri. A metà ottobre, i fiorentini prendono la strada di Capodicolle e della val di Savio: il Malatesta si ferma a San Vittore perché trattenuto dai fiumi in piena. Le milizie fiorentine proseguono per la Toscana; egli deve, invece, fermarsi per qualche giorno, in quanto non può trovare riparo a Cesena, dal momento che il fratello milita al soldo del duca di Milano. Rientra a Rimini.
The situation develops into a pause of war. Filippo Maria Visconti sends his daughter to the court of Ferrara in September/October 1440, where Bianca Maria stays till end of March 1441. Bianca Maria gets 14 painted objects at 1.1.1441, likely Trionfi cards, as a present for the guest from the side of Leonello. The painter is the later Trionfi card painter Sagramoro.

Further we have around this time, that a commission is given for illustrations to a Petrarca-Trionfi-edition from the side of Piero di Medici. This is oldest known note of this picture genre, which then was very often used first in Florence (especially for Cassoni) and later also elsewhere.
The commission went to the artist Matteo de Pasti, who in 1441 had been in Venice. The letter exchange 1441 is given as the first sign of Matteo de Pasti ... who had to leave Florence for unknown reason (he begs for an excuse in the letters). In later times Matteo had some relation to Sigismondo Malatesta. He got the commission to paint the Osmanic sultan in the mid 1440s, but was taken prisoner as a spy. Later he worked mainly as an medalist.
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Huck  Huck is offline
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In matters of this exciting new detection of Trionfi cards in 1440, which finds astonishing little attention here ...

[well, this is for the moment the OLDEST REFERENCE of TRIONFI CARDS after the older entry from February 1442 was found 138 years ago, as Ross has counted, and one should think, that at least a few silent lips should decide in a Tarot Historical Research Forum for a humble HURRAH or WELL DONE or something like this, any signs of hidden ecstasy are welcome, just to reassure us, that at least a few understand the importance of such documents]

..., there are a few other great progresses especially in matters of Tarot History in Florence short after this new date 1440, which I already noted somewhere, but it found more or less also only spurious attention. I'll note them again.

Well, Depaulis brought this new entry to our attention, but the actual research happened
by ..

See Nerida Newbigin, ed., "I "Giornali" di ser Giusto Giusti d'Anghiari (1437-1482)" in Letteratura Italiana Antica, III, 2002, pp. 41-246.
... Nerida Newbegin in 2002. A good example, that it often takes a long time till new discoveries reach the inner circle of Tarot history researchers. Similar it's in a good part of the following documents.

1. There was the detection of the work of Arnold Esch by Depaulis, which lead to some entries about Triunfi cards imported to Rome between 1474-1478 likely from Florence around 2007. Ross detected then a later work of Arnold Esch in the web in October 2011 ...
a longer discussion about google-book-snippets of the Esch book

.... between them this exciting statement:

"... fra cui bandiere230; fino al 1464, nei registri doganali viene menzionato ancora con ogni ben di Dio: «merce minute di Milano», tele di Costanza, stamigna francese, bonette, triunfi («para 309», «para 24») ed altre carte da giocare, ..." is before
Page 63
.. which talks of numbers of "309" packs of Triunfi cards imported to Rome in a single action (likely from Florence) at the end of 1464. Such high numbers of Trionfi cards NEVER had occurred before in other Trionfi card documents. It was clearly a sign, that - at least - in this year 1464 some mass production of Triunfi cards had started.

Well, we got a few snippets, and it was recognizable, that Arnold Esch had found there some gigantic research material, which, if it would be researched in more detail, would offer a lot of explanations for the development of playing and Triunfi cards in Italy during 15th century, things, about which we in our research situation can only build theories.
For Esch himself, playing and Triunfi cards had been only a "minor point between many others". He indicates, that the material, that he presents of them, were only examples. The real treasure is this archive in Rome.
We noted, that we, not living in Italy, are rather limited in our approach. We needed assistance of Italian researchers.

We asked Franco Pratesi to help us. Franco lives in Florence, but not in Rome. But, as Franco was especially interested in Florentine playing card history, Franco promised to study the Esch book (which indicated, that at least a greater part of the imports came from Florence). Well, our snippets had indicated results since 1463, but Franco found an entry of 1453.

"1453. Giovanni da Pistoia:
'12 immagine di legnio e 8 paia de triunfi da giochare';
dog.: 36 bol. (=10 duc.); reg. 48, fol. 45v, luglio."

Franco wrote - with some technical help of Trionfi.com - his first article:


But Franco recognized, that the archive in Rome in its gigantic dimensions would mean a few years full of work. Not possible in the moment from his side.
But he promised to take some further investigation in libraries of Florence. His first experiences gave an hopeless impression ... but, researcher's luck can turn quickly, he found a lot of rather important new documents. First he stumbled about a Sicilian journal "Kalós". This had an article of Francesco Lo Piccolo, written in the year 2002 and it contained the following dates ...

1482: Franco Olivier from Malta was fined because he had been found to play the forbidden game of naibi or carte.
1485: Death of Raimondo de Sezana, French. He had a factory of playing cards in Palermo.
1562: Vincenzo Siviglia produces playing cards in Palermo, San Francesco district.
1595: Francesco Bova becomes "arrendatore", namely he is officially charged as the responsible in the whole country of the production and trade of playing cards (with taxes going to the Regia Corte).
1630: Girolamo Sanna dies in Palermo and among the goods found at his factory there are "200 figuri di tarocchi tagliati et pinti" (200 figures [probably, but not certainly, the triumphal cards of the pack] of tarots cut and painted).

... and between them the information "200 figuri di tarocchi tagliati et pinti" in 1630 in a Sicilian playing card factory. The earlier hypothesis about Tarocchi games in Sicily had been, that the game was brought to Sicily around 1662, stated by Michael Dummett, who had a special favor for the Tarocco Siciliano.
Well, this was only a sidepath.


Franco made then a complex research which took 3 books ...

(1) Lorenz Böninger, Die deutsche Einwanderung nach Florenz im Spätmittelalter. Brill, Leiden-Boston 2006.
(2) Werner Jacobsen, Die Maler von Florenz zu Beginn der Renaissance, Dt. Kunstverl., München 2001.
(3) Gino Corti, Frederick Hartt, "New Documents...",The Art Bulletin, 44 (1962) 155-167.

... and the 3rd was then a successful finding, and this told us, that a Florentine painter "Filippo di Marco" had various Trionfi card commissions from a dealer of art objects, Bartolommeo di Paolo Serragli, between the years 1453-1458.

A [3]. Estranei 264, c. 226, left side
Bartolommeo di Paholo Seragli de’ dare...
E adì 10 di marzo [1452/53] f. otto, per lui a Pipo di Marcho portò contanti, sono per uno paio di trionfi richi ebe da lui. f. 8.

B [5] Estranei 264, c. 241, left side
Bartolomeo di Pagholo Seragli de’ dare...
E adì 21 di marzo f. uno largo, per lui a Filipo di Marcho dipintore, portò contanti, sono per parte di lavoro gli à fato. f.1 s.4.

C [6]. Estranei 265, c. 27, left side
Bartolomeo di Pagholo Serragli de’ dare…
E adì 31 di marzo [1453] f. 5 larghi, per lui a Filippo di Marcho dipintore, portò e’ detto contanti, sono per resto di 2 paia di trio[n]fi fatogli, come dise Ghaspare da Ghiaceto. f. 5 s. 18 d. 4.

D [13]. Estranei 267, c. 35, left side
Bartolomeo di Pagholo Seragli de’ dare…
E adì 29 di marzo f. quatro, portò e’ detto, sono per paghare a Filipo di Marcho, per 3 paia di trionfi e 2 paia di charte. f. 4

E [15]. Estranei 267, c. 98, left side
Bartolomeo di Pagholo Seragli de’ dare…
E adì 6 di settembre f. due, per lui a Pipo dipintore, portò Giovanni di Domenicho contanti, per trionfi. f. 2.
E adì 20 detto f. uno, per lui a Pipo dipintore, portò Giovanni di Domenicho contanti, per trionfi. f. 1.

E adì 27 detto f. dua larghi, per lui a Pipo di Marcho dipintore, portò Giovanni di Domenicho contanti. f.2 s.6 d.7.
E adì 10 d’otobre f. uno largho, per lui a Filipo di Marcho dipintore, portò contanti, per un paio di trionfi operati. f.2 s.6 d.7.
E adì 21 detto, L. trenta, per lui a Filipo di Marcho dipintore, portò contanti: sono per resto di trionfi auti da lui insino a questo dì. f. 7 s.- d.8.

F [17] Estranei 267, c. 206
Bartolomeo di Pagolo Seragli de’ dare…
E adì 17 detto [April 1456] L. sedici piccioli, per lui a Filippo di Marcho dipintore, portò chontanti, e quali dise gli prestava per trionfi gli deve fare. f.3 s.20 d.6.

E adì 30 detto f. quatro larghi, per lui a Filippo di Marcho dipintore, portò contanti, dise per parte di trionfi gl’àne a fare. f.4 s.26 d.7.

E adì 15 detto [May] L. dieci, per lui a Filippo di Marcho dipintore, portò contanti, dise èrono per trionfi che da lui. f.2 s.9 d.8.

G [22]. Estranei 268, c. 217, left side
Bartolomeo di Pagholo Seragli de’ dare…
E adì 17 detto [April 1, 1458] L. quatordici s. X piccioli, per lui a Filippo di Marcho dipintore, portò contanti, sono per 2 paia di trionfi. f. 3 s.10 d.6.
"1453-1458 Florentine triumphs by Filippo di Marco", Franco Pratesi 12th of January 2012

Well, the actual finding goes back to a research done in the 1950's and the researchers Gino Corti and Frederick Hartt, who didn't realize, that these objects were Trionfi playing cards. The article from 1962 is on the web, and it's available, if you've Jstor-access:

Well, the Trionfi card painter Filippo di Marco, more or less unknown, made luxury Trionfi decks and from the now known number of his productions it's apparent, that he has to be evaluated as of similar rank as Iacopo Sagramoro (active as Trionfi card painter 1442-1456) and Gerardo de Andrea da Vicenza (active as Trionfi card painter 1457-1463), both working in Ferrara for Leonello and Borso d'Este. The scheme is different in Florence, Filippo works for the art dealer and this sells mainly to rather rich customers.

In older Tarot history research it was assumed, that Giovanni del Ponte alias Giovanni di Marco might have been the artist of the so-called Rothschild Tarocchi fragment.

This hypothesis has been formed on the basis of iconographic comparison with other known works of Giovanni del Ponte (alias Giovanni d Marco), in this case ...

Now we have, that another "di Marco", Filippo di Marco, had been a real and for the moment the only full confirmed early Trionfi card painter in Florence in the years 1453-1458. If we assume, that Filippo di Marco (not much is known about him) had been a less known younger brother to the more famous Giovanni, the similarity to the works of Giovanni might reflect the "unknown condition", that Filippo had worked in the workshop of Giovanni or just imitated his brothers work.
Well, that's only suspicion ... but in this case we might suspect, that the Rothschild cards would be possibly a work of Filippo di Marco.


The fourth great finding of Franco Pratesi had been in these 5 collections ...

... of documentary material, which present difficult-to-read business reports ...

1447-1449 - NAIBI ON SALE by Franco Pratesi, 27.01.2012

... of a Florentine merchant-family with the name "Puri". Between many other goods, the Puri family also sold playing cards and the records reach from September 1447 till March 1449. The number of records is considerable, there's a greater variety of different decks and further, there are some names of playing card producers known. Between the card makers is one famous name, Giovanni di Ser Giovanni nicknamed "Lo Scheggia", about which I wrote recently:

There are some concrete points, which possibly indicate, that "Lo Scheggia" might have been possibly the artist or a related artist of the Charles VI Tarocchi deck and the similar Ursino cards:

Charles VI: World

Ursino cards: World

Here a "Lo Scheggia" Cassone painting:


And here a detail from the unusual Temperance in the Ursino cards:

The blond and locked hair, the facial expression and the rather special way to present the female breasts give the impression, that it might be from the same painter.

A further interesting point is the date: September 1447 - March 1449. Before Franco's new result my impression had been, that a period of stronger playing card prohibition reigned in the 1440s at least in Florence and endured till c. 1450, when we get allowances for specific games in the rules.

Now it's the impression, that at least in the observable period since September 1447 the prohibition broke down.
I suspect a context to the death of Filippo Maria Visconti in August 1447, which was preceded by the death of pope Eugen IV in spring 1447 (Eugen had a strong relation to the Franciscans, and the Franciscans preached excessively against playing cards; Filippo Maria Visconti was the archenemy of Florence, and it might be that the earlier prohibition was broken to a sort of amnesty according some general Florentine enjoyment about an expected better future with the following Ambrosian republic in Milan).

The statistic of the sales looks unusual and not very balanced, the big sales had been autumn and winter 1447/1448.

1447 Sep - 2 in dozen (cheap) - 12 single decks (much more expensive)
1447 Oct - 13 in dozen (cheap) - 11 single decks (much more expensive)
1447 Nov - 16 in dozen (cheap) - 16 single decks (much more expensive)
1447 Dec - 4 in dozen (cheap) - 2 single decks (much more expensive)
1448 Jan - 11 in dozen (cheap)
1448 Mar - 3 in dozen (cheap) - 8 single decks (much more expensive)
1448 Jun - 0.5 in dozen (cheap)
1448 Jul - 18 in dozen (cheap)
1448 Oct - 4 in dozen (cheap)
1449 March 0.5 in dozen (cheap)


Franco published some more articles at ...


So there's a lot of revolutionary development just in the last months. As it could be seen, it often are not the very old documents, which bring the great success in research, but just the coordination of already existing researches, which just haven't reached the inner circle of Tarot and playing card researchers ... well, perhaps this has the reason, that there are not enough of them.
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AJ's Avatar
AJ  AJ is offline
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I'm impressed with the ferreting of obscure knowledge, and grateful to those that share it here.
Thank you. And such beautiful cards.
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coredil's Avatar
coredil  coredil is offline
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Thanks a lot to Ross and to Huck first for pointing to these new detections and second for explaining them.

Best regards
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Zezina's Avatar
Zezina  Zezina is offline
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Originally Posted by AJ View Post
I'm impressed with the ferreting of obscure knowledge, and grateful to those that share it here.
Thank you. And such beautiful cards.
Ditto. Thank you on behalf of all lovers of Tarot.

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Teheuti's Avatar
Teheuti  Teheuti is offline
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Huck - Thank you for this rich treasure trove. I went back over Pratesi's articles and there is so much good information. We are lucky to have it in English.
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