The 5x14 Theory: An Investigation.


The 5x14 Theory: An investigation

The 5x14 Theory: An investagation..

This thread presents and explores the possibility that an early 5x14 deck existed prior to the four suited decks we are familiar with. Huck is the original thread starter. But it's speculations spanned more than one thread causing some confusion to members about which thread to post to, and the probability of off topic posts.

To remove the confusion I have taken the disparate parts and merged them together in this thread. Please bear this in mind if you find some inconsistencies in the the early posts.

Moderator:- Historical Research, Marseilles & Other Early Decks.


Moved cause special interests from thread "Greek Statues & Iconography and the Tarot Images".

Huck said:
It's a more or less "common" (perhaps not very "common" ?) theory that the 3 theological virtues in the Cary-Yale were replaced by Sun-Moon-Star.

According a more specific theory this happened 1463-65 in Florence - in context with the paintings of the famous Triumphal March of the 3 holy Kings in the Medici Chapel.
Then these cards "marched" towards Milan and were added with 3 cardinal virtues (Fortitudo, Temperantia and Prudentia as "World") to the 5x14 of (probably) Bembo ... so tells the 5x14-theory.

This happened probably 1465 ... tells the more developed 5x14-theory.

According to a very old theory the bones of the 3 holy kings are of a 15-years-old, a 30-years-old and a 60-years-old man, so presenting the same 3-fold-model of age, as it might have been applied for the 3 theological virtues (youth - spes, middle-age(wedding) - fides, motherhood - caritas) ... at least the iconographical standard of this figures gives this impression.

One of the kings - so is it assumed at least by some painters - was a black king. In the trio of Sun-Moon-Star the sun presents day, the moon the night (= black) and the star usually the morning (as in Greek mythology ... Helios-Selene-Eos are the children of Hyperion and Theia and Theia means "Light" and Hyperion is seen as the "old sun-god") ... Eos marries the morning star.

Developing this further, the 3 Milanese additions (Star-Moon-Sun in the 6-added cards) would likely present Star = Hope, Moon = Fides and Caritas = Sun, which is confimed by a putto on the sun card (putto = child and children are at the Caritas pictures).

In commonly used medieval heraldic the star usually meant 3rd son, the crescent (associating moon) 2nd son and a horizontal line with 3 short rays to below (probably indicating the "sun") was symbolizing the first son ... in practical use (for instance tournaments) these signs were added to the usual family symbols (as long as the father still lived and inherited the title).

So Renee d'Anjou founded the order of the Crescent in 1448 (Renee d'Anjou was a "second son"), in 14th century a knight oder of the star existed.
In the usual family behaviour the first son was educated for the title, the second (or third) son as the general (condottiere) and the 3rd (or 2nd) for the church and the books (naturally not a very strict model). But generally the first son got "all" and the other sons "got function" to serve the first. As the mortality was high, the second son was often kept in reserve.

So we have had in Italian reality a very focussed behaviour on the "first son" ... the expressed idea in the 6 added cards ("putto with sun") seems to show that. In the other 5 added cards we have 3 x "a boring woman", all these cards seem to show the "same women", who with not much temperament show her symbols, those of Temperance, Star and Moon. Card "World" (2 putti) seems to predict "more cildren", and the 6th card shows Hercules beating the lion, the single male factor in the 6 card composition.

MikeH said:
Thanks, Huck. most of what you said was relatively new to me, but also unproblematic and easy to follow, until the last paragraph. I'm glad you agree about Hope, Faith, and Charity becoming Star, Moon, and Sun. But then there is your idea of a 5x14 original PMB and 6 additions, from stage 1 to stage 2. That's something I have questions about. Probably this thread is not the place to discuss them, but I do want to tell you briefly my concerns, in hopes of encouraging you to discuss them with me somewhere.

I have read the presentation on Trionfi, and while the evidence for 5x14 in Ferrara is impressive, I didn’t see much for Milan (where the records burned in a fire). The Michelino was 5X16, and likely also the Cary-Yale. It does seem likely to me that the 6 cards, including the “luminaries,” were new designs for the PMB as we have it and not merely near-copies of cards that had been damaged. But whether they were additional cards, as opposed to reworkings of old themes already represented in the cards, seems more conjectural. Galeazzo Sforza could have ordered reworkings to suit his whim. The three cards featuring the lady could have been to suggest some lady in his life, or a combination of them: he had a sister, a mistress, and a wife all about the right age. The “Sforza” card could have been reworked as a memorial to his father. The Sun child could be himself as a child, or some child of his (he started having them at age 14 or 15); the World children again might be to suggest his own or other childen in his family. And we already have his mother in the Lover and Chariot cards, as she was in the Cary-Yale.

I find it hard to believe that the ur-PMB would not already, like the Cary-Yale, have had a “Sforza” card. (Or do you think the CY was not before the ur-PMB?) And if there were two virtue cards, there was probably at least a third, Temperance (the three moral virtues). Also, the World card was in the Cary-Yale. I have a hard time believing that World would have been removed, in the deck by the first artist, and then added 15 or so years later by the second artist. That makes 16 numbered cards, plus the Fool. We know that the titles Hope, Faith, and Charity were dropped. The cards may have been dropped as well, and then reinstated as Star, Moon, and Sun to match the sequence in Ferrara, although not the designs, which were based on the old Milan theological virtue cards.

Again, these issues do not seem important for this thread, or to the rest of the story as you told it in your post, but they are to me personally. I hope you will suggest a forum for continuing this discussion.

Hi Mike, as you desired ...

First ... you wrote "The Michelino was 5X16" ...

the Michelino deck hadn't a 5x16-structure, but in the text of Martiano there are 16 trumps mentioned, and kings and number cards for the suits.

"Indeed the first order, of virtues, is certain: Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury and Hercules. The second of riches, Juno, Neptune, Mars and Aeolus. The third of virginity or continence: from Pallas, Diana, Vesta and Daphne. The fourth however is of pleasure: Venus, Bacchus, Ceres and Cupid. And subordinated to these are four kinds of birds, being suited by similarity. Thus to the rank of virtues, the Eagle; of riches, the Phoenix; of continence, the Turtledove; of pleasure, the Dove. And each one obeys its own king. However, the order of these Birds is, although none of their type has right over another, yet this arrangement they have alternately – Eagles and Turtledoves lead from many to few: that is to say it goes better for us when many cultivate virtue and continence; but for Phoenices and Doves, the few rule over the many, which is to say that, the more the followers of riches and pleasure are visible, the more they lead to the deterioration of our station. Every one of the gods, however, is above all the orders of birds and the ranks of kings. But the gods are held to this law among themselves: that who will be first designated below, he should lead all the others following in sequence."

If we take the number cards as "10 per suit", we get totally 44 cards for the suits with the kings (other court cards are not mentioned). 44 + 16 (trump cards) gives the result, that the deck had 60 cards.

However: A little earlier in the text the author writes: "Consider therefore this game, most illustrious Duke, following a fourfold order ..."

This terminus "fourfold order" wishes to tell, that all cards are ordered to 4 suits, so, although the gods are considered (as trumps, which is unavoidable clear by the text) to stand above kings and numbers, the gods are considered as part of the 4 suits. And this is further explained by the following text (see above, the four suits are virtues, riches etc. )

So we have with the Michelino deck a 4x15-deck.

This fact was taken by playing card researchers (for instance by Dummett) with surprized confusion and it was tried the argument "the author had an error" or "did forget to tell about the other court cards".

However, it isn't really so surprizing: A 4x15-deck was earlier mentioned by Johannes of Rheinfelden (1377) and from Spain we have the information of a deck with 44 cards ...

"1380 BARCELONA The inventory, dated 26th October 1380, kept by the Barcelona merchant Nicolas Sarmona, who lived in St. Daniel's alley (Callejon San Daniel), lists "unum ludus de nayps qui sunt quadraginta quatour pecie" ("a game of cards (naips) of 44 pieces")"

... and from the general Spanish playing card development we know, that they didn't use much court cards (the common deck has 4x12 structure with 2 court cards only).

So all reason is given to stay conservative to that, what the author really said. The Michelino deck had 60 cards, that's all what we can know, and it had a 4x15-structure.


for the Cary-Yale cards an assumed 5x16-structure is the most probable solution (at least in my opinion) - as you said above.

You wrote: "Also, the World card was in the Cary-Yale."

I wrote three years ago the following

In contrary to Kaplan's representation the card is regarded by some simply as fame (which in the Minchiate is the highest trump and variously appears in Trionfi-contexts as very high element).
Autorbis has suggested long ago, that this card means Fama and that the Cary-Yale had a 5x16-structure.

I'm not sure, if all material is updated to the actual state.

The central scene on the card seems to refer to a funny scene (according autorbis, who found it), which is reported from the Sforza / Piccinino fights in end of 1439. Piccinino was nearly captured and sat in hopeless condition in a small castle, which couldn't offer much resistance for the next day. Piccinino was a small man in stature and he climbed in a sack, which was carried by a very big German across the battlefield of the past day, where some Sforza troops collected useful items. Nobody did care to ask .... They reached the lake, crossed it with a boat and in the next day Piccinino was ready with fresh collected troops to attack the city of Verona (?) and win it. The story is in Klaus Schelle: Die Sforza. Also at: NICCOLO.htm
(see November 1439)

in Italian language with more details. Possibly it's the most interesting story of the recent war - its appearance in a deck for a marriage in October 1441, which had the idea to manifest an overall peace in Northern Italy, also between Sforza and Piccinino, which were the both major protagonists in the war, is logical. Especially as Sforza marries.


The world card was not in the Cary-Yale, the card addressed as World by Kaplan and others is more likely Fama (fame). A trumpet is typical attribute for Fama and this picture has a trumpet.


If you don't see it, it's in the upper left with a wing. If the picture don't comes (they change the link occasionally), it's in the Beinecke library and you have to search for "Visconti". - wings and trumpet are attributs.

Winged trumpet in emblem book, Fama is mentioned in Latin text

The "world" as explanation for this card is nonsense ... just to say my humble opinion in clear words.
We have no early evidence for the existence of the common world card. The Charles VI "world" is a mix of Fama and Prudentia and the socalled World card in the 6 added cards are two Putti, which carry the picture of a city.

The whole "World" concept inside Tarot probably developed with the new astronomical impressions, caused by the studies of Regiomontanus, the distribution of Ptolemy-editions and other influences, which finally resulted in the detection of America.

The story of Piccinino and Sforza in 1439 in the deck gives reason to date the Cary-Yale not to 1427 (as occasionally done) and to give it precisely to October 1441 (wedding Bianca Maria Sforza and Francesco Sforza) ... likely at no other date Filippo Maria Visconti would have chosen this topic.

What are your questions, if you have considered these corrections?


Thanks, Huck. On the Michelino, I went back and read my notes from 15 months ago, the last time I thought about that deck. They agree with you. Sorry about that. I should have re-read all my notes, and not just the ones on the PMB.

Iam glad you clarified that it was a 4x15 structure and not a 4x11 plus 1x16. I think that is an important point that I did not find so precisely put in Ross's Trionfi page on the Michelino. Attaching the trumps to the suits opens the door for also considering, at some point in its development, the Cary-Yale in the same way, as a 4x20 and not just a 5x16. I think seeing the Cary-Yale trumps as 4 groups of 4, like the Michelino, helps us to reconstruct what cards are missing from that deck. I will develop that point later, if need be.

In the Cary-Yale, I had a different interpretation of the card you call "Fame." But I hadn't seen the battle incident story on Trionfi. I will have to study it, and my old notes, for a few days and see if there is anything more I want to say about it.

I hope you agree that "Sforza," Fortitude or Strength, was in the Cary-Yale. Are you saying that it was not part of the original PMB (the 14 cards by the first artist), and then re-instated 15 years or so later by the second artist, for the 20 card deck? That still seems to me odd. But before I say more, I want to be sure what your position is. That's all for now.


MikeH said:
Thanks, Huck. On the Michelino, I went back and read my notes from 15 months ago, the last time I thought about that deck. They agree with you. Sorry about that. I should have re-read all my notes, and not just the ones on the PMB.

No problem ... it's difficult to keep all the details in the head, which build Tarot history. ... :) ... however, it becomes occasionally boring to repeat them over and over again.

I am glad you clarified that it was a 4x15 structure and not a 4x11 plus 1x16. I think that is an important point that I did not find so precisely put in Ross's Trionfi page on the Michelino.

Well, the page about the Michelino deck is of an older date and it's difficult to maintain always the actual state of research at the website. The site has more than 1000 articles. Btw.: it was not Ross alone who wrote there.

Attaching the trumps to the suits opens the door for also considering, at some point in its development, the Cary-Yale in the same way, as a 4x20 and not just a 5x16. I think seeing the Cary-Yale trumps as 4 groups of 4, like the Michelino, helps us to reconstruct what cards are missing from that deck. I will develop that point later, if need be.

Well, the assumption of 16 trumps for the Cary-Yale Tarocchi is based on a reconstruction hypothesis and a thesis of a 4x20-structure would be a hypothesis on the base of a hypothesis ... naturally there develop insecurities, especially as the correct reconstruction fights already with insecurities.
The document of 1.1.1441 mentions "14 figures" and we took it as a sign, that decks with 5x14-structure were on the way in 1441 and discussed. Naturally this is also only hypothesis - the connection between document and playing cards is not mentioned in the document, though a connection has plausible arguments.
A 5x14-deck wouldn't offer the further development of the 4 suits system (as you suggested with 4x20), but would decide clearly for a 5 suit structure.

The Cary-Yale appeared (according our opinion) in 1441, so it's assumed for the same year - which is (again our opinion only) not accident, cause both activities (in our opinion) relate to the same process, which is the wedding preparation for Bianca Maria Sforza.

So what happened (according our opinion. which naturally is based on the facts, as far we were able to get them): Bianca Maria was promised to Francesco Sforza and actually Francesco was already preparing for the wedding (1438), but Bianca Maria was not send by Filippo Maria.
So Francesco Sorza decided for the Venetian side in the escalating war between Venice and Milan. So Filippo Maria started to play with the hand of Bianca Maria, the first potential husband-in-spe was Carlo Gonzaga, brother of the later ruler Ludovico the Turk. But Carlo became captured in the war. In mid 1440 both parties agreed on a truce - Filippo Maria played with the idea, that Leonello d'Este should marry Bianca Maria, heir of Ferrara, who became widowed in 1439 and was so luckily free for the wedding market. Ferrara and Milan made concrete steps towards an political alliance.

Some historians speculate, that Filippo Maria weren't serious in this marriage project - but we doubt this. Some contemporary reports claim, that Bianca Maria "always wanted Francesco Sforza" - we take this a comments from after the wedding.

Bianca Maria was send to the court of Ferrara (September 1440) ... possibly a deal to secure the Ferrarese cooperation in the political play of Filippo Maria Visconti. Others explain, that Filippo Maria only wished to raise some pressure on Francesco Sforza - assuming, that it was always Filippo Maria's plan to give Bianca Maria to Sforza.
A view on a landmap ..

... should make it secure, that a Milanese-Ferrarese liaison would have created a state, which would have the advantage against Venice, and the long time partners-in-war Venice-Florence would have gotten difficulties to communicate with each other - either they had to use of ships or messengers had to cross enemy country.
In contrast to that an alliance between Sforza's regions in the Marche and Milan look far less attractive. Hadn't Sforza been a condottiero with genious talents, facts would have given Leonello the clear preference.

From this one can draw the conclusion, that the marriage plan with Leonello was a serious political possibility. Bianca Maria went to Ferrara with this background.
Even after Bianca Maria was married to Francesco Sforza Filippo Maria worked on the political option to unite Milan with Ferrara .. but his Ferrarese partner Niccolo d'Este was poisoned end of 1441 in Milan (it's speculated, that it was Filippo Maria himself; it's speculated that it was Sforza; it's speculated, that it was somebody else). And later (after 1441) further cooperations with Borso d'Este as deciding factor didn't succeed.

The gift for Bianca Maria at 1.1.1441 in the Ferrarese account book is a lonesome entry - as far art productions in Ferrara between Sptember 1440 and April 1441 are considered - in a long list composed by the researcher Francesschini, if you search for the criterium "gift for Bianca Maria". From this we have to assume, that this gift is of some importance ... Bianca Maria is a possible bride of the heir, the "single honored guest" at this time.

Playing Cards had been something for women, especially when they married. For young girls ... playing cards were an attribute for the bride. They help to overcome some nervosity in the wedding night, when - often - persons met, which never had seen before from face to face. When Bianca Maria Sforza (the younger Bianca Maria) married 1494 Emperor Maximilian, her playing cards were discussed between her and the new husband before the wedding night.

From all these conditions we assume, that the 14 objects painted on paper were "projected cards for the wedding" - experiments intended to decide, if the future bride would love them.
A similar scene repeats 17 years later, when Bianca Maria's son Galeazzo (13 years old) is as a guest at Ferrara. Two playing card decks were made by Borso for this important visit (one can conclude this from the production note and we know, that these 2 decks had 70 cards only, so likely it had 5x14-structure). But additionally a 3rd deck (or more ?) was produced, which was painted by a page (we only know of it, as the regular Tarot painter got some money for colors and paper) probably in presence of the young prince and following the suggestions of the young guest.

The whole scene took place at 1.1.1441 - the "day of circumcision". As we learn from Lubkin, who wrote about Galeazzo Maria Sforzy, it was a constant habit in Milan to celebrate Christmas (at least around 1470) very excessively and the days between Christmas and New Year were filled with games and gambling activities - gambling especially at the 1st of January.
There is reason enough to assume, that this habit was similar in Ferrara in 1441. So the gift for Bianca Maria ... this were probably objects related to playing cards, made for "a party at night".
Traditionally the 1st of January was connected to the "feasts of the Fool", a habit connected to the lower clergy originally, which as custom probably was stronger in France and Germany than in Italy. However, it's a time, when Italy became interested in customs in other countries (especially in Ferrara, which two years ago had international guests during the council of Ferrara) and possible an imitation of the "Feast of the Fools" took place. The feast of Fools became suspicious and short time later than 1441 we find prohibitions (1445 Paris), probably linked to the raising power and influence of Pope Eugen. The feast of Fools was connected to blasphemous or funny carnivalesque scenes (the evaluation depends on the viewing point), during which cards were played in the church.

... putting all this together: the "party at night" was probably a harmless imitation of the feast of the Fools and these 14 paintings at 1.1.1441 were playing cards. It might be exspected "harmless", as the society of Ferrara was relatively harmless: the court of Ferrrara was full of kids. Bianca Maria should have had there community especially with two girls of the same age (14-16 years all three) and especially one of these girls got greatest importance in her life: Beatrice d'Este, which somehow later got sister function for Bianca (marrying Tristano Sforza in 1455, Bianca Maria's step-son). Beatrice survived Bianca (dead in 1468) more than 30 years and she was still an important person at the Sforza court in the 90's. She took deciding influence, that Bona of Savoy reconciled peacefully with Ludovico il Moro in 1478, such preparing the most successful time of the Sforza. A "hidden" key person at the Sforza court, living 42 years there. But in 1441 she was only 14 and probably a beauty, cause she became the "queen of the feasts" in Ferrara in Leonello's time.
So Bianca Maria didn't found a husband in Ferrara, but a "best friend". She returned to Milan and Pavia end of March. The war was earlier revived and developed, suddenly and with lot of surprize - in a difficult militaric situation for Sforza on the side of Venice - Filippo Maria offered the hand of Bianca Maria to Francesco Sforza, so playing against the interests of his own condottieri, who had started to become rebellious against their commissioner by asking for payment for their many services.

Going back to 1441 and the discrepancy between 5x14-deck and 5x16-deck: The 14 paintings of 1.1.1441 had a Fools-feast connection and the later 14 Bembo-trumps (which we know completely) contain also a Fool card. The Cary-Yale reconstruction lets us assume a 5x16-structure and it's difficult to imagine, that a Fool was included. All what we see from the Cary-Yale, tells us, that the deck is more "religious/serious" than the 14 Bembo cards, it probably had 7 virtues and the Bembo cards only one. And the Bembo cards have a Fool.

So it seems likely, that the Cary-Yale came from the father Filippo Maria Visconti as a "serious advice" for the young bride as real and "official" marriage deck version, and the 14-cards version was made by the girls, who at least participated a little bit in the construction.

From the later development we see, that the 14 special cards by Bembo appear in Milan (probably in 1452) and that in 1457 in Ferrara "70 cards" were produced - generally we see from Ferrara, that this court loved Tarocchi experiments (the Boiardo Tarocchi poem is from there, the Sola-Busca comes from this direction) and that Milan behaved orientated towards the 16-trumps first (Michelino deck, Cary-Yale) and later more traditional towards the standard iconography.

The interest to the "16-trumps-model" was probably caused by Filippo Maria's great preference fo Chess (which he parted with a lot of contemporaries). Filippo had a chess club at his court (1427). Chess knows 16 figures for each side. A Chess iconography with naturally also 16 figures were known since Jacob of Cessolis, so had already a tradition of maybe 150 years. A sort of iconography existed already in the used chess figures, more-than-1-person figures for King and Queen with great similarity to Cary-Yale Emperor/Emperor presentations have been found.

Chess was also already connected to Greek gods, Filippo Maria's first chosen topic.

And Filippo is known and famous as a "political chess player", whose figures were the condottieri. In his youth he had made the experience, that condottieri nearly ruined the state of the Visconti, the original commissioner (his brother at this time) becoming a puppet in the hands of a military leader (Ficino Cane). So Filippo's major strategy became it to avoid, that a commissioned condottiero got too much power. So he acted with Carmagnola, with Francesco Sforza and with Jacopo Piccinino. And so he decided to live a lonesome life, giving no surface for surprizing attacks or attempts of assassination, changing the sleeping room in the nights, having spies everywhere and questioning the astrologers for possible dangers. And so he didn't got the destiny of his great-uncle Bernabo, wasn't poisoned like his father Giangaleazzo, wasn't killed like his brother Giovanni, wasn't murdered as his grand-son Galeazzo Maria, didn't die in prison like the other grand-son Lodovico, all before and after him regents of Milan. It wasn't easy to be a Visconti.

In the Cary-Yale, I had a different interpretation of the card you call "Fame." But I hadn't seen the battle incident story on Trionfi. I will have to study it, and my old notes, for a few days and see if there is anything more I want to say about it.

I hope you agree that "Sforza," Fortitude or Strength, was in the Cary-Yale. Are you saying that it was not part of the original PMB (the 14 cards by the first artist), and then re-instated 15 years or so later by the second artist, for the 20 card deck? That still seems to me odd. But before I say more, I want to be sure what your position is. That's all for now.

Well, the fact is clear, that the Fortitudo and Strength card in Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck is part of the "6-added", or if you have another opinion, then "replaced" cards, painted by the second (unknown) painter ... That's not, cause "I say it", that's a common agreement between people who researched the cards long ago. Kaplan for instance notes it as "fact". The position of the 5x14-theory is, that these 6 cards were "added", not "replaced", with the resulting insight, that the 14 Bembo trumps plus the 4x14 small arcana would under this condition would form a complete deck with 70 cards in the view of the original designer.

The ( assumption about the Cary-Yale is it, that it had all 7 virtues, the 4 cardinal virtues + 3 theological virtues. And the Fortitudo or Strength card survived in the deck fragment, so very naturally I also agree, that it was inside ... :)

But it's not between the 14 Bembo cards, and all other virtues are also missing there beside the virtue Iustitia.
For the presence of Iustitia (in contrast to the missing other virtues) we have the following observation and explanation: The card is unusual as a "Iustitia", cause there's a background with a knight with drawn sword, possibly explainable as expression of a protecting or courting function.

Generally Italy in early 15th century was Macho-country, in contrast to France, where women had fought for more liberation and respect. This was done mainly by the poetress Christine de Pizan, who had protection by Valentina Visconti and this was nobody else than the distant aunt of Bianca Maria Visconti, already long dead before the birth of Bianca Maria, but as theme surely part of her childhood legends.
A topic of Christine was the Court d'Amour and inside this mental construction existed a sort of Iustitia, which ruled the matters of the heart. If we go back to the year 1441, when three romantic young girls reflected god and the world, the presence of an imported French iconographical figure with some feministic character outside the standard representation of 7 virtues isn't very surprizing.

.. .-) ... We see, that Filippo Maria Visconti as careful father corrected this "mistake" by adding the 6 other virtues, when we observe the Cary-Yale. We see it going back to a version, which the daughter loved, in the 14 Bembo cards version - only Iustitia. We see it again filled at least with a part of the virtues maybe 13-15 years later (full PMB). Much later we find all 7 virtues again in the Minchiate. The Tarot development itself lost Prudentia in favor of the card World.

The early Trionfi cards were small editions with few decks only, filled with personal preferences, for instance in matters of heraldic device. Why should it be unusual to chose the trumps also according the own preference? So we have a duplicate with changes (personal preferences) of the Charles VI deck in the 4 Ursino cards: Temperance and Chariot are changed, World and Hermit are almost identical.

Creating decks according the own taste was no problem for persons with enough money in the phase of the "hand-painted decks". Standard arrived, when printing processes and mass-production were used in the process. We try to determine the start of the mass production process - the opinions differ.


Huck: So it seems likely, that the Cary-Yale came from the father Filippo Maria Visconti as a "serious advice" for the young bride as real and "official" marriage deck version, and the 14-cards version was made by the girls, who at least participated a little bit in the construction.
Whether or not others would arrive at the same conclusion, I do not know.
But for myself, after haunting the pages of trionfi over a period of time, it's wonderful to see the pertinent facts (plus logical deductions) drawn together in this post. The historical background to this theory certainly gives it credence.

Bee :)


Okay, Huck, now I have some questions, related entirely to your more recent post on this thread. I think I understand the reasoning behind the "trionfi" 5x16 Cary-Yale theory, and the circumstances in support of it. I've read it on the Trionfi site and in other threads.

But I want to get clearer about your explanation of the design of the original PMB. Just to make sure I have the scenario: you are saying that 3 girls designed the original PMB special cards in Jan. 1441 during Bianca's visit to Ferrara. Two of the girls wee Bianca Visconti and Beatrice d'Este. They were interested in fun and not virtue, and that's why there's a Fool card in the original PMB but no virtues, unless you count a lady with a knight in shining armor behind her, protecting or courting her. They have the work done there in Ferrara and submit the 14 cards to Bianca's father. He has a scales and a sword added to the lady with the knight and calls it "Iusticia," and also has 6 more virtue cards designed. So as to have 16 special cards rather than 21, he throws out at least 5 other cards that the girls designed, including the Fool. To mollify Bianca, he did allow for female knights and female pages. The result is the CY, a wedding present to Francesco and Bianca from Filippo. In 1450 or so, Bianca or Francesco thinks it would be fun to have a deck based on the girls' original ideas. Francesco makes inquiries about trionfi decks, maybe buys a few. and Bianca goes to Cremona to get Bembo to do the work. Perhaps she's even find some of the old cards or sketches. They leave "Iusticia" as it is but removing the other virtues and restore the ones Filippo removed, perhaps with a few alterations. Bembo delivers them in 1452, together with the 4 suits of 14 each, and the result is so popular that other similar decks are painted. At some point, perhaps after Bianca's death, 6 cards are added, essentially. all of Philippo's old virtues, although some are packaged in a new form.

So correct me where I've misunderstood. And here are some details in this scenario where I would like to know more. These are minor details, but I'd like to know what you have. (1). If the payment in January of 1441 was for work done according to the specifications of 3 girls, that doesn't seem like the normal procedure for a gift, just to pay the bill for what another person wants done. But certainly if a suitor in macho Italy did that, it would warm a girl's heart. And how do you know any of that?

My predisposition is to think that somebody, probably the d'Este suitor (I forget his name), ordered 14 painted images of the 14 special cards of an existing Ferrara deck that he liked, maybe even of a type they played with, perhaps proto-tarot, but of which we now have no trace, or perhaps a different type of trionfi altogether, suitable for young girls, and that has nothing to do with the PMB. Why is that wrong-headed?

I have the same predisposition for the decks of 1457: they are orders for decks either like the proto-tarot then in Ferrara or some other trionfi there suitable for boys, namely, Galeazzo and his friends.

(2) What is the argument for 14 rather than 16 cards in the original PMB, based on designs made prior to the CY? Is there any data, or is it a deduction from only loosely associated facts (the 1441 order for 14 cards, political stability in 1450, inquiries about cards, production resuming in Cremona 1452)? Again, my predisposition is that Fancesco in 1450 might just have wanted to buy a trionfi deck for his children. Or maybe he was thinking of designing some deck other than the original PMB, and the circumstances for the creation of the PMB are totally unrelated to events in 1450-1452? Or it was the PMB, but with 16 cards, like the CY (and perhaps a Fool, too). I just would like you to spell out your reasoning for that deck of 14 cards then, as opposed to 16 or something totally unrelated--or steer me to some link that does--starting with whatever publicly verifiable sources you have, like letters and such. The information on Trionfi that I've seen just doesn't seem enough.


MikeH said:
Okay, Huck, now I have some questions, related entirely to your more recent post on this thread. I think I understand the reasoning behind the "trionfi" 5x16 Cary-Yale theory, and the circumstances in support of it. I've read it on the Trionfi site and in other threads.

Well, it's difficult to understand it and our own website doesn't contain all material. Research is a "floating process".
I'll try to introduce you to same basic conditions - that's all.

But I want to get clearer about your explanation of the design of the original PMB. Just to make sure I have the scenario: you are saying that 3 girls designed the original PMB special cards in Jan. 1441 during Bianca's visit to Ferrara.

Evidence is, that there were three girls (but naturally also other persons) and there is a document with a few words only, which informs, that there was a "gift" to the guest Bianca Maria. The document + context is of the kind, that it is plausible, that it relates to playing cards, but it is not "fact" or 100% secure.
The existence of the document is fact and (probably) the presence of the 3 girls and the result, that Bianca Maria and Beatrice d'Este became "great friends". Also it's fact, that Bianca Maria later was involved in playing card production in Cremona, which was "her city" and that this Beatrice d'Este was probably a beauty, likely also rather clever and creative. Her son (first marriage) became Niccolo da Correggio and became very creative - a poet and an adventurer - from such relations one learns about the mother.

Two of the girls were Bianca Visconti and Beatrice d'Este. They were interested in fun and not virtue, and that's why there's a Fool card in the original PMB but no virtues, unless you count a girl with a knight in shining armor behind her, protecting or courting her.

First: we have no confirming informations about the 14 paintings at 1.1.1441 ... these could have similarities to the 14 cards of Bembo (which we know as factual data), but naturally, these could be also totally different. Trionfi cards know considerable differences: What's common between Sola Busca Tarocchi, Boiardo poem and normal Tarot? They have all 22 special cards. For the cards we've in Sola-Busca at 0-1-20-21, in Boiardo Tarocchi poem at 0-21 and in normal Tarot 0-1-21 "specialities" (iconographically or by idea) and all other content seems exchangeable and is different.

From the Tarot rules we know, that the two lowest cards 0-1 and the two top cards 20-21 are used fo special rules (20 only occasionally). 0 Fool (can't beat and can't be beaten), 1 Bagatello (= lowest trump) and 21 World (highest trump) earn in Tarot the point worth "5" or "4", the same as the 4 kings. Queens have 4 or 3 points, Cavallos 3 or 2 and the Page 2 or 1, additionally there is trick-counting (as in Bridge), which lead to additional points (the counting rules differ).

For the practical game it means, that most points are earned by the courts. But the courts are beaten by trumps - which by their usual value don't give too much points (only by the tricks, that they take). The 3 very special cards have this destiny:

very lucky card: trump 21, the owner has secure 5 points and surely will make one trick additionally.

risky lucky card: trump 1, the owner has the chance to get a trick with it (and with this action 5 additional points), but he might lose it (in such case there are rules, which punish the loser; additional value this card might have, if the bagatto gets the final trick, then he mostly gets a special bonus

no risk lucky card: 0 Fool, secure 5 points, but no chance to get an additional trick - but the possibility to avoid one bad situation in the game

It's easy to decipher, that the special fun in this game is with the actions of Fool and Bagatello, it's not really interesting, that the highest trump beats all other cards, only common condition in games. The Fool can avoid a bad situation ... which such an operation he can save a king or another high card, he can keep the last trump or similar things (and generally the owner is lucky, as he has secure 5 points). The operation of the Fool is difficult to calculate in the game.
Similar the hunt for capturing the Bagatello - or making last trick with the Bagatello - is an interesting feature in practical card games, the highlight of the action.

So, what we can learn from the specific informations about Sola Busca, Boiardo Tarocchi poem and normal Tarot? For Sola Busca and Boiardo Tarocchi we may assume, that the mentioned special rules existed and this caused the special iconographic details.

From this back to 1441 ... one interesting point is the question, if the 14 cards from the girl's court already knew the Fool. The PMB had one.
For this it might be interesting to go back to the Michelino deck, ca. 1425.

There we have 16 gods ... one can observe, that an old antique order, the "12 Olympians" is inside. This group is positioned in the deck from 16 (top) to position 5, in a closed row ... from this condition one may assume, that the author knew about the "12 Olympians" and used the concept in his deck. The 12 Olympians are just a closed group, and it's not necessary to exspect special details ... the interesting part is in the lower trumps.

Here we find at position 4 Herakles, who was in Olympic history the 13th of the 12 Olympians ... and in the deck he is the 13th trump (counted from top) ... then we have Aiolus, the god of the winds, which was said to have been connected to Fama (fame) by Chaucer, then we find Daphne connected to Chastity, and then Amor connected to Love. With Fama, Chastity and Love we have 3 of the 6 Trionfi chapters in Petrarca's poem, if we count Hercules in his astronomical function as a possible "Father Time", so he might be the fourth Petrarca figure and the whole a somewhat modified Trionfi-poem interpretation.

Eternity = 12 gods
Time = Herakles
Fame = Aiolus
Death = missing, perhaps left out as too nasty for a card deck
Chastity = Daphne
Love = Amor

From the 16 figures especially Daphne and Aiolus were confusing at first view ... both are in myth too unimportant to be exspected in this collection. The explanation for Daphne was found in Petrarca's special dedication to his peudo-lover Laura (means Daphne, which means laurel) and Petrarca's earlier importance for the Visconti court.
Aiolus was confusing, till Chaucer's work about Fame and her connection to Aiolus was found - then it made sense as part of "Trionfi-poem-imitation" as guiding idea.

Now to the key question: Was the Fool-function already there? Did already some Bagatello-fúnction exist?
Well, the answer is yes, as far we can know it. In the Daphne myth, which we can see as the central theme of the deck, the god Amor fools the god Apollo by making him fall in love with Daphne, and, for the same moment, he filled Daphne with total antipathy against Apollo. The result was, that Daphne fled the love of Apollo and prefered to become a tree.

In the general Tarot game the love of the players is it to capture the Pagat (or Bagatello) to get many points. Naturally the current owner of the Pagat didn't like that. In the Michelino deck the fighting call of the players wouldn't have been "capture the Pagat", but "capture the virgin (Daphne)"

In common card games (Germany) the expression "Jungfrau (means virgin)" is used in a positive sense, when a player doesn't get any trick (and with this wins the game, usually, when it is announced before, that you'll get no trick). If you get "no trick" and you haven't announced it in a common game, the expression "Schneider Schwarz" (cutter Black) is used, which is an association of death (as seen in the common Tarot card).

So we have in the association Daphne = virgin also the idea "Death" implied, which had been missing in the above row of Petrarca chapters. So we have to change the row by this addittion:

Eternity = 12 gods
Time = Herakles
Fame = Aiolus
(Death = implied by alternative to Chastity)
Chastity = Daphne
Love = Amor

This game of Chastity (Jungfrau-announcement) usually changes the complete run of the game - it's just inside the normal game and it becomes an option,if a player has really bad cards) ... as German games with this rules are very special and too complicated for foreigners ( ... .-) ) you may try "Spades", which is offered by the usual Windows function to play it in internet.

Usually the Jungfrau declaration in game is embedded in a necessary bidding process. The Jungfrau declaration usually surpasses other game allternatives (for instants solo or announcement of winning in specific way, with many points for instance).

So far the Pagat rule for Daphne, which has in the Michelino the position 2 - which would be in a usual Tarot game position 1 after zero, so at the Pagat-place.

Amor has the Fool position in the Michelino deck. Amor appears in the myth of the Daphne-myth and tricks there Apoll and also Daphne in a cruel game. It's not really known, that Eros could be captured (although Petrarca knows the captured Amor).

Noteworthy: The "cruel beauty" (La Belle Dame sans mercy - actual the lady which doesn't fulfill the will of her lover, so as Daphne did in the work of Ovid and later Petrarca) became a major topic around 1424 in French literature by a poem of Alain Chartier. Chartier worked as diplomat for the French king, in 1424/25 he was at a visit in Italy (no confirmation, if he visited also Visconti ... but it would be logical). The last letter from Chartier (he "disappeared" with no information about his death event) in 1429 was addressed to Filippo Maria Visconti and reported about the appearance of Jeanne d'Arc. It's no joke, but this was about the best possible "virgin" of 15th century.
"Chartier" writes relative similar as "Cartier", which is a "card producer". One of the topics of Chartier were "4 Dames", "le Livre des quatre dames" (French decks are said to have invented the 4 dames, but confirmation for this is missing), and also there is "le Quadrilogue invectif", another title with a fixation on the number 4 (as it appears in the card game). In the Germany Empire one had about the same time the same tendency (orders were parted in 4 major categories). The poet Chartier was surely not a cardmaker, but perhaps his family had a relation to playing cards.

Leaving this, as it mybe, we return now back to 1.1.1441 ...

ca. 1425: We have a deck with 16 trumps, the Magician is suspected to be a hunted virgin and the Fool a fooling Amor.

1.1. 1441: We have a deck-preparation with 14 trumps (at least the assumption of it) - we don't know, how it was composed, but the suspicion is there, that it had a Fool

October 1441: The Cary Yale, the real marriage, has partly survived and there are chances, that the reconstruction has met the reality. So there is exspected a 16 trumps version with gender-harmonized court cards. It's doubted in the reconstruction, that it had a Fool

February 1442: Leonello pays for 4 decks, which likely are commissioned to celebrate, that he became Signore of Ferrara in January 1442 .. the first time, that we know of the use of the Trionfi name. As we have later in 1457 in Ferrara the note about "70 cards" and before the note of 14 paintings, there is the suspicion, that this was a deck with 5x14-structure. But again ... we don't know, how it was filled, but it might have had similar motifs as the 14 experimental paintings.

Summer 1442: The two boys (9 and 11 years old) get a deck, considerable cheaper as the price paid in January (1/8 of it), but still rather expensive, a 1/2 lira marchesana. A noble man might have earned 20 lira marchesana a month, and had to pay usually 2 servants, a horse and other things from this money. A very high state official might have gotten 80 Lira marchesana a month - but in this category were only very few persons. A servant might have gotten 1/2-2 Lira Marchesana. So for the real low budget person this was a not possible price. Even for a noble man it might have been troublesome, considering, that he had a complex household, which possibly allowed per month 3-5 Lira Marchesana as free money for culture.
In comparition to book printing editions we have the circumstance, that books were produced in editions of 200 - 300 ... if we assume mass-production for playing cards we possibly had similar or smaller numbers, at least if it was an expensive market.

This game was bought from a merchant of Bologna, from whom we know, that he traded with Sagramoro (the Tarocchi painter in Ferrara).
There are two different interpretations:

1. Ross assumes, that the merchant sold Bolognese decks, which possibly were mass production products.

2. An alternative explanation is, that Sagramoro made 4 elitary decks for the court, and then made the same models for a small number of clients in cheaper edition (visitors of the festivities), just for guests which were interested to buy some. As he didn't got all decks sold, he gave the rest to the merchant from Bologna to trade them.
In this interpretation the deck was an "event deck", which lost part of its worth, when the event became history. Nobody tells us, if this early attempt to produce Trionfi decks became a financial success or had been bad business. We only see, that we have between 1442 and 1449 no Trionfi notes and this seems to say, that playing card business had become bad during this period. Although this seems to have had various reasons, especially the final success of Pope Eugen (started as a very weak pope) , who had a strong connection to the Franciscans and the Franciscans were against playing cards.

So ... there is much more to tell and to reply, ... but I need a pause :)


I think it is very hard to explain the Origins of Tarot by the means of a luxury deck that would have only been seen by few.
It is quite possible that cards were given as gifts (single/or groups of cards) at the feast of John the Baptist- a very common occurrence and this is what necessitated the painting of new ones. It could also explain the holes as it was custom to hang the miniature gifts in the church on that day and would explain the the subject matter of missing cards/replacements
I also think it is hard to think these miniatures were whipped up in an instant- they would have taken some time to create. Another possibility is that they were a gift to Bianca by Francesca when he was first to be married- and when that did not eventuate- they were put aside until the date of their actual marriage or anniversary or another celebratory event-by then the game had developed and needed other cards- so they were so ordered. It would also explain why we do not have a Devil or a Tower- not very good subjects for a celebration deck or to hang in the church.

This whole subject reminds me of basing the life of everyday Egyptians on the paintings on the Nobility's tombs.


Rosanne: .........reminds me of basing the life of everyday Egyptians on the paintings on the Nobility's tombs.
Ah! Perspective.

Bee :)


Michelino to Cary-Yale I

Huck has covered a lot of ground, with a wealth of information. Some of it I have not read before, especially on the gaming aspect. I was going to finish a post I am working on about the “World” or “Fame” card, but since Huck has been going over the Michelino in such detail, I thought I would, too. I am not much of a data-historian, so please tell me where the scenario below conflicts with known facts. Also, please tell me where what I present conflicts with common sense.


Here we have four qualities, four birds, four main gods, eight subsidiary gods, and four demi-gods: 12 Olympians plus 4 non-Olympians. They form a 4x4 grid, four horizontal rows and four vertical columns. I have no clue how to put grids in a post, so I will just list the personage. The grid is on Trionfi.

Virtues, eagle: Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury, Hercules.
Riches, phoenix: Juno, Neptune, Mars, Eolis.
Virginities, turtledove: Pallas, Diana, Vesta, Daphne.
Pleasures, dove: Venus, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupido.
(; click on “Analysis of the Deck”))

For the geometrically challenged, it might help in what follows to write down the above list in a 4x4 grid. I get confused myself. Make the grid big enough to write several names in each square, as we will be using it again on the Cary-Yale. The god-names will be at the top of each square, and one or two Cary-Yale titles below them. It might be good to use a pencil with an eraser.

Here is my analysis, building on the four qualities that define the suits.

First quality (for the first suit): "Virtue" is Latin for "excellence," in Greek arete. Less philosophically, it also meant "manliness," from vir, man. The gods and demi-gods in this category represent different types of virtue: ethical, artistic, verbal, and the overcoming of obstacles. Jupiter is the giver of ethics and law. His bird in mythology is the eagle, the king of birds.

Apollo is the god for artistic excellence, with his lyre and Muses, as well as medicine and prophecy.

Martiano says that Mercury wears a galero--a broad-brimmed cardinal's hat, (, click on "A Manuscript of Martiano"). Normally he would wear a cap with wings. I'm not sure the Trionfi researchers appreciate this remark as an account of where the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Bagatto, dressed in cardinal's red, might have got his funny hat. It isn't exactly the same shape, to be sure. One must be discreet. The Parisians Vieville and Noblet did a better job with it 200 years later. (The brown in Noblet was originally red, according to Flornoy's research,


Hercules is a vir among virs. What can I say?

Riches: The Phoenix represents alchemical gold, dying in the fire and then emerging out of the ashes; it is the final stage of the process (see Adam McLean, "Birds in Alchemy," Riches are like that, too, gone one minute and back the next, as Martiano says. Four sources of riches are indicated: marriage, the sea, war, and the winds.

I am not aware of any direct connection between the phoenix and Juno, whose bird was the peacock. The phoenix is the solar bird. But Martiano associates Juno with the rainbow. When depicted with a rainbow, the sun is behind it and therefore is highlighting Juno. Here is an example, by Giulio Romano, at the Palazzo Te in Mantua, c. 1527:


Juno was also shown in a golden robe, as in the following detail in Peruzzi's "sala delle prospettive" at the Villa Farnesina, Rome c. 1516. (from http://www, search Peruzzi Juno).


These illustrations are a century later than I would prefer. However until I can find any better, they will have to do for making an indirect connection between Juno and the phoenix.

Here is another approach to a connection. In alchemy the "peacock's tail," the tail with eyes that Martiano takes pain to describe, is an earlier phase of the alchemical process than the phoenix, as McLean explains. If the phoenix is the end product, the peacock is perhaps the phoenix in an earlier state, in the process of purification.

Along with Juno, we have Neptune, for riches of the sea, Mars, for riches from war, and Eolus, riches that come from the air and from the fame that flies ahead of one.

Virginities: The next two deities, Athena and Diana, are of course virgin goddesses; so are Vesta and her virgins; and Daphne protected her virginity against Apollo. Turtledoves, as distinct from mere doves, in the Renaissance were symbolic of the highest and purest kind of love (as in Shakespeare's poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle, explained well enough by Wikipedia).

Pleasures: Venus is the goddess of love and beauty, and her bird is the dove. Other pleasures are wine, (Bacchus), bread (Ceres), and the pangs of love (Cupido). All of this is from Martiano.

So we have a deck with 16 interesting and no doubt beautiful cards, bound to attract attention as a unit, as in Marcello's letter (accessible in sidebar of

I hopeyou have written down the grid at the beginning of this post, because now I am going to use it on the Cary-Yale.


What I am going to extrapolate from is how the Beinecke Library titles the triumph cards. They are not just triumphs; they are all triumphs attached to regular suits. I phoned the Beinecke and asked them where this system of classificatino came from. They said it was there when they got the collection. It is not used with other cards. I suspect that if I was able to contact Cary's librarian, he or she would say the same thing. It is not the sort of thing librarians would introduce on their own. Somebody a long time ago thought it was the right way to classify these cards.

Here is the classification. In double quotations are the titles on the page that comes up when you search "Visconti" on

SWORDS: "Empress of Swords"; "Emperor of Swords"; "Love (Swords)".
BATONS: "Fortitude (Batons)"; "Faith (Batons)"; "Hope (Batons)".
CUPS: "Charity (Cups)"; "Chariot (Cups)"; "Death (Cups)".
COINS: "World (Coins)"; "Judgment (Coins)".

Let us not quibble about the particular titles: Faith, World, Judgment, etc. The Beinecke's are good enough for now. What I want to do is to use these groups plus the Michelino grid to reconstruct what cards are missing and what cards were never there.

Certainly at least one is missing. Suits at this time tended to have the same number of cards per suit. And there is an obvious choice for a third card to the set in Coins: Justice. That is what you get at the Judgment. And that is where all the early lists put that virtue.

We also see the virtue of Fortitude, there in Batons. If one or two moral virtues are in the ceck there are probably more. So we're going to need more cards, either 4 or 8 to be precise, to keep the suits equal. However there are not many more virtues to account for. There were four Cardinal Virtues. If it is Moral Virtues that are at issue, there are only three: Temperance, Courage, and Justice, one for each part of the Platonic soul.

Prudence was, as Aristotle clarified, an Intellectual Virtue. For Peter Abelard, 13th century, Prudence was not a virtue at all (but I think he means, "moral virtue"; see Marenbon, The Philosophy of Peter Abelard, p. 287, in Google Books; another reference is Peter Abelard, Collationes, p. cxi, also in Google Books). Temperance and Courage, in contrast, were virtues serving Justice. It was a late-medieval scholastic commonplace that prudence was an intellectual rather than a moral virtue ( see for example McGrade, The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy, p. 246, in Google Books).

Even St. Thomas, who ruled the times, said that Prudence "in its essence is an intellectual virtue." Then he hedged this statement by adding that "being a right method of conduct" it was in this respect "counted among the moral virtues." (Summa Theologica, Prima Secundae LVIII.III.1). Aristotle's way of saying "qua this, yes, but qua that, no" never had a more devout exponent. But careful, hair-splitting thinkers could safely talk of three cardinal "in essence" moral virtues and one "in essence" intellectual virtue.

Another antecedent, of course, is the Petrarch poem "Trionfi," The first triumph in Petrarch is Love, and we see that in Swords. The second is Chastity. It is not there explicitly. The third is Death. Yes, there it is in Cups. The fourth is Fame. Well, it could be the Chariot, also Cups. According to Hurst, Alciato (1534) gave the name "fama" to the Chariot ( However I would qualify this suggestion by giving it the title “Wordly Fame.” That is because there might be another type of Fame lurking at the end. The fifth triumph is Time. It is not there in so many words. The sixth is Eternity. Well, in Coins we have Judgment and World, both of which look like intimations of Eternity (the motto "fame is fleeting" on some Judgment cards makes it a triumph beyond fame). Anyway, two on Petrarch's list are missing.

So let us work on expanding the sets to four each. This is where the analogy with the Michelino cards comes in. It had four sets of four. Perhaps it is the same here. (See my next post, immediately following.)