Visconti Cards.


I'm sure we're all aware of the Visconti Gold tarot with the foil reproduced by A. Atanassov?. The Visconti Sforza Pierpoint Morgan (now separated in 3 collections, one in Pierpoint Morgan Library (NY), and the other two in Milan? & Ferrara?) -- truly sets the standards and the origin of the past & present tarot cards. Not from our wishful thinking of the so-called Occultic mysteries that we try to find shallow relevances to Egyptian, Indian, Gypsy-Atlantean tradition Etc... One will also find that these cards were the first "official" tarot card deck made, whom sets the standards & the original looks of our modern decks, and were made NOT for divination or mystical goals, but for simple gambling (not to confuse with the *playing cards, not trumps or tarot* French Gringonneur deck of Charles in 1392. These beautiful cards are larger than the size of our modern tarot, simply because the medieval necessity of fancy decorations sorrounded that weighs more than convenient shuffling. A hole has been punched in all cards, and two of the cards (Tower & Devil) were added by the modern reproduction. However, it is quite possible that both missing cards were never there in the first place, due to the religious & political controversy that sorrounds by having these gambling cards. By taking the historical comparison between these late 15th century cards to modern cards, one is able to appreciate the beauty and changes in detail that has been embedded in many of our modern tarot cards. Such as the Fool, that later tarot decks added a sun, the Hermit, has been replaced from holding an hourglass to a lantern, Coins became the neopagan pentacles, batons served as magical wands, temperance was originally a female pouring water from one vase to another, yet became a nude female pouring waters to both sea & land in modern decks, and so on... the cards have no titles, no numerical alphabetical allegories (since Comte De Mellet first established the infamous 22 hebrew letters to the tarot, NOT Eliphas Levi), and which makes their outlook more authentic, yet may be complicated to observe for a tarot beginner. Their background is a simple reddish brown/*maroon color, and they must be shuffled from the sides rather than the top for convenience. In my opinion, these are the "true" & original tarot that many of us may be looking for. They set the standards & values to modern tarot decks and their designs.

If you would like to know more about the tarot and their historical background from research expertise (rather than folklore), please visit these websites that I have found most interesting.

Also, check out the incomplete, yet later & interesting tarot of "Cary Yale Visconti Di Modrone Tarot", which resides in Yale, or the Tarot Of Mantegna (Black & white Prints).


Hi Lloyd!!! :)

Wow!!! Your account is cool!

Here you will find lots of people sharing the same interest in Tarot History and symbols and all...

By the way, it seems like this is your first post: why don't you go to the "New Member" section, and introduce yourself? I promise you'll be adequatele welcomed! :)


I was very impressed with the information you have written above. It read like a high school essay (concise, wordy, opinionated).

Many of the things you mention in this "essay" such as the omission of the Devil & Tower cards may be true in some sense and there are other reasons for this besides that which you have presented us with. Two theories, for example, of no Devil card is that firstly in Pagan religion there is no Devil. The devil is, according to Pagans, a manifestation of the Catholic church. The second is the Catholic church pulled that card from decks when it decided to "officially approve" the use of tarot.

Re your comment "......not from our wishful thinking of the so-called occultic mysteries that we try to find shallow relevances to Egyptian, Indian, Gypsy-Altantean tradition will also find that these were the first "official" tarot card deck made...."
Is this your opinion or is this quoted directly from a piece of literature you have read? This seems to purport that the only "true" tarot are those that depict christian systems. That being so then there are a lot of people out there reading non-christian tarot and giving very accurate readings. What is your explanation for that?

The difference between "research expertise" and "folklore" in my opinion is a couple of hundred years.

Blessed be....



Ma'am, my main point is that the Visconti Sforza cards remain "official" in my opinion for the reasons that it was the first complete (76 cards) tarot, no matter of the Christian or pagan aspect it carries. I'm not disputing the fact that tarot cards are being read very accurately & satisfactorily by/to their querents. There is no question that tarot cards can cling to the spiritual & psychological factors to the reader.

The reason why The Devil & the tower did NOT exist on the first tarot cards was because it would surely cause political controversy to the house & inhabitants that it owns, and by exposing these cards to their friends & alliances during game,... it would surely jeopardize the families reputation and destroy their religious tie with the local Catholic church. Surely I understand that Christianity created the idea of the Devil, Judgement & Falling tower, since it does not exist in any pagan works & influences, and nor am i having anything against this point.

And What source do you say that it the Catholic church "pulled" the Devil & Tower cards away? They never were intended to exist in the first place due to the reasons I have mentioned above. In my research, the first "catholic" representative was a (franciscan?) friar dated to a sermon during the 1470's, whom called upon the tarot cards in which he referred to as "Trumps"... and as "21 stairs of sin", excluding The Matto (Fool), which is #0, and 21+1 = 22 Trumps of the Major Arcana. This document is called the "Steele Manuscript", and one of the sources you can find an image of this manuscript is Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot. Volume 1. on page 51.

"......not from our wishful thinking of the so-called occultic mysteries that we try to find shallow relevances to Egyptian, Indian, Gypsy-Altantean tradition etc......"

these words of mine are of simple opinion, as I have seen the beautiful tarot cards being "manifested" into new meanings & ridiculous claims of traditions that "attempt" to tie certain ancient civilizations to simple gambling cards. I cannot confirm that there are no "religious" or spiritual aspects to the tarot cards, because they are.. after all, have been based upon the virtues & vices of the medieval times. You may be able to find these in another set of cards that had the 3 christian virtues of Hope, Charity (Love), and Fidelity (faith) in the Visconti Di Modrone Tarot.

and Maam... Folklore & Research Expertise IS a couple of hundred years. So do you see how much historical knowledge we have accumulated through critical study of the Tarot cards?


Thanks for mentioning those links, which some of us undoubtedly already have bookmarked.

With regards to the Devil and the Tower card not being in the Visconti-Sforza decks, you have, of course, given the account which many of us use when seeking historical understanding: provided what is found in Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot. As you said, it may be likely that, for Visconti type decks, 'it is quite possible that both missing cards were never there in the first place, due to the religious & political controversy'.

However, there is a significant jump from that to assuming that no other sequences of cards, on more flimsy materials, were around. After all, even the card parts found in the Sforza castel would probably have been thrown out if they had been discovered a mere 50 years earlier, or by someone not having an historical eye. Their dating, also, to later times, appears to be due mainly because of similar representations can also be found later. To me, this is the historical equivalence of dating an unknown deck to 1972 because we have evidence for such publication of a similar deck... even though that deck may be from 1934.

With regards to both the Devil and the Tower, many mediaeval representations were of course available. They they may not have formed part of the Visconti is one possible conclusion from the evidence. They they did not form part of any Tarot-type sequence is another pretty large step that professional and budding historians may also want to make... as to its correctness, the humility of the true professional historian will undoubtedly be forthcoming.

For the sake of interest, it is worthwhile mentioning the very similar Tower bas-relief on the Amiens Cathedral... which definitely antidates the Visconti-Sforza deck. It is, of course, on a Cathedral, not a Tarot.


Re: Reply:.

Lloyd said:
and Maam... Folklore & Research Expertise IS a couple of hundred years. So do you see how much historical knowledge we have accumulated through critical study of the Tarot cards?

The assumption that folklore is any less expertise than the recent research that has been published regarding the Visconti tarot and the claim of it being the 1st "official" deck is the same as assuming that I am a ma'am....I am a Mr.

Let us not forget that a lot of the "gothic" centuries old churches today are indeed built on Pagan sacred ground and have since been claimed as "officially" sacred to the men who run it.

Blessed be...


If I am not mistaken, the Steele Sermon actually mentions the Devil card, or at least describes it. When I go home today, I'll find it, and see if I am remembering correctly.
If I am, then this would point to the cards Tower and Devil merely being missing by chance. (Synchronity, maybe?! ;) )

Hmmm... Interesting thread.



Yep: I did remember correctly. In the sermon given by a Franciscan friar, published later by Steele, known as the Steele Sermon, the friar gives in order, the cards of the trionfi in his speech against gambling. He mentions some comments about some of the Majors during his speech... What is interesting is that a number of uncut sheet of cards actually confims the order this friar spoke of... This order, now known as the Steele order is as follows:

High Priestess
High Priest
Wheel of Fortune
Hanged Man

However, the names are different aswell: The Hermit is'Hunchback', and the Tower is Lightening Struck Tower or Arrow. The Chariot is The Triumphal Chariot too. The friar who gave this sermon seemed very agressive abut the fact that the Female Pope and Pope were in it, and said of the former:

"Oh, unhappy men! The Christian faith denies this!" and of the Pope card he said:

"Oh Pontif, why he, who ought to be esteemed in all holiness, even him these mockers make their own captain." This friar said of the game itself:

"everything that is base in the eyes of the Christian faith," and that the cards:

"were given their names by the Devil himself, who invented them."

The history of Tarot is an amazing, yet always controversial subject. I love it!




In response to your original post, I concur with most of what you're saying, with a few reservations.

In a very concise 15-page introduction to his "The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards," (1986) Michael Dummett effectively argues as follows:

*The Cary-Yale deck (Visconti de Modrone) was the prototype, produced in 1441 on the occasion of the marriage of Francesco Sforza to Bianca Maria Visconti, as originally proposed by Stuart Kaplan. This set seems to have been an experimental model, and would originally have consisted of (probably) 86 cards (six courts, three male and three female for each suit). It also exhibits artistic inconsistencies which hint at the work of several hands. Three of the surviving trumps are Faith, Hope, and Charity -- not found in the usual trump order, which throws doubt upon the number of trumps the deck may have contained. It also lends weight to the theory that this pack was produced before the eventual formula followed by tarot decks ever since came into existence. The Devil and the Tower are missing from this deck also, but so are a lot of other cards. Only 67 have survived.

*The Brambilla pack, of which only four cards survive, was painted between 1442 and 1445, by the same artist who produced the Visconti-Sforza. This deck had the standard composition of ten pip and four court cards per suit. The artist is long assumed to have been Bembo, but Dummett, citing recent work by Giuliana Algeri, is now leaning toward Francesco Zavattari.

*The Visconti-Sforza deck was painted about 1450. It may be missing the Devil and the Tower because a) they may never have been included, or b) they may have been discarded by the patrons, who didn't like them, or c) they were lost.

It's worth noting that Italian woodblock tarots (the poor people's version) produced not long after the Visconti-Sforza deck contain both the Devil and the Tower, leading to the conclusion that both were part of the standard trump sequence from the earliest days
(see Kaplan, Vols. I and II).

I would also like to comment, very briefly (and at length elsewhere), that while your position that the Visconti tarots are the "true" version of the cards is eminently justifiable, I have come to believe that the appearance of the Marseilles decks in the 16th century represent, as it were, a "second foundation." There certainly can be no doubt that the Italian iconographic tradition is separate and distinct from the French, which developed its own peculiar but nontheless eventually standardized characteristics.

With regard to your remarks concerning Temperance: <Temperance was originally a female pouring water from one vase to another, yet became a nude female pouring waters to both sea & land in modern decks, > I believe you're describing the modern version of the Star XVII, not Temperance XIV.

And while I agree that the original purpose of tarot was gaming, it was put to other uses fairly early. For example, the poetic form, Tarocchi Appropriati, dates from the 16th century (see Kaplan, V. II, p. 8). While not divinatory in nature, Tarocchi Appropriati does represent a use of the symbolic content of the cards unrelated to card games. The earliest evidence of full-fledged divination comes from Italy, probably in the 18th century, but prior to 1750 (see Decker, DePaulis, and Dummett, "A Wicked Pack..." pps. 48-50).

Finally, while I share your disdain for the nefarious habit, all too common since 1781, of concocting fantastic histories for the tarot, then treating such fantasies as historical reality which has been confirmed by "intuition" or "insight" or some such, I must agree with the person posting earlier on this thread who pointed out that many talented readers either have no historical knowledge of the cards, or subscribe to a counterfeit theory (which they, of course, do not view as counterfeit). What I'm saying is that familiarity with history does not seem necessary to one's developing an accurate, perceptive, and highly effective method of interpreting the cards.


PS: If you would like me to, I can e-mail you the pertinent portions of Dummett's essay from his 1986 book.