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GALLERY INDEX
~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
page XI

THE MINCHIATE

part 1


back to the
GALLERY INDEX
go to part 2


other pages

page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viťville's
Tarot
page XII
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XIII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIV
the
Hofjagdspiel
page XV
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck


a special credit to Thierry Depaulis for having revised the historical aspects of this text

The cards used in this gallery to illustrate the traditional Minchiate pattern belong to two different decks.
One of them is illustrated with fine etchings, and watercoloured by hand. It was produced in Florence in 1725; a stamp, whose text reads CARTE DI ETRURIA ("Etruria Cards"), is featured on trump number XXX, whence the name Minchiate Etruria now used for this edition. Five copies are still known to exist, but only one of them is complete. Thanks to the watercolours, which also appear slightly faint due to the ageing, the underlying etchings remain fully visible. The modern reprint is by Il Meneghello (Italy)

The other Minchiate deck is slightly less refined, with woodblock prints coloured by means of stencils, printed in the late 18th century. Being a more commercial edition, a cartouche on the 4 of Coins features the text CARTE FINE ALL LEONE ("fine cards by Leone"), likely the manufacturer's trademark, so that the conventional name of the deck is now Minchiate al Leone. The 3 of Cups says CARTE FINE IN BOLOGNA, which reveals the maker's location.
The captions in this gallery refer to the two editions as E and L, respectively.





E (left) and L - the Conjurer
With its 41 trumps and 56 suit cards, for a total of 97 subjects, the ancient Minchiate, sometimes referred to as "Florentine Minchiate" due to their great popularity within the Tuscan region, were an extended variety of tarot cards, surely the deck with the largest number of subjects in the Western world.
Compared to modern playing cards, such a large deck is not really easy to handle nor to shuffle, due to its considerable thickness.
Few other decks throughout the world are (or were) made of a larger number of cards, although most of them have duplicated subjects, e.g. most Chinese money-suited decks. Only Indian Das‚vat‚ra Ganjifa decks contain a larger number of individual subjects.


ORIGIN OF THE DECK
The birth of the first Minchiate deck, whose early name was Germini, apparently dates back to the early 16th century, although this issue is still debated.

Germini cards are mentioned in some 16th century compositions; one by Pietro Aretino is dated 1543, another one by an anonymous author was written ten years later, and in both texts this kind of cards is clearly distinguished from the more traditional tarots.
The earliest specimen known referrable to this pattern is a series of three uncut woodblock prints known as Rosenwald sheets (held by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA), whose female knaves and strange cavaliers, half human and half animal, are typical of the Minchiate pattern, as will be explained further in the page. The dating of these sheets has been estimated around year 1500, or shortly later.

In any case, sources reporting that the cards painted by artist Marziano da Tortona for the young duke Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447) represented the first Minchiate deck, should be considered incorrect, as such dating would surely be too early.


detail from one of the Rosenwald sheets:
two knaves (one is female) and two cavaliers


E (left) and L - Death on horseback
Since most subjects belonging to this peculiar deck are shared by the 22 well-known trumps, likely devised about one century earlier, it is a logic consequence to consider the Minchiate as a direct descendant of the classic tarot, probably having sprung as a regional variant.

During the same 16th century, the popularity of these cards grew also among ordinary people; by that time, they were used for a trick-taking game simply known as Giuoco delle Minchiate ("Minchiate's Game").


E - 4 of Cups, with a monkey
staring at its own reflection
According to Michael Dummett's Game of Tarot, there is enough evidence that both the game and the deck were not only known in Tuscany, but also in the very south of Italy, while north of Florence they had reached as far as France.
Still played in the 19th century, the game fell into oblivion during the early 1900's. The production of these cards rapidly subsided and by the 1930s-40s was completely discontinued. The cards are now produced only as reprints of old original decks, as collectors' items, but no longer for playing.

L - 3 of Swords, featuring
Rome's she-wolf at the bottom.


L - king of Batons
Despite the name Minchiate in dialect sounds more or less as "nonsense, stupid things" (probably referring to their only use as a pastime, a leisure activity with no purpose), some theories suggested that these cards may have been created as an educational aid, to teach young nobles the basic elements of classic knowledge. This concept relies on the observation that several trump subjects belong to specific categories (Virtues, Elements, Zodiac signs) upon which, in those times, classic knowledge was based.
No sources nor reliable elements provide enough evidence for supporting this theory, which has also been proposed for the 22 "standard" trumps belonging to early Italian tarots (see page 1).

L - 4 of Coins


THE TRUMPS
The long series basically follows the traditional ordering of Bologna, i.e. with the virtues grouped together in a low position, and a reversed ranking of the World and Judgement, plus seventeen extra subjects inserted in the central part of the list, grouped together in categories. Luckily, most subjects (especially the non-standard ones) are clearly marked by a roman numeral, which in the Tuscan version is written on a small ribbon, but their names are never mentioned, in either edition.
The full set of trumps is as follows (the additional ones are marked in pale green):


E (left) and L - the Cancer trump

I
II
III
IIII
V
VI
VII
VIII
VIIII
X
XI
XII
XIII


the Trivial Performer
the Grand-duke
the Emperor
the Empress
the Lovers
Temperance
Fortitude
Justice
the Wheel of Fortune
the Chariot
the Hermit
the Hanged Man
Death


XIV
XV
XVI
XVII
XVIII
XVIIII
XX
XXI
XXII
XXIII
XXIIII
XXV
XXVI


the Devil
the Tower
Hope
Prudence
Faith
Charity
Fire
Water
Earth
Air
Libra
Virgo
Scorpio

the Fool
XXVII
XXVIII
XXVIIII
XXX
XXXI
XXXII
XXXIII
XXXIIII
XXXV
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑

Aries
Capricorn
Sagittarius
Cancer
Pisces
Aquarius
Leo
Taurus
Gemini
the Star
The Moon
the Sun
the World
Judgement



E (left) and L - the Grand-duke
A few considerations can be made about this exceptionally long series.

The Popess and the Pope are missing, but only the former of the two was replaced by, or maybe simply renamed as the Grand-duke. In fact, despite any reference to religious symbols disappeared, the personage in trump no.II curiously wears long hair, suggesting a female origin. Subject no.V, instead, was simply dropped, causing the Lovers to slip back in rank by one position.

In the Minchiate Etruria edition the Empress is featured as a male character, who wears a beard; this is clearly a consequence of the change occurred in Bologna, by which all the subjects from no.II (the Popess) to V (the Pope), were turned into four Moors of equal rank, see also Regional Tarots, part 1.
In fact, the Empress and the Emperor of the Minchiate al Leone have rather tanned faces, compared to the aforesaid Grand-duke, as the Moors use to have in Bologna tarots during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The aforesaid change of the Popess (female) into the Grand-duke (male) follows the same principle.
Furthermore, all three personages hold an identical globe and sceptre, suggesting that also their rank is the same.

E (left) and L - the Empress and the Emperor

The Cardinal Virtues are grouped together (VI, VII and VIII); strangely, the fourth Virtue, i.e. Prudence (shown further in the page), usually ignored by other tarots, is included among the Minchiate's featured subjects, but wrongly listed among the three Theological Virtues: Hope (XVI), Faith (XVIII) and Charity (XVIIII), therefore quite over-ranked compared to the Cardinal ones.
The Theological Virtues had been featured only once, in a very early hand-painted tarot, i.e. the 15th century deck, now known as "Cary-Yale Visconti" (see the Visconti Tarots).


E - Fortitude

The eleventh subject is the Hermit, though still evidently featured according to his old name, Time. An old man walks with crutches, while an hour-glass crossed by an arrow (a highly specific detail, found in both editions) reminds us that time flies.

The Wheel of Fortune, with four personages, is followed by the Chariot, so that all the trumps up to the Tower (XV) mismatch the classic ranking, except two subjects: the Hanged Man and Death (XII and XIII, respectively).


E (left) and L - the Hermit

The former is featured with bags of gold or coins in both hands, exactly as the personage in the late 15th century Tarot of Charles VI, belonging to the pattern group from Ferrara (Dummett's C), in which this subject was probably still called the Traitor.
The coins are likely the reward received by the man for his betrayal, which now, by trick of fate, increase his weight, thus augment his suffering. Note how in the Minchiate al Leone edition the bags of gold were stylized into the shape of two spheres.
the Hanged Man: on the left, Tarot of Charles VI (Ferrara, 1460-80);
center: Minchiate Etruria;  right: Minchiate al Leone


E (left) and L - the Tower
Also no. XV, the Tower, still contains a reminiscence of the obsolete subject, Lightning: two rather worried figures hurriedly exit a building (maybe a tower?) that has just been set on fire by a thunderbolt.

Numbers XX to XIII represent the four Elements, once considered the principles of all things in nature: Fire, Water, Earth and Air, never found in any other standard tarot.

E - the misplaced
Prudence


The twelve classic zodiac signs are featured immediately after, from XXIIII through XXXV; they start with Libra and end with Gemini, in an apparently random order, thus mismatching the traditional sequence.

E - Water, one of
the four Elements
Five more trumps, referred to as Arie ("Airs"), have no number, but their sequence is standard: they match the last five subjects of standard tarots, i.e. the three cosmological ones, the World and Judgement; the last two, as previously said, are in reversed order. They all have more glamorous backgrounds than the rest of the trumps, either in different colours (Minchiate Etruria) or in one colour only (Minchiate al Leone).
The three cosmological trumps feature unusual subjects. In the Star, a male figure on horseback holds a cup; he is probably using the starry sky for orienting his route. His rich clothes and a small crown worn over a turban suggest his high rank, maybe even one of the three Magi, said to have reached Christ's birthplace guided by a star.

L - Air's curious allegory

The World is featured in the typical style of Ferrara, i.e. with a heavenly figure balancing over the world's globe, surrounded by puffing cherubs (a similar interpretation is also given in the Tarot de Paris and in the Flemish tarot).
E (above) and L (below) - the five Airs: the Star, the Moon, the Sun, the World and Judgement
Interestingly, for illustrating the World's setting each manufacturer chose the skyline of his own city: in the Minchiate Etruria the large dome of Florence's cathedral is easily recognizable, while the crucial detail in the Minchiate al Leone is less easily detectable, and consists of the exaggerately leaning tower.


go to part 2

further reference to tarot decks can be found in Trionfi and in The Hermitage



page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viťville's
Tarot
page XII
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XIII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIV
the
Hofjagdspiel
page XV
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



OTHER GALLERIES

non-standard patterns advertisement decks sizes, shapes and colours standard pattern variants non-suited cards Mercante in Fiera Uta Karuta, Iroha Karuta, Dôsai Karuta Âs nas
regional patterns: Italy regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Germany regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: Sweden regional patterns: Portugal regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

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Introduction
INTRODUCTION
AND HISTORY

Multi-language Glossary
MULTI-LANGUAGE
GLOSSARY
the Fool and the Joker
THE FOOL &
THE JOKER
Index Table
INDEX
TABLE
Regional Games
REGIONAL
GAMES
Playing Card Links
PLAYING CARD
LINKS