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

THE VISCONTI TAROTS
BRERA-BRAMBILLA VISCONTI
CARY-YALE VISCONTI
PIERPONT-MORGAN BERGAMO VISCONTI-SFORZA

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GALLERY INDEX


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 VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viéville's
Tarot
page XI
the
Minchiate
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


go to
PART 1  ·  PART 3  ·  PART 4



· part 2 ·

THE FAMILIES AND THE CARDS
It has been mentioned in the previous page that the Cary-Yale deck is believed to be related with the last Visconti duke, Filippo Maria, while the Pierpont-Morgan deck is probably related to his successor, Francesco Sforza.
A document dated 1450 reports the latter's request for doe para de carte da triumphi ("two pairs of triumph cards"), showing how the tarot, or "triumph cards", was a popular past-time at court.

In all Visconti decks, several family crests can be found in the shape of decorative patterns or background textures, and in some details. Especially the Visconti family is frequently represented, in trump subjects as well as in suit cards. In the late decks, also the Sforza family crests appear, though less numerous and in a fewer number of subjects.
Some of the ones belonging to the Viscontis are:


the imperial eagle

the ducal crown

the family motto

the sun
The most famous one, though, was the winding snake devouring a human figure, shown in part I, a feature still today appearing in Milan's civic crest and, obviously, in the playing card pattern used in this area, the Lombarde (see the Italian gallery for further details).


the three rings
Belonging to the lower nobility, the Sforzas had a fewer number of devices: three interlaced rings and a hexagonal fountain are the ones more commonly found in the Pierpont-Morgan deck, either as details or as textures. In fewer cards, also the Venetian lion of St.Mark appears (a reminiscence of the days when Francesco fought on Venice's side).
After gaining Milan's duchy, though, the Sforzas were entitled to use some of the Visconti crests, such as the imperial eagle and the snake.

Among the "minor" Visconti tarot decks, some have an additional card, featuring the family's coat of arms as a main subject: probably this card was not used in play, but it simply honoured the owner of the deck.

Venice's lion


WHO PAINTED THE DECKS?




interesting similarities between the allegory of Faith from the CYV deck, and a drawing by the Zavattari family (left)


Since the name of the painter (or painters) who decorated these tarots does not appear in any written record, and no signature or initials were left on any of the cards, attributions have been made on the grounds of similarities between the illustrations and other works of the same period, such as drawings, etchings, paintings, frescoes, etc., whose author is surely known.
The list of potential names includes Bonifacio Bembo, Antonio Cicognara, Marziano da Tortona, the Zavattari family (more specifically, Francesco Zavattari), who were active in Lombardy in the 15th century.

Presently, most scholars believe that Bonifacio Bembo painted all three decks.
This artist was born in Brescia around 1420, and was active in several Lombard cities through 1477, the year in which he steadily entered the Sforza court as a painter. Among his other works, in a church in Cremona (Lombardy) he portrayed Francesco Sforza and his wife Bianca Maria Visconti in a fresco dated c.1450: the noble couple was indeed among the artist's subjects.

illustration by Bonifacio Bembo from Launcelot of the Lake
The pictures on the right show a comparison between a drawing by Bembo and two details taken respectively from the Cary-Yale Visconti deck (the close-up of the Lovers) and from the the Pierpont-Morgan deck (the pattern of the garments worn by the Coins suit courts).
Besides the personages, also the flower texture with round petals used in the drawing as a background appears very similar to the one found in the cards.

CYV ~ the Lovers (above), and
PMVS ~ queen of Coins (left)


detail from B.Bembo's triptych
The Coronation of the Virgin Mary;
notice the goblets, similar to those
featured in some BBV and CYV subjects
These and other similarities account for the attribution of the Visconti decks to Bembo, although there are some scholars who still disagree.
Six trumps of the Pierpont-Morgan deck, namely Fortitude, Temperance, the Star, the Moon, the Sun and the World, appear slightly different from the rest of the cards: probably needed as a replacement for the original ones (lost or damamged), they were repainted in a similar style, yet the hand of a different author can be easily told.

PMVS
detail from the World
The faces and bodies portrayed by this other unknown painter appear definitively "fuller" and more muscular, less delicate than Bembo's thin, late Gothic figures.
S.Kaplan has suggested that the second artist might have been Antonio Cicognara, whose name is linked to other tarots made in the second half of the 15th century, belonging to the "Visconti group".



THE READINGS
Several cards of the three decks (especially the Pierpont-Morgan tarot) feature some words. In most cases, they are the Visconti family's motto, a bon droyt, "by legitimate right", which frequently appears in many suit cards, on a ribbon in the center (the relevant picture is shown at the top of this page, among the Visconti devices). The same words also appear in a few more cards, though as a different detail.
The ace of Swords of the Brera-Brambilla deck, has another motto of the Visconti above a bon droyt, which reads phote mante(n) (a corruption of the French il faut mantenir, "it has to be maintained").

BBV ~ detail from the ace of Swords

PMVS ~ detail from the 2 of Cups



CYV ~ detail from the Lovers

The 2 of Cups of the Pierpont-Morgan deck, instead, features the text amor myo ("my love"). A similar one, reading amor in golden letters, now very faint due to the card's wear, can be barely seen on the canopy of the afore-said Lovers trump of the Cary-Yale tarot, just above the series of shields; in this case, the second part myo was likely to follow the first word, but it is now no longer readable. Both these cards seem to agree with the hypothesis according to which the tarot might have been a gift for a wedding or for an anniversary.

On the cloak worn by a female page standing by the Cary-Yale's queen of Swords, the vertical word lialmente (shown on the right) can be easily read. This is very likely to be a corruption of lealmente ("loyally, faithfully"), which might refer either to the Visconti family or to any of their allies by the time the deck was made.

CYV ~ detail from
the queen of Swords
PMVS ~ the Wheel of Fortune
Two more cards bear a text, although evidently related to the featured subject rather than to the owner of the tarot: on trump number 10 of the Pierpont-Morgan deck, all four figures in the picture "speak" by means of a ribbon or scroll by their mouth, almost as today's cartoons: the figure on the top of the wheel says regno ("I reign"), the one coming upwards says regnabo ("I will reign"), the one going downwards says regnavi ("I reigned"), while the old man on his fours says sum sine regno ("I am without a reign"), remarking how fate may deeply affect man's condition.

Instead, on trump number 20 of the Cary-Yale deck, Judgement, above the two angels calling the dead from their tombs, we find a text reading surgite ad iudicium ("rise for judgement"), see detail below.

Other mottos might have been featured by different subjects, but they have disappeared or are now unreadable due to the cards' wear.

CYV ~ detail from Judgement


go to
PART 1 PART 3 PART 4

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 VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viéville's
Tarot
page XI
the
Minchiate
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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THE FOOL &
THE JOKER
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INDEX
TABLE
Regional Games
REGIONAL
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PLAYING CARD
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