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~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
· page XVII ·

THE  ITALY 2  MOORISH DECK
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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
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 XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck

~ NOTE ~
The cards shown in this page come from the replica of a deck
held by the Fournier Playing Card Museum in Alava (Spain), printed by Fournier.




This gallery takes us back to the dawn of European playing cards, to the earliest ancestors of today's patterns. It describes a deck held by the Fournier Museum of Alava (Spain), labelled as 'Italy 2', whose dating has been fixed around year 1400: these are the oldest Western cards known, even prior to the famous Visconti tarots (see page VI).
An Italian chronicle of the second half of the 14th century reads: In the year 1379 was brought to Viterbo the game of cards which in the Saracen language is called nayb; who wrote this note might have witnessed one or more decks not very different from this one. Playing cards were imported into southern Europe from the lands ruled by the Moors (see historical notes and page V); the term 'Moorish' given to early Western cards, such as the ones featured in this page, refers to many analogies with the ones played with by the Mamlûks, but does not define a real pattern, as the number of cards in the deck, the shape of the pips and their arrangement had already begun to evolve and to differ.
The 'Italy 2' deck is probably the best example of this nebulous but fascinating prehistory of Western cards: unlike other very scarce specimens of similar age, it is almost complete (40 surviving subjects out of 48), and still fully readable despite the heavy signs of time and wear. An unsolved question, though, is where exactly these cards were made.

king of Coins


cavalier of Cups
Each subject originally measured about 6.5 ´ 9.5 cm (2½ ´ 3¾ in), smaller than a classic tarot, but slightly larger than average modern cards. The size is approximate, due to their state of preservation: all of them are lacking some fragments, or whole edges.
The pattern they feature is based on archaic Latin suits, each of which runs from 1 (ace) to 9, and ends with three court cards: a knave, a cavalier and a king; this composition matches the traditional Spanish deck. Although eight cards are missing (namely, the 4 and 5 of Coins, the 2 and 5 of Cups, the 9 and knave of Swords, and the ace and 6 of Batons), it seems unlikely that also the four 10s might have gone lost, thus that the deck might have consisted of 52 subjects, the same number of cards the Moors played with.

The deck was printed on thick paper with a woodblock; it was then hand-coloured, not by using stencils, but by dipping a finger in the paint and then using it as a brush, a technique learnt from the Moors. Four colours were used: by the effect of ageing, now they appear as dark red-brownish, dark brown or black, pink and yellow; the latter is barely visible due to the colour of the paper (see the socks worn by the knave of Batons, further in the page). The overall result is rather naive, although a few decorations such as leaves, acorns and small animals, were scantily added to fill the empty spaces of pip cards and make the background of court cards more lively.

knave of Coins

Despite the museum's catalogue reference of this deck is Italy 2, it may come from anywhere within a wide area, now corresponding to Spain, northern Italy, southern France, Switzerland, and south-western Germany. It was found in Seville, and the only country where the same composition is used is Spain, but some scholars claim that the cap featured on the ace of Coins is consistent with a north-eastern Italian origin, while others identify the clothes worn by the courts as German.


THE SUIT SIGNS

Considering that these signs represent the earliest interpretation of the traditional Coins, Cups, Swords and Batons, several remarks about their shape can be made, keeping in mind also the ones found in the Mamlûk cards, of similar age (see page V), and the suit systems that were developed during the following 150 years.

COINS
The pips may not represent real coins; they are circular in shape, but their only decoration is a plain S-shaped line that divides each of them into two halves, one of which is filled with colour. However, also the suit of Coins of the Mamlûk cards, which undoubtly represented the local coinage, bore on the pips rich decorations in place of human figures, never found on real coins either, for ethical-religious reasons.
The ace, instead, is more consistent with a Western coin, or a medal, as it features a male head wearing a cap in the late medieval fashion.
ace and 6 of Coins


ace of Cups
CUPS
These signs are more consistent with European cups than with the tall and thin chalices of the Mamlûk cards. Although being held in hand by the court personages, there is no doubt which part is the cup's top and which is the bottom, their quasi-triangular shape may be looked at from either side. Today we have no difficulty in identifying them as the archaic sign for Cups; but we should not forget that 14th and 15th century players saw these signs for the first time, and many of them may have seen in such a stylized shape something different.
Instead the large object featured in the ace of Cups has a completely different shape. At first sight, the round top part mounted on a stem with an ornate base resembles a monstrance, but the flourishes on its sides (handles?) and a knob at the top seem to suggest that this is a chalice with a semicircular top (in red and black). The diagonal lines that decorate its central part ( ///// ) became a traditional motif in the Spanish suit of Cups, still found in the Cadíz pattern.

In both the aforesaid suits, the pips are arranged in peculiar ways; for example, in 6s, 8s and 9s they form a ring. This is not only different from the standard arrangement of any modern pattern, but also from the one found in the Mamlûk cards (obviously, this can be said only for the very few samples we know). In the scarce extant samples of Moorish decks, all of which printed within the mid 1500s, the arrangement of Coins and Cups is consistent with the one described above, and some other details match, as well: evidently, playing card makers had already started to follow common graphic guidelines.
The difference in shape between the large sign featured on the ace of Coins and Cups, and the smaller pips of the remaining cards of the two suits, is a feature shared with classic tarots, and with some northern Italian patterns.

9 of Cups

ace and 6 of Swords
SWORDS
The suit of Swords directly sprang from the Arabic suyûf, i.e. "swords" or "scimitars"; following the European tradition, in some areas their shape was straightened, as in this case, but the change did not take place elsewhere, particularly in northern Italy, where the suit of Swords still today features curved blades.
The ace is strangely split into two halves; having the card been presumably obtained from a single woodblock, it is unlikely that this may be the result of a misprint, and none of the other subjects shows a cleft, yet the meaning of a broken sword remains obscure.
Interestingly, the hilt of each sword is joint to the next one; this detail is found in the Mamlûk cards (also the chalices in the suit of Cups are joint by their top rim), and today it is still present in classic tarots and northern Italian patterns, although their swords are curved.

BATONS
Unlike Swords, this suit curiously maintained its traditional Arabic shape, i.e. polo-sticks. Since in the 15th century Europe polo was a completely obscure sport, we may wonder what object did the players identify this suit with, and what was the name they used for it. However, this shape testifies the direct relation between Arabic and European cards more than any other suit does, and gives evidence that although polo-sticks were turned into cudgels (or staves, in northern Italy), the change was not at all abrupt, but took several years, eventually decades, to take place.
Unfortunately the ace of this suit went lost; it would have been interesting to see whether this subject too looked as an L-shaped polo-stick, or traces of the aforesaid change were already present.

5 of Batons

The pips in the suits of Swords and Batons interlace, forming a criss-cross texture; this arrangement was maintained only in Portugal, from where it curiously travelled to the other side of the world, inspiring a Portuguese-like pattern in Japan (see the relevant gallery).


THE COURT CARDS


knave of Batons
The scheme adopted in all four suits consists of standing knaves, cavaliers on horseback and kings seated on a throne (whose backs are visible in all four subjects).
A first consideration is that human figures had just been introduced to indicate the three highest ranks of each suit, probably the most noticeable difference between the Western courts and their Islamic equivalents, and their overall shape was already very similar to the one found today in most regional patterns. In particular, some of the figures were already featured in a rather typical attitude, i.e. turning their heads backwards, which is still commonly found today.
Three personages among the extant ones wear a beard: the knave of Batons, and the cavalier and king of Swords. This detail probably shows that the beard had no particular meaning yet, while in time it mainly became a feature denoting maturity, wisdom or royalty, thus worn only by kings in most of the patterns that developed in time.
The cavalier of Swords is also a Moor; note the pointed cap and the shield, both in the fashion of the Saracens, although the blade of the sword is not curved. A cavalier of Swords from the mid 1500s, wearing more generically a Moorish turban, is also found in the German Playing-card Museum of Leinfelden, and even among the patterns still in use traces of this personage can be found, giving enough evidence that this used to be a rather common subject.
cavalier and king of Swords

Did these cards come from Spain? Or from Italy? Or from Germany? Probably the doubt will never be cleared, but their uncertain origin can make us look at this early relic as a forefather of all the patterns played with today in the Western world.


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
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 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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