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

THE TAROTS OF FERRARA
back to the
GALLERY INDEX

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 tarot
of Marseille
page VIII
the Tarot
de Paris
page IX
Viťville's
Tarot
page X
the
Minchiate
page XI
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIII
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XV
the Italy 2
Moorish deck


∑ part 2 ∑


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

coat of arms of the House of Este
The House of Este was a princely family whose rule over Ferrara lasted from the mid 13th to the late 16th centuries. They originally came from Lombardy, as a branch of the Obertenghi, who had held Milan and Genua in the 10th century. About one hundred years later, the family had moved to north-eastern Italy, where they owned several estates; among them was a castle located near Padua, in the town called Este after which, around the mid 11th century, the family changed its name. The founder of this new dinasty was Alberto Azzo II, margrave of Este. His descendants never had great political importance in Ferrara, until in 1240 Azzo VII, an ally of the Guelf league that backed the pope against the emperor, acquired major authority. His heir, Obizzo II (reigned 1264-93), became perpetual lord of Ferrara.

During the 14th century the power of the family was weakened by controversies with the pope, but NicolÚ II (r.1361-88) restored a strong authority, and had the famous Castle of Ferrara built.
The following ruler was his elsest son NicolÚ III (r.1393-41), who raised the family's position in Italian politics; then reigned his other two sons Leonello (r.1441-50) and Borso (r.1450-71), who turned Ferrara into one of Italy's capitals of art and culture.
When Borso died in 1471, Ercole, a fourth son of the late Nicolò III, became the new lord, despite an attempt by Leonello's own son to usurp the throne. His reign was one of the longest of the dinasty, lasting 35 years, during which Ercole managed to establish political relations with most of the Italian ruling families, at first by marrying Leonora of Aragon, daughter of the king of Naples, and then by having their children too married with members of important families such as the Bentivoglio (Bologna), the Gonzaga (Mantua), the Sforza (Milan) and even with the daughter of pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia Borgia.

Leonello d'Este

Borso d'Este
Ercole also became a patron of the arts. Under his reign, the House of Este touched the paramount of its splendour, and Ferrara grew one of the most important cities in Europe.


Ercole I d'Este
After Ercole's death, the Este family had to endure several attacks by the popes, particularly by those belonging to the rival Medici family (from Florence). Alfonso I, who was Ercole's son, was even excommunicated by Julius II.
The power of the Este family slowly decayed through the second half of the 1500s. By the end of the century, the papal rule was established in Ferrara. Although the Este kept the cities of Modena and Reggio, this marked the end of the main branch of the dinasty.

Ercole's wife, Leonora of Aragon



DATING THE DECKS
Tarots (or triumph cards, as they were originally called) appear in a list of expenses of the House of Este dated 1442, by the time Leonello ruled; a similar note of 1422, while Nicoló III was lord of Ferrara, mentions a variety referred to as 'emperor cards', whose pattern and composition remained obscure. These notes are historically very iportant, as they represent the earliest written sources that respectively mention trionfi cards and playing cards in general in Italy.
However, the four decks reviewed in these pages were manufactured several years later, in the second half of the 15th century.
(left) Alessandro Sforza, duke of Pesaro from 1445 to 1473;
(right) AS ~ detail of the shield of the king of Swords
Unfortunately, the few subjects still extant, compared to the Visconti tarots, provide a proportionally smaller number of clues, mostly represented by the insignia of the owners.

The oldest of the four decks is undoubtly the Tarot of Alessandro Sforza, whose distinctive crest on the king of Swords, a bezel ring crossed by a carnation, fixes a deadline for the making of the deck: 1473. Some scholars also maintain that some of the illustrations of this deck are stylistically more primitive than the others, and that the clothes worn by the court personages used to be fashionable up to the mid 1400s.
One more detail is the sixth trump, Temperance, which does not comply with the traditional iconography of this subject, as it features a young woman, sitting naked on the back of a stag while pouring water from a vessel (whose shape can be now barely guessed); considering that in all other tarots of the same group this subject conforms to the more formal attitude of the allegory, i.e. standing or sitting on a chair, the different card from the AS appears to be consistent with an earlier stage of development of this deck's pattern.

The presence of a type B tarot in Pesaro, a city located along the eastern coast of Italy, yet ruled by a member of the Visconti family, shows that the geographic location influenced the local playing card pattern much more than the ruling dinasty did; Alessandro may have likely been aware of the deck (or decks) owned by his brother Francesco, second duke of Milan, but the artist's workshop where his own deck came from clearly followed a pattern closer to that of Ferrara than to the Milanese design.

AS ~ Temperance


EE ~ queen of Batons:
coat of arms of the Este
Curiously, the same year 1473 marks a time limit also for another tarot of the group, the one named after Ercole I d'Este. The cards may have been made only after this date, as in this year the duke of Ferrara married Leonora of Aragon, the daughter of the king of Naples. Several court cards of this deck feature the coat of arms of the House of Este (queen of Swords, queen and cavalier of Batons) and of Aragon (king and cavalier of Swords, knave of Batons), thus providing enough evidence that the tarot was either made on the occasion of the wedding of the two noble personages, to commemorate the event, or was presented to the couple after their marriage, maybe to celebrate an anniversary.

EE ~ cavalier of Swords:
coat of arms of Aragon
The presence of both Ercole's and Leonora's family insignia is very reminiscent of the so-called Visconti Sforza tarot (see
page VI). Unfortunately, most of the subjects of the deck made in Ferrara went lost, in particular trump no.6, Love, which might have shed more light upon the owners. Nevertheless, the tarot may have likely been made during the early years of their marriage, i.e. around 1475-80.


CVI ~ Love
The Tarot of Charles VI has no heraldic reference; if these cards had really been made for a king, his coat of arms would appear on many subjects, but this theory has long since been rejected. Although the iconography of most of its trumps is in line with those of the other three tarots of this group, the attention of playing card historians was drawn by a few subjects, among which Love, whose composition may have been inspired by a famous set of frescoes in Palazzo Schifanoia (Ferrara). The paintings had been commissioned by Borso d'Este to a local artist, Francesco del Cossa, around 1470, and for some time represented a source of inspiration for many other painters, particularly in north-eastern Italy. If this interpretation is correct, the tarot could have been made in the same years as the aforesaid Tarot of Alessandro Sforza, i.e. not long after the frescoes had been finished, while they were still stirring the creativity of local artists; among them, probably, was also the author of the so-called Tarot of Mantegna (see the relevant page).

Finally, the Rothschild Tarot is the least easy to date. Only one trump is left, and there are no insignia on the courts. Also the different technique used, i.e. woodblock print and paint, makes the comparison with other illuminated tarots less easy to read. Most scholars suggest that a likely dating for these cards may be the late 15th century.


WHO PAINTED THE DECKS?
Unlike the Visconti tarots described in page VI, whose author has been given a name, the four illuminated decks reviewed in these pages were painted by unidentified artists, whose cultural environment, though, was undoubtly that of Ferrara. Several records show that tarots were frequently made for members of the princely court of this city already during the second quarter of the 15th century. Not only whole decks were produced, but spare cards too were painted or repaired, when older valuable editions showed signs of wear. Also the backs of the decks were sometimes repainted, so that any replacement card for lost or damaged subjects could have not been told from the original ones.
One of the most active artists was Iacobo di Bartolomeo Sagramoro, who is mentioned more than once in relevant documents of the first half of the century. Instead Giovanni dalla Gabella (same age as Sagramoro) is remembered for having been payed the highest price ever recorded for a deck of tarots. Other artists of the mid 1400s known for having painted tarots in Ferrara are Gherardo da Vicenza, and Don Domenico, a cleric nicknamed Messore, who had a whole team of helpers.


go to
PART 1 PART 3 PART 4

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



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 VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viťville'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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INTRODUCTION
AND HISTORY

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MULTI-LANGUAGE
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THE FOOL &
THE JOKER
Index Table
INDEX
TABLE
Regional Games
REGIONAL
GAMES
Playing Card Links
PLAYING CARD
LINKS