The Oldest
Tarot Cards

The Michelino Deck
commissioned by
Filippo Maria Visconti
ca. 1424/1425 (?)

Dating the Deck

The deck must have been produced between 1417 - 1425. We favour the date 1424-1425 for special reasons.
Who's Who

Various persons: Filippo Maria Visconti commissioned the book and deck, Michelino da Besozzo painted it and Martiano da Tortona wrote an accompanying manuscript. Decembrio in 1447 reported the event, Marcello was interested in 1449 (?) by Scipio Caraffa and got book and deck and did send both by Giovanni Cossa to Rene d'Anjou and Isabella, queen of Lorraine. Around 1470 Polismagna translated the text of Decembrio and used the word Trionfi, a word, which already was used by Marcello, but not by Decembrio.
The development of this text

Stuart Kaplan presented 2 notes about the Michelino deck, which weren't connected (1978). Franco Pratesi revisited the documents in 1989 and found, that both do relate to the same object. He published at the magazine of IPCS, which didn't reach much people. In the internet only a single small article by reported about Franco Pratesis article. In 2003 we presented a first longer representation of the related material and it is updated now with additional results of younger researches.
A Famous Note

Pier Candido Decembrio wrote in August/September 1447 his "Vita di Filippo Visconti", immediately after the death of this duke of Milano one month before. In this text he notes, that Filippo Maria Visconti commissioned a deck for the unbelievable high prize of 1500 ducatos.
Miniature to a Decembrio-text. Decembrio was a humanist, secretary and diplomat in the service of Filippo Maria Visconti.
The Oldest Tarot Cards

Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milano (1392 - 1447), commissioner of the Micelino deck

Miniature of Michelino da Besozzo, called the best painter of his time. His Tarot deck hasn't survived.

Filippo Maria Visconti, duke of Milano and perhaps the richest man in Italy in the early renaissance, had a fatal disturbance in his youth. His father Giangaleozzo on his way to become king of Italy was poisoned and died, when Filippo was 10 years old. The mother was killed by his elder brother in prison. The dukedom broke in pieces and his cruel brother was assasinated some years later. With the help of his wife Beatrice de Tender, a 20 years older widow of the condottieri Ficino Cane, Filippo as new duke of Milano restored the earlier possessions, but the relation to the much older woman ended in tragedy, Filippo accused her of adultery and she ended beheaded.
Filippo became a hard and lonesome man with it ...
In 1424/1425 Filippo was at the height of his success. He was very successful at the battlefield and the earlier power of the Milanese dukedom had redeveloped. His mistress was expecting a child, this was a great relief, because Filippo had reason to believe that he could not have children. He prepared a Triumph celebration ("Trionfo") to show his pride and joy in the coming birth.
We don't know it for sure, and the following is half a fiction, but ... The Greek Emperor came to a visit in 1424, asking for help against the Osmans, probably that meeting caused an interest in Greek gods at the side of Filippo. He decided to commission a worthful playing card deck and as major motifs were chosen 16 Greek gods. The deck should have appeared at the occasion of the projected Trionfo. In April 1425 the child was born, it was not the wished male heir, only a daughter, Bianca Maria Visconti, who later was involved variously in the production of socalled Trionfi-cards. She stayed the only surviving child. The Trionfo was celebrated in June 1425 ...
Time advanced and already in the same year 1425 a war between Venetia and Milan broke out and occupied the militaric energies of the North Italian cities for the next 30 years. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Osmans, the questions for help stayed more or less unheard in all the years.
Around the time of the fall of Constantinople the socalled Trionfi cards became a successful game. In 1454 the Italians cities decided for peace. The wonder of the renaissance could take place, printing industry entered and the knowledge in the European world exploded. The Trionfi decks developed and were later called Tarot cards.
More to Filippo Maria Visconti
San Bernardino was a conservative reaction against the playing cards freedom, which followed the council of Constance Surrounding Conditions

It seems, that playings cards found a new interest in the 20ies of early 15th century in Italy, probably due to influences and imported playing cards from Germany. Probably the council of Constance caused much of this change in society.
A letter from Marcello

In 1449 a Venetian with important function inside the Venetian army fighting around Milano, Jacopo Antonio Marcello, wrote a letter to Isabella, queen of Lorraine. The letter is part of a parcel and in this 2 Trionfi decks are transported together with a manuscript.

Iacopo Antonio Marcello, a provveditore in the war between Venetia and Milan in 1449. He fought on the side of Francesco Sforza and made friendship with Rene d'Anjou - with the present of a famous Tarot deck.
Petrarca loved the Daphne-motif. Daphne is the central figure of the Michelino deck, another segment are the 12 Olympian gods. Analyses of the Deck

It's rather clear, that the Michelino deck includes the antique concept of the 12 Olympian gods. Also one may assume an influence of Ovid's Metamorphoses or Petrarca's focus on the figure of Daphne.
A manuscript of Martiano da Tortona.

Martiano da Tortona was called dead in 1425 - from this we know, that the object of his manuscript, a deck commissioned for Filippo Maria Visconti, should have been produced before this date. The deck with Greek gods was rather strange and didn't really remind a Tarot deck as we know it, but it is called by Marcello in 1449 a ludus triumphorum - and that's believed to be the early name for Tarot cards.
Martiano became by this the first Tarot book author.

The sun with a dove was one of the Visconti symbols. Doves become suits in the Michelino deck. The shown dove was painted by Michelino da Besozzo in a genealogical text in 1403.
Daphne is the central theme of this deck. She was connected to to the laurel and the laurel was an important symbol in the triumphal processions (called Trionfi). A Trionfi deck before all other Trionfi decks

Filippo Maria Visconti was called an inventor by Marcello and Michelino da Besozzo is called the best paid artist at his time - a natural relation, cause Filippo can be counted as one of the richest persons in Europe in early 15th century.
START About us Oldest Tarot Imperatori Ferrara 1441 Documents 5x14 From 14 to 22 Boiardo Iconography Timeline Biographies Locations Forum News Communications Play FAQ Gallery MUSEUM Name Trionfi Unknown Future Reviews Webmasters Free Reading Links Final Words SITEMAP, description (click for specific search): History of Tarot in 15th century. Research for the Origin of Tarot, Tarocchi and Trionfi, old playing cards, Karnöffel, Minchiate, chess, playing card suits, medieval iconography, astrology, Geomantia, humanism, Ferrara, Milan (Milano), Florence, Mantua (Mantova), the families Visconti, Sforza, Malatesta, Este, Gonzaga, Medici, biography of Filippo Maria Visconti, Francesco Sforza, Leonello d'Este, Bianca Maria Visconti, Parisina, Lorenzo de Medici, Guarino, Rene d'Anjou, Jacopo Antonio Marcello, Matteo Maria Boiardo, Sagramoro, Michelino da Besozzo, Ludovico Gonzaga, history of Italy, Germany and France in 15th century, ways to modern Tarot, free Tarot card reading online (facade)
© copyright: Links at the site might lead to foreign sources. We're not responsible for the contents of these sites. If you're interested to communicate or to add informations to some of our articles or to publish articles to the theme of Tarot in 15th century, please send your mail to the webmaster