The Council of Constance
In my researches of the early playing card situation it generally turned out as "right" to observe the importance of the Council of Constance - although there is no playing card document available related to the council. It was an event with occasionally 100 000 people attending, it took 4 years and it did lead to a lot of communications between people out of various countries, especially it caused, that many Italians visited southern Germany. Germany was in comparition to Italy a country of sexual freedom - and beside that (probably) a country with much more freedom regarding card-playing. We don't have much documents to give evidence to this assumption, but it seems logical. I was lead to this conclusion (or, better said, suspicion) by the fact, that there exist only relative few notes about playing cards in Italy before 1420, which are followed by some more during a short phase of 5 years before it stopped again more or less for a next period. However, actually there are not many documents and that few we do have is not enough to conclude anything with security, but I've gathered what my suspicion thought possibly relevant.
1. Carlo Malatesta was there in important function, as the first man in the interests of one of the 3
popes. When Parisina, the most active person in matters of card playing in early Ferrara, arrived there in the age
of 14 (in the year 1418) to marry Niccolo III., probably (only my conclusion) she imported the
playing card interests. Probably (also only a conclusion) she got the fever from the Carlo Malatesta court in Rimini, where
she lived before. When she was killed in 1425, we perceive in Ferrara a pause for card-playing of 9 years,
playing returned to Ferrara. This impression might be due to "accidently missing documents", but
might also due to reality at the court, and that might have been "without Parisina no card-playing".
2. Cosimo Medici and other people from Florence were in Constance with a strong delegation,
active in the interests of John XXIII. In 1423 the Imperatori-decks from here are exported to
Ferrara and it seems, that they are "new" in Ferrara, so probably a relatively new invention,
the whole idea being possibly (only a conclusion) developed at the opportunity of the council of constance.
3. The Michelino deck with its
original looking design, which lets it connect with
some security to the personal taste of Filippo Maria Visconti himself (see my
interpretations), also appears
in the right time (
not before 1417, cause Michelino is not in Milano, short after or parallel to the council).
4. In music theory it's a clear statement, that the council took strong influences just by causing a
meeting of many musicians from many countries, leaving fresh impulses to anybody attending. Here is mainly the above mentioned Carlo Malatesta noted, who invited Dufue to his court. Perhaps cause of this stay of the great artist in Rimini we find later a harp in the personal possessions of Parisina - one of the first signs of "Music in Ferrara", which developed into a great success story with the time.
Similar it must be for card-playing, and there were lots of people with "free time" at the council.
5. Card-playing in Germany must have had far less prohibition than in Italy - so I do conclude with much unsecurity from few documents only. It is said, that in number one half of the delegations at the council were from Italy. So Italians perceived an unknown playing card freedom at the council - together with probably alternative ideas about games, new ways to play etc..The result was fresh input in Italian playing card-life, probably under this influence was something similar to the Imperatori-decks.
6. The appearance of San Bernardino as "great preacher"
since 1417 is another sign of the council
and its ideas - he was not positively reacting against playing cards, of course, but developed
the same new interest to organise ten thousands of people (this he did learn from the council, I guess),
and one of his points was preaching against the new fever of card-playing, which had gained
a "new quality" after the council in Italy (only my conlusion).
7. Probably there were two card-fever periodes: Once around 1380, when it spread in rapid ways, then probably happened a longer distance in time when card-playing was accustomed and not a great danger, and then a new phase with new fever after the council - with new and stronger counter reactions.
The Trionfi-fever-periode (14-card-decks) seems to have appeared in the 50ies of 15th century - 30 entries in the Ferrarese account books speak this language, an entry from Florence, other from Milan.
In our story about the development of the Trionfi cards the date 1423: Imperatori decks are produced in Florence (and from Florence imported to Ferrara) is most promising. Which persons do connect Constance and Ferrara in the given time?
1. Cosimo di Medici was together with some other Florentians in the delegation of Pope John XXIII. in Constance, who was abdicted at the council in 1415. Later Cosimo engaged to free the old Pope out of his prison in Germany.
2. Pope John XXIII. alias Baldassare Cossa himself returned 1419 from Germany to Florence and dies the same year. It is not unlikely, that during his time in prison he had opportunity enough to learn about German card playing, at least he spend free time with writing Latin poems. It's said, that his jailor didn't speak any Italian or Latin after a successless try to corrupt an earlier one was detected, but card playing doesn't need much words. John got an expensive memorial in Florence.
3. Poggio Bracciolini, the famous manuscript collector, born at Terrranuova, near Florence, was secretary to Baldassare Cossa, at his deposure he lost his job and "luckless Poggio vegetated in Constance, far from his friends and patrons, without any prospect of a brighter future. He tried some time to find occupation in the study of Hebrew; but the difficulties of that language, the little use it could be of to him, and also the ridiculous ways of his teacher, soon disgusted him. He then set about travelling. He went to the waters of Baden, whence he wrote one of his prettiest letters, came back to Constance, witnessed the condemnation of Jerome of Prague, of whose heroism, in the face of his accusers, he could not refrain from expressing his admiration; and then, as a diversion from such horrors, took upon himself to travel all over Germany, searching in the monasteries after the manuscripts of lost works of ancient authors" (from a
biography) . As manuscript collector (and distributor of these texts in Italy) Poggio was surely acquainted with book painters and other artists, who might be well interested in playing card ideas from Germany. (A description of Poggio's works)
But there were many others.