Hind, Arthur. Early Italian Engravings. A Critical Catalogue with complete reproduction of all the prints described. In 7 volumes, London,1938-48 is a reknown and often requested work of art history. In Volume 1, p. 221 - 240 Hind researches the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi with the Title: North Italian Designs. The Governance of the World. Two series of Fifty Instructive Prints o Playing Cards. The socalled Tarocchi Cards of Mantegna. The article was excellent, especially as Hind added a long list with the at his time known impressions and influences, which secured the impression of any reader, that Hind has done a solid work with sure results. Hind comes to the conclusion, that the painter Mantegna was not involved in the production, that probably the E-series of the Mantegna Tarocchi prints is older than the S-series and that "it may" "be inferred with certainty that the E series was engraved no later than 1467". Hind's conclusion gave a solid backup for further investigations of later time, however one basic consideration of Hind is questionable - from our humble perspective.
Arthur M Hind: Early Italian Engraving, 1938 - extract (from p. 225) Coming to external evidence on the score of the date we have:
1. The presence of four examples from the E-series (Nos 34, 35, 36 and 37; editorial note: this are the four
cardinal virtues, wich are the theme of the book) inserted in a MS German translation in the library of St.
Gallen (Cod. Vad. 484), which was completed on 28 November 1468. That the insertion goes back to the original
period is established by the fact that the manuscript which surrounds the print sometimes passes over the margin
of the impressions.
2. Nos. 9+10 (Emperor and Pope) are copied in miniature in a MS. of 1467 (Costituzioni e Privilegi dello
Studio Bolognese) The Emperor certainly, and the Pope probably, are taken from the E series.
It may therefore be inferred with certainty that the E series was engraved no later than 1467.
In regard to the S series there is no external evidence of the same kind, but for internal evidence it may be noted that the last line on the tablet held by Arithmetic (25), is read by Passavant as implying the year 1485, in itself quite a probable date. There are instances of printed dates about this time with a superfluous "o" in the cente, but the formation of [+1 and 8] are open to question. 8 is in the usual shape of 4 at this period than 8, and both this figur and the (special sign - see picture to the right) might be arithmetical symbols rather than numbers, though I fail to find anything that exactly corresponds in such contemporary works on Arithmetic as Filippo Calandri, Arithmetica, Florence 1491/1492 (H.3156). In that book (spezial sign - see picture to the right) is used as the sign of soldi, (spezial sign - see picture to the right) for lire. Allowing a certain simplification in each case the application to these values would be possible. Whether the year is given on the tablet or not, a date 'about 1485' may be regarded as a reasonable conjecture.
The arguments set out above seem to me to be strongly, if not conclusively, in favour of the priority of the
E series. The only two authorities, which reverse this order, and they are sufficiently formidable, are
Bartsch and Kristeller, but Kristeller was far from being dogmatic in his edition of the Tarocchi.
Accepting, then, E as the original, we shall avoid ambiguity by basing our discussion of the origin of the
design on this series. They all bear the sharply defined character of a single school, that of Ferrara, as it was
formed, partly under influences from Padua and Verona and the North, and partly under that of the
Umbro-Florentine Piero della Francesca, in the middle years of the century, during the reign of the Dukes
Leonello, Borso and Ercole I. d'Este.
Our objectionHind concludes from the existence of 6 motifs of the Mantegna Tarocchi in book illuminations and impressions (Emperor and Pope and 4 Virtues) to the existence of 50 figures. This might be of course a correct assumption about the reality of 1467, but in no way it necessarily is. In an indestinct situation like that of the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi it cannot serve as "sure evidence", it's just a possibility against other, also possible hypotheses, and all of them should be object of further clearifying research. As far it was possible to us to enter the discussion, we had the impression, that Hind's authority blocked other interpretations .... and the result was, that a lot of suggestions were developed, but none of them reached a satisfying explanation.
The logical alternative is, that the composer of the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi took some already existent figures (as for instance the 2 figures of Bologna and the 4 virtues of the St. Gallen manuscript), and formed with them the Mantegna Tarocchi later. Both ways are possible, and without any further arguments probably both conclusions would have a chance to be true from about 50/50, which would mean, the matter is undecided.
The Pope simply isn't the Mantegna Tarocchi Pope and the Emperor is similar to the Mantegna Tarocchi Emperor in the way, that surely either the Mantegna Tarocchi engraver must have known the other picture (or a copy or a similar picture) or the Bolognese illuminator must have known the Mantegna Tarocchi (or a copy or a similar picture), but this doersn't answer the question, who imitated whom.
In the comparable situation of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi, which on first sight had 20 trumps, we came to the conclusion, that the really once existent Bembo deck had only 14 trumps (on the evidence, that a second painter participated in the process and was responsible for 6 added trumps later).
Now we've in the situation of the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi the case, that only 6 of 50 motifs are present and are assumed to accept the result as correct,
that this proves the existence of the other 44 and the whole series ... we've naturally difficulties to contribute positively to this opinion.
The necessary step is of course to research the 2 by Hind given sources and to search for other later socalled "sure" indications.
We were able to see Hind's Nr. 2, the illumination in the mentioned Bolognese manuscript - and we found nothing which gave us confidence in Hind's
We were - till now - not able to get insight about Hind's document 1, which is a weak point in our research, but I assume just the worst case for our alternative argument, the case, that it could be proved, that these four prints are done from the same plates as the E-series or S-series, and also this wouldn't kill our objection, as 4 printed motifs simply doesn't prove 50. Hind himself - as it seems - haven't seen these pictures, too, as he leads a complex discussion about the priority in age of E- or S-series .... if he had had access to this pictures, he simply would have looked at the 4 pictures and would've known, which of both series was really old (according to his theory).
This 4 pictures build a crucial point in our considerations, cause they are the only printings in all the early evidence.
But we had some access to the 3rd relevant document, which are some manuscripts from Ludovico Lazzarelli, who used 23 figures of the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi. We found, that Lazzarelli's text also doesn't prove the existence of all 50 figures as composition and that also further datable material of Hind till 1480 - as he gives it - doesn't give sure evidence of the existence. Hind - somehow sure, that 1467 seems to be a right dating - doesn't present datings of later material, so we're not able to realise anything, which guarantees, that at a specific time the Mantegna really arrived in complex form.
On the base of this research we offer now a "working hypothesis" to the origin of the Mantegna, which clearly differs from Hind's opinion. We call it a working hypothesis, as for the current moment we surely haven't studied all relevant aspects, but naturally our mind has formed a path, on which we think it promising to research for a solution of the given question.
1. Ludovico Lazzarelli used 23 of the 50 pictures - this is by far the most of all early "sure" indications of the existence of the Mantegna Tarot. But in our hypothesis we don't assume, that the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi already existed, when Lazzarelli did chose them as illustrations to his manuscript, we assume the contrary, that some of the motifs existed in
illumination and perhaps even in print, but that the socalled Mantegna-Tarocchi
in composition was made after the production of Lazzarelli's manuscript.
2. Ludovico Lazzarelli found his pictures in a Venetian bookstore - this story exists, but we cannot trace it back to its origin.
So we positively assume, but don't know it for sure, that it is a true story. At the current state of our research we assume : As Lazzarelli used
illuminations to decorate his manuscripts, all of them were copied - the question is open, if the pictures, which Lazzarelli found, were illuminations,
pen paintings, woodcut prints or copperplate engravings or whatever. Also the question is open, if all pictures had the same origin, if all were made by
the same artist or if all were made at the same location. As it seems to us, Lazzarelli composed out of perhaps various sources a unique composition
with 27 illustrations, and 23 of them found their way in the later socalled Mantegna Tarocchi, a composition out of 50 pictures.
Lazzarelli - so the assumed "true story" tells - found also pictures of the "artes liberalis". They are missing in the Lazzarelli
manuscript, but they're used in an Urbino manuscript, likely produced in the critical time, in the 70ies of 15th century. These are not identical,
but recognizable similar to the "artes liberalis" in the later socalled Mantegna Tarocchi.
3. We researched the difficult biography of Lazzarelli in the 70ies - and the biography is difficult in a way, that one cannot locate him in the
critical time with absolute security. Likely stations in his life are Camerino, near to his original home, at the court of the Varano family, and the
city of Rome. Good outsider chances have also Urbino, Venice and Teramo, perhaps only for a short time.
4. Hind comes in his analyses to the conclusion, that the "unknown" engraver of the Ptolemy maps, produced 1473 - 1478 in Rome, was likely
also the engraver of the Mantegna Tarocchi. However, the engraver of the Ptolemy is not "unknown", generally it is assumed, that they were made either by Sweynheim or his "unknown pupil" Arnold Bucking.
Sweynheim was a famous German printer, who was with his partner Arnold Pannartz the earliest book printers in Italy, first in Subiaco (1464 - 1467),
then in Rome. Since 1473 Pannartz is said to have kept the business alone, and Sweynheim in cooperation with an Italian, Domitius Calderinus, a papal
secretary in Rome, known by some commentaries to early book prints, concentrated on the Ptolemy edition. Sweynheim died at an unclear date,
1475, 1476 or 1477 (perhaps). If one assumes, that he's the real engraver, than the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi was produced before.
But - Sweynheim died, Pannartz died and Calderinus died, all in the short time 1475 - 1478. Finally the unknown Arnoldus Bucking stayed and he owns
the engravings and the Ptolemy manuscripts in October 1478. One idea tells, that Bucking was the real engraver of the Ptolemy.
If it was so, one cannot be sure, that the Mantegna Tarocchi was produced before Sweynheim's death.
5. The Mantegna Tarocchi has a Venetian-Ferrarese outfit and language. Neither from Sweynheim or Calderinus we know in the moment about a stay in the relevant time in Venice - they are said to have been
But we know that the printers of Rome had contacts to those in Venice. From Lazzarelli we know, that he was in Rome, and that he
was known in the circle around Pope Sixtus, to which Calderinus belonged.
Weaknesses, much open Questions and unfinished Researches
They're a lot of them - we're simply in a state of research and we can just go on and try to solve open questions.
Number table at the Arithmetic figure in the S-series. Actually the painter gives a clear sign, that he knows how he paints his number in the 2 top rows, so the bottom row not really can serve simply as a date, or the painter made serious writing errors. Hind's "price hypothesis" might have better arguments, but also possible it seems, that the engraver played with a double reading: perhaps it means price and year.
A not very similar Pope
A similar, but not identical Emperor
The throne is slightly similar