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The Gringonneur Case

Ross Gregory Caldwell has researched in detail the Gringonneur entry from Paris 1392 and its long being taken as the oldest reference to Tarot cards:

Jacquemin Gringonneur is an extremely obscure man. If a historian were to rely only on what the few scholars who know about him consider trustworthy sources, the only two things one could say about him would be that he was a painter who lived in Paris at the turn of the 14th century, and he is recorded to have been paid for painting three packs of cards for King Charles VI during his mental breakdown.

However, there is legend around him too, both concerning the apparently erroneous identification of some large tarot cards once belonging to Roger de Gaignières with the three packs of cards painted for Charles VI, as well as his association with Nicolas Flamel in the artisan's quarter of early 15th century Paris.

Below is an annotated bibliography of the sources I have found that have contributed to, or that shed light on, both the history and legend of Jacqemin Gringonneur.

If, with poetic license, I were to try to conjure a vision of him for the reader, it would be of a painter, illuminator or cartonnier from Flanders or somewhere else in the north of France. He comes down as part of the movement of artists to the wealthy courts of Charles V and VI, and the dukes of Burgundy and Berry. At the sumptously decorated palace in Abbeville, which the King's uncle the Duke of Burgundy had decorated and provided with every convenience for King Charles' recovery, Gringonneur is asked to paint some packs of cards for him. These cards are playing cards with allegorical scenes which reflect those on the tapestries covering every wall perhaps mythology, hunting, or the Passion of Christ. Perhaps the cards were the cartons used to outline the designs on the tapestries. Cards were not unusual in the court, and the King's brother Louis, Duke of Orléans, was known to have a few packs of them.

Gringonneur continued his profession in the city of Paris for the first decade or so of the 15th century, perhaps suffering after the loss of patronage in the wake of the noble French losses at Agincourt. As a painter, he is associated the manuscript illuminator Nicolas Flamel and his brother, as well as Christine de Pizan.

The information below is divided into Primary and Secondary sources, Internet links and some suggestions on the meaning of the name "Gringonneur." It's annotated, so be sure to read the comments!


If one accepts the identification of Jean Gingonneur with Jaquemin Gringonneur, the only contemporary primary source attesting to his life appears to be Guillebert de Metz (or a contemporary), writing in « Description de la ville de Paris sous Charles VI ». Charles Poupart's entry in the Chambre des Comptes for 1392, reported by Pére Menestrier in 1704, has not been found (Despite a valiant search by Thierry Depaulis).

Nevertheless, judging by the entry itself and Menestrier's character in general, we may regard his account of the Poupart entry as trustworthy, and therefore a primary source. The five primary sources below appear to witness independent traditions about Gringonneur, even where not contemporary with him.


  • 1392 (?)
    Charles Poupart, recording in the register of the Chambre des Comptes "A Jaquemin Gringonneur, peintre, pour trois jeux de cartes à or et à diverses couleurs, ornés de plusieurs devises pour porter devers ledit seigneur roi pour son ebattement : LVI sols parisis." -
    (To Jaquemin Gringonneur, painter, for three packs of cards in gold and in diverse colours, ornamented in many divisions to be brought to the said lord King for his entertainment : 56 parisian sols).
    - published by Menestrier in 1704 (note that Depaulis (1995) thinks that "couleurs" refers to pigmentation, colouring, while "devises" refers to modern French "couleurs", English "suits." For "device" meaning a heraldic motto, he finds evidence only from the 16th century forward).

  • 1434 (?)
    Guillebert de Metz _ Description de la Ville de Paris sous Charles VI.
    - first edited and published by Le Roux de Lincy in 1855, this book names Jean Gingonneur in the quarter of "Writers, Illuminators, Designers, Jongleurs, Booksellers, Minstrels, Paper-makers, Painters, Binders".

  • 1704
    Menestrier, P.Claude-François "Des Principes des sciences et des arts disposés en forme de jeux" in _Bibliothèque Curieuse et instructive de divers ouvrages, anciens et modernes, de littérature et des arts_ (Trevoux, 1704, vol. II, pp. 174-175) -
    this is the original and only source for the famous quotation from the Chambre des Comptes of 1392 above.

  • 1832
    Béraud, A. et P. Dufey _Dictionnaire historique de Paris_ (Paris : 1832)
    - cited by Depaulis in his 1995 article, this work presents a tradition that Gringonneur lived on the "Rue de la Verrerie" with other artisans. Depaulis believes it is this tradition that is taken up by Jacques Hillairet in various works, cited below.

  • 1855
    Lincy, Le Roux de _ Description de la Ville de Paris sous Charles VI_- first edition of this text, see next entry.

  • 1867
    Lincy, Le Roux de and L.M. Tisserand _Paris et ses historiens aux XIVe et XVe siècles_ (rpt. in "Le Paris de Charles V et de Charles VI, vu par des écrivains contemporains" p. 217)
    - this book gives Guillebert de Metz "Description de la Ville de Paris sous Charles VI", where, in a list of the inhabitants of various quarters listed by their profession, we find *Gingonneur (Jean) *, listed in the same column with Nicolas Flamel and (Flamel) the Young (Jean, Jacques and Jaquemin seem to have been more or less interchangable at this time, I discovered) (I think the list is due to Lincy and Tisserand, extracting all the names from G. de Metz and other contemporary accounts).

  • 1985
    Hillairet, Jacques _Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris_ (7th ed., Paris : 1985 ; s.v. `Verrerie, rue de la') – cited by Depaulis, art. cit. below.- asserts that Gringonneur was a painter living at No.28, Rue de la Verrerie, where a confraternity of glass painters and enamelers was installed.

- direct or indirect mention of Gringonneur–

  • 1754
    Longuerue, Abbé Louis du Four de _Longueruana, ou Recueil de pensées, de discours et de conversations de feu M. Louis du Four de Longuerue_ (Berlin 1754) - in these memoires, published posthumously (Longuerue died in 1733), he indirectly connects the cards he saw during a visit to the home of Roger de Gaignières, with the passage in Menestrier that he had read. Depaulis thinks this may be the origin of the legend connecting the cards with Gringonneur.

  • 1842
    Leber, M.C. "Etudes historiques sur les cartes à jouer", in _Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de France_ n.s. vol. 6 (1842) pp. 256-348
    - Leber was the first to explicitly suggest that Menestrier's Gringonneur painted the 17 cards.

  • 1845
    Biographie Universel s.v. `Gringonneur', cites a M. Lenoir who attributed a painting of Juvenal des Ursins to Gringonneur. This is the only attribution of any other work to Gringonneur, on what basis I don't know, that I have found. The Biographie gives the source as Lenoir's _Musée des monuments français_. I haven't been able to trace it further, and it is never mentioned again. I have seen two portraits of Juvenal des Ursins, who was a councilor to Charles VI and VII and wrote a history of the former.

  • 1846
    Bache, Paul Eugène _Jacquemin Gringonneur, ou l'invention des cartes à jouer_ (Blidah, Tissot et Roche, 1846; Bibliothèque Nationale notice no. FRBNF32910723) - I haven't seen this one, the BN has several copies.

  • 1855
    Teste d'Ouet _Jacquemin Gringonneur et Nicolas Flamel_ (Paris, V. Didron, 1855 ; BN notice no. FRBNF36417369, inter alia)
    - haven't seen this one either, BN has several copies.

  • 1888
    Mathers, S.L. Macgregor _The Tarot, Its Occult Significance, Use in Fortune-Telling, and Method of Play, Etc._ (London (?), George Redway, 1888).
    - While noting the error of the attribution of the cards to Gringonneur, Mathers writes of him as "Jacques Gringonneur, an Astrologer and Qabalist". I wonder if he had read Teste d'Ouet?

  • 1911
    Waite, A.E. _The Pictorial Key to the Tarot_ (London :1910)
    - mentions the account of Charles (!) Gringonneur painting three packs of cards for Charles VI, but acknowledges that no one any
    longer attributes the 17 cards to Gringonneur.

  • 1951
    Hillairet, Jacques _Evocation du vieux Paris _(tome 1, Paris: 1951)
    - writes that the Rue de la Verrerie was home to a "communauté", or corporation on page 199. In his 1985 edition of the Dictionnaire (cited above) he places Gringonneur here (according to Depaulis).

  • 1995
    Depaulis, Thierry "Jacquemin Gringonneur et les cartes à jouer", in _L'As de Trefle_ no. 54 (March 1995) pp. 7-8.
    - describes his futile search for the original Poupart account in the Chambre des Comptes for the years 1391-1394, as well as giving all the primary documentation he could find about Gringonneur, including the Vieux Paris references.


The cards are currently housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, in the Département des Estampes et de la Photographie, Kh 24 rés. I don't know if they are on display.
[Images are reachable together with some of the related Castle Ursino cards at this Internet page.]

  • Undated manuscript
    B.N. Mss. Fr. 14888 (perhaps 1690s) - Roger de Gaignières; published in facsimile and transcription by Thierry Depaulis in _Le Vieux Papier_ 301 (July 1986), pp. 117-124; a manuscript of four columns, listing the Trumps as they appear in 1) a 16th century Italian poem, 2) de Gaignières' own "golden cards"  (the Charles VI or Gringonneur cards), 3) another Tarot pack belonging to him (the Anonymous Parisian Tarot, illustrated for example in Olsen, pp. 106-125), and 4) some trumps "in the book" (Depaulis suggests this may be a book with rules for Tarot from 1654). The list of "golden cards" corresponds exactly to the 17 "Gringonneur" cards.

  • 1698
    Lister, Martin _A Journey to Paris in the Year 1698 _ (pub. Information unknown). - Lister recounts a visit to de Gaignières "One Toy I took notice of, which was a Collection of Playing Cards for 300 Years. The oldest were three times bigger than what are now used, extreamly well limned and illuminated with gilt Borders, and the Pastboard thick and firm; but there was not a compleat Set of them" (quoted by Depaulis op. cit. p. 117)

  • 1711
    Clairambault, B.N. Mss. Clairambault 1032 - Published again by Depaulis in Le Vieux Papier, this manuscript by one of the executors of de Gaignières' estate simply itemizes de Gaignières' effects, noting some "anciennes cartes tarotées".

Jacquemin Gringonneur in tarot history

  • 1754
    Longuerue (see Secondary Sources above)

  • 1842
    Leber (see Secondary Sources above)

  • 1848
    W. A. Chatto _Facts and Speculations on the Origins and History of Playing Cards._ (London, 1848). - debunks the idea that Gringonneur painted the cards, and suggests a Venetian origin (cited by Waite (?) and Dummett).

  • 1869
    Merlin, R., _L'Origine des cartes à jouer : Recherches nouvelles sur les Naibis, les tarots et sur les autres espèces de cartes_ (Paris: 1869) - also debunks the connection of Gringonneur with the cards (cited by Dummett).

  • 1906
    D'Allemagne, Henry René _Les Cartes à jouer du XIVe au XXe siècle_  (Paris: 1906) - first publication of the cards themselves (I think) ; attributes the cards to Venice (cited by all later authorities)

  • 1937
    Schreiber, W.L. _Die ältesten Spielkarten_ (Strasbourg, 1937)
    - first to suggest Ferrara for the origin of the cards.

  • 1967
    Klein, Robert "Les Tarots enluminés du XVe siècle" in _L'Oeil_ 145 (January, 1967) - considers the Charles VI cards as coming from Italy mainly because of the clothing and xylographic method.

  • 1978
    Kaplan, Stuart _The Encyclopedia of Tarot_ (New York, 1978 pp. 111- 116)
    - gives the cards in b/w with a good brief discussion

  • 1980
    Dummett, Michael _The Game of Tarot_ (London : Duckworth 1980 pp.65-66, 69, 395) -recapitulates the consensus to 1980, provides good bibliography.

  • 1984
    Depaulis, Thierry ed. _Tarot ; Jeu et Magie_ (Paris : Bibliothèque Nationale, 1984 pp. 40-41)
    - excellent discussion, followed by the results of an examination of the cards by the Laboratoire de Recherche des Musées de France, by J.P. Rioux

  • 1986
    Depaulis, Thierry "Roger de Gaignières et ses tarots" in _Le Vieux Papier_ 301 (July 1986 pp. 117-124, with an addendum 160 describing his discovery of the reference in Longuerue's memoires)
    - this article presents Depaulis' discovery of de Gaignières' own manuscript, the sole place so far known where he mentions the cards.

  • 1987
    Algeri, Giuliana, "Tarocchi di Carlo VI" in Berti, Giordano and Andrea Vitali, eds. _Le Carte di Corte : I Tarocchi : Gioco e Magia alla Corte degli Estensi_ (Ferrara : Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1987
    pp.34-35 and passim) - perhaps the best discussion to date on the cards and their symbolism. It is not clear who wrote the article on the cards, or the other catalogue descriptions, but since it is appended to her essay I assume it is her. She attributes them to 1470-1480, based on the preceding authorities.

  • 1995
    Olsen, Christina _The Art of Tarot_ (New York : Abbeville, 1995 pp.19-20, 70-85) - Olsen gives good colour reproductions of all of the surviving cards except for the Fante (the Page or Jack of Swords).

    (Ross Gregory Caldwell)

    Additional notes to French playing card develoment in the time of Gringonneur on the base of W.L. Schreiber _Die ältesten Spielkarten_ (Strasbourg, 1937) and the playing card notes collection of Michael Hurst
    - composed by autorbis; see page with more details to French development

    1392 Paris
    Account book for King Charles VI, "Given to Jacquemin Gringonneur, painter, for three packs of cards, gilt and colored, and variously ornamented, for the amusement of the king, fifty-six sols of Paris." These are not the so-called Gringonneur cards, aka Charles VI cards, which are a late fifteenth-century Ferrarese Tarot deck.

    1393 Paris
    An anonymous describes in "Menagier de Paris" the life and occupations of Roman women in old times by refereing to the occupations of noble womem in his own time: ".. les unes divisans, les autres jouans au bric, les autres a qui fery, les autres a pince-merille, les autres jouans aux cartes et aux autres jeux d'esbatemens avecques leurs voisines ..." The reporting Schreiber (1937) refers to Pere Menestrier, Bibliotheque curieuse et instructive, Trevoux 1704, vol. II., p.174)

    1396 Paris
    "At the French court a hawker or maker of cases, Guion Groslet appears in the account books of 1396 for having sold an estuy for the cards of Queen Isabelle of Bavaria (Charles VI's wife)." (Ortalli 178) Schreiber notes, that the entry of Hemon Raguier reads: "A Guiot Groslet, gaingnier, un estuy (etui) pour mettre les cartes de la royne, le petiz bastonnez d'ivoire et les roolles de parchemin 12 sols parisins."

    1397 Paris
    Prohibition against card playing. (K I:24.) This may be the same prohibition referred to by Ortalli, "when the prevot of Paris forbade the gens de metier from playing cards on working days." (Ortalli 178.)
    Schreiber notes, that this passage is given by many French sources, but that he couldn't detect any, which gives the source for it. Although he himself controlled various possible sources, he couldn't detect it. He adds, that surprizingly in France there is no other card prohibition till 1541 (it seems, that Schreiber isn't aware of the entry to Paris 1377 and Lille 1382)(S p. 68/69).

    1400 Franciscan order:
    According to Schreiber the Franciscan Oliver Maillardus (died 1502) writes in the 20th speech of the "Quadregesimale opus Parissii predicatum": "Videatis quod habetis in statutis vestris, nunquid anno 1400 fuit prohibitum quod omnes ludi chartarum et sic aliis expellerentur et comburerentur: et qui inventus esset solvere solid. par." (Schreiber notes: In the printed edition of the Sermones of 1503, Lyon, on page 123). Indeed, as Schreiber adds, in the chapter 7, § 30 of the "Statuta tribus ordinibus beati Francisci necessaria" is given: "Quicunque frater deprehensus fuerit tunicam, pecuniam vel res alias ludere ad taxillos vel cartas seu alearum ludos: pena carceris puniatur.", but Schreiber interpretes, that this edict is from begin of 16th century and he has doubts about the older rules in the order. (S p. 69)

    1404 Langres
    The bishop of Langres, cardinal Louis de Bar (1396 - 1413) gave a careful game prohibition, in which also playing cards are considered: "Prohibemus clericis et viris ecclesiasticis, potissime in sacris ordinibus constitutis, et maxime sacerdotibus et curatis, ne omnino ludant ad taxillos, ad aleas, ad trinquetum, quod aliter nominatur ad punctum stacarii, neque ad CARTAS, neque ad stophum, dictum a la paulme, neque ad neque ad iactum lapidis, ad saltum, ad choreas, neque ad clipeum, neque cum fistula vel aliis musicalibus instrumentis ... non ludant etiam ad marellas, ad bolas, ad cursum vel currendum in campo .., ad iaculandum vel gladiandum, ... ad quillas, vel torneamenta seu iostas, ... in ludo quo dicitur charevari, ... ad ludom scatorum, nisi forsan raro (Laurentii Bochelli (Bouchel), Decreta ecclesia Gallicanae, Paris 1609, p. 1025). Schreiber adds, that Langres is at this time a selfadministrated bistum between Burgund and Lothringia (not belonging to FRance). (S 69/70)

    1408 Orleans
    in an inventory of the Duke and Duchess of Orleans, listing "ung jeu de quartes sarrasines and unes quartes de Lombardie (‘one pack of Saracen cards; one cards of Lombardy’)". (S p. 70)
    Schreiber adds in a footnote (refering to V. Gay, p. 286), that Louis d'Orleans, brother of the French king Charles VI., must have been a "Spielratte allerersten Ranges" ("first class gambling rat"): In the possession of baron de Joursanvault (Catalogue des Archives de M. le bn. de J., Paris 1838, vol. I, p. 103 - 105) were various bills about gambling losses of the duke. 1394 he lost in the "jeu de la paume" 200 livres de tournois; 1396 in the "jeu de echaiz" "une aulmure de gris a chanoine, further 1200 fr. in the "jeue de la bille" and other sums; 1397 he paid back various sums, which were lend to play "aux tables" and "au glic", also he had to cover various sums and losses to various persons.

    1408 Paris
    Court records describe con artists using cards in a simple scam "with a psychological  resemblance to Three-card Monte."

Gringonneur on a Playing Card - Carta Mundi (Belgium), deck 'Louis Atthalin', 1996 reprint of deck 1815