Found between some other debris and dust and lost dreams in an Archive. Stripped the broken links and created some new, placing it in the temple of memory, August 2010.

The Oldest Tarot Cards

Dear Reader in the Future,

in the following you might get the impression, that I do cheat you with the title. Well, at some part you're right, that what is reflected here and the following pages doesn't look like "Tarot Cards" as you might know them, especially as the objects exist only in text and not in viewable reality. From your personal context in space and time you might be right - they are very different from a normal Tarot deck.

But it is like this: These special cards, about which I do talk here, were produced around the year 1420. In 1449 somebody with knowledge about card decks of his time called just these cards "Trionfi cards" - this somebody was a man with the name Jacopo Antonio Marcello, a Venetian general. In much later time (20th century) it was testified by leading researchers of Tarot card history, that, whenever in 15th century was talked about Trionfi cards, that this would refer to something, which was called later Tarocchi, a name, that's first use is known from 1516. And Tarocchi is the Italian name for that, what you do know as Tarot cards.

So with some right I do speak here about "Tarot cards" - if you perceive a considerable difference to that, what you do think, what Tarot Cards are, then that's a problem of word definition in our language. Perhaps you think, that a Tarot deck must have 78 cards, 22 or 21+1 trumps and 56 courts and numerals - otherwise it shouldn't be called Tarot Cards. Well, alright, we could arrange per definition, that in our common language that should be the correct "name-object-relation".

But ... you will get serious problems, when talking about history of Tarot in 15th century in this manner. Ever heard of the 5x14-Trionfi-deck? If not, you will hear about it on other pages at this location. So I do propose for your special definition of the Word Tarot the word 4x14+22-Tarot, then you've a good chance, that your partners in communication precisely might know what you're talking about.

Just to avoid misunderstandings, don't take it personally.

Another word: Please excuse, when I occasionally do use phantasy and humor describing matters, which also could be expressed scientifically or historically and with serious words. I do that just for didactical reasons .... I do hope, I left enough signs, that the intelligence of the reader has good chances to understand, when I do change from reality to fiction. Looking precisely: History is always fiction, isn't it?

Autorbis, June 2003

The Michelino Deck, also called Besozzo Cards

Michelino da Besozzo was called by some the most famous painter in his time. The time was the begin of 15th century, the place the North of Italy. So Michelino was somebody like Leonardo da Vinci just a little earlier. However, his later fame had the problem, that the way in which Michelino painted, became "unmodern".

This probably not very cheap artist one day got an interesting commission: He should paint some playing cards. Michelino had many talents, one of his early main activities had been book-paintings, so he was accustomed to paint "small" and probably he was capable to fulfill the job. Usually he painted religious pictures - as most of the artists of his time. But this commission was different: Revolutionary different. Michelino was ordered to paint Greek gods - but .... there were not Greek gods at that time. That were "pagan" motives. There might have been even the problem, that they were unsecure how to paint these gods.

Michelino was active in Milano till 1403/1404, then the life in Milano was disturbed by greater political difficulties connected to the death of duke Giangaleazzo Visconti in 1402 and a shorter phase of reignment by his wife, who soon got difficulties, was imprisoned and probably poisoned by her eldest son, Giovanni Maria, in late 1404. Michelino left the place. In Milano the new duke Giovanni did set up a more or less evil regiment and got under influence of various condottieri, especially Ficono Cane, which started to part the dukedom of Milano according to their own interests.
In 1417 things had been settled - Giovanni Maria was murdered in 1412, and Giovannis brother Filippo Maria Visconti succeeded in reestablishing the rule of Milano in most of the earlier possessions, with the financial help of the 20-years-older Beatrice de Tenda, the widow of Ficino Cane and now the wife of Filippo Maria. Michelino returned to Milan, in 1417.
We don't know, when the commission for the deck was done - before Beatrice de Tendas death or after that. She died - together with an accused lover, Michael Ourombello, and some female servants - under the hands of an executioner, ordered by her husband Filippo Maria, in late 1418.

From Michelino we know, that in 1403 he designed a "genealogy of the Visconti" - still in Milano. In this genealogy the Visconti descended from certain people called "Jupiter" and "Venus" - not gods, but just persons. The Visconti couldn't suggest, that they've descended from "Gods" - probably they would have raised some accusations from the church. But making the gods to humans and regarding them as "ancestors" seems to have been a legal way to deal with them.
If we look later at the deck, we will see, that Jupiter and Venus do possess very high positions in the card-deck, Jupiter is the first of a row of 16 gods, Venus has the 4th position. If Venus was considered to be the daughter of Juno - which is told in mythology different, but might have been "correct" in the mind of the Visconti - then also the second position of the game was given to an "ancestor". The 3rd place is given to a Visconti-aunt, Athena, who got - mythologically correct - no children (couldn't by this way transmute to an ancestor). So, if you think a llittle bit about the context, you may realise, that all these old Greek gods you often heard from, had nothing better to do than to produce Viscontis. This idea might be new to you, but - alas - it isn't, it has a proud age of at least 600 years and you should know it, when you try to understand this deck.
So, joke aside, realise, that Visconti-genealogy, made by Michelino, from 1403 and Michelino-deck from "after 1417" do have a specific context, especially for Michelino, who left Milano after the genealogy-job and arrived back, perhaps restarting his Milanese career with the same objects, Venus and Jupiter, now inside a deck of cards.

Michelino was the painter, Filippo Maria Visconti the commissioner. Some people do understand, that painters do that, what they've into their heads and do regard their art as expression of the phantasy of the artists. That's occasionally totally wrong, especially regarding art production in 15th century. The commissioner often took a deciding part in generating the objects, the commissioner presented the idea and the artist gave his hand.
The process should be compared as it is common in house-building. There is the later house-owner, who has money, ground and an idea what should be done there. There is an architect, who organises further details and the craftsmen, who do the real job. Michelino is the craftsman, Filippo Maria the later house owner. What we do meet in the deck, is to a great part Filippos personal wish and phantasy, not the spirit of Michelino

And there is a 3rd person - the "architect" Marziano da Tortona, a man with great importance for the person Filippo Maria Visconti. He was the personal teacher of Filippo Maria, when, after the death of Giangaleazzo 1402, the 10-years-old second-son Filippo Maria was exported to Pavia, a castle housing the great and famous Library of the Visconti, with around 1000 books, the second greatest of Europe after that gathered by Charles V. the wise of France. With all these fantastic books and Marzianus as teacher Filippo Maria had an intellectual life probable comparable only to few others at the same time in the following years. Marzianus was Aristoteles and Filippo Maria was Alexander, to say it with other words - well, only in phantasy, but young persons have phantasies and Filippo Maria was young. Historians mention the start of an enlightened time with Lionello d'Este and his personal teacher Guarino in Ferrara - but compare the situation. This "perfect education" was already done for Filippo Maria Visconti. Filippo had even an advantage - more books. But he had also a deciding disadvantage - not so much brothers and sisters. Filippo became a lonely man, giving not too much intellectual impulses to others. Lionello, a man used in many communications from youth on, did that.

In 1412 this happy intellectual phase took an end, brother Giovanni Maria was murdered and with the elan of a small Alexander Filippo Maria jumped into action and reestablished the dukedom in great and quick steps, with the leading figure in his administration, Marzianus da Tortona.
Inside the card-deck we do perceive something "modern" or "ultra-modern" - Greek gods. With this Filippo Maria is 50 years ahead of the general Italian development of art. Greek gods appear in the 50ies of 15th century and only few examples are earlier. Filippo was intellectual at a top-level. Others in his time still had difficulties to read and to write - for instande Muzio Attendola, another great man of the day - Filippo lived visionary in the future of the time, which was preparing to falter up to be the splendid time of renaissance, but - in 1420 you couldn't see, what would happen soon.
Marziano did sign his last administrative document in 1423 and was definitely noted as dead in 1425. So the production time of the deck should be between 1417 (Michelino comes back to Milano) and 1425 (death of Marziano), with some likeliness nearer to 1417 than to 1425. This places the deck "around" the death of Beatrice de Tenda in 1418.
In his great and successful attempt to reorganise his dukedom Filippo Maria has reached in 1418 certain problems - this was his wife, 20 years older than himself, and the same wife, getting no children and especially no male heir. He solved the problems, and the way he did it, was not unknown and without comparition in Italian history, which had a bloody past in 14th century, especially in reigning houses and in the Visconti-family. We will talk at another place about it.
3 years after the death of his wife, 1421, Filippo Maria is said to have retired from public life. If this personal retirement happened in a causeal context to the death of Beatrice de Tenda - who knows, only the silent observer might draw his conclusions. Probably public opinion had something to say about the case - personal retirement is a common way to hear not too much about it. Inside this psychic drama the commission for the card deck was done - as we will later analyse, it is - documented by allegorical figures - about somebody seeking love but receiving fame.

Marziano, the "architect" of the deck, wrote a not too long accompanying book to the card deck - this sounds easy, but, looking at the details, might have been more complicated than we do perceive at first view. The problem - just as shown above: it was not clear how the Gods should be painted. Probably Marziano had to go through a lot of books of the Viscontean library to get his final results.
So - you should take a walk - with some help of our fresh-polished time-machine - to the Visconti library, here in Pavia, where Boethius was imprisoned and died and talked about virtues and fortune. Perhaps you'll meet Decembrio there, who got the job of Marziano and became the new secretary of Filippo. So. let's see ...

Around 1000 books are here, 20 versions from the apocalypse, a lot of books about astrology, which was a favour to Filippo and Marziano, 4 books about geomancy, books about chess, a game loved by Filippo, the Boethius of course (later he presented a copy to his French nephew), Boccaccio talking about Greek mythology, very new and very modern, books about magic, about prophecy, apocryphes, and hidden in the dust, the Petrarca-corner, probably with the Canzonieri somewhere, and here, just looks unlocked, as if somebody had it in hands yesterday ... puh, dark here, keep the candle shortly, can't read the title, something wrong with the spectacles. The author reads ..vid or so and here the title could be

About the Metamorphoses of ... what? .. Tarot perhaps ...

Not sure, if this is right, it's Latin, you know. And old, hardly readable, handwritten, of course. Is this an O before the ... vid? Come on, we look for less dust, better spectacles and more daylight. Perhaps with some coffee things will turn out a little clearer soon.

Oh, did I forget to tell anything about money? This Tarot-deck, probably the first, was the most expensive and most precious of all decks ever produced. I'll tell you later .... Well, let's go ...

Ah, I did forget to tell anything about the council of Constance. Please excuse me, I'm an old man .... but this must be added, you shouldn't look at this deck and its mysteries without reflecting the Council of Constance. Johannes Hus burnt, three popes left their job, a new one elected, a great cry for freedom inside the church. 100 000 people attending, at least 700 prostitutes under them. Never heard of? The greatest publical event of 15th century in 4 long years from 1414 - 1418. Yes, you shouldn't look at this deck without considering the council. Why? Don't you get it? So much free time ... to play cards, in a region, which is leading in card-production at that time. Yes. So, how did Filippo Visconti come to the idea to produce an unusual card-deck .... .... other than all card-decks before? Well, I can't prove it, but I feel sure, the idea came from Constance .... Naturally, not this deck was invented in
Constance, that's the personal handwriting of Filippo Visconti, don't misunderstand me, something inside the deck, a playing rule for instance or some playing-rules.... yes, probably a playing rule .... you know Imperatori-decks? Eh ... I'll tell you later, it's dusty here .... we've to look in this mysterious book here, right?

For special reasons this page is dedicated to Franco Pratesi and all the other, perhaps less successful researchers, which occasionally had the care to walk to the library, verifying in the dust of the archives that, what at other places is talked about with many words and theories.

Apollo chases Daphne
Oldest Tarot Cards
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The Oldest Tarot Cards
- Michelino Deck