Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote: 27 May 2021, 22:26
Nathaniel wrote: 27 May 2021, 15:16
Huck wrote: 24 May 2021, 12:35 Nathaniel wrote ...

... hm ... perhaps you could give some details.
I was almost hoping no one would ask that question, because I don't really have the time to spend on a huge discussion of the details right now. But I will write something soon which will present the evidence that I am aware of—as briefly as possible (which, I fear, will not be very brief at all)
I asked about this evidence too, in a post from last year you linked above. viewtopic.php?p=22369#p22369
You didn't have time then, either.
Nathaniel wrote: 07 Jul 2020, 00:15
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote: 06 Jul 2020, 17:32
I don't know anything about direct trade between Bologna and France in the 15th century. Can you suggest some convenient references to start with? Can we assume that this well-established direct trade route, bypassing the city of Milan, is the missing link between Bologna and Savoy that Dummett and other researchers have missed when trying to explain the Piedmontese game's Bolognese features?
I don't know much myself, it's something I'd like to look into more, but I don't really have time right at the moment. That's why I asked in my last post if anyone has explored this topic already. It certainly seems like it could be a fruitful avenue of research. All I know at this point is that there was a major trading route from Bologna to Asti (and there is still a major autostrada that follows that same route today) and of course it's clear that the overland trade between Italy and France would have gone through Piedmont, the main route being the one from Asti to Lyon via Chambéry.
That was a slightly different matter, namely the trade route question. I still haven't been able to look much further into that, but as indicated in my earlier post in this thread, I have at least been able to establish that the trade route in question was the most important overland route to France not just in the Renaissance but also throughout the entire Middle Ages, right back to Roman times, because the Romans built two of their major roads along it. It was part of the main land route to France even for ancient Rome. So there you are, I have now provided you with a little more evidence for that.

What Huck is asking about now is my ideas about the stages in the process by which French tarot was influenced by Bolognese and Milanese tarot. In this case, I have already explored the matter in great detail, but it's going to take a little time for me to write up my conclusions so they can be presented here. And I feel like I don't have the time, because I'm already trying to put together write-ups of several other large investigations I've been doing in tarot history—I'm beginning to feel like I'm trying to do several PhD dissertations simultaneously—but I will post this one in response to Huck as soon as possible.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Nathaniel wrote: 28 May 2021, 06:52 That was a slightly different matter, namely the trade route question. I still haven't been able to look much further into that,
Here is a a diagram of late 14th to early 15th-century trade routes, from a post of mine from some years ago:
Note: these are the internal, primarily overland routes - for ports there were of course sea routes too. I recall making a post here or somewhere else about sea routes, not only within Europe but between Christendom and Islamic countries too, but can't find it at the moment. But they included for sure Black Sea ports and many others in Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and several countries of Africa. Many of which were developed and maintained by Merchants and Bankers even during Christian and Muslim conflicts of the period, to a greater or lesser extent according to the politics and diplomacy of the times.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Thanks Steve! Interesting map. You can definitely see the importance of that Roman road I was talking about. And I hadn't realized how important Avignon was at that time. But that map seems to omit a few links that must surely have been of considerable importance. It shows no link from Milan to Piacenza, for example, although that must have been a segment of the principal land route between Milan and Florence. Similarly, there is no link between Bologna and Florence, although that must have been a crucial part of the route between Florence and Venice—what makes this especially strange is that the map shows a direct line between Florence and Piacenza bypassing Bologna, and it's difficult to see how you could actually get from Florence to Piacenza without going through Bologna on the way. The map also doesn't show Chambéry at all, despite it being the capital of Savoy and situated on the road linking Lyon to Asti. So the map is certainly useful, but clearly leaves out quite a few very important things.

Evidence of the Bolognese tradition in French tarot

OK, so I lied when I said this was going to be brief. I’m sure no one will be hugely surprised by that...

Just to recap, this was my earlier statement:
Nathaniel wrote: 24 May 2021, 08:35
My hypothesis is that tarot arrived in Piedmont in the mid-15th century, directly from Bologna, brought by Bolognese merchants plying their trade on the route to France.

Which leaves plenty of time for tarot (the game and the deck) to spread onward into France in a Bolognese/Piedmontese form...

...and plenty of time for the French to then become greatly influenced by the Lombard tradition later, supplanting almost-but-not-quite all features of the earlier Bolognese-style game and deck...

...and then for the French cardmakers to gain such dominance over the Piedmontese market that we find Piscina using an essentially French, largely Lombard-style deck (probably a lot like Viéville's) by 1565.

There is substantial historical evidence to indicate that every one of these three steps occurred.
I’m not going to go into steps 2 and 3 here, because I think that the evidence for those is already very well known. This is especially true for the influence of the Lombard/Milanese tradition in step 2. The evidence for step 3 is the many indications of increasing French influence on Piedmontese card production in general, and Piedmontese tarot production in particular, from the start of the 16th century (including the famous Avignon-Pinerolo reference of 1505) through to the 17th century. This influence was probably boosted significantly by France’s numerous occupations of the Duchy of Savoy in the 16th century, culminating in a long period of continuous French rule from 1536 to 1559, ending just a few years before Piscina was writing. Thierry Depaulis, on p. 119 of “The Tarot de Marseilles – Facts and Fallacies, Part II,” The Playing-Card 42 no. 2 (2013), goes even further, saying that Savoy was basically under French control “until 1562.” I could go into a lot more detail about both steps 2 and 3, but at the moment, I think you mainly want to know my arguments for step 1.

Before I go into them, I’d like to state a couple of general principles.

First, in response to Huck’s post dismissing the significance of the rare mentions of tarot in France before 1574: We need to bear in mind that the surviving historical evidence of playing cards and card games increases exponentially over time. For instance, we can reconstruct the history of cards and card games in the 19th century in great detail, because of the enormous number of cards and rule books that survive from that time. We know much less about the 18th century, but there are still numerous decks and several rule books from that time, so we can still bring together a lot of details. In the 17th century, however, we have very little: Just a few decks here and there, and the very first few examples of written rules of games. So the 17th century is much harder for us. Nevertheless, it is still much easier than the 16th century, where far fewer cards survive and there are only a couple of descriptions of games (which do not even explain the rules in detail). The 15th century is worse by another quantum again: We are reduced to sporadic written references and hints of games, and a few rare cards, most of which are non-standard.

So if there were, for instance, thirty mentions of tarot in France from 1575 to 1625 but only three references to tarot in France from 1475 to 1525, this would not mean that tarot was ten times more popular in France in the former period than in the latter. It would indeed indicate that tarot was almost certainly more popular, but probably not ten times more popular—maybe just two or three times as popular. And if there is no mention of a card game at all in a particular region in the 15th century, that does not necessarily mean that this game was not played there at all. So when we look at these early periods, we should view any isolated pieces of evidence as potential indications of something much bigger than it may seem. And we need to consider indirect evidence, especially evidence from the same region in the periods that immediately follow.

Second, I'd like to talk again briefly about the importance of trade routes. Again and again, we see that the spread of card games and decks follows important trade routes, routes where a very high number of people were going back and forth continuously between different regions. In Italy, we see the Florentine tarot deck spread south to Rome and thence to Sicily; northwest to Lucca and thence to Genoa and the rest of Liguria; and northeast to Bologna. Meanwhile, the Type B game spread from Ferrara to Venice. In each case, it was following a trade route. In Milan, we have the Marziano deck in the early 15th century, the earliest known example in Italy of the highly non-standard, extremely expensive luxury decks otherwise known only from Germanic regions in that era. Specifically, they were characteristic of a region around the upper part of the Rhine river: Basel and Constance in Switzerland, southwestern Germany, and the upper Rhineland. Andy Pollett observed that one of these decks was produced in Flanders, and he created a map joining those two regions, with pink shading to indicate the area where these luxury decks were most likely found:
It can be seen that this area essentially follows the route of the Rhine river, one of the most important conduits for trade in medieval and early modern Europe. But in addition to that route leading north from the region around the upper Rhine, there was another very important trade route going south from there—the route over the Alps to Milan. This trade route likewise saw an enormous amount of traffic, and was the very foundation of Milan’s wealth, size, and power. You could even say this trade route was Milan’s raison d’être, the reason why Milan existed as a city. So it is not at all surprising that it is in Milan that the Marziano deck appeared, and to explain this, we do not need to speculate on what playing cards Filippo Maria Visconti and the Milianese delegation may have seen at the Council of Constance—his court would have been in regular contact with people who were familiar with these Germanic decks, and with merchants more than willing to try to sell them to him.

For this reason, Savoy is the most obvious, most natural route for tarot to have initially taken into France. We can assume that tarot reached Piedmont sometime in the mid-16th century. It would presumably have passed rapidly from there to the other (francophone) half of the Duchy of Savoy, even if it was not brought directly to the latter by the Bolognese merchants who, I believe, must have brought it to Piedmont. Then, with little to no language barrier between francophone Savoy and the neighboring regions of France, including the major cardmaking center of Lyon (just a few days’ ride from Chambéry), it would be extremely surprising if tarot did not pass from the one to the other within a few decades, even without considering the large amount of traffic passing between the two along that trade route from Italy. Therefore, I think we should assume, unless proven otherwise, that tarot would have entered France by this route, even if it also came in by other routes as well.

The most natural other route for tarot to have taken from Italy to France is a route via Switzerland. As noted above, there was a major trade route that led north from Milan through Switzerland to Basel and the regions beyond. Such a route could have taken tarot quite rapidly not just to Switzerland, but also to regions such as Burgundy and Lorraine, which lie to the north of Basel—this could explain the early references to the game among the aristocrats of Burgundy and Lorraine (see Depaulis, “ ‘Trionfi alla franciosa finiti e non finiti’ – Le tarot en France avant 1500,” The Playing-Card 44, no. 3 (2012), p. 176-7, Dummett, Il Mondo e l’Angelo, p. 158, also translated by Mike here: viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1019&p=15164&, and Depaulis, “Des “cartes communément appelées taraux” 1ère Partie,” The Playing-Card 32, no. 5 (2004), pp. 244-6).

It is also highly likely that tarot would have spread into Switzerland from Lombardy and Piedmont in a more gradual way, by people simply adopting the games played by their neighbors. Dummett provided us with evidence that this did indeed occur: On pages 403-406 of Game of Tarot, he discussed the tarot games played in the Swiss canton of Valais/Wallis, in both its French-speaking and German-speaking parts. These games shared some features with Bolognese tarot, including a 62-card deck; Dummett observed that the game therefore probably entered Valais from Piedmont, where games using a 62-card deck were also known. He noted that a quite different tarot game was played in the adjacent canton of Grisons/Graubünden, where the tarot game had Milanese characteristics, not Bolognese. On p. 223 he noted that these games in Valais and Grisons appeared to represent a “purely Swiss tradition ... wholly unaffected by French influence”. This strongly suggests that tarot spread at an early stage from Piedmont (in an essentially Bolognese form) and Lombardy (in an essentially Milanese form) to Valais and Grisons respectively, probably by about 1500, so that they were already well-established there when French tarot games began to spread east into the rest of Switzerland later (sometime in the 16th century).

In other words, tarot could have entered France at an early stage not just via Savoy but also via Switzerland, and it does indeed seem that it did so in a Bolognese-derived form on at least one occasion, as will be seen below. However, we are now faced with a slight problem: Even if we can identify features of tarot in France that indicate Bolognese or Milanese influence, it will be difficult to ascertain the route by which that influence arrived in France. Bolognese influences may have come from Piedmont and Savoy, or via Valais; Milanese influences may have come via the trade route to Basel and beyond, or via the people of Grisons, or (as Dummett famously hypothesized in Game of Tarot) directly from Milan as a result of the French occupations of that city in the first half of the 16th century. Consequently, in most cases, it seems impossible to determine which route a particular Bolognese-derived feature took on its way in France, but I do nevertheless venture a few suggestions below.

Now, on to the central topic of this post. The evidence of Bolognese influences on French tarot can be found in the rules of French tarot games, and in the designs of French and Belgian tarot cards.

Game rules:

As far as the game rules are concerned, the evidence of Bolognese influence on French tarot is partly direct, and partly indirect. Direct evidence is the presence of rules in French tarot that were distinctively Bolognese. Indirect evidence is the presence of a rule indicating the importation of a tarot game from a region where tarot seems to have been based primarily on the Bolognese game, i.e., from Piedmont/Savoy or Valais. Even if the rule itself is not distinctively Bolognese, the fact that it appears to have come from one of those regions means it would have been part of a Bolognese-based game.

Direct evidence:

- The second-oldest surviving description of French tarot games, in La Maison académique (Paris: Loyson, 1659), contains a rule that not all the cards are dealt out and there is no discard (“Premierement on donne à chacun de la compagnie cinq cartes, & l'on ne retourne point les cartes”). Dummett in The Game of Tarot, p. 419, noted that this feature was also found in the Piedmontese games of Sedici and Trentuno, which appeared to be rare survivals of ancient Piedmontese games, uninfluenced by the French tarot games imported into Piedmont the 18th century. On p. 420, he said this feature was otherwise found only in “some of the minor Bolognese games”, by which he meant Terziglio, Centino/Centini, Cinquina, Centocinquanta, Mattazza/Mattaccia, Quarantacinque, Settanta, and Lecchini (see the Bolognese chapters in Game of Tarot and A History of Games Played, vol. 1).
So this looks like a distinctively Bolognese feature that passed to Piedmont and from there to France. In Game of Tarot, p. 216, Dummett observed that the “French” tarot games described in the Maison académique appear to come from a different lineage to those which later came to characterize French tarot, and that the latter were similar to a game described in the Maison académique as the “Swiss” tarot game. Dummett concludes that there were probably “two distinct traditions of play” in France, one of which was primarily found in the east and southeast and the French-speaking parts of Switzerland, while northern France (including Paris and Normandy) played the other kind of game, which died out there and left no trace in France (but probably continued in Belgium). I think this is likely, but I think the two French traditions must have been linked and not entirely “distinct”; I suspect the northern tradition was once played in most parts of the east as well (if only because it is hard to image how tarot could have reached Paris unless it was first played somewhere to the east or southeast) but tarot in eastern France simply came to be overwhelmingly dominated by the Milanese tradition, leaving only very few traces of the earlier games.

- In the oldest surviving rules for French tarot, from the Abbé de Marolles in 1637, players score points for having certain sequences of cards, which are called brizigoles. Some of the expressions used in 1637 also appear in sources from the 1580s, so the basic features of the 1637 game are probably much older (see p. 7 in Thierry Depaulis, “Étienne Tabourot et le tarot,” Le Vieux Papier 37 no. 379 (2006), accessed via ... _p_386_392). Piscina refers to similar sequences by the virtually identical name of brezigole, which strongly suggests that the French practice was derived directly from Piedmont/Savoy. Such sequences are a key part of Bolognese tarot. They do not appear to have been used in Milan or the Milanese-style games of Graubünden in Switzerland, but a similar concept did appear in Minchiate under the name verzicole or versicole (also virzicoli in the Sicilian variant of the game, Gallerini) and also in the anonymous Discorso of 1565 (see Ross S. Caldwell, Thierry Depaulis, and Marco Ponzi, Con gli occhi et con l'intelletto: Explaining the Tarot in Sixteenth Century Italy) under the name bergigole. Clearly, this concept was not confined in Italy to Bologna, but it is nevertheless possible that it originated there: Minchiate seems to have adopted the term papi from Bolognese tarot to describe one of these sequences (namely the sequence of the lowest five trumps), so it is possible that it also adopted the entire concept of verzicole from Bologna as well; it is not otherwise known from any other Type A game (in Sicilian games, for example, it is only known from games played with the Gallerini deck, not those played with the tarot deck). As for the anonymous Discorso, the tarot game in the region where it was written was a Type B game which therefore almost certainly had its origins in Ferrara, but which probably diverged from the Ferrarese game at an early stage (before Ferrara reversed the ranking of the Love/Chariot pair in the trump order). Ferrara and Bologna had close ties to one another, and there is evidence of numerous links between Ferrarese tarot and Bolognese tarot—Lollio and Imperiali’s game was played with 62 cards, for example—so it’s possible that these sequences were an early import from Bologna into the Ferrarese game, which were then preserved in the game played by the Discorso author. The surviving Bolognese sources don't use a term like brezigole or verzicole or bergigole for these sequences, but the name used for them in Bologna has evidently changed over time: In recent years they have been called cricche and sequenze, whereas the Pedini manuscript from the 17th century mainly uses the term pariglie (see History of Games Played vol. 1, p. 269). So it’s entirely possible that they were called something like berzigole in Bologna in the 16th century and earlier.

- In addition to the brezigole, other features in the Abbé de Marolles description of 1637 were also found in games in Savoy/Piedmont: the declarations at start of play, and the bonus for winning the last trick with the Bagat, known as “Bagat ultimo.” The latter is not known from the Bolognese rules that survive to us, but the earliest of these are from the 17th century; the rule is found, however, in the anonymous Discorso of 1565 (expressed as “far [il Bagatello] all’ultimo”) whose author’s game, as explained above, may have preserved elements of early Bolognese tarot that later disappeared in Bologna itself. As Dummett and McLeod observed in A History of Games Played, vol. 1 (p. 33), this rule is otherwise unknown in Italy.

- (not strictly direct but almost:) The rule that started this whole discussion, namely the use of the Fool to substitute for a missing card to form a sequence of cards at the end of the game. Piscina says the Fool can be substituted for a missing court card, and the earliest German tarot games had a similar rule, which would have been derived from a French game. The only other locale that is certainly known to have had a rule like this is Bologna.
(It is possible that this was also a feature of the Ferrarese tarot played by Lollio and Imperiali, because Lollio suggests that losing the Fool card is disastrous: see A History of Games Played, vol. 1, p. 256. But as noted above, tarot practices in Ferrara and Bologna were linked, so it’s likely that if this rule existed in Ferrara, it was imported from Bologna.)

Indirect evidence:

- In addition to brizigoles/brezigole, other terms used by the Abbé de Marolles in 1637 are also found in Savoy/Piedmont sources: the term Bagat for the Bagatella (known in Savoy as Baga and in Piedmont as Bagato, superseded in France later by the name Ba(s)teleur) and Mat for the Fool (superseded in France later by Fou). These are further evidence of the importation of games into France from Piedmont at an early stage.

- In a book called Paradoxes by Charles Estienne, published in Paris in 1553, the author says that the Fool is the highest card in the game of tarot and is called “nars which means fool in German” (“nars, qui signifie sot en Alemant”; see also Dummett, Il Mondo e l'Angelo, p. 379). “Nars” would have been pronounced “nar” with the last letter silent, as is usually the case in French. In the tarot games played Valais, the Fool was not only the highest trump but was also called dr Narr in the German-speaking part of that canton (see Dummett, Il Mondo e l’Angelo, p. 403), whereas the tarot game seems to have been unknown in any German-speaking areas outside Switzerland in Estienne’s time, as the first German translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua in 1575 deliberately removed tarot from the long list of games in that book. In German-speaking regions outside Switzerland, the tarot game arrived only later from France, in the form which seems to have been primarily Milanese in origin, whereas in Valais, as noted above, tarot was played with Bolognese features such as games using a 62-card deck, and high point scores for the two highest trumps (see Il Mondo e l’Angelo, pp. 403-6).
Later, in the Belgian tarot decks, we find the Fool numbered XXII, indicating that it was used as the highest trump, just as described by Estienne. This is quite strong evidence that the French had imported a tarot game that had its ultimate origins in the Swiss canton of Valais, and which eventually became so well established in northern France that Estienne could think of this rule as essential to tarot, and for it to become a permanent modification of the deck in Belgium.
The Fool being transformed from its “Excuse” role into the highest trump in Valais must surely be related to a similar practice in some Piedmontese games, in which it was added to the other end of the trump sequence, as the lowest trump: This was a characteristic of the ancient Piedmontese games of Sedici and Trentuno mentioned above, and is another indication that the tarot game came to Valais via Piedmont. So Estienne’s game seems to have belonged to the Bolognese tarot tradition (via Piedmont and Valais), in contrast to the other French games that belonged primarily to the Milanese tradition.


There are several cards in various French and Belgian decks that display features suggesting a Bolognese origin. However, there are also some cards, especially in the Catelin Geoffroy and anonymous Parisian tarot decks, which look like they were influenced by a deck from southern Italy (the indices on the suit cards of those decks, for example, are similar to those on Roman and Sicilian cards). The southern Italian decks and the Bolognese decks were all part of the same Type A family, almost certainly all sharing a common ancestor in some ancient Florentine deck, so even if we can say that a particular French card’s design looks like it was not derived from Milanese designs, it can nevertheless be difficult to attribute it confidently to Bologna rather than some southern Italian lineage, of which we know little due to the paucity of surviving cards from that region. For example, the black-and-white patterned borders of the De Hautot, Belgian, and anonymous Parisian decks are obviously derived from Italian cards where the backing paper was folded over onto the front, and they surely can’t have come from Milan, as the surviving Milanese cards from the 16th century do not have those folded-over borders; but those borders were used not only in Bologna at that time, but all throughout central and southern Italy as well. However, a more reliable attribution to Bologna can still be made in cases where the similarity to the Bolognese cards is particularly striking, or where the design in question is unlikely to have existed in southern Italy.


- Few of the French trump cards display an unequivocal connection to Bologna. The Moon and Star cards of the Viéville, De Hautot, and Belgian decks certainly share prominent features with the Bolognese Sun and Moon cards respectively, but they also look like Florentine Sun and Moon cards. The French/Belgian Moon card is closer to the early Bolognese Sun cards than it is to, say, the Charles VI Sun card from Florence, but the Star card is closer to the Minchiate Moon than to the early Bolognese Moon. It’s possible that these French cards reflect an early variant type of the Bolognese deck, now lost to us, but we can’t be sure.

- The World card is a similar case: The De Hautot and Belgian cards could be distantly derived from an early version of the Bolognese card, as the “orb” of the world, divided into three sections on the De Hautot and Belgian cards, is reminiscent of the quartered sphere on which the figure is standing on the Beaux-Arts sheet. But the figure atop it on the De Hautot and Belgian card arguably has more in common with the figure on the Minchiate World.

- The Devil of the Viéville, De Hautot, and Belgian decks looks quite different from the Devils of the Tarot de Marseille decks, and the Viéville version in particular has several features in common with the early Bolognese Devil on the Rothschild sheet (similar head, wings, feet, stance, face on torso, and no trident), but the differences are substantial too, so a clear link to Bologna can’t be established.

- The Chariot is a similar case: The De Hautot, Belgian, and anonymous Parisian Chariots all look like they are probably descended from the same card, and that card might have been a very early version of the Bolognese Chariot seen on the Rothschild sheet, but there are too many differences to be able to be sure.

- The French trump cards that display the strongest links to Bologna are two cards in the anonymous Parisian tarot. One is the Hanged Man. One of the most distinctive differences between the Hanged Man of the Milanese design tradition and the Hanged Man of Type A regions is that the figure is always shown with his arms behind his back in the former, and always with his hands visible and usually up near his head in the Type A decks (with the sole exceptions of the Sicilian card, which is very unusual, and the later Bolognese design from the Alle Torre deck onward, which appears to derive from an exact copy of the card in the Orlando deck from nearby Ferrara). The Hanged Man in the anonymous Parisian deck not only has his hands visible and one of them raised toward his head, but the foot by which he is bound to the crossbar is strikingly similar to that of the Hanged Man on the Beaux-Arts sheet:
This foot—positioned so that it points straight out toward the viewer, and bound with two ribbons/ropes coming off to the sides—is found on no other Hanged Man cards except the Orlando deck's Hanged Man from Ferrara, whose lower half probably likewise derives from an early Bolognese card (like the Orlando Sun and Star, which also look like they are descended from a Type A deck).
(The upper half of the Orlando Hanged Man, on the other hand, betrays a Milanese influence, with the figure’s hands behind his back and little wisps of fabric coming down from the shoulders, just like the PMB card.)

- The other card in the anonymous Parisian tarot that looks strikingly like its early Bolognese counterpart is the Angel:
The single most distinctive feature of these very similar cards is that not only is the full figure of the angel shown, but one of its legs is visible, not cloaked by its robe. This feature is unique to these two cards.

- The strongest connections between French and Belgian cards and Bolognese decks are actually found in the suit cards, not the trumps. This is not surprising, because it is generally true of historical tarot decks that the designs of the suit cards, and especially the numeral cards, tend to change much less than the designs of the trumps, from one century to another and from one place to another—the Milanese cards are a prime example of this, with virtually identical batons and swords found in nearly all the standard printed decks in the Milanese tradition, from the earliest cards found in the Castello Sforzesco, to the Cary sheet, to the Viéville and Noblet decks, and finally to the Tarot de Marseille. So it’s not surprising that the coins, swords, and batons of the Belgian decks all look like they faithfully preserve the designs of Bolognese cards from more than two centuries before. The coins are have the same sort of floral design visible on the Beaux-Arts fragment, but this kind of floral design was extremely widespread in Italian cards—it is also present in the Milanese tradition, for example—so it cannot be taken as an indicator of Bolognese origin. The Belgian swords and batons, however, are more distinctively Bolognese.

The swords are a type found not only in Bolognese decks, but also in the Orlando cards from nearby Ferrara (which, as noted already, were probably descended from a deck that originally came from Bologna) and other decks that seem to be closely related to Ferrarese cards, such as the Venetian pattern (also known as Trevisane), the Trappola pattern, and the pattern used today in Trento, Brescia, and Bergamo. They are found in the De Hautot deck as well as the Belgian decks:
From left: De Hautot 7 and 10 (reproduction from Tarot Sheet Revival), Alla Torre 10, Orlando 7

The Belgian batons are even more uniquely Bolognese: They share features with the batons of the Bolognese Primiera deck, which are found in no other place. They are admittedly different from the batons in the earliest surviving Bolognese tarot decks, but the earliest of those decks (the Alla Torre) is from the 17th century, so it is likely that at least some Bolognese tarot decks in earlier centuries had batons more like those of the Primiera decks. The Belgian cards—which were normally labeled “cartes de suisse”—also show another connection to Switzerland here: Not only did they have the Fool marked as the highest trump, as in the tarot of Swiss Valais, but their batons were also very similar to the batons in some Swiss tarot decks. These Swiss batons essentially look identical to the Belgian ones, except that the rings that bind the even-numbered batons together was removed, with all the batons being made to look the same as the central one on the odd-numbered cards.
From left: Belgian (Vandenborre, 18th c.), modern Bolognese Primiera, Swiss tarot (Besançon pattern, 18th c.), Alla Torre

- Last but not least, the court cards. In his article “Étienne Tabourot et le tarot” (see above, pages 3 to 5), Thierry Depaulis presented us with one of his most fascinating discoveries, an engraving from the 1585 Parisian edition of Tabourot’s Les Bigarrures du Seigneur des Accords illustrating “un Roy de deniers, tel qu’on les peint aux cartes de Taraut” (“a King of coins, the way they are painted on Tarot cards”).
One might think that this image was taken from an Italian deck, and from a Bolognese deck at that, because the accompanying text is a translation from an Italian work by Paulo Giovio which makes explicit reference to Bologna, and the text around the image itself is in Italian too, but Depaulis argued that the illustration was a French creation, because it does not appear in any other known edition of the work, whether in French or in Italian. Depaulis concluded that it must be therefore be based on a French tarot card used in 1585. Depaulis also attempted a reconstruction of what he thought the original card might have looked like, but I think he erred in this: He seems to have tried to make it as much as possible like the known French cards from the 17th century, but the illustration itself suggests something very different. The king is seated on a throne with a bizarrely high rectangular back, near the top of which can be seen a coin. I think this “back” was the card itself. This looks especially likely when we compare the Tabourot image with the king of coins from the Bolognese Alla Torre deck and one from a deck likely to be of Ferrarese origin (the latter is included because the Alla Torre card alone can’t be considered a perfect guide to the Bolognese cards of earlier centuries, and Ferrarese cards were probably cousins of the Bolognese cards, as already noted above):
From left: Tabourot, Alla Torre, and an 18th c. deck of an early version of the “Trentine” pattern, made in Bologna but probably intended for use in the Duchy of Modena and probably also Ferrara, as it bears the arms of Mirandola on the 4 of Coins: this pattern was probably of Ferrarese origin, as it appears to be descended from the pattern used for the Orlando numeral cards

What we have here is a court card that appears to testify to a time when French tarot decks had court cards that looked very much like those from the region of Bologna—and which, just like the Bolognese-looking numeral cards of the swords and batons suits, were later replaced by very different designs from the Milanese tradition.


If viewed in isolation, many of the points above might seem debatable and, if taken in isolation, wouldn’t be compelling evidence of Bolognese influence on French tarot. But when you look at them all together, I think they do constitute “substantial evidence” of the influence of the Bolognese tarot tradition in France.

Please note, however, that I am not arguing that the Bolognese game or deck necessarily influenced France directly, in any purely Bolognese form. It came via the Duchy of Savoy and, it seems, via the Swiss canton of Valais, and was therefore most likely affected by changes made in those areas before its arrival in France—changes which probably included not only homegrown alterations made by the Piedmontese/Savoyards and the Swiss, but in all likelihood also some influence from Lombardy, absorbed into Piedmontese tarot even before it entered France. When combined with the Milanese influence which was certainly applied in France at a later stage, this makes it extremely difficult to know exactly to what degree French tarot was ever “Bolognese.” But it nevertheless seems to me indisputable that it was certainly Bolognese to some degree, in the early stages of its development.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

That was a great use of the literature, Nathaniel, including stuff I'd never heard of. Very interesting and useful for all sorts of purposes.

About Piedmont, the main issue, it seems to me, is whether those points in common between the Bolognese game and that of Piedmont as described by Piscina, is due to Bologna or due to Bologna's game being the best representative of how the game was played everywhere in the early period, by which I mean before the late 15th or early 16th century.

I see nothing in your presentation addressing this issue. You don't even talk about trade in the 15th century. As far as it's being Bolognese merchants who spread the game, without further evidence it could just as well have been Milanese merchants. Or did Milan not have merchants trading with Savoy and Piedmont? That would seem a strange omission on their part, given the close ties between the court of Milan and that of Chambery all through the 15th century and before, due to the Visconti and Sforza rulers' habit of marrying Savoy princesses named Blanche or Marie. While the trade routes did not pass through Milan directly, they did go through Pavia and other places very near Milan, much nearer to Milan than to Bologna. ... detail.png
Chambery is on the smaller (on the map) route to Lyon, about two-thirds the way. To Lyon itself, there is also the sea route via Marseille.

As far as the look of the cards, as you say, Bologna influenced Ferrara and perhaps vice versa. I think it is Huck who pointed out the close ties between Ferrara and Henry III of France, who would have been a main promoter of Tarot in France. There was also Henry II, whose wife was Catherine de' Medici, and Henry IV, whose wife was Marie de' Medici. The cards you point to are all of after their time. As far as Milanese designs, the problem is that all the examples we have of popular manufacture could also have been French-influenced (although I personally favor the influence going mainly the other way). There were, after all, several wars, and soldiers as well as merchants can spread card games, any which way. At any rate, there are numerous cards that share features with the PMB: the Ace of Swords. with its Visconti crown with palm fronds, the Emperor and Empress with their shields. Some of them influenced Ferrara, too, which also was, via Modena, an Imperial fief, or vice versa. So not much can be deduced about Bologna from French cards.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

mikeh wrote: 08 Jun 2021, 01:58 About Piedmont, the main issue, it seems to me, is whether those points in common between the Bolognese game and that of Piedmont as described by Piscina, is due to Bologna or due to Bologna's game being the best representative of how the game was played everywhere in the early period, by which I mean before the late 15th or early 16th century.

I see nothing in your presentation addressing this issue.
Well, I did point out instances where features that appear in French tarot appear nowhere else except in Bologna.

The evidence available to us for the early centuries is limited, so we are always going to have to engage in speculation to some extent. But I do think we need to make sure our speculations are guided as much as possible by the evidence that is available. And we need to look at the big picture, and consider all the evidence we can find, and think about what it all means as a whole. We need to develop various different hypotheses and decide which one fits all of that evidence best—which one gives us the least difficulty when we try to reconcile it with what we see.

If I see numerous signs all pointing from France to Bologna via Piedmont and Valais—in the rules of French tarot games, in the designs of French tarot cards, in the rules of the games of Piedmont and Valais—then the hypothesis which fits that evidence best is one of Bolognese influence on French tarot, via Piedmont and Valais. We have evidence of French game rules existing in Bologna; the evidence suggests those rules did not exist in Milan, or Florence, or Sicily. We have evidence of French card designs existing in Bologna; there is no indication they were ever used anywhere in Italy outside that city, with the exception of the swords suit designs, which appeared in Ferrara and related regions. But there are very few features shared between Ferrarese tarot and French tarot, so the few that do exist are best explained as having come to both those locales from Bologna, rather than via a direct link between the two.

I have simply not seen a hypothesis that fits the evidence better than the one presented above. Anything else veers too far off into the realm of unfounded speculation (a temptation we need to constantly guard ourselves against).

Re: Evidence of the Bolognese tradition in French tarot

Nathaniel wrote: 05 Jun 2021, 11:16 First, in response to Huck’s post dismissing the significance of the rare mentions of tarot in France before 1574: We need to bear in mind that the surviving historical evidence of playing cards and card games increases exponentially over time. For instance, we can reconstruct the history of cards and card games in the 19th century in great detail, because of the enormous number of cards and rule books that survive from that time.
That "exponentially over time" is wrong, as far the state of playing card research in 15th/16th century is considered. For the period 1440-1465 we have in 26 years about 210 notes with "trionfi or similar in the context of playing cards", which means about 8 for each year ....
.... and when we look at the period 1501-1530, then we possibly have 30 or little more with tarochi-tarocchi-taraux-germini-sminchiate-trionfi, which mean 1 or little more for each year.

Your "exponentially over time" looks then simply "not correctly observed". Naturally the existence of playing card research notes doesn't mirror the real distribution of playing cards, but some notes in the research process are naturally more than no notes.

Probably it's correct to assume an increasing playing card production in Western Europe in early 16th century. But that doesn't mean, that there are more of the tarochi-tarocchi-taraux-germini-sminchiate-trionfi type as before ...
Definitely it seems, that French playing card production had a peak at the end of 15th century and similar also German playing card production might have doing well in the time of Maximilian after a deep crisis in the 1450s caused by the visit of the Franciscan preacher Capistranus. Background of this luck with playing cards might be the condition, that Burgundy was slaughtered after the catastrophe of 1477 and the following death of the Burgundy heiress. One part of Burgundian territory went to Habsburg, another to France. France had a bad time in the first half of 15th century, in Germany the new Habsburg king and emperor Frederick III didn't win much enthusiam. Things turned better for both with the acquisition of Burgundy territory, and such successful operations cause the production of playing cards. Italy in contrast suffered at the begin of 16th century and such conditions are not good for playing card productions. So there's no reason for "exponentially over time"

This were the many regions, which belonged to the earlier Burgundy ..

In the upper part is the city of Tournai, which is known for an intensive playing card production ....

This location had very much playing card production.

In the Esch report are noted 107 Trionfi documents ...
viewtopic.php?f=11&t=967&p=14138&sid=ea ... c58#p14080
... which are more that the half of the c 210 documents in the period 1440-1465.

Inside the report there are 4 Flemish merchants, which had imported Trionfi cards to Rome. It's not clear, if these Trionfi cards were items which the merchants had bought in Italy or elsewhere outside of the Flemish countries or if they were imported from Flemish countries.
One of the merchants had the name Tornieri, which sounds like an Italian version for "from Tournai".

For the Roman custom officers we don't know, what kind of cards they called "Trionfi" or similar. They didn't use for instance the word "Minchiate". It might be, that Florentine Minchiate decks were called Trionfi decks. If indeed Flemish Trionfi decks were imported, we don't know, what sort of deck was called Trionfi. It's for instance possible, that Flemish hunting decks did fall in this category.

full view:

The upper line tells, which merchants came from Flemish countries.

Re: Evidence of the Bolognese tradition in French tarot

Huck wrote: 09 Jun 2021, 13:55
Your "exponentially over time" looks then simply "not correctly observed".
This is a valid point. But there is more to it than that: There are things that are easy to observe, and things that are much harder to observe. If you don't have someone like Esch or Franco Pratesi doing a huge amount of work to find every little note, then you find far fewer references in the early periods, because they are much harder to find in those periods.

In this sense, I think my observation was correct: The amount of information available, and consequently the ease of finding it, increases exponentially over time. Yes, it is still sometimes possible to find a lot of information for some early periods, if you do enough work. But it is a lot harder than it is in the later centuries, and if you don't do that work, then you find a lot less.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

Nathaniel wrote,
Well, I did point out instances where features that appear in French tarot appear nowhere else except in Bologna.

I didn't deny that. There are also features in French tarot that borrow from other places.
I have simply not seen a hypothesis that fits the evidence better than the one presented above. Anything else veers too far off into the realm of unfounded speculation (a temptation we need to constantly guard ourselves against).
It seems to me that making inferences about 15th century Piedmont from evidence of 17th century or even mid-16th century northern France is highly speculative and not worth much. The "equal papi" rule is likely to have been in Piedmont from the beginning of the game there, whenever that was, and the likelihood is fairly high that it would have been there by the late 15th century if not earlier. There is also the evidence that Milan and Pavia are closer to Piedmont than Bologna is. Also, we have to consider what types of goods went over these passes. My impression is that it was mainly luxury goods, like silks and spices, maybe jewelry, and accompanied by armed escort. But I have only read a few sources, like Hoffmann. A long-haul merchant going to France is not likely going to load himself up with cheap goods to unload in Piedmont when he's paying for protection and also has nothing to replace the goods he's sold in Piedmont going into France. Cheap goods went primarily by sea, if there was a choice, because it didn't matter so much if pirates grabbed them.

But I really don't know and am ready to be corrected, certainly. In the meantime I will hypothesize away, as you will, and look for evidence accordingly. It would be especially relevant to know how the Flemish playing cards that the Esches talk about got to Rome,Those are of the right period. Perhaps they have something. Also how much the traffic in cards went from Italy northwest and vice versa. I myself am quite ready to believe that triumphs were in France and Flanders in the late 15th century. But that hypothesis is related to the far-flung ladies of Savoy, the look of certain cards, like the Guildhall and the Victoria & Albert, in relation to Milan and its cards, Louis XI, and the exchange of artists between Flanders and northern Italy (e.g. Bosch, with his tarocchi-like themes, whose work somehow ended up in the Doges' Palace in Venice). These are discussed in other threads, a while back. None of this goes from Bolognese merchants via Piedmont.

Re: Usus te plura docebit and Piscina

mikeh wrote: 10 Jun 2021, 13:05 Also, we have to consider what types of goods went over these passes. My impression is that it was mainly luxury goods, like silks and spices, maybe jewelry, and accompanied by armed escort. But I have only read a few sources, like Hoffmann. A long-haul merchant going to France is not likely going to load himself up with cheap goods to unload in Piedmont when he's paying for protection and also has nothing to replace the goods he's sold in Piedmont going into France. Cheap goods went primarily by sea, if there was a choice, because it didn't matter so much if pirates grabbed them.
I never suggested that the Bolognese merchants brought tarot to Piedmont because they were carrying stocks of cards that they were trying to sell there. What I was implying was simply that the Bolognese merchants brought tarot with them for their own amusement. I suppose I thought this would be understood without me saying it explicitly: Playing cards were one of the most popular amusements of the age, and also one of the most portable amusements. The Bolognese merchants would have been playing tarot themselves in the inns where they stayed along the route. It is this, I believe, that resulted in their Piedmontese hosts adopting the game—it must have fascinated some of them, if they'd never seen it before.

This is also where the language barrier becomes important: It is more likely for the game to have passed to the Piedmontese in this way than to the francophone Savoyards or to the French, because I imagine it would have been much easier for the Bolognese merchants to explain the rules to the Piedmontese than to the others. So it probably took a little longer for the game to get to the francophone parts of Savoy and thence to France.

The selling of Bolognese tarot decks by those merchants would only have happened after their Piedmontese friends got interested in the game—in other words, once the merchants had (inadvertently) created the demand, I'm sure they would have been happy to provide the supply to match it, in relatively small volumes at least. Decks of cards are small and light and would have been easy to bring, provided there weren't too many of them. Local cardmakers in Piedmont would then have provided larger volumes as local demand grew.

Also, it's important to bear in mind that decks of cards were a very widely traded commodity at the time, and many of them would not have been going by sea. We have plenty of evidence of cards being exported from the cardmakers of southern Germany into Italy from a very early date, for example: Those cards would have been going overland. Sure, a lot of those German cards would have been of the fancier and therefore more expensive kind (which is why they were being imported all the way from Germany) but still for the most part not on the level of silks or jewelry. So I really don't find it hard to imagine the Bolognese bringing a significant number of cards to Piedmont in the early years. But I'm sure local production would have taken over before long.