Il Segreto dei Segreti: I Tarocchi Sola Busca

This excellent book is the catalog of the current exhibition at the Brera Museum in Milan.
It includes two articles: the first and longer one by Laura Paola Gnaccolini, covering many different aspects of the Sola Busca Tarot deck; the second one, by Andrea De Marchi, presenting the identification of the author of the deck with Nicola di maestro Antonio from Ancona.

1. The Secret of Secrets. Sola Busca Tarot and the hermetic-alchemical culture between Marche and Veneto at the end of Quattrocento

Gnaccolini links the theme of the trumps to he Illustrious Men cycles, common in Renaissance Italy. She identifies most of the trump subjects with characters of Roman history (as already independently done by many authors, such as Mark Zucker, in the Illustrated Bartsch, or, on the web, by Tea Prentice and Michael J. Hurst). Gnaccolini does not propose any hypotheses for the most mysterious trumps (e.g. Panfilio, Lenpio, Ipeo), but she points out an extremely important detail, that was suggested to her by Milena Raimondi: the portrait of Catulo is derived from Orosius who, in the VI book of his histories, reports that consul C. Lutatius Catulus could not take part to a naval battle near Sicily because he had been badly wounded at a tight (“transfixo femore aegerrime”). Gnaccolini considers this as the proof that the deck was designed by someone who had a deep knowledge of classical sources.

About the court cards, Gnaccolini identifies Filipo with emperor Philip the Arab (she does not mention the more common identification with the father of Alexander the Great). This identification is based on the “Pax” motto (an interpretation that has also been proposed on Tarotpedia back in 2006). The other court cards are identified more or less in accordance with Zucker. Levio Plauto and Lucio Cecilio remain unexplained. Gnaccolini mentions the Alexander Romance by the pseudo Callisthenes as an important source for the trumps.

The pip cards are partially interpreted on the basis of an alchemical symbolism (a similar interpretation has been proposed by Sofia di Vincenzo in her 1998 book, and some related considerations have been discussed by MikeH here on THF a couple of years ago). The analysis is mostly limited to the suit of coins. The title of the Brera exhibition and Gnaccolini's paper hints to a possible link between the court cards and the pips: “Secretum Secretorum” is a text that had been longly attributed to Aristotle. It is a letter addressed to Alexander the Great in which Aristotle instructs his pupil in many esoteric sciences, including alchemy. Anyway, no clear overall interpretation of the deck as a whole is provided, and the alchemical track does not seem to lead to any deep clarification.

Ludovico Lazzarelli is suggested as the designer of the deck. The main reasons for this hypothesis are that Lazzarelli was born in the Marche (as Nicola di Maestro Antonio) and had an interest in alchemy (possibly originating after he met Giovanni da Correggio in 1481).

The final pages of Gnaccolini's paper discuss the coats of arms painted on the deck. The red and white coat of arms appearing for example on Bocho's shield is identified with that of the Venier Venetian family (see also this post). What is absolutely new is the identification of the coat of arms on the Aces of Coins and Cups with that of the Sanudo family (silver with a blue ribbon). The cards are damaged, but the coat of arms clearly is silver and it had a ribbon, whose color is now unidentifiable. On the Ace of Coins, the coat of arms is surrounded by the initials M.S., that Gnaccolini suggests could be those of Marin Sanudo: a Venetian statesman and historian who might well have appreciated this Tarot deck.

2. Nicola di maestro Antonio from Ancona: a painter and engraver between drollery (vis comica) and esoteric inventions

Andrea de Marchi firstly established a connection between the Master of the Sola Busca Tarocchi and Nicola di Maestro Antonio in a paper published in 1998. The author presents a number of visual parallels between engravings by the Master and painting by Nicola. The most impressive similarities are in the expressions of some faces (see for example the attached Sabino / Saint Lucy and S. Sebastian / Madonna) and some weird postures of the hands. De Marchi writes that “in the 1480s, the painter from Ancona came into contact with the art of Carlo Crivelli, who since a few years was active among Ascoli Piceno and Fermo, and began something like a competition with him. He painted disjointed, retractile hands as an even more stylized, tense and spasmodic version of Crivelli's obsessive anatomies and arthritic, bony, exceedingly slender hands”. See also this painting in Avignon. Some interesting hands in the Sola-Busca deck: Levio Plauto, Catulo, Catone.
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About the catalogue "Il segreto dei segreti.Tarocchi Sola-Bu

I read on this Forum the review about the exhibition of the Tarot Sola-Busca in Milan: it is an excellent summary.

With regard to the text of the catalogue, the thing that left me astonished is that the considerations expressed by the curator, dott.ssa Gnaccolini, does not quote the text by Sofia Di Vincenzo "Alchemy in the sola-Busca Tarot" (Lo Scarabeo, Torino 1995). Yet clearly the text of Laura Paola Gnaccolini is inspired by that of Di Vincenzo 's.

I would therefore to remind here, between Tarot lovers and experts, that Di Vincenzo was the first scholar to indicate in Alchemy the interpretative key to Sola-Busca Tarot.

Di Vincenzo's book doesn't have a proper cut "scientific", in the sense that its alchemical musings are not accompanied by accurate quotation of sources. However, I also have to admit that it was mine the decision to edit the work in this way because; in my opinion, this choice would have weighted reading.

However, the insights of the aging researcher would have deserved greater respect in Brera catalogue... all the more so by those insights is the analysis of Gnaccolini.
But I'll have to give more detailed explanations on this issue in a next article.