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|~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
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the deck by
the Italy 2
a special credit to Thierry Depaulis for having revised the historical aspects of this text
The cards used in this gallery to illustrate the traditional Minchiate pattern belong to two different decks.
One of them is illustrated with fine etchings, and watercoloured by hand. It was produced in Florence in 1725; a stamp, whose text reads CARTE DI ETRURIA ("Etruria Cards"), is featured on trump number XXX, whence the name Minchiate Etruria now used for this edition. Five copies are still known to exist, but only one of them is complete. Thanks to the watercolours, which also appear slightly faint due to the ageing, the underlying etchings remain fully visible. The modern reprint is by Il Meneghello (Italy)
The other Minchiate deck is slightly less refined, with woodblock prints coloured by means of stencils, printed in the late 18th century. Being a more commercial edition, a cartouche on the 4 of Coins features the text CARTE FINE ALL LEONE ("fine cards by Leone"), likely the manufacturer's trademark, so that the conventional name of the deck is now Minchiate al Leone. The 3 of Cups says CARTE FINE IN BOLOGNA, which reveals the maker's location.
The captions in this gallery refer to the two editions as E and L, respectively.
With its 41 trumps and 56 suit cards, for a total of 97 subjects, the ancient Minchiate, sometimes referred to as "Florentine Minchiate" due to their great popularity within the Tuscan region, were an extended variety of tarot cards, surely the deck with the largest number of subjects in the Western world.
Compared to modern playing cards, such a large deck is not really easy to handle nor to shuffle, due to its considerable thickness.
Few other decks throughout the world are (or were) made of a larger number of cards, although most of them have duplicated subjects, e.g. most Chinese money-suited decks. Only Indian Das‚vat‚ra Ganjifa decks contain a larger number of individual subjects.
E (left) and L - the Conjurer
ORIGIN OF THE DECK
E (left) and L - Death on horseback
The birth of the first Minchiate deck, whose early name was Germini, apparently dates back to the early 16th century, although this issue is still debated. In any case, sources reporting that the cards painted by artist Marziano da Tortona for the young duke Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447) represented the first Minchiate pack, should be considered incorrect, as such dating would surely be too early.
Since most subjects belonging to this peculiar deck are in common with the 22 well-known trumps, created about one century earlier, it is a logic consequence to consider the Minchiate as a direct descendant of the classic tarot.
E - 4 of Cups, with a monkey
staring at its own reflection
During the same 16th century, the popularity of these cards grew also among ordinary people; by that time, they were used for a trick-taking game simply known as Giuoco delle Minchiate ("Minchiate's Game"). According to Michael Dummett's Game of Tarot, there is enough evidence that both the game and the deck were not only known in Tuscany, but also in the very south of Italy, while north of Florence they had reached as far as France.
Still played in the 19th century, the game fell into oblivion during the early 1900's. The production of these cards rapidly subsided and by the 1930s-40s was completely discontinued. The cards are now produced only as reprints of old original decks, as collectors' items, but no longer for playing.
L - 3 of Swords, featuring
Rome's she-wolf at the bottom.
L - king of Batons
Despite the name Minchiate in dialect sounds more or less as "nonsense, stupid things" (probably referring to their only use as a pastime, a leisure activity with no purpose), some theories suggested that these cards may have been created as an educational aid, to teach young nobles the basic elements of classic knowledge. This concept relies on the observation that several trump subjects belong to specific categories (Virtues, Elements, Zodiac signs) upon which, in those times, classic knowledge was based.
No sources nor reliable elements provide enough evidence for supporting this theory, which has also been proposed for the 22 "standard" trumps belonging to early Italian tarots (see page 1).
L - 4 of Coins
THE TRUMPSThe long series basically follows the traditional ordering of Bologna, i.e. with the virtues grouped together in a low position, and a reversed ranking of the World and Judgement, plus seventeen extra subjects inserted in the central part of the list, grouped together in categories. Luckily, most subjects (especially the non-standard ones) are clearly marked by a roman numeral, which in the Tuscan version is written on a small ribbon, but their names are never mentioned, in either edition.
The full set of trumps is as follows (the additional ones are marked in pale green):
E (left) and L - the Cancer trump
the Wheel of Fortune
the Hanged Man
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
∑ ∑ ∑
E (left) and L - the Grand-duke
A few considerations can be made about this exceptionally long series.
The Popess and the Pope are missing, but only the former of the two was replaced by, or maybe simply renamed as the Grand-duke. In fact, despite any reference to religious symbols disappeared, the personage in trump no.II curiously wears long hair, suggesting a female origin. Subject no.V, instead, was simply dropped, causing the Lovers to slip back in rank by one position.
In the Minchiate Etruria edition the Empress is featured as a male character, who wears a beard; this is clearly a consequence of the change occurred in Bologna, by which all the subjects from no.II (the Popess) to V (the Pope), were turned into four Moors of equal rank, see also Regional Tarots, part 1.
In fact, the Empress and the Emperor of the Minchiate al Leone have rather tanned faces, compared to the aforesaid Grand-duke, as the Moors use to have in Bologna tarots during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The aforesaid change of the Popess (female) into the Grand-duke (male) follows the same principle.
Furthermore, all three personages hold an identical globe and sceptre, suggesting that also their rank is the same.
E (left) and L - the Empress and the Emperor
The Cardinal Virtues are grouped together (VI, VII and VIII); strangely, the fourth Virtue, i.e. Prudence (shown further in the page), usually ignored by other tarots, is included among the Minchiate's featured subjects, but wrongly listed among the three Theological Virtues: Hope (XVI), Faith (XVIII) and Charity (XVIIII), therefore quite over-ranked compared to the Cardinal ones.
The Theological Virtues had been featured only once, in a very early hand-painted tarot, i.e. the 15th century deck, now known as "Cary-Yale Visconti" (see the Visconti Tarots).
E - Fortitude
The eleventh subject is the Hermit, though still evidently featured according to his old name, Time. An old man walks with crutches, while an hour-glass crossed by an arrow (a highly specific detail, found in both editions) reminds us that time flies.
The Wheel of Fortune, with four personages, is followed by the Chariot, so that all the trumps up to the Tower (XV) mismatch the classic ranking, except two subjects: the Hanged Man and Death (XII and XIII, respectively).
E (left) and L - the Hermit
The former is featured with bags of gold or coins in both hands, exactly as the personage in the late 15th century Tarot of Charles VI, belonging to the pattern group from Ferrara (Dummett's C), in which this subject was probably still called the Traitor.
The coins are likely the reward received by the man for his betrayal, which now, by trick of fate, increase his weight, thus augment his suffering. Note how in the Minchiate al Leone edition the bags of gold were stylized into the shape of two spheres.
the Hanged Man: on the left, Tarot of Charles VI (Ferrara, 1460-80);
center: Minchiate Etruria; right: Minchiate al Leone
E (left) and L - the Tower
Also no. XV, the Tower, still contains a reminiscence of the obsolete subject, Lightning: two rather worried figures hurriedly exit a building (maybe a tower?) that has just been set on fire by a thunderbolt.
Numbers XX to XIII represent the four Elements, once considered the principles of all things in nature: Fire, Water, Earth and Air, never found in any other standard tarot.
E - the misplaced
The twelve classic zodiac signs are featured immediately after, from XXIIII through XXXV; they start with Libra and end with Gemini, in an apparently random order, thus mismatching the traditional sequence.
E - Water, one of
the four Elements
Five more trumps, referred to as Arie ("Airs"), have no number, but their sequence is standard: they match the last five subjects of standard tarots, i.e. the three cosmological ones, the World and Judgement; the last two, as previously said, are in reversed order. They all have more glamorous backgrounds than the rest of the trumps, either in different colours (Minchiate Etruria) or in one colour only (Minchiate al Leone).
The three cosmological trumps feature unusual subjects. In the Star, a male figure on horseback holds a cup; he is probably using the starry sky for orienting his route. His rich clothes and a small crown worn over a turban suggest his high rank, maybe even one of the three Magi, said to have reached Christ's birthplace guided by a star.
L - Air's curious allegory
The World is featured in the typical style of Ferrara, i.e. with a heavenly figure balancing over the world's globe, surrounded by puffing cherubs (a similar interpretation is also given in the Tarot de Paris and in the Flemish tarot).
E (above) and L (below) - the five Airs: the Star, the Moon, the Sun, the World and Judgement
Interestingly, for illustrating the World's setting each manufacturer chose the skyline of his own city: in the Minchiate Etruria the large dome of Florence's cathedral is easily recognizable, while the crucial detail in the Minchiate al Leone is less easily detectable, and consists of the exaggerately leaning tower.
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