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GALLERY INDEX
~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
· page V ·

THE VISCONTI TAROTS
BRERA-BRAMBILLA VISCONTI
CARY-YALE VISCONTI
PIERPONT-MORGAN BERGAMO VISCONTI-SFORZA

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GALLERY INDEX

page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VII
the tarot
of Marseille
page VIII
the Tarot
de Paris
page IX
Viéville's
Tarot
page X
the
Minchiate
page XI
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIII
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XV
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



go to
PART 1  ·  PART 2  ·  PART 3



· part IV ·

PATTERNS OF THE VISCONTI TAROTS
~ THE COURT CARDS ~

The Pierpont-Morgan deck is the earliest western tarot known with a "traditional" set of court cards in each suit: a knave, a cavalier, a queen and a king, each one showing their relevant suit sign.
Very likely, the earliest deck of this kind should be considered the Brera-Brambilla tarot, but due to the many lacking cards it is not possible to tell whether its suits too had the same three courts (the only seven ones left are the knave and cavalier of Coins, the knave and cavalier of Cups, the knave, cavalier and queen of Batons).
Instead, the Cary-Yale tarot has not four but six courts per suit: in fact, also female personages matching the male knaves and cavaliers are found.
PMBVS
cavalier of Batons and queen of Coins

BBV
queen of Batons
Therefore, in each suit the CYV set contains a female knave, a male knave, a female cavalier, a male cavalier, a queen and a king (S.Kaplan refers to the two unique courts also as "the maid" and "the mounted lady"). This is the only western deck of cards known which features a similar set of courts.
According to this composition, all three traditional ranks typical of Italian and Spanish cards (knave, cavalier, king) in the Cary-Yale tarot have a female counterpart: maid, mounted lady and queen.
The aforesaid 6-part arrangement recalls that of a famous alchemic theory - Renaissance was indeed alchemy's golden age - by which each principle in nature always has two opposite and complementary sides, positive and negative, white and black, light and darkness, or, in other words, male and female.
Due to the increased number of courts, the Cary-Yale tarot did not contain the usual 78 cards. Had the trumps been 22, as in the Pierpont-Morgan version, the total would have been 86, but this is uncertain: we can only be sure about the number of suit cards, 64 instead of the usual 56.
Such a composition was probably an attempt of creating a personalized tarot pattern, in times when the standard of 22 trumps and 56 suit cards had not yet been "officialized".

Among other tarot patterns known, female court personages only appear in two more varieties: the obsolete Minchiate (the suits of Coins and Cups have female knaves, but the ones of Swords and Batons are male, as usual), and the Sicilian tarot (the knaves of all four suits are female).
CYV
maid of Coins and mounted lady of Batons



~ THE SUIT SIGNS ~


PMBVS ~ the 4 of Coins
COINS
A remarkable difference exists between the pips of the Pierpont-Morgan tarot and those of the other two decks. The former has gold discs decorated with a family device, the blazing sun, thus representing symbolic coins, not real ones.
In the Brera-Brambilla and Cary-Yale decks, instead, most cards feature a reproduction of actual gold coins (see details below, and page 1 for more details), with a mounted cavalier in the centre and the faint words FILIP MARIA DUCHA around the rim, a fictional text, differing from the real coinage.

BBV ~ the 10 of Coins
CYV ~ details from the 7 of Coins
The reverse of the same coin is also featured in some subjects. It shows a quatrefoil, whose leaves contain four small shields; one of them, at the bottom, is recognizable as the usual winding snake, while the small lettering all around the coin is barely readable (likely, one of the Visconti family's mottos).

The aces show some differences: the Pierpont-Morgan's one has a shield with two deep red halves; one of them is only the background colour after the original paint, probably white, has come off. The same shield appears in other cards, since it is one among the many Visconti devices.
In the Cary-Yale deck, instead, the famous serpent is featured in blue (as well as on the 2 of Coins).
The ace of the Brera-Brambilla tarot has Filippo Maria's coin alone, encircled by small golden discs, also found in the CYV's card.

PMBVS (left), CYV and BBV (right): ace of Coins
CUPS
Also the suit of Cups reveals considerable differences for the three aces, and minor changes in other pip cards.
Despite being all hexagonal at the base, the ace of the Cary-Yale deck is still inspired by a late Gothic style, almost looking as a tabernacle, with thin and sharp pinnacles.
PMBVS (left), CYV and BBV (right): ace of Cups
The ace of Cups of the Brera-Brambilla deck is rounded in its upper half, decorated with a blue wavy pattern (gold and blue on silver are the same colours of the CYV's card), somewhat reminiscent of the large "turreen-shaped" ace in the Cadìz pattern of Spanish origin (see the Spanish gallery, page 3).
The Pierpont-Morgan's ace, instead, features a fountain whose basin collects water gushing from nozzles at the top of the structure, decorated with a bird. The fountain was one of the Sforza family's devices: in fact, it appears also in some PMBVS' court cards, as a texture on garments.

Colleoni Tarot
ace of Cups
Also some other decks of the Visconti group featured a fountain-shaped ace, as the one shown on the left (one of the four surviving cards of the Bartolomeo Colleoni Tarot, Victoria & Albert Museum, London).
A similar shape is also found in some Italian regional patterns of the north-east: their 1 of Cups is closer to the fountain-shaped vessel (see the Italian gallery) than to the "tabernacle-like" ace.

Instead, it appears evident that the subject of the Cary-Yale tarot represents the ancestor of the typical ace of Cups of the Marseille tarot.
(left) CYV ~ 3 of Cups
(right) PMBVS ~ 2 of Cups
Other pip cards of the three Visconti decks are basically similar, as they feature open cups with a round section (in particular, both the ones in the BBV and PMBVS have the blue wavy pattern described above). Only values 2, 3 and 4 of the CYV deck, instead, have cups closed by a top or a lid, and their section is clearly hexagonal, as the ace.



SWORDS
This is the suit in which the Cary-Yale and the Pierpont-Morgan decks are less different, while the Brera-Brambilla tarot follows its own style.
In the CYV and PMBVS decks, the swords are always straight, with blue blades and details in gold. In most cards of the PMBVS, the winding ribbon with the family motto "a bon droyt" appears in the center.
Similar ribbons also appear in the CYV's ace and 2 of Swords, but no text can be read on them, or the lettering has completely worn off.

CYV ~ 7 of Swords
Curiously, in pip cards all swords point downwards, including the ace (while in most other tarots they usually point upwards), except the straight central ones in odd values, i.e. 3, 5, 7 and 9. There is no doubt about the orientation in the PMBVS's cards, since the right direction is given by the letters of the motto; very likely, the same direction should also be followed by the CYV's cards, so similar in shape and pip arrangement.
PMBVS ~ 5 of Swords

Straight swords crossing each other in a similar fashion were also found in the earliest Spanish decks, directly sprung from the Arabic tradition, which soon spread to Portugal, as well.

Instead the BBV's suit of Swords, yet similar to the CYV because of the silver background, is one of the earliest examples in which the blades are curved, in a fashion reminiscent of all regional patterns from the North-east of Italy. There is no orientation of the pip cards (except the ace, which stands upright), because the handles of the crossed swords are on opposite ends. In time, this way of representing the suit became the standard one, so to distinguish at first sight Swords, i.e. the curved shapes, from Batons, looking like straight rods, whose colours are often almost identical.
However, the BBV's Swords still feature something peculiar that is not found in other decks: when the number of pips is odd (3, 5, 7, 9) the swords are not arranged symmetrically, with one running straight across the center, as in most other patterns, but have two swords on one side and one on the other (for 3, see sample on the right), or have three and two (for 5), and so on.
BBV ~ ace and 3 of Swords

It is interesting that the hand holding the ace's sword in an upright position, a detail typical of many tarots of the Marseille group and northern Italian regional patterns, is not present in any of these early decks (also because the swords often point downwards). Therefore, the hand should be considered a late addition.


BATONS
Batons (or Staves) of the Pierpont-Morgan deck are very similar to the "classic" ones, usually found in Marseille tarots, with thin blue shafts and golden knobs at both ends. Also in this suit the ribbon with the motto "a bon droyt" appears in the first five cards.
In the Cary-Yale deck, instead, the suit signs are arrows, with green-silver feathers and a sharp point at the opposite end. The first three cards of the suit have a ribbon with no text.
CYV ~ 2 and knave of Batons
All arrows point towards the same direction, including the central ones; however, it is difficult to tell whether this direction is upwards or downwards, since the ribbon is symmetrical, and has no text to suggest the right orientation.

The Cary-Yale court personages of Batons, though, do not hold arrows but maces, with a larger head on one end and a slightly tapered shaft.


PMBVS ~ 3 of Batons
Curiously, the Brera-Brambilla's suit of Batons follows a scheme opposite the CYV's: pip cards feature blue/gold ceremonial batons, with golden handles on the top end, while the court personages are the ones who hold long and thin arrows. In this case, all arrows are held pointing downwards (which may suggest the right direction for the CYV's pips, as well).

Also for the suit of Batons, a hand that holds the ace is not found in early tarots (a late development). In the BBV's ace, the baton is not even straight, nor more ornate than those in other cards (see below).

The discrepancy between the shape of the signs found in pip cards and those held by the court personages, in decks of such an early age may still represent the effect of the transition from the Arabic pattern to the European ones, following which the original suit, i.e. Polo-sticks, changed into the less "exotic" Batons, taking a number of different shapes (staves, cugdels, maces, arrows, etc.) before reaching a golden standard.

BBV ~ ace, 7 and knave of Batons

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PART 1 PART 2 PART 3

further reference to tarot decks can be found in Tom Tadfor Little's
The Hermitage



page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VII
the tarot
of Marseille
page VIII
the Tarot
de Paris
page IX
Viéville's
Tarot
page X
the
Minchiate
page XI
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIII
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XV
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



OTHER GALLERIES

non-standard patterns advertisement decks sizes, shapes and colours standard pattern variants non-suited cards Mercante in Fiera Uta Karuta, Iroha Karuta, Dôsai Karuta Âs nas
regional patterns: Italy regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Germany regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

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INTRODUCTION
AND HISTORY

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THE FOOL &
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INDEX
TABLE
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REGIONAL
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PLAYING CARD
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