Aeclectic Tarot
Tarot Cards & Reviews Live Tarot Readings Tarot Card Meanings Forum Archive

"20 Figure" and the 5x14-theory

  > Aeclectic Tarot Forum > Tarot Special Interest > Tarot History & Development

Huck  Huck is offline
Join Date: 02 Jul 2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 2,682
"20 Figure" and the 5x14-theory

Part 1
... short report about the research of the 5x14-theory and its expansion (as far the "20 figure" are concerned)

Before I can talk of the "20 figure" I've to summarize some elements of the 5x14-theory, otherwise the reader doesn't understand the problem and context.


The 5x14-theory has at its basis the assumption, that the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi should be interpreted as a deck, which in a first stage had 14 trumps (so a 5x14-deck) and that in a later development 6 trumps were added - this was based on the wide accepted condition, that 6 of the trumps (Strength, Temperance, World, Sun, Moon, Star) were created by a second painter.
The first part of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi is calculated to have been produced "after 1450" cause the deck contains Sforza heraldic (Sforza became 1450 duke of Milan). More precisely the year 1452 is assumed, cause for this year a letter exists, which confirms some Tarocchi production in Cremona.

The total structure of Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi (14+6 trumps = 20 trumps) gave reason to the consideration to think about the possibilty, that, before in the game development the common game structure Tarot structure 4x14+22 was reached, ALSO variants with 20 trumps were used (beside the 5x14 structure with 14 special cards and also postulated decks, which associated chess and had 16 trumps - Michelino deck, Cary Yale Tarocchi, Charles VI Tarot).

A more common understanding of the Trionfi development (especially by Michael Dummett) assumes, that (based only on the existence of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi) the later Tarot-structure 4x14+22 was settled in c. 1450 in the decks then called "Trionfi" or "Ludus triumphorum" or similar (and with that it was assumed, that all later similar notes more or less referred to this game).
Inside this theory it is assumed, that the accepted condition of the second painter would explain by the loss or destruction of some cards, which were replaced later (by the second painter).
Michael Dummett later changed his earlier presentation, assuming then, that the Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo Tarocchi possibly was done by two Bembo brothers at the begin of the 1460's. In the relevant article he didn't consider the work of


Contradicting to this both other theories the 5x14-theory points to the condition, that no confirmation for the 4x14+22 structure exists till the production of the Boiardo Tarocchi poem.
At the begin of our research the date of production was assumed by different experts to different times between 1461 - 1494, so to the period, when Boiardo was active as poet. Our own research with focus on the Boiardo biography came to the result, that Boiardo made it around January 1487 for the wedding of Lucrezia d'Este, an illegitimate daughter of Ercole d'Este. The festivity was rather opulent with many poets, who made some poems for the honor of the bride.
In Boiardo's poem the highest trump is connected to the Roman female hero Lucrezia, which in the construction of the whole deck looks a little bit strange and in the analysis as the significant sign, which associates the poem to the wedding situation. Further confirmation was found, that around this time the Este court painter Roberti painted the Roman Lucrezia ...

Ercole de Roberti: Lucrezia ... connected to a series of 3 self-sacrificing women

... and also around the time a Ferrarese poet Goggio published a work (finished 1490), in which women were recognized to be "better than men", which is considered in the contemporary literature a novum (by experts in this field). A similar trend (women are better than men) appears in the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, in which ten men (on the trumps) are associated to "stupid fatal errors" and 10 women to "wise noble behavior".

From all this it seems plausible, that Boiardo made the poem around January 1487 and not earlier, and this means for the general Tarot research, that no earlier strong confirmation for the existence and use of the game structure 4x14+22 exists till this date.
A second confirmation (the complete Sola-Busca Tarocchi) is generally (and plausibly) dated to the year 1491. It's also usually seen as a d'Este court production - so "from Ferrara" as also the Boiardo Tarocchi poem.

Now both productions (Boiardo Tarocchi poem and Sola Busca Tarocchi) have considerable iconographic differences to the normal Tarot motifs, which were also used in some Trionfi decks.
So the use of the game structure 4x14+22 for the Boiardo Tarocchi poem not necessarily indicates (with 100 % security), that extant Trionfi decks with common Tarot motifs before 1487 already used just this structure. There are simply ....

Possibility 1: Boiardo imitated the game structure of an already existing Trionfi deck with Tarot motifs (in this case the date of the existence of the "real Tarot" might be before 1487; "real Tarot" shall mean in this context: 4x14+22-structure and all 22 common single trumps are "somehow" present).

Possibility 2: Boiardo (a poet with some personal spirit and creativity) was simply the first who used the game structure 4x14+22. In this case Boiardo influenced the common Trionfi decks (with unknown structure till this point) to adapt the new game structure. This mustn't have happened immediately, but might have happened years later.
The really first evidence for the complete list of trumps is the Trionfi attacking paper of the Franciscan, unluckily not datable with 100% security.

However, an evaluation makes it possible to date it around 1500 and not much later. As place of this production is considered - again - Ferrara.


Both variants are possible.
But there's a strange 22-accident in public life ... in December 1486 (just one month before the Lucrezia wedding) Giovanni Pico de Mirandola started the publication of his famous theses, which also included some notes to Kabbala (and with that to the number 22, which is of special feature in Kabbala ... as the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters, which are an often considered topic in kabbalistic texts).
Pico invited a lot of scholars to debate it with him ... a lot of public noise naturally, obviously he somehow attempted to have big workshop to this theme.

The ways of 15th century were slow. In January 1487 it wasn't clear, that this would become a major scandal. The papal reaction started in March, and Pico de Mirandola had to look for an escape. The matter wrote history, and Pico was called the "first Christian kabbalist".
With the help of Lorenzo de Medeci, who arranged a marriage between his daughter and the son of the current pope and with this arrangement created a new political alliance, Pico was saved (but had to accept some censorship till 1493).

Giovanni was the much younger cousin of Matteo Maria Boiardo. Both were able to read Hebrew texts. One might suspect, that the older famous poet had some influence on the development of the young talent Giovanni (* 1463), who wrote his theses in the young age of 23. At least it would have been plausible, that both communicated in this time about their studies.
So Giovanni's detection of Hebrew Kabbala might have inspired the older Boiardo for his much smaller art, the humble but elegant Tarocchi poem - with now 22 trumps. .

The precise coincidence of both actions is rather striking and it's difficult to judge it as "just an accidence".

Under this aspect "unexspected coincidence" the "possibility 2" has the better chances in comparition to "possibility 1": according this it seems, that Boiardo invented the game structure 4x14+22 in 1487 ... and it was just another (unusual) Trionfi game with an unusual structure.
Ferrara had been without doubt the most creative place in the whole Trionfi card development. Having a high member of the Ferrarese court "inventing something related to Trionfi cards" shouldn't surprise. In the year 1505 we have the first note about a Taroch game - in Ferrara. In the year 1442 we have the first Trionfi note - in Ferrara. We have the first list with 22 special cards - from Ferrara. We have experimental decks (Boiardo Tarocchi poem and Sola Bussca) - from Ferrara.


A lost theory: 4x14+22 structure between 1468-1477 ... gone

Inside the development of the 5x14-theory the idea had developed (long ago), that the "6 added cards" of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi were created in 1465 ... during the wedding preparations for Ippolita Sforza, who was on her way to leave for Naples in May 1465.
This is a very old hypothesis (about 20 years) and in the meantime nothing has developed, which gave reason to doubt this, so I spare the details.
For some detailed reasons about the socalled Rosenthal Tarocchi (Kaplan p. 99) and Bartsch Tarocchi (Kaplan p. 100 + 101) and Victoria Albert Museum Tarocchi and some others of the same style (Kaplan p. 104) it was suspected for some time, that this might have been a deck type, which developed since 1468 (marriage Galeazzo Maria with Bona Sforza) and got possibly the structure state 4x14+22 till 1477.
However, arguments appeared, that the Rosenthal Tarocchi might be "later forgery" or "later" and a special problem came up with the used motto "nec spes nec metu" (used at ace of cups in Rosenthal Tarocchi and Victoria Albert Museum Tarocchi), which was used by Isabella d'Este at least since 1505. It couldn't been proven, that the motto was used elsewhere before ... this raised doubts.

So this part of the theory was dropped down (at least for the moment), especially under the pressure of the already given Boiardo /Giovanni Pico de Mirandola 1486/87 observation ... and some others, which will be shown next.


A new theory: 4x14+20 from 1465 - 1486

1. Lorenzo Spirito published a very successful lot book in 1482 and used for it a scheme with 20x20x20x20 structure. It might be, that the first attempt was already done 1473 and also it might be, that Lorenzo Spirito took the whole idea from a German lot book family with 22x22x22x22-structure.
This lot book family I showed in "A lot book of 1450 - with 22 elements" at

With this observation the curious question was given, why, if a Trionfi deck with 4x14+22 structure was already "very popular" in the 1470's, as some researchers believe, Lorenzo Spirito modified the German lot book system from a 22x22x22x22 scheme to a 20x20x20x20 scheme for the Italian market? This would have been a little paradox. Wouldn't he have also taken the 22x22x22x22 scheme, if it was so opportune?
The logical result of this consideration seems to be, that the common Trionfi deck form in the 1470's hadn't 4x14+22 structure, but 4x14+20 (as we get it from the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi, which we date to 1465).
So additional to the events of 1486/87 there's a second big doubt.

2. Minchiate as a word, that means a playing card game, is documentary given for the years 1466, 1471 and 1477 (all from the region of Florence). Unluckily none of these documents gives any information, how much trumps this game had.
It might be, that Minchiate had then already the form, as we know it: 40 number cards, 40 trumps, 16 court cards and 1 Fool. But it's not impossible, that it had another form (less cards, more cards) and there's no guarantee, if the iconographic content differed.
But ... observing Minchiate, we have the following:

a. 20 trumps = trumps 1-15 + 5 unnumbered trumps (usually at place 36 - 40; all these trumps are similar to Tarot trumps)

b. 20 trumps = trumps 16-35 (all these trumps are similar to Tarot trumps)

c. 20 numbered cards (2 suits), which rank from 1 till 10

d. 20 numbered cards (2 suits), which rank from 10 till 1

e. plus 16 court cards and Fool

So we have here a 20+20+20+20 form (inside the Minchiate).

If we repeat now the question from above: "why, if a Trionfi deck with 4x14+22 structure was already very popular in the 1470's, as some researchers believe, Lorenzo Spirito modified the German lot book system from a 22x22x22x22 scheme to a 20x20x20x20 scheme for the Italian market?"
... then the answer would be simple: The author lived in Perugia, and Perugia had naturally (by lcal nearness) some influence from Florence, and so Lorenzo Spirito would have taken the Minchiate as "popular card game" and so he choose to use a 20-20-20-20 scheme for his lot book.

3. 10 pairs (1)
Boiardo Tarocchi poem (1487)

The Boiardo Tarocchi poem has inside the trump structure a 10 pairs model, a virtue (of women) is paired with a vice (of men). The both outstanding cards 0 and 21 (begin and end) are a special pair (0 = in Boiardo Tarocchi "Fool" and "World" [!]; 21 = "Fortezza" and "Fama" with the signifying "Lucrezia"), the others 10 usual pairs in the mode 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 etc.

4. 10 pairs (2)
Sola Busca Tarocchi (1491)

The Sola Busca Tarocchi pairs its cards from 1-20 in a similar way as the Tarocchi poem 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 etc.
This is done only by "body direction". 1-3-5-7-etc are turned from left to right, 2-4-5-6-etc from right to left, so that card 1 looks at card 2, and card 2 looks to card 1.

Trump 1

Trump 2

If you wish to verify this feature for all pairs, use Kaplan or the Sola-Busca gallery of Tarotpedia:

5. 10 pairs development

The general 10 pairs development started with the 9 Worthies (or Neuf Preux) in 1312 by Jacques de Longuyon in his "Voeux du Paon". This literary work became figurative with the time ...

[img width="600" height="150"][/img]

... and later were added 9 female counter parts, creating 9 pairs. Then during 15th century occasionally a 10th special honored (often living) person (or pair ?) was added. This at least happened in Ferrara at one opportunity in the time of the early Ercole I d'Este, as far I remember.
It's easy to understand, that if in a festivity decoration of a wedding appeared 9 preux and 9 preuse, that the 10th pair likely was the young couple.
If a indoor decoration showed for instance only 6 virtues, it was intended, that the missing 7th virtue was presented by the owner (this was done at a door in the Palazzo Schifanoia; the virtue Justice was missing, as this was Borso's personal virtue).

Borso as incorporated Justice



Summarizing we have for the period 1465-1486 some (not totally strong) indications for a use of a 4x14+20-structure, but we have none for the existence of the 4x14+22-structure. With 1487 (Boiardo and the later Sola Busca Tarocchi) we have clear indications for the existence of the 4x14+22 structure, but these decks seem to have by their use of an internal 10-pairs model more relation to Lorenzo Spirito and to the Minchiate.

Naturally: Not totally strong indications are not very satisfying.
But in research one has to take that, what one gets. If a research field gives only small indications of a specific direction in a given question, then that's just the result of the moment. And this result seems to say, that one has to suspect the origin of the "real Tarot" (as defined above) after 1487. Naturally this only has the state of a working hypothesis.


In the given evaluation (based on that, what was known before) now a new factor has appeared with an unknown game called "venti figure" (= "20 figures"). This is reported in the next posts.
Top   #1
Bernice's Avatar
Bernice  Bernice is offline
Denizen of the Coalsack Nebula
Join Date: 07 Dec 2007
Location: Central England
Posts: 3,901
Denizen of the Coalsack Nebula

Bernice's Avatar

I know the 5x14 theory has been around for some time now, but it's nice to see it so clearly and concisely explained. Just waiting now for further posts about the unknown game called "venti figure", the "20 figures". Every recorded fact is an asset for every theory

Thank you Huck.

Top   #2
Huck  Huck is offline
Join Date: 02 Jul 2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 2,682

Originally Posted by Bernice View Post
I know the 5x14 theory has been around for some time now, but it's nice to see it so clearly and concisely explained. Just waiting now for further posts about the unknown game called "venti figure", the "20 figures". Every recorded fact is an asset for every theory
... .-) Thanks Bernice ... the obvious trouble with the 5x14-theory is, that it is SOOOO complex and has SOOOO many details, based on an already very complicated general Tarot history, that any novice to the theme with the natural approach "explain me all and everything ... in a few words, please" resigns very quickly and gets the feeling "better I don't disturb here".

That's naturally not very productive for the general communication process, which actually is desired ... by me and other researchers and likely also by those, whose interest is possibly disappointed by too much complexity.

Perhaps it would help, if I declare, that questions are indeed welcomed

************************************************** ***************

Part 2
... short report about the research of the Chess Tarot as a different variant to the 5x14-deck (as far the "20 figure" are concerned)

Before I can talk of the "20 figure" I've to summarize some elements of the Chess Tarot theory, otherwise the reader doesn't understand the problem and context.


The Chess Tarot factor was underestimated in the begin of It evolved during the research as a new mighty perspective.

Cary Yale Tarocchi

When the 5x14-theory developed (1989, mainly based on the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo deck and its two painters), naturally the question was given, to which part the production of the Cary-Yale Tarocchi belonged.
The Cary-Yale Tarocchi was generally considered older than the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi with one exception, which gave it to 1468 and the wedding of Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Bona of Savoy. Ignoring the latter, it was adapted by us to follow the perspective, that it was made in the period of Filippo Maria Visconti, who lived till 1447.
Later researches made it most probable, that the deck "likely" was made for the wedding of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Mari Visconti in October 1441 ... at least this functioned as the major working hypothesis.

In 2003 an article was published, which presents the consideration of this time. It's (more or less) still preserved here:

The Cary-Yale Tarocchi was then (and still now) seen as a 5x16 deck, so - as a Matrix deck - similar to the original Bonifacio Bembo deck, which was seen (and still is perceived in this manner) as a 5x14-deck (also according a Matrix-model). As the state of the Cary Yale is, that it has "missing trumps", it was naturally attempted to reconstruct the missing cards.
It has 11 trumps: Emperor - Empress - Love - Chariot - Death - Judgment - Fame (by some perceived as World) and 4 virtues. It was assumed, that the deck included all 7 virtues and with that the deck had (reconstructed) 14 of 16 trumps. In the time of 2003 it seemed most plausible that Pope and Popess were the final missing cards, nowadays I would think, that there is not enough plausibility to have these both positions definitely defined - which doesn't change the assumption, that their should have been 16 trumps.

Anyway, cause all these insecurities in the composition of the Cary-Yale Tarocchi it wasn't our major theme.

Michelino deck

In 2002/2003 we started our exploration of the Michelino deck (based by an earlier research of Franco Pratesi made in 1989). With this there was a second deck (which might be called a sort of Proto-Tarot) with 16 trumps and it preceded the Cary-Yale Tarocchi.
The fact, that the Michelino deck used 16 trumps and that the Cary-Yale Tarocchi was earlier assumed (by us) to have ALSO 16 trumps, naturally gave the Chess assumption about the Cary-Yale more reliability. The idea, that the Michelino deck might have something to do with chess, was not given in this early time, at least there was no really suggestive way seen, how to relate this deck to the figures.

Evrart da Conty: Echecs amoureux

Some years later (inside the Michelino deck research) we found to the text of Evrart de Conty, the "Echecs amoureux" (1398) ... a very long book, somehow a monster. Somehow this text has more content than the whole Tarot history of 15th century. A sort of poetical encyclopedia inside a love story, with much

A description is given here:

One of the surviving old versions (late 15th century) is here:

... with very nice pictures ...

.. for instance this, which shows Kronos (Saturn) cutting the genital of Uranos and the whole means - somehow - the begin of the Greek mythology section inside the Echecs amoureux book. This part is in length the major part of this very long book and it presents 16 gods ... so as Filippo Maria Visconti had 16 trumps in the Michelino deck - later than Evrart de Conty.

Another edition ...
... also very fine in its details. Here the physician Asclepios, another of the 16 gods ...

However, we couldn't find in the text a clear reference, which god was referring to which chess figure. This might be, as we resigned cause of the difficulties: A very long text written in old French isn't easy to study.

Beside the mythological elements the text contains a development of the "Roman de la Rose" of Jean de Meun.

According Conty's interpretation each of the 32 figures used for the game of chess presents an allegorical figure, from which at least some were known by the "Roman de la Rose". In a final chess game of the author with a young lady, the lady plays with 16 female allegories and the author plays with male allegories, possibly the 16 gods were meant to unite this 32-elements-system-construction in an unknown manner to "16 figures of chess" (but we have no evidence, as this problem was as above noted - for the moment - too difficult).

As you might detect, the figures on the board show a different opening (4 figures central at the base line, 4 figures at the second line, 8 pawns at the 3rd; see the blue script at the picture; the figure names differ at both sides cause the male and female allegories).

Evrart finished his text 1398. Soon later it is said to have become part of the famous Christine-de-Pizan-scandal, when the poetress Christine protested with some strong energy against a generally negative view on women inside the very popular Roman de la Rose (I don't know the details, but it seems, that the Echecs amoureux took a major part in the discussions).
A major center of this protest had been the court of Valentina Visconti, who was the elder half-sister to Filippo Maria Visconti. From this condition it seems rather probable, that, although Filippo Maria Visconti saw his sister never in his life and she was already dead in 1408, before Filippo Maria got the regency in Milan in 1412, he likely was aware of the successful Echecs amoureux.

All together

In the simplified series of the actions we have ,,,

1398: Evrart de Conty (known to Filippo Maria Visconti) ... used 16 gods inside a book to show chess
before 1425: Filippo Maria Visconti (Michelino deck) ... used 16 gods inside a card game as trumps
assumed 1441: Filippo Maria Visconti (Cary-Yale Tarocchi) ... assumed to have used 16 trumps inside a deck with 5x16-structure, which might have an intended relation to chess

Regarding this series - should one assume, that just the Michelino deck had nothing to do with chess?

1377 John of Rheinfelden: 60 Cards

Already Johannes of Rheinfelden, the earliest great writer about playing cards in 1377, saw a relation between playing cards and chess ... and he thought this a rather great idea. Especially enthusiastic he had been about a deck with 60 cards, with 10 numeral cards and 5 court cards (king, queen, a maid - so that the queen had also a servant, upper marshall, lower marshall), totally 60 cards. All the numeral cards were presented by professions, similar to the later Hofämterspiel (from c. 1455):

...the tailor of the court

This idea of the professions was taken from Jacobus de Cessolis, who around 1300 had written a chess moralization, in which the chess pawns (usually all of the same kind in European chess) were individualized as professions. From this developed a chess figure iconography (in its type as a "figure catalog" very similar to Tarot cards), which went through many editions of moralizing chess books (which appeared in big numbers; chess was in literature of 14th century the second big topic after the bible). Similar to this:

This specific favored deck of Johannes of Rheinfelden rather obviously should have been a court deck. The relevant court in the time of Johannes had been the court of Emperor Charles IV with its capital in Prague in Bohemia (the same place, where later the Hofämterspiel was produced). With some logic one should assume, that it came from this court.

In 1395 the court of Prague had intensive contact to the court of Milan and Giangaleazzo Visconti (father of Filippo Maria Visconti). Giangaleazzo bought the duke title.

Filippo Maria Visconti was then 3 years old. Decembrio, who wrote the life of Filippo, told, that Filippo Maria Visconti had playing cards in his youth. Should we assume, that Filippo Maria Visconti knew the Bohemian court deck?

Later Filippo Maria Visconti ordered to produce the Michelino deck with 60 cards totally. 60 cards ... as the favored deck of Johannes, which likely was a Bohemian court deck.

Filippo Maria Visconti in his Michelino then used no professions for the suits, but birds. As court cards he had only kings. It seems, that he replaced the 4 other court cards (as already told: ... queen, a maid - so that the queen had also a servant, upper marshall, lower marshall), with trumps and these trumps were painted as Greek gods.

Now we have the condition, that the game Schafkopf ...
... has its home near the borders of the earlier Bohemia. In this game the court card king has no trump function, but the other (two) court cards have. As it is defined in the rules o the Michelino deck (but now with 4 court cards ... and the king has NO trump function).

Schafkopf is with this name first noted in c. 1700, but that doesn't say, that the specific Schafkopf-Rules (court cards are trumps, but not the king) aren't older.

Going back to the situation of Johannes of Rheinfelden 1377, then it seems, that the most common deck has 4x13 structure. A king and two male soldiers usually as Ober and Unter or horseman and foot soldier and then the 10 numbers in 4 suits, totally 52 cards.

What's the function of soldiers? Fighting ... and in a card game "fighting" means "trumping". Under this condition we have as the basic idea of all later trump games, that Ober and Unter are trumps and the other cards not, and that's the basic rule of Schafkopf ... and for some other reasons (which I don't embark at this opportunity) it's rather probable, that Bohemia was rather important for the European playing card development.

Filippo Maria Visconti is well known for his bad experiences in his youth with the condottieri (Ficino Cane) and also later for his fear cause his own condottieri (Carmagnola, Piccinino, Francesco Sforza ... a constant game, to keep his condottieri in a dependent condition). He rather didn't like, that the condottieri should be the trumps in the game.
So he made the Michelino deck, and he replaced Ober and Unter with Greek gods.

But our theme is chess ... and later the "20 figure".

One should see, that Chess was a dominant game already in 13th and later in 14th century. When playing cards developed in slow steps at small islands of European territory, hampered by prohibition here and there, Chess naturally was "big brother" and the playing cards had the role of the "little one". The younger brothers naturally imitate the older, isn't it? Very naturally influences of chess worked on the development of playing cards and also of Trionfi cards.


Our Charles VI revolution

Back to the development of the research of about the Chess Tarot ... in winter 2007-2008 here in the Forum in the Christina Fiorini thread ...
... it became apparent, that the Charles VI Tarot was not - as generally assumed before - from Ferrara, but from Florence. As we had done already a lot of research about Florence, it rather immediately fell into the place, which was "under suspicion" before.

The hypothesis was born, that the Charles VI Tarot was made c. 1463 by a circle of persons (actually more or less kids, between them the young Lorenzo de Medici) around Luigi Pulci (who was the first, who noted the word Minchiate in a letter 1466), who worked as a sort of poetry teacher for the Medici.
And it was assumed, that the 16 trumps of the Charles VI were a complete trump set, and that the idea behind this arrangement was again ... Chess.

This also happened (more or less) here in the Forum.

It started with a suspicion about the moon card ...

... from which the left was identified with the mathematican Toscanelli and the right with the astronom Regiomontanus. Regiomontanus arrived not before 1461 in Italy and the contact between both could have taken place only later.
Toscanelli worked for the banking house of the Medici.

left person: Toscanelli, fresco in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Vasari


I spare the details here. In the theories of the Tarot development now the following two groups developed:

before 1425: Michelino deck ... 16 trumps (Chess ?)
c. 1441: Cary-Yale Tarocchi ... 16 trump (Chess !)
c. 1463: Charles VI ... 16 trumps (Chess !)

1.1.1441: "14 figure" mentioned in Ferrarese document
c. 1452: first painter of Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarochi had 14 trumps and a 5x14-deck
1457: Ferrarese document about Trionfi deck production with 70 cards (probably 5x14-deck)

So suddenly the Chess Tarot development looked (as far the early development of Trionfi deck was concerned) similar strong as the 5x14-deck.

Some time later it was discovered, that the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergmo deck (part of the 5x14-group) contained with the use of "cliffs" or "without cliffs" on the 14 first trumps a sort of hidden code, which somehow seems to point to "chess structure".

"Dangerous" (this are 6; Fool - Magician - Love - Fortune - Hanging Man - Death) cards had a cliff, "not dangerous" (this are 8; Popess - Empress - Emperor - Pope - Chariot - Justice - Hermit - Judgment) cards has no cliff.

When the six cards were added (assumption: in 1465), then there were 4 new cards with cliffs (Temperance - Star - Moon - Sun) and 2 without cliffs (Force and World). Which results then totally in: 10 cards "with cliffs" and 10 cards "without cliffs". Somehow the "10 pairs" model, about which I reported already in Part 1 of this thread.

Sun ... with cliff

Then it was discovered, that a rather similar "hidden code" as in Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi was also used in the Hofämterspiel (not a common Trionfi deck).

And cards of the Goldschmidt and Guildhall (Kaplan I, p. 110 + 111) and even Visconti cards (Death card of the Victoria Albert Museum, Kaplan 1, p. 104) showed as stylish element checkered basement ... is this indicating some chess relation?

From this (I spare some details, which are rather complex) it suddenly turned to the not expected situation, that anything, which was known as real cards about the early Trionfi development till 1465, seemed to have been influenced by chess

... the influence is smaller for the 5x14 group and more obvious for the group with 16 trumps, but it is given for each really existent deck of the early Trionfi family ... with the exception of the Brera Brambilla Tarocchi, which simply has only two remaining trumps (and one cannot say much about it).

Then - in 1465 - it seems, that the number was increased to 20, not to 22 special cards (as described in Part 1)

The deck with 4x14+22 appeared first in 1487 with the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, as already shown in Part 1 of this thread.
An earlier optimistic attempt to place the invention earlier finally stumbled in not solvable contradictions. The time between 1465 and 1487 seems to be reigned by 20 trumps. But why?


Proceed with next post ...
Top   #3
Huck  Huck is offline
Join Date: 02 Jul 2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 2,682

Part 2 (proceeding Part 2 in the post before)

Why 20 trumps?

Considering the earlier strong chess influence on the Trionfi decks, it might have been, that again the game of Chess gave the impulse to change the Trionfi cards.

Let's assume, that the years 1460 - 1480 saw some Chess experimentation in Italy. Around this time the change occurred, which caused a chess revolution and evolved the "modern chess": The figures of Bishop and Queen (weak and limited figures before), were advanced to the far reaching figures, as we know them. This happened in Spain c. 1470. It might have become a sort of far spread variant in Spain in the 1490's, then it took some further decades for its march across Europe.

So the time gives some evidence for "chess experimentation". Now we have for 1450-1478 the time, when Uzun Hassan reigned in Persia and from 1463 - 1479 the time of the Venetian war against the Osmans. Both time-lines correspond to each other, as Uzun Hassan was foe to the Osmans ....

The empire of Uzun Hassan

... and also Venice was foe to the Osmans. So there was a common association between both states and already in the 1450's there were diplomatic talks about some cooperation in military matters. Things became more concrete, when Venice had real war with the Osmans since 1463. Venice resigned her ambitions 1479, when Uzun Hassan died 1478.

Uzun Hassan was "somehow" the follower (not in direct line, and he was not the only follower) of Tamerlane or Timur Lenk (lived 1336 - 1405) ...

... and Timur Lenk was well known for his great interest in chess. There's even a chess version called Tamerlane chess, which is said to have been "very popular" in 14th and 15th century and we will have to talk about this - later.

Persia was in the medieval perception (for instance by Master Ingold) the motherland of chess, so naturally a diplomatic connection between Venice and Persia in this defined time of "Chess experimentation" would have included also some communication about chess rules.

And this communication lstarted likely very early ... Jacobus of Cessolis, responsible for the big chess-bestseller of 14th and 15th century, gave individual function to the pawns (as already discussed).
For Cessolis this was only part of his moralization, as far it is known, it hadn't effect on the real rules of the played games (at least there is no evidence for it). But in Tamerlane Chess the pawn figures had ALSO outfit and in the Tamerlane Chess game rules this different outfit had practical game consequences. A pawn before a Rook promoted to a Rook, when he reached the last line, a pawn before a knight promoted to a knight etc.. So this was a real difference in the game, whereby in the Cessolis version the same feature just looks like not necessary decoration.

Tamerlane chess with varied outfit for the pawns

Cessolis, about whose life not much is known, worked for the inquisition in Genova. The China-traveler Marco Polo, who lived long at the court of Kublai Khan, the Mongolic emperor on the Chinese throne, had engaged after his return in a military escapade against Genova ... and became prisoner - in Genova. There he found time to write his book.

"Prisoners in Genova" likely had very good chances to meet somebody connected to the "Inquisition in Genova". So one might assume, that Cessoli's big idea was just based upon the reports of Marco Polo. So - in this situation - Eastern ways to play chess might have influenced European chess deeply, just by a little talk between two deciding persons, not very spectacular.

Tamerlane Chess is reported to have existed at least in the 1340's, but the basic idea of "individually designed pawns" might have been just a generally "Eastern idea" inside a Chess history, which knew many local variants.

"Eastern Chess variants" are many. A lot of variants enlarge the board, most common in competition to the usual 8x8-matrix might be called the 10x10-board.

If we calculate for the jump from 16 figures in the Chess-Trionfi games (like Cary-Yale Tarocchi and Charles VI Tarot) to now 20 figures, then this might have the reason, that for some time (1460-1480) a chess game became popular, which used a 10x10-board and defined 2 new chess figures.

Here we have the Hiashatar, one of the two major Mongolic variants (it's not the only variant with 10x10-board):

The rules are given by English Wikipedia:

King (noyon) - moves like the King in chess

Queen (bers) - moves like the Queen in chess

Bodyguard (hia) - moves like a Queen, but can only move one or two squares. The Bodyguard has a special power; any piece sliding must stop its move if it moves through any square a king's move away from the bodyguard. Any piece a king's move away from the bodyguard can only move one square. The only piece immune to this power of the Bodyguard is the Knight.

Rook (tereg) - moves like the rook in chess

Knight (mori) - moves like the Knight in chess

Bishop (teme) - moves like the Bishop in chess

Pawn (fu) - moves like the pawn in chess except that it can make an initial triple step.


There is no castling

Pawns promote only to queen
Very similar to modern Chess.

The page ...
... gives the impression, that the rules are a little more different to European chess as given in the Wikipedia article. Also there is some indication, that the game itself knew variants ... these time didn't knew organizations, which defined rules exactly. So the use of variants couldn't be avoided, of course, also not for the European ways to play chess. Book printing later did a lot to establish far spread unique rules. But this early times didn't know book printing.

And I don't have better material.

But, if I would assume, that Hiashatar and the related simpler 8x8-board game Shatar (without the additional figure of the body guard) ...

Shatar and Hiashatar are two chess variants played in Mongolia. The rules are similar to chess; the differences being that [1]:

The king (noin) does not castle.

The pawns (Chu) do not have an initial double-step move, except for the queen's pawn.

The queen (berse) moves like a promoted Rook in Shogi: Like a rook or one square diagonally.

The knight (mori) can not deliver mate.

The bishop (teme) and rook (terge) move as they do in regular Chess.

The game always starts with white playing d4 and black responding with d5. This is the only time in the game the pawns may move two squares; some sources claim this initial move can optionally be done with the king’s (e) pawn
... are, as indicated in the articles, at least 500 years old (so easily also 600 years or older; Mongols had their height of influence in 14th and 15th century, not later, why shouldn't a "very old and popular game" relate to their most powerful time ?), then we would have, that the Mongols knew a promoted "Queen" and a promoted "Bishop" before it entered European modern chess (whose promotion is claimed by chess history researchers to have happened 1470 in Spain ... without any note of Mongols, who played in this way before).

If we place now inside the Chess-Trionfi-decks the change from 16 to 20 figures in relation to a Chess-board-change from 8x8 to 10x10 in the year 1465, and the game change included some knowledge and practice of the Mongol Hiashatar rules, then we would have reason to assume the import of a promoted Bishop and a promoted Queen (which later REALLY appeared in Spanish modern chess, which became in the development the general European chess) and the use of an additional mighty figure, which had the function of a "bodyguard" (and this didn't appear in later Spanish modern chess).

Tamerlane was of Mongolic descend, Uzun Hassan was of Mongolic descend (though already mingled with more than one Western influence).
(= Tamerlane; called Turko-Mongol)
(= Uzun Hassan; called through his important great-grandfather a Turkmen;
"Turkmen were characterized by the presence of local Iranian mtDNA lineages, similar to the Eastern Iranian populations, but high male Mongoloid genetic component observed in Turkmens and Eastern Iranian populations with the frequencies of about 20%" according ...

I think, there is no problem to assume, that Uzun Hassan knew likely Shatar, Hiashatar and Tamerlane chess, just as he lived in his state in the region, which was before governed by Timur Lenk. Persia had traditionally an high interest in chess and the dominant time of Timur Lenk, who was called a chess enthusiast, likely would have increased this interest.

This is of direct relevance for the situation of 1465 ...

Uzun Hassan had a delegation in Venice in September 1464.
The change with the six additional cards is calculated to May 1465 (Ippolita's wedding preparations). The impulse to change something with the Trionfi cards is assumed to have arrived from Florence in the form of the very young Lorenzo de Medici (16 years in 1465) ... both events are near enough, so that this delegation and its visit might have influenced the Milanese development, just by reporting to European culture the existence and rules of Persin-Mongolian chess games.

Generally Sforza (Milan) and Cosimo de Medici (Florence) had blocked the Venetian interest on their participation at the crusade against the Osmans. Both considered it favorable (though they didn't openly express it), that Venice was occupied with the war against the Osmans, so Venice couldn't engage in wars in Italy.

Now Cosimo had died in August 1464, and beside of that, also the pope Pius II. (also in the same August, 2 weeks later). The new pope Paul II was elected in the same August, he was the nephew of the troublesome pope Eugen (1431-1447) and he was as his uncle a Venetian. The quick Venetian decision in September 1464 to send the Persian envoy back to Uzun Hassan with greater promises, might have something to do with the 2 deaths in August and the new pope election.

Francesco Sforza had to be careful then ... he didn't know, how Pietro de Medici (Florence) would behave in the future and he didn't know, what to expect of the new Venetian Pope.

Cause of his spies and diplomats Sforza likely was informed (the Sforza ambassador system was famous for its quality). The ambassadors would likely also report cultural details like "knowledge about Mongolic chess variants", which might have been discussed in Venice during the longer stay of the Persian envoy.


... well, this post is long enough.

I didn't arrive the theme of the game with the "20 figure". Well, it might follow in other part soon.
Generally you might perceive the perspective, that - if its true - the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi presents a station between old chess and modern chess, the deck would get a much higher meaning in history, as it already had before.
The begin of modern Chess is a high evaluated theme in the world of Chess players. Well ... and there are more Chess players in this world than there are Tarot players and Tarot diviners together.
So - I hope, you might understand, that this is a matter of some importance.

If you've trouble to understand a few things, you might ask.
Top   #4
Huck  Huck is offline
Join Date: 02 Jul 2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 2,682

Part 4

We still have to wait for the "20 figure" game. Momentary the chess game is he dominant theme.


Chess Variant Examples

Well, ... if the Chess Tarot theory as part of the 5x14-theory is correct, than the whole period of the early Trionfi cards (till c. 1465) knew decks and possibly also games, which "somehow" in an undefined manner fall in the field of "chess variants".

Now "chess variants" is a "far field", and I think, that most readers don't imagine, how far this might be. The number might be easily 1000's, I would guess.

This is a related wikipedia article.
... naturally not with a complete list.

Chess variants in older history are relative to the "real chess" only badly recorded (similar as the many variants of the standard Tarot, curious deck reports likely Boiardo Tarocchi and Sola Busca would be easily overlooked, if the early Tarot development hadn't found a special attention).


The following example from mid 16th century (32 figures for each player; likely 16x8 board) exists as a real surviving chess game. As far I know it, this game form isn't recorded in any report (beside an inventory) and gives evidence, that real games could have existed, but would have been forgotten, if not just an example survived.


An unusual chessboard from mid 16th century with "15x8" fields ... whereby this 15x8 might be an error, as each player according the description has 32 figures, so it actually should be 16x8 fields (?). Though it might be, that two figures had special function or had been positioned outside of the usual 2-rows-system (possibly the pawns were positioned at 3rd and 6th row for quicker advance in the game.

Figures are:

1 King
1 Queen
2 knights = flying horses
2 rooks = elephants
2 bishops = like bishops
2 knights = men dressed as Spanish knights with axe
2 turks = with shield and saber
2 men with beard and bald head
2 standard bearer

The rules are, as it seems, unknown.

The other side of the board container is painted with a Venus motif

Spielbrett und Schachfiguren
Mitte 16. Jahrhundert
noted in an inventory of archduke Ferdinand II. 1596

Das Schachspiel mit 15 x 8 goldenen bzw. silbernen Feldern im Inneren des Kastens ist ein Einzelstück. Von den ursprünglich 64 vergoldeten und versilberten Figuren aus Holz fehlen 11, die sich aber aufgrund der Symmetrie beider Parteien hypothetisch ergänzen lassen, wobei die Anzahl der Figuren darauf hindeutet, dass von den Schmalseiten aus gespielt wurde. Die Bauernreihe ist verdoppelt - 16 silberne "Bauern" sind erhalten - und auch die "Offiziere" nehmen zwei Reihen ein. Jede Farbe setzt sich aus einem "König" (Mann mit Barett, Bart und Amtskette), einer "Dame" (gekrönte Frau), zwei "Springern" (geflügelte Pferde), zwei "Türmen" (Elefanten) und zwei "Läufern" (wie in der englischen Schachtradition in Gestalt von Bischöfen) zusammen. Dazu kommen vier neue Figuren: zwei Ritter im Harnisch mit spanischem Helm und Streitaxt, zwei Türken mit Schild und Streitkolben, zwei Bärtige mit Glatze, zwei Wappenträger. Die Bedeutung dieser vier weiteren Figuren kann durch einen Vergleich mit dem auch noch im 17. Jahrhundert von Nordeuropa bis Deutschland verbreiteten Courierschach mit 12 x 8 Feldern erahnt werden. Auch bei dieser Form des Spieles gab es zusätzliche Figuren, den "Ratgeber", den "Schleich" (Narren) und zwei "Couriere". Die "Couriere" waren beim Ambraser Spiel wohl die Wappenträger mit den Schriftrollen.
Die Außenseiten des Kastens zeigen die Allegorien von Justitia und Venus in jeweils einem bemalten Rahmen mit ovalen Schriftfeldern in der Mitte jeder Seite. Neben Justitia, die ohne Augenbinde, aber mit dem Schwert in der Rechten und der Waage in der Linken wiedergegeben ist, steht als Symbol der Wachsamkeit ein Kranich, der mit der rechten erhobenen Klaue einen Stein umklammert. Die Gegenseite des Spielkastens zeigt Venus mit den beiden ihr zugeordneten Sternzeichen Waage und Stier. Sie hält ein brennendes Herz in der Rechten sowie einen Pfeil in der Linken und repräsentiert Leidenschaft und Unberechenbarkeit. Die beiden Gegenbilder symbolisieren das für das Schachspiel nötige Kalkül auf der einen, Kampfeslust und Unbedachtheit auf der anderen Seite. Im Nachlassinventar Erzherzog Ferdinands II. von 1596 ist das Schachspiel im 18. Kasten seiner Kunstkammer erwähnt.

The book of chess of Alfonso the Wise (before 1284) also includes a variant for the play of four persons, each with 8 figures (so, practically, it could be played with a usual chess set of 32 figures). I's called 4 season's chess and it knows also a variant to play it with dice.

Alfonso knows another Great Chess (and takes as its origin India): Acedrex. It has 24 figures for each player (mostly animals) and is played at a 12x12-board. and it is played with dice.


Beside chess the book also contains lots of other games, mainly table and dice games.


Germany might have been - beside Spain - the country, where Chess entered Europe, possibly by an import through the contacts to Byzanz during the time, when Otto II. got his wife Theophanu in the year 972.

A local legend of the chess village Ströbeck near Quedlinburg (an important place for the 3 Emperors with the name Otto - Otto I, Otto II and Otto III.), which then ha been a sort of capital for the Empire, relates, that a prisoner, Gunzelin von Kuckenberg, taught the villagers of Ströbeck the Courier-game... in the year 1009.

A first real documentary evidence appears between 1210-20 in the Wigalois of Wirnt von Grafenberg (a typical king Arthur story).

The relevant passage is not very remarkable, it gives the impression, that the Courier game could be addressed without further explanation in this time and region (as region might be defined Thuringia in Germany and Luxembourg, Belgium and Netherlands; at this places we find also other notes of the game).

In the following centuries only a handful of documents report the still persisting existence of the game till 17th century, when it was reported by Gustav Selenus. All documents are from Germany, it doesn't seem to have spread outside of this country ... beside the Netherlands.

Lucas van Leyden, c. 1508

It's NOT a chess game, it's the Courier game. The fields of the board count 12x8, the typical Courier board structure.

At this picture we see, that the size of the board has - at least occasionally - "meaning".

And it is confirmed here: again 12x8 ...

Jan de Bray, 1661 ... Courier game with 12x8


Size of chess boards at pictures

The number of squares of chess boards at 14th till 15th century paintings are occasionally varied ... it's easily believable, that this 5x5-board is just "conscious mistake by artist" and at this picture it (likely) really means chess at an 8x8-board:

picture of c. 1350 from Jacques de Lungoyon edition

Likely the painter was just too lazy to paint a full board. But what, if the painter makes more lines than he actually would need? But what is, if the board size is expanded? Naturally, it might be just a painter error, if you see a 10x10-board. But it might indicate, that a decimal chess game was played (as suggested for the situation in Milan).

I know a picture with a murder during a chess game (15th century) ... unluckily I don't find it in the moment. This was a club club scene with various chess boards and I counted at least 3 different board sizes ... I remember between them a 10-10 decimal board.

Montefeltro and the number 28

The following picture shows a game played at a 14x8 board.

that's a 14x8-board

It seems not likely, that this means usual chess. Somehow one might expect a chess variant game with 28 (= 2x14) figures for each player. As painter is given Francesco di Giorgio Martini, though I've seen also other attributions. In a critical time (1474-76), in which the famous condottiero Montefeltro seems to have a favor for the number 28, Martini worked for Montefeltro.

Martini was - as later Leonardo da Vici - also engineer, and - just as Leonardo da Vinci - interested in war machines.
Condottieri were interested in such men.

Costanzo Sforza was the son of Alessandro Sforza, who is known for the possession of some Trionfi cards ...

..., which have in parts strong similarity to the Charles deck, but in other parts - as the card above - some unusual sexual orientation like this nude Temperance)

Costanzo married Camilla d'Aragon in 1475 in Pesaro, The above mentioned Martini and Montefeltro are said to have helped in the organization of the festivity (Pesaro and Urbino - the place of Montefeltro - are near to each other; they are just just neighbors).

The wedding had a triumphal festivity, which is described in an illustrated festival book, which - luckily - survived. One segment of the show contained a system with 28 elements, 12 gods reigning zodiac signs with each a "lower servant" (so all somehow Olympian gods with twins of lower rank) and Sun and Moon and Fortuna and the Hymeneus, which is an important figure at a wedding.

Here Montefeltro appears for a second time in context of a "28".
Especially remarkable is: In this system the pair "Castor and Pollux" (= Gemini) appears as the "first zodiac sign" ... a stylish element, which is also known from the Minchiate, which knows Gemini as the highest card of the zodiac row.


Another Montefeltro-28 appears in one of the two famous studioli of Montefeltro - that one, which he ordered in the years 1475-76. This was filled with "28 famous man" of world history. One of the pictures shows the current pope, Sixtus IV. (1471-1484), well, and this has its reason and one must understand them a little bit ...

Montefeltro had been involved in the military mission against Cittta di Castello ...

In 1474, Sixtus IV sent his nephew, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (later Julius II); after fruitless negotiations he laid siege to the city, but Vitelli did not surrender until he learned that the command of the army had been given to Duke Federico III da Montefeltro. The following year Vitelli tried unsuccessfully to recapture the city ...

Sixtus IV. made Montefeltro then (autumn 1474) "Duke of Urbino" and likely at this opportunity Montefeltro found to the possession of the Lazzarelli manuscript. This manuscript (this manuscript with 27, not 28, pictures has a specific role for the so-called Mantegna Tarocchi), at least there are 22 of the 27 pictures, which contain rather similar illuminations as the prints of Mantegna Tarocchi, for instance this one:

... or this one ...

The general Mantegna Tarocchi research assumes, that the Mantegna Tarocchi existed in 1465, but the research assumes, that the mentioned Lazzarelli manuscript, which Montefeltro got in 1474, initiated the Mantegna Tarocchi, which according this research was made as E-series c. 1475 by the workshop of Konrad Sweinheym in Rome.

May this be, as it is, Montefeltro got a big friendship to Sixtus IV in 1478, which led to a marriage of a Montefelro daughter to one of the many relatives of Sixtus IV. Montefeltro got the job as the highest general of the Chiesa, and this had the consequence, that he became involved in Sixtus IV. crime, when Sixtus attempted to kill the Medici brothers in 1478 (as it was recently deciphered by some studies) ...


Another "28" is found in a mysterious heptagon, made from 28 lines ... also in the mentioned studiolo:


Montefeltro got a visit

So there are some reason to be suspicious about this "28", if it appears near to Montefeltro, just in 1475/76.

Now Montefeltro got a visit "somehow once" in 1473/74 (with difficulties to get the precise date). The visit was so important, that it led to a picture, which survived:

At the right part with see the sponsor ... Montefeltro ... with his guest:

This visit is reported in a Footnote 4
to a text, which is not reachable in
"The Jew in the art of the Italian Renaissance" by Dana E. Katz

... so it is Persian diplomat in the service of Uzun Hassan (already mentioned in other parts of this thread before) and the background of the visit are naturally projected military operations against the Osmans.

With this a direct way of communication between Uzun Hassan and Montefeltro existed

The visiting ambassador was called the most impressive Persian delegate, Isaac Beg, a Spanish Jew and a physician, who had given earlier medical advice to Uzun Hassan himself. When he had been without much success in Italy, he was more successful at other places, especially in Moldavia.
... rather active against the Osmans
For Isaac-Beg

The ambassador was Spanish (Spain is known for good chess players in this time( and a Jew (Jews were known as good chess players and still are) ad he lived in Persia (famous for Chess players).

And in Persia was played in this time Tamerlane Chess, and this is played on a strange strange chess-board with 112 fields (11x10 board + 2 "citadel field", with totally 56 figures and naturally 28 figures for each player.

And Tamerlane had a great name as a great knight.

And Montefeltro was perceived as the greatest Condottiero of his time, and Codottieri felt, that they were also great knights. And chess playing had been one of the seven virtues of knights. And Montefeltro was internationally recognized as "great knight" and invited as honorary member of local knight orders. From my older collections I got this (inclusive a generous loan of 5000 ducats to Girolamo de Riario):

Montefeltro had in this year 1474 year a series of honors: According ... ... Gubbio.htm
... he had a military success in Volterra 1472 and in 1473 ... "promette a Girolamo Riario di dargli in prestito 5000 ducati necessari per acquistare dal duca di Milano il titolo di conte di Imola" (promises to give Jerome Riario borrowed 5000 ducats needed to buy from Duke of Milan the titel Count of Imola)
Girolamo Riario had been in 1473 not so important as later. His importance raised, when the favored cardinal Pietro Riario (brother of Girolamo) died under not very clear conditions (3rd of January 1474) ... was it due to this investment of 5000 ducats, that Montefeltro ...

* got in May 1474 the agreement, that his daughter Giovanna should marry Giovanni el Rovere
* received the order of the Ermelin in Naples in June 1474
* got the title duke in August 1474 in Rome
* became member in the order of the Garter in October 1474
* got a "rose d'oro" in Vatican camera del pappagallo in April 1475
... ?
Girolamo had been analyzed by later historians as "the bad spirit of Sixtus IV". In 1473 he was in the shadow of his elder brother Pietro, personally not really important, but his brother, made a cardinal, spend 200.000 ducats for matters of amusement in one year.

Nobody else in Italy than Pietro could do so. He died, very quickly and one doesn't know about the how and why. Two years later there was a scandal between Girolamo and Cardinal Giulio Riario, another nephew of Sixtus IV. There was a plan of assassination between the two. The story went under the carpet.
Further two years later (1478) the Medici plot happened in Florence and behind it were mainly Girolamo's interests.
The Ferrarese war started (1482), never Ferrara suffered more in this 15th century. The person behind it: Girolamo.

Had Montefeltro used Giralamo to get his many honors in 1474? And had Girolamo then used Montefeltro for his own interests? At the end of his life Montefeltro refused to fight against Ferrara ... but defended this city. He died during this operation (1482).

Anyway, when the Persian ambassadore Isaav Beg met Montefeltro, the "greatest knight" of the moment, there was no better person, who might be engaged to promote a famous Persian chess game in Europe. As we can see, the project finished before it really started. Tamerlane Chess didn't become part of European culture.


Well, there's a good part of speculation behind my argumentation to this point, no doubt, and I'm not interested to hide that.

But generally one has to see, that playing card development (inclusive Tarot development) was only the smaller brother of the big brother Chess. Chess was something for "real men (knights)" and playing cards were something for women and also male teenagers. At least till the 1470's.


Summary of these different parts:

1. There is a sort of general relationship between Chess and early till 1465. Observable Trionfi decks had then 14 or 16 special cards.

2. There is a manifested contact between Persia and mainly Venice in September 1464, which might have caused, that Western Chess players became interested in Mongolian and Persian chess variants, especially the Mongolian Hiashatar game, a decimal chess variant with 20 figures for each player.

3. There is an observable activity at the Milanese court (May 1465), which might have given reason to change the Milanese Trionfi game from 14 to 20 trumps.

4. c. 1470 or little later there is a Spanish Chess development, in which the rules are improved - Chess quuen and bishop become more powerful figures. This might have his reason, that Mongolic chess rules had become known in Europe (via Persian ambassadors).

5. 1473/74: The visit of Isaac Beg as Persian ambassador might have caused, that Montefeltro became interested in Tamerlane Chess - with 28 figures for each player

6. 1475/76: Montefeltro shows signs of interest for the number "28"


Maybe for the readers, who really want to read what there is to know about the 20 figure, it's time, that they write a word or few, otherwise I lose the interest to proceed ... :-)
Top   #5
MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
Posts: 443

This is quite wonderful, Huck. I like how you worked in so many details, such as the cliffs. I have myself thought for a while that tarot progressed from 16 trumps to 20 and then 22 (I still have trouble with 14), at more or less the time periods and places you suggest, give or take a few years, for reasons quite unrelated to chess. I must confess that I had never fully appreciated the relevance of chess variants to tarot development until this current thread. I for one would like to hear more.
Top   #6
Huck  Huck is offline
Join Date: 02 Jul 2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 2,682

Originally Posted by MikeH View Post
This is quite wonderful, Huck. I like how you worked in so many details, such as the cliffs. I have myself thought for a while that tarot progressed from 16 trumps to 20 and then 22 (I still have trouble with 14), at more or less the time periods and places you suggest, give or take a few years, for reasons quite unrelated to chess. I must confess that I had never fully appreciated the relevance of chess variants to tarot development until this current thread. I for one would like to hear more.
Thanks, Mike ... it seems, you're the only one ... .-) ... it's really a pity, that this has become such a silent place ...


Part 4

Now the long announced "20 figure" is shown.

After it was rather complicated to give evidence, how chess might have influenced the Trionfi card development, it's much easier to show, that another type of game might have ALSO influenced the situation of c. 1465, when the 5x14 deck from (likely) Bembo got six additional cards.
Somehow this stands as an "alternative explanation" versus the considerations, that Chess interpretations and Chess rules imports from Persia caused the change of 1465. But game structures often have more than one reason, when they develop.


"Venti figure" appear from the darkness

In a report of Nicola Antonia de Giorgio in "Playing Cards and Tarots in Naples, 15th-18th century", IPCS vol. 34, number 2, p. 101 (2005), about the game Malcontento the author presents a decree on 6th of April 1585, confirmed 23rd of January [/b]1586, where it is counted as lawful games : "A piccetto, tarocchi, venti figure, gilè, sbracare, al malcontento, a trapolare, alla gabella, a primiera ordinaria, a primiera scoperta, seu sommaria, et a runfo."

I got interested and googled "Venti figure":

This refers to 1631 and also Naples

This note relates to 1732 and still refers to "Venti figure" and card games

again "venti figure", again Naples

From this I knew the expression "venti figure" and that it somehow was played in Naples. And it was a card game.

However, the article was about a game called "Il Malcontento".

Il Malcontento appeared for the first in a poem of 1547 of Luigi Tansillo, together with Tarocchi, Scacchi, Trionfo and Runfetto. The longer poem had the same "Il Malcontento" and praised the game.

Discussion of the Malcontento topic

In another recent article in IPCS, vol 39, p. 232-33 (2011) by Kimihiko Kuromiya is asked and answered a similar question: "A note on the history of Cuccù".

According this "al Malcontento" presents another name of Cuccù. It's assumed, that Cuccù developed in France around 1490. The text of Luigi Tansillo 1547 is seen as the first sign, that the game had reached Italy.

The text offers another link to the text of Tansillo:

The article points to the author Saverio Franchi:
"Le carte del cucu - un antico gioco europeo sopravvisto a Montorio", Cassa di Risparmio della Provincia di Teramo (ed.), "La valle dell'alto Vommano d i monte della laga", Pescara: Carsa Edizioni, 1991 (Documenti dell'Abruzzo Teramano III, 1), pp. 93-115

Saverio Franchi thinks, that the game is older. He thinks, that "al Malcontento" alias Cuccù has developed from a dice (or "taxilli") game Gnaffus, which was noted twice in Bologna 1250 and 1286. Gnav is still an expression for games of the cuckoo group.
Generally it's assumed, that special cuckoo cards weren't used in the early time.

Franchi lives near Teramo, which earlier had close relations to Naples. Cuccù is still played in the region, so Franchi's interest developed.

Cuccu cards


Cuccu cards are real, cause some decks survived. The "venti figure", whatever this might have been, is - at least for the moment - unknown, nearly fiction, just a documented name of an unknown card game as many others.

An interesting aspect of the Cuccu-Malcontento game, earlier "Gnaffus", is, that it started as a dice game (at least some serious game reseachers believe this). a dice game could mutate to a card game, similar as I earlier in the thread gave arguments, that Trionfi cards developed from the chess game.


Mitelli's dice games

Now I stumbled about the Mitelli games. Mitelli was - beside many other graphic productions - a Tarot card engraver:

The Mitelli deck of 17th century is famous, if you don't know it, take a visit.

Beside this Mitelli created games, maybe 35 or something like this, in an case "many games". More or less games connected to dice playing. Between these many dice games he often used a form, which was connected to the use of 3 dice. I know not all games of Mitelli, but enough to suspect, that a lot of his c. 35 games are connected to this form. This is one of them:

As you see ... there are 20 fields, in other words there are "venti figure". Don't think, that this is a singular game, there are many others in Mitelli's poduction, all with small rules differences, but all based on the relative simple structure of "20 figure".

Report with more examples

I later researched and found "Sic Bo", which is called a modern "Grand Hazard" version.

"Sic Bo" is a Chinese name, "Hazard" descended as an European expression taken from Arabian sources.

Games of the "Grand Hazard" family are played with 3 dice, "Hazard" with 2 dice. That's the difference. Mitelli also has made two dice games and I also saw one die games, illustrated in the creativ Mitelli style.

3 dice have (according the common Grand Hazard evaluation) 20 results, which are parted in two groups: 6 Triple number 1-1-1, 2-2-2, 3-3-3, 4-4-4, 5-5-5, 6-6-6 and 14 dice results, as there are 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 (the results 3 and 18 are triple numbers)
... as you detect them also at the Sic Bo table.

Hazard forms are very old, older than playing cards and Trionfi cards in Europe. One has to assume for the year 1465, that Hazard game forms were there and everybody knew them - although they were often forbidden and this much more than card playing was forbidden.

So the "20 figure" were known, when the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi got 6 additional cards in c. 1465. It had 14 trumps (or special cards) and it got 6 more.

14 + 6 = 20 ... and that's also the Hazard game structure


"Venti figure", the card game

For the card game "Venti figure" of 1586 in Naples (that's the earliest, what I've seen), we don't know, what this is. But we have an example with Cuccu-Gnav-Malconento, that dice game structures could reappear as playing card games.

Playing cards as a new media in 14th century naturally took influences from all other social activities. A very clear example is the use of playing cards for geographical maps:

... popular in 17th century

Playing cards for political interests (21st century)

Playing cards divination which copied earlier lot books (1505)

This are only examples, there is much more ...



it's not unusual, if a dice game influences a playing deck. And Hazard, considered as a social factor, was rather mighty.

Is the story of the "venti figure" now at an end? No ... not really ..

I see a young man (putti) carrying a sun ...
That's Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi, from the part, which was made by the second artist c. 1465. A rare way to show the sun card.
The deck is considered to have 20 trumps only, that's also rather unusual

I see a man carrying a globe ... that's also a Tarocchi card, but a few hundred years later.
The relevant deck is considered to have also only 20 trumps. The highest trump has the number 20:

a man with a lightning and an eagle ...
Top   #7
KnightMove's Avatar
KnightMove  KnightMove is offline
Join Date: 06 Aug 2011
Location: Austria
Posts: 14

KnightMove's Avatar

Yet I haven't read and rethought all of this, but... an amazing work, Huck!!
Top   #8
Huck  Huck is offline
Join Date: 02 Jul 2003
Location: Germany
Posts: 2,682

Originally Posted by KnightMove View Post
Yet I haven't read and rethought all of this, but... an amazing work, Huck!!
Danke, KnightMove.

Welcome to aeclectic and he Tarot History forum ... from your profile I see, that you play Tarock (likely) and perhaps even other forms of Tarot, from your name I assume, that you might have also some association to the chess game.
I myself played once intensive the Chinese game of Go (in some points comparable to Chess) and as card game Doppelkopf (a game with 4 and with accidental partnership ... or soli in different form), which I consider similar to the Tarock family of Königsrufen (Tarock isn't played here in Cologne ... so I've not much opportunity to expand in the game).

If you've questions to the presented theses, please ask.... it must be rather difficult to find an orientation, if you never heard about the 5x14-theory. There is much material in the background (either in Forums or at our website, , to which I can easily point, if specific passages stay too loosely presented,
Top   #9
KnightMove's Avatar
KnightMove  KnightMove is offline
Join Date: 06 Aug 2011
Location: Austria
Posts: 14

KnightMove's Avatar

Thank you Huck. Indeed I play Tarock-Königrufen, and to a lesser extent, French Tarot and Hungarian Tarokk. And yes, also chess.

I have read about the 5x14-theory there, and actually I joined this forum to check it. While I am sympathetic to the theory, I don't think that all the arguments given there are correct. Do you prefer further conversation here or by private message?
Top   #10



Tarot Cards & Reviews Free Tarot Readings Tarot Books Tarot Card Meanings Forum Archive
Aeclectic Tarot Forum Links
· Tarot
· Tarot Special Interest
· Beyond Tarot
· Forum Library

Aeclectic Tarot Categories
· Angel Decks
· Dark & Gothic Decks
· Goddess Decks
· Fairy Decks
· Doreen Virtue Decks
· Beginner Decks
· Cat Decks
· Pagan & Wiccan Decks
· Ancient Egyptian Decks
· Celtic Decks
· Lenormand Decks
· Rider-Waite Decks
· Marseilles Decks
· Thoth Decks
· Oracle Decks
· List All Decks
· Popular Tarot Decks
· Available Decks
· Tarot Books
· What's New

The Aeclectic Tarot Forum closed permanently on July 14th, 2017. The public threads remain online as a read-only archive and resource. More information on our decision can be found here. Thank you for being a part of our active community over the past seventeen years.

Copyright © 1996 - 2017 Aeclectic Tarot. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy. Contact us.