Bianca Maria's birthday tomorrow


autorbis composed a post as a reply in TarotL. The content might be of interest here, too. It sums up the researches in the Ferrara-
group of LTarot.
The object of the counterpost was Eliphas Levi:

I've added relating links for better understanding

Hi Ruthanne,

Levi hardly had a better overview about Tarot and medieval or
renaissance art and card productions as we do have nowadays.
And we do see, that various of the iconographical motifs were used in other contexts in art. Tarot was just one of the possible artistic expressions - between many others. Some motifs were loved and very common, for instance the virtues, others not, like the Hanging Man.
Most motifs appear at other places before they are used in Tarot. The contexts and combinations, in which they were used, as far we do see them, were never like the now traditional Tarot motifs.

What can we do? We can only observe and research that, what we see in
context to the cards, from which we've knowledge from. We cannot
observe and research all and everything, building wild hypotheses who
did something about Tarot, when not a single word about playing cards
or Tarot is said in documents in context to specific persons or
locations and times.

What can we say about the data, which is acceptable as "probably true"? Only for the early time?

Point 1: There is not much for the early time.

Point 2: Some persons appear more than once in Tarot-related
documents during that time.

Point 3: In nearly all cases we can state, that the related persons
knew each other. And mostly they are famous persons.

Point 4: The first person, which is Tarot-related and not known to
this famous Trionfi-owner-circle is a merchant from 1459 in Bologna.
That's rather late and he is not a famous Trionfi-deck-owner, just
somebody, who is robbed. document 20

From that it seems to be likely, that Trionfi were developed in the
highest circles of Italian society. Is that unlikely? One (Filippo
Maria Visconti) is twice called an inventor (by Marcello and

Another (Boiardo) is also known as an inventor, too late
for the early development, but demonstrating, that it was an accepted hobby to be creative with cards and to be active this way.

We've from Germany and Belgium and the French court and from Alfonso d'Aragon also notes about the production of luxury decks, 3 worthful German decks of this quality survived. From the later time we know, that Ascanio Sforza, Pope Alexander VI and others are related to cards - even persons of the church.

We've a practical example of the way from the child Louis XIV., that
some teaching decks were developed for the young king around 1640 and
later reproduced for the mass market. We've examples from other
fields, that monarchic hobbies and interests of the nobility were
imitated by the people around them. Monarchs and higher nobility had
the function to be creative and innovative for the whole society -
that had been not unusual.

Things were a little different in Italy, as there were beside the
common regiment of nobility also republics and especially Florence
was very "creative". A possible invention from persons in Florence is
a real alternative to an "invention by nobility". So we know, that
Florence invented Imperatori-cards (whatever that was), which was
bought by the Ferrarese signora Parisina. see:Imperatori-decks in Ferrara

Unluckily Florence and its surrounding was hampered by relative strong card prohibition in the critical time (the 40ies of 15th century), the general mood there was influenced by pope Eugen IV. (1431 - 1447) and this pope loved Franciscans and Franciscans didn't love card-plays but cardplay-burning. So - rather bad chances for Florentians to become Trionfi-deck producing inventors just in this time.

Much better chances and real evidence exists in Ferrara, where at the right time a very creative person is present, known and famous for his modern thinking: Leonello d'Este.

Even a printing-press for playing cards seems to have been there.

Then in September 1440 an interesting political situation is given.
Filippo Visconti (a man, from which is known, that he had an open
heart for games - chess and cards and backgammon) had trouble with his expected son-in-law, cause Francesco Sforza is fighting for the Venetians against him. So he offers the hand of his single daughter Bianca Maria to just Leonello d'Este - it is unclear, if this was a real offer or just a maneuver to figure out, how Sforza would react.
But - naturally Leonello must have believed that this was a real
opportunity. A marriage would have opened a way to become successor of Filippo Maria Visconti - which would have meant much power, much money and a great political success for the smaller Ferrara.

Bianca Maria, 15 years old and in the right age to be married in this time, was brought to Ferrara - she didn't marry Leonello, but stayed a 1/2 year. A 1/2 year is long. In contrary to the lonesome education of Bianca Maria's youth Ferrara was a vivid court. Many children of Niccolo, Leonello's father, lived there.

A happy community. Luckily also two girls in the same age. 3 young girls in Ferrara, and a lot of younger children, then a prince Leonello, 20 years older, surrounded by them. And some humanists running around, a lot of students in the city, love for music and singing. Why not also card-playing?

We know from many paintings, that card-playing was a female domain. In most pictures with card-players at that time you usually find at least one woman. We've from early Ferrara evidence, that Parisina especially was connected to card-playing. Men seem to have prefered chess. Also we've evidence, that children loved cards. Many Trionfi and card documents relate directly to kids. This young community of Ferrara 1440/1441 was an ideal place for card-playing.

Then it comes at 1.1.1441 to the following action: "And on the said day (1 January) two lire, five soldi marchesane, reckoned to Maestro Jacopo de Sagramoro, painter, for 14 figures painted on cotton paper and sent to Lady Bianca of Milan, to make festive the celebration of the Circumcision of the present year ... L. II. V." see: 14 figure

It seems, that Bianca Maria gets a present. The "14 figures" are of
some use at a private festivity at the evening, and it is known from a German city, that the 1st of January was a specific date
for "playing games" (Games are generally associated with winter in medieval time - for logical reasons, it's dark and cold and there is not much to do at the outside, a calm time for farmers). Cotton paper is a material, which was of use in playing card production. The price is comparable to other prices, which were paid for Trionfi cards or playing cards.

Bianca Maria specifically was very special about card games. The
Michelino-deck (whose date is unclear, but must have been between 1417 - 1425) has as a probable date the year 1425; in this year Filippo Visconti had a socalled Trionfo - a festivity about
a "victory". Filippo Maria was at that time successful at one of his
many battlefields, but in 1425 he was very victorious, cause he had a problem until then. He didn't get children, although already 33 years old - and that was not good in his position and a great problem. In 1425 Bianca Maria was born - it might be, that this girl came with cards on the world.

Well, of course, this is only speculation. But Filippo Maria spend a
fantastical price for this deck - 1500 ducatos. Very much - it must
have been really a very special occasion, when he did spend the
money. Later this deck was called a Trionfi-deck, but it might be
(and it is probable), that this name was not common in 1425.

With this story in the background - if the speculation is true -
Bianca Maria arrived in Ferrara. Leonello, in his special situation
as possible husband-in-spe had the mission to win the heart of this young lady. How? He must have tried something, which was very personal: Actually, in the given situation a Trionfi-deck,
remembering Bianca Marias birth story, wouldn't have been a bad idea.
Other art objects from this time in Ferrara produced specifically for
Bianca Maria are not known.

But the trick didn't work. Perhaps Filippo Marias interests dominated the issue. Or Bianca Marias decision. Or - who knows.
Bianca Maria left Ferrara in the end of March - after a half year.

One of the two daughters of Niccolo, which had the same age, Beatrice d'Este, married later in second marriage (the first man died in the first year, leaving only a son to her) Tristano Sforza, that means somebody out of Francescos Sforzas family and Bianca Maria is reported to have danced at the wedding 1455 (so the friendship should have endured). This familiar connection was an important direct link between the courts of Milano and Ferrara and did lead to Galeazzo Maria's (13 years old) visit in Ferrara in 1457 (probably for this occasion the 70-card-decks were produced), where he played cards and tennis, which prepared to made him addicted to tennis later.
Beatrice herself was called "queen of the feasts" in Ferrara at a
certain time. She must have had a creative spirit and she gave it to her son, who became a poet with much influence on the early theatre in Ferrara in the 80ies, she's "a right person" to invent a game in a certain phase of her life.
We don't know, how this action was done at 1.1,1441, perhaps the 3 girls told the painter Sagramoro, how he should paint the objects, these "14 figure". A fun for the group - why not? Beatrice should have been good at this occasion.
About the other girl, Isotta, we do not know much. She also became a young widow and married a second time, became then victim of the plague in the 50ies.

Well, Bianca left in March 1441, Filippo Maria made a peace contract with Sforza in July/August 1441 and the marriage Bianca
Maria/Francesco Sforza was done in Cremona in October, which was Bianca Maria's "personal city", part of her dowry. The marriage created peace between Milano and Venetia, it was a good occasion to create a "Trionfo"-deck. It is suspected, that this deck was the Cary-Yale.

Looking back to 1.1.1441: Is it impossible, that this also was a
Trionfo-or-marriage-deck just in plan? A preparation for a wedding, which didn't take place? Then naturally the specifying words "playing-cards" or "Trionfi" are missing, there were only paintings, which prepared a later edition.

Also look at the date: 14 paintings, made for the 1.1.1441 - that
could have been a number game (in the case, they had the correct calendar).

A curious number-game also appears at the wedding of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria.
A 16-years-old girl marries a 40-years-old-man and is naturally 24
years younger than him. The Cary-Yale looks, as if it had 16 trumps (with some right Michael might say, that this is "only" speculation).

In that case you've in this deck 24 court cards, 16 trumps and 40
number cards, that means, the same numbers, which appear in the marriage.

Alright, what happened next? Niccolo, Leonello's father, was active in diplomatic missions and in Milano. Around Christmas 1441, that's 2 monthes after the weding of Bianca, he was
suddenly sick and died. One assumes poison, but nobody knows from whom he might have gotten it.

Leonello becomes new Signore in Ferrara and immediately must
have given the commission of 4 Trionfi decks, cause the decks are
already ready in February 1442 - for which reason?

He wanted to have a Trionfo, it was the begin of his reignment. Naturally he had opportunity to be inspired to do so by the Cary-Yale at Bianca Marias wedding and the action from 1.1.1441 (if we assume, that all conclusions are done correctly, of course).

This 4 decks must be seen as event-related. The painter is the same Sagramoro from 1.1.1441, who becomes later specialised on the job: Trionfi-painter.

Then later in the same year, two sons of Niccolo, get a deck, much
cheaper, but still expensive. The deck is bought from a merchant, who
has an unclear business-relation to the painter Sagramoro - again
Sagramoro, who already repeatedly was before the date 1.1.1441 active in playing card production.

The boys are 9 and 11 years old. What kind of deck is this? Probably Leonello found it unbearable, that the kids played with one of his worthful Trionfi deck and ruined them, which probably had the character of highpaid art or the character of a loved rememberance.
But the kids were a little crazy about the colourful pictures, so he
finally spend some money to satisfy them.
But the note suggests, that there was a production of Trionfi-decks, probably an imitation of the decks earlier produced - outside of the "great-event-character".
This happened after 1.1.1441, after the marriage in October 1441 and the 4 Trionfi-decks in February 1442, in summer 1442, in time and location near enough to be produced in relation as result of the earlier actions. An imitation-deck, a cheaper reproduction. Probably Sagramoro was involved in the business.

Were there much of these reproductions? We believe, there were some, but not many. There is no note about Trionfi-decks in the years 1443 - 1448, at least not in Ferrara and that is strange, cause in the years 1450 - 1463 there is nearly every year at least one note in Ferrara.
Why should that lie?
There is - so we assume - no great interest in these decks. They have no great publical influence. They just are great-event-decks. No event - no decks.

We've also no note about Bianca Maria in relation to Trionfi-decks in these years.

In 1449 we've the Marcello document. He tells a complex story about a deck, which was done by Michelino and accompanied by a book written by Marziano da Tortona for Filippo Visconti, this deck, which we suspect to be from 1425, from the birthyear of Bianca Maria. Marcello is in search for this specific deck and he really finds it and can buy it. He sends it to Isabella, Queen of Lorraine, wife of Rene d'Anjou (again we've the feature: cards are for women).
The most interesting detail is it, that Marcello gets before a deck
in the soldier's camp, that is not good enough for the hands of a
queen. This tells us: there is a production of Trionfi decks. Not
necessarily a great one, but Marcello sees it as possible to find a
manufacturer, who is able to create "good enough" Trionfi decks.

The Marcello story happens in a soldier's camp, the soldier's are
attacking Milan. Marcello cooperates in important position with
Sforza in the service of Venetia. Sforza is called by him "a friend"
later. Probably he knows Bianca Maria, it can't be totally excluded,
that he became known to Trionfi decks just by her.

Venetia stops the cooperation with Sforza and tries to urge Sforza to stop the attack. Marcello leaves the soldier camp and returns home, where he writes the letter (11th of November 1449). Sforzas refuses to stop his attack and has now two foes, Milano and Venetia. Sforza is successful with this risky strategy and wins Milano. That happens in late February 1450.

March 1450, 3 weeks later: Sagramoro gets in Ferrara money for 3 Trionfi-decks. WHY just know? After 8 years pause? Actually it is
clear: These decks are not made for himself, but intended to
congratulate Sforza to his triumph in Milano, a diplomatic present.
Sforza was the new man on Milano's throne, so it was important to get good relations to him. With the decks Leonello could remember Bianca Maria at earlier occurences. Women influence men, Leonello knew, what he did. Again: Perhaps this decks were meant for Bianca Maria, not for Francesco. Card-playing was a women-domain.
In late March 1450, 10 days later, the related publical event takes
place: A Trionfo for Francesco Sforza. In Milano, not in Ferrara.

December 1450, same year. Francesco Sforza, probably due to the plague in Milano, is in Lodi, 20 miles away. He writes two letters to get a Trionfi deck. He is an important man with many possibilities. He isn't successful. What does this tell? Trionfi decks are rare.

December 1450, same month. In Florence "Trionfi" are called
an "allowed game". It's the first time, that the name is mentioned in many, many documents about prohibitions around Florence, researched by Franco Pratesi, who did a great job there. "Trionfi" should be a new game. As an allowed game it has chances to become more than an event-deck. In Florence, which is usually a very modern city in this time, for special reasons a little late in the Trionfi-deck development. The allowance has a background, that Francesco Sforza is a friend of Florence, and that Florence is willing to assimilate a little bit nearer to Milano, which was 30 years under Filippo a foe.

1451: Leonello has died in Oktober 1450. His brother Borso
is commissioner of a deck in 1451, probably to prepare his Trionfo
(with an event-deck). As the political situation is unstable, it seems, that the festivities are done rather late, in 1452.

1452: In a letter Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, asks for a
Trionfi-production from Cremona. Cremona means in this
context "Bianca-Maria-City" and Bonifacio Bembo, the probable painter of the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-deck. It seems, that Bianca Maria as good wife has solved Francescos playing cards problem.
Bianca Maria is angry about Sigismondo Malatesta, it is unclear, if
he gets a deck. Also it's possible, that she had a personal identification with this deck, that she was not willing to part just with Sigismondo Malatesta, who had killed his wife recently (a daughter from Francesco Sforza, a very delicate situation).
But for the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-deck, that is the 14 or 70 Bembo-cards: It might have been done in this time.

In 1454 (peace of Lodi) the Trionfi production explodes. Borso d'Este seems to see a business in this new mode of card-playing and organizes a production at his court. Which he gives up a half year later, probably due to the condition, that others have the same idea and produce cheaper. But till 1463 we constantly have notes in the account books of Ferrara about private Trionfi-productions. Not too much, but enough. see: documents 11-13

1455: marriage Beatrice d'Este - Tristano Sforza
1456: Trotti in Ferrara signals: Trionfi are farspread.

In 1457: It is mentioned, that 70-cards-decks are produced. Galeazzo Maria's visit.

1459: a merchant is robbed, a Trionfi deck stolen in Bologna. The
game has reached normal citizens, at least now.

All what I see: More or less a private story, 3 documents let assume a somewhat broader production: Summer 1442 (two boys in Ferrara), 1449 (Marcello), 1450 (allowance in Florence) - but none is really a sure indicator for a very broad distribution before 1454, even not the development in Florence.

No note about a 22 in this time.

Is it likely, that all decks were similar? Considering, that there
seems to have been single, individual "great events", which caused the production of Trionfi-decks, it might be exspected, that the first decks also had an individual character. Perhaps the development of different figures caused finally, that the number of trump-cards was raised later to 22 just by uniting different deck-types.

(It is now written by myself, but the researches and considerations were done in cooperation with Ross, other members of LTarot cooperated with informations and engagement, especially Mari Hoshizaki)

(from) Lothar

presented by Huck

Ross G Caldwell

Happy 579th birthday, Bianca Maria Visconti!

And thanks Huck, for sending that remarkable analysis and synthesis along.