How old is the Devil?


How old is the Devil? I've seen some posts speculating that the early Visconti decks are not "missing" the Devil, but the Devil was never there in the first place.

However the manuscript page "Sermones de ludo cum aliis" -- reproduced in Kaplan's Encylopedia - opposite page 1, lists "El diavolo" in 14th place, right after "13. La Morte", and before "15. La sagitta" (lightening).

Kaplan says it "appears to be the oldest list of standard trumps" and dates it as late-fifteenth century.

Huck suggests in the thread on the Bolognese tarot, that the only Devil like card in the various Visconti sets was the Snake. (a joker?)

The Mantegna Cards feature "Saturn" who has at other times been associated with a scythe and an hour glass, suggesting both "Time" or the Hermit, and Death, but here he is shown in his role as the eater of small children - a topos recurring on what might possibly be one of the earliest devil cards (Rothschild chicken-footed horned thing with bat wings, a face on his stomach, and consuming people...)

The Sola Busca has the bat-winged "Ipeo" - but this figure possesses also a headed winged walking stick, and a wreath of beads which recall both the Fool of Charles the VI and the Winged Old Man with two sticks from the Beaux Arts sheet (page 128 Kaplan), thus could either be a precursor of the Fool, or the Hermit... or the Devil, or nothing. LOL.

Incidentally, I have heard it said, but can't really find the source now, that the devil, at least in French literature limps - perhaps because he is considered to have one hoof in place of a foot. Le Sage wrote a book called "Le Diable Boiteux" or "The Devil on two sticks", and I notice the Old Man often has two sticks.

Both the Rothschilde and Rosenwald Old men have two sticks, moreover, the Rosenwald old man, has what appear to be legs ending in hooves along with the walking sticks.

In another peculiarity, the Cary Yale Visconti-Sforza Death card (Kaplan page 90) has one wooden leg...

There is much overlapping of symbolism because Saturn/Kronos is all at the same time the guy in mythology who carries the scythe, is old, limps - or creeps along on a peg leg, or walking sticks...AND eats children... (sometimes also hangs upside down, and gets linked to the Hanged man) -- so perhaps the missing Devil card is right here in plain sight as... the Old man and we just haven't seen him yet...??

Could the Old man have undergone a reversal of meaning, similar to the Tower - from Maision du Diable to Maison - Dieu -- the thunderbolt of god mutating into the rays of the sun, and mana from heaven? (See the Rosenwald Tower, with its rays of sun).

Nevertheless, the "Sermones de ludo" text lists a devil, a hunchback (el gobbo) AND death.

So... how old is the Devil card? LOL.


Irrespective of cards, the Devil also has very common and numerous representations in paintings and carvings in late mediaeval times.

In many ways, one need look no further than the very common and very visible external portals of Lumiere ('Gothic') Cathedrals to find the antecedent of Devil Tarot representations. Of course, on those carvings, the representations are more reminiscent of either Tower (gate or mouth of hell) cards or 'capturers' of damned souls.


"Father time"

We've the "Father time" with an hourglass - not very devil like - in the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-version (which is from the court of Milan), and we've not the impression, that this is a bad element there. In the Milanese version the Hermit is usually connected to the number "9".
In the interpretation of the 14 Bembo-cards the Faher time belonged to the 5-elements group 6-10 and this expresses a wheel with 4 eklements (which are 6-19)

6 Love for Spring
7 Triumph for Summer
8 Justice for Autumn
9 Father time for Winter

(this accourding "only" to our interpretation - this is from a time, when the Trionfi cards had only 14 special cards)

Surely is Winter the usual bad time of the year. But this "Father time" doesn't belong to the "bad" group in the Bembo cards, which are 11-13

11 = Fool = Stupidity
12 = Hanging Man
13 = Death

We know, that Ferrara in the same time also had 14 special cards, but we don't know, if the trumps were identical to that in Milan.


But ... this could be, at least as far the basic idea is concerned. In the iconography we may exspect differences.
So Sforza had the lion as a heraldic device, and Fortitudo (Strength) was painted as man with lion (Hercules) in the Bembo cards.
Ferrara, which hadn't the lion as a heraldic device, prefered a usual femal figure with columns.
The Chariot of the Bembo had a single female (Bianca Maria Visconti was a single daughter), but it seems, that the Ferrarese version seemed to have prefered a group of females (Niccolo d'Este had many daughters).

Now, why should they possibly have had similar ideas? Cause they had had communication, and by some luck we can see this communication.

1.1. 1441 Bianca Maria is in Ferrara as a guest (for an half year, and one political option of the time is the marriage between Leonello and Bianca Maria, surely a desired alliance on the side of Ferrara ... if this had realised, Leonello as the heir of Ferrara would have reigned a very great part of North Italy, truely a great concurrent to the expanding Venice.
The 1.1. is the date of the "Feast of Fools" and generally the feast of the fools was dedicated to playing (so perhaps we may assume, that this deck contained a Fool; Ferrara had a court fool, Gonella, btw.)
The document speaks of "14 figure", designed by the playing card painter Sagramoro, who later becomes specialist for Trionfi card productions. So we may assume, that these 14 figure were designed to become elements of a marriage deck ... a marriage, which never took place, cause Bianca Maria left Ferrara in March 1441 and married Sforza in October and the suspicion is there, that there was a new marriage deck and this is identical to that, what we know as Cary-Yale Tarocchi. Which is ... clearly recognizeable - not identical to the 14 Bembo cards. Which likely had not 14 trumps, but - only with some probability - 16.
Leonello became Signore of Ferrara short time later (begin January 1442) and he commissioned immediately four Trionfi decks (we don't know the content, also not the number of the special cards; likely 14).
In summer 1442 we've another document, and it seems likely, that we've to expect a similar deck as from January, though a cheaper production (it has 1/8 of the price of the other).

Then we've no further Trionfi production notes till the year 1449 ... although the situation of Ferrara (many documents) might be so, that ... if they had produced Trionfi cards ... we should know that.

In spring 1449 we've a report of a "production in plan" by the letter of Jacopo Antonio Marcello. He wants such a deck as a political present to the wife of Rene d'Anjou. It should help to reassure good diplomatic connections between Venice and Rene. In the first stage Marcello plans a new production, then he becomes aware of the existence of the Michelino deck and is able to get in possession of it.

We know from this specific time (month April/May 1449) that:

The artist Andrea Mantegna makes a journey from his home place Padova to Milan (although Milan is for the moment in militarical difficulties, caused by Sforza and Marcello and the Venetians; Padova is under Venetian control, Mantegna is citizen of Padova and Milan is a place of the foes. So it may be assumed, that Mantegna had a real reason for this journey).
Marcello later became variously commissioner of Mantegna, lived in Monselice near Padova and was occasionally Podesta in Padova later.

So it might be assumed, that Marcello ordered Mantegna to come to his militarical camp and get the commission and knowledge about details. After his short trip to Milan Mantegna is reported to have made a trip to Ferrara. ... and so he behaved as somebody, who have gotten the commission to make a Trionfi deck. He never made Trionfi cards, so he took the trip to Ferrara to get some insider knowledge about production methodes there ... there is no other place known to us, wher Trionfi decks were produced (beside Milan).

Much later it was said, that Mantegna engraved Trionfi, about the finest of his time. This was taken as a comment to the socalled Mantegna Tarocchi, but art history later came to the conclusion .. this, what we know of the "socalled Manegna Tarocchi", is NOT from Mantegna.

Now the whole thing is curious. 1449 is one year before the jubilee year and the Jubilee year took place all 50 years. The socalled Mantegna Tarocchi now has just 50 pictures. So ... what took place? Mantegna, as it seems, got a commission ... which was not needed, cause the commissioner, Marcello, finally found another deck. But naturally Mantegna would have made a plan ... and as a plan the number 50 might have been discussed. Mantegna really later showed, that he was able to engrave ... but the engravings, which exist, are likely not from Mantegna.
We've a report about a quarrel of Mantegna with two other engravers (Mantegna organised an attack on these two other) with Mantegna embarassed, that these two artists copied something from him. In the begin of the 70's, much later.
We've a report of Lazzarelli who found pictures (engravings ? or what ?) in a Venetian book store (ca. 1470), which he took and formed out of them illuminations (not engravings), which he needed for a manuscript, that finally became in possession of Federico Montefeltro (Urbino) after 1474 (22 of 27 illuminations reappear as Mantegna Tarocchi). Also we know of a second manuscript (Martianus Capella), which used also a few pictures of the Mantegna Tarocchi and which was also produced in Urbino in the 70ies.
Wel, this is a riddle of the Mantegna Tarocchi, from which we assume, that it "really" as a complete composition was formed in 1475 with pictures, whose motifs existed already earlier, at a next Jubilee year (Jubilee years were changed to appear all 25 years in the meantime, the success of 1450 had shown, that it did lead to very good businesses for the church and Italy). The Mantegna Tarocchi ... so our conclusion ... was a tourist article (pilgrims = tourists).

Well, that's a strange riddle, but we've to follow the communications between Milan and Ferrara. The war continues, there is a peace in the end of the year and Sforza is cheated in this peace by the Venetians. Marcello as friend of Sforza is embarrassed, but has to follow the Venetian senate.
Sforza follows the peace, but to the surprize of Venetia and Milan he reattacks around Christmas (Christmas and winter is usually not the time to launch militarical attacks). At the 25th of February he's successful and Milan opens its doors. A month later he has a triumphal entry in Milan connected to a greater festivity.
After ca. 8 years (about 90 monthes) ... in which we hear nothing of Trionfi deck production in Ferrara ... Trionfi cards production restarted in Ferrara in just this month of March 1450, when the Signore Leonello learnt about Sforza's victory. The production seems to be hastened, the 3 commissioned decks are rather cheap, there is no time for better decks (about a 1/4th of that, what was normal). The decks are paid at the 16th of March.

Leonello is likely already eager to haste to Milan to attend the Trionfo of Sforza, it was useful to belong to the first who congratulated the winner. And small presents could cause great diplomatic effects - Leonello, one should be sure, had 3 Trionfi decks in his pocket. Only this was the reason for their production. And that should be the early rule for Trionfi decks: they were only produced, when a real Trionfo occasion existed. A victory, a peace or a marriage. Mostly a marriage.

Now was 1450 a very special year: Jubilee year. Lots of festivities, followed by a great plague. In Milan 30.000 persons are said to have died.
In December 1450 Duke Francesco Sforza has a small problem. He has no Trionfi cards. He wants some and writes to his secretary, but the secretary is not able to find some. Francesco Sforza is a mighty duke, but unable to get a specific card deck. The story tells us: There were not many Trionfi decks. Milan starts then to organize production in Cremona, Bianca Maria's private city. We hear from this production in a letter exchange from 1452. And it is generally assumed, that the produced deck type was the socalled Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo-deck. Perhaps to a Trionfo-festivity, which took place in Milan in August 1453. It's not generally, but it's very likely true, that they had only 70 cards, between them 14 special cards. 6 other cards were later addded, but they were painted by another painter.

In 1454 finally a greater peace (Lodi) is made. In Ferrara starts a greater production of Trionfi decks, perhaps also partly for a very special occasion late in the same year, a marriage between Este family and Sforza family.

Beatrice d'Este, girlfriend of Bianca in Ferrara in winter 1441, marries Tristano Sforza, an older son of Francesco Sforza. Tristano develops to become a major diplomat for the Sforza's then. Beatrice plays then a big role at the Sforza court, she was acknowledged for her beauty in her youth and was called the "queen of the feasts" in Leonello's Ferrara sometime before. Her son Niccolo da Correggio testifies the personal creativity of the mother: He became a poet and later engaged for the theatre, which developed in Ferrara. Likely Beatrice was also creative with Tarot cards.

In 1457 the young son of Francesco Sforza, Galeazzo Maria, 13 years old, makes a longer visit Ferrara. It rained once and they played cards and tennis, as he wrote to his father. For the opportunity of his visit two decks were produced, which were more expensive than usually (about 3x as much), and the document is clear about the number of the used cards: 70 cards, not 78, but 70. A 5x14-deck.

In this time - during the visit - it happened, that the painter got some money for some colors and material to produce cards. A page is mentioned, who also painted Trionfi cards. Likely the young guest had ideas to experiment a little with the cards, a new deck perhaps, whatever.

The good relations Ferrara-Milan continued till Francesco's death, 1466. Then ... new regents are tested in their abilities, a short war, Ferrara indirectly involved, also Galeazzo Maria, but at the other side. Peace again in April 1468. Galeazzo marries two monthes later, and the marriage - as it seems - creates the opportunity for the first deck with 22 cards.

In 1469 in August a try from the Medici in cooperation with Galeazzo Maria try to push arebellion in Ferrara. The relations shouldn't be very good then. But things were turned below the carpet. Borso is on his way to become a 3-fold duke, from Ferrara, Modena and Reggio. 1471 the goal reached, but at his return Borso becomes sick and finally dead the same year.

Ferrara, as it seems, took the 22-deck from Milan, but it had another number order (when and where did this happen?). Justice (Number 20) was high, that is, at the second place after the highest card world (number 21).
Well, the likely reason for this other order is the condition, that duke Borso liked himself to connect to Iustitia. There are paintings with Borso and Iustitia and other relating stuff. That's the major reason, why the Ferrarese order is another than in Milan., it seems that the various art productions, which show this justice preference are late in his lefe, perhaps all after 1468 and perhaps all related to this iconographical Trionfi game changes.

The Gobbo in the Ferrarese deck was a "bad figure". The Milan "Father time" was not. Milan had the dragon (or snake) as heraldic device. The ourobouros (just a form of the dragon) often was connected to Father time and it is also at the Saturn-picture of the Mantegna Tarocchi. Milan had no heraldic reason to paint a bad Father time, it was their own heraldic device. . But the Ferrarese perhaps had, when they were endangered by Galeazzo Maria. In the Ferrarese oder we detect "5 bad things in a row": Il Gobbo = age, the Hanging Man as traitor, the death, the devil, and the tower finally, numbers 11-15. The Ferrarese order uses groups: 1-5-5-5-5-1 is the scheme, or in other representation:
0, 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21. The Milanese order doesn't seem to group the elements in this way, see again:


That was fascinating.



Lillie said:
That was fascinating.


Thanks for the comment.

We found it fascinating, too, during research.


Thank you Huck, I found that a great piece to read. All that work you just did typing is why I love this Forum- you made history live for me as I read. ~Rosanne


So far as the Tarot is concerned, I often wonder if "The Devil" isn't
a very interesting pun based on nothing more than a play on words.


firemaiden said:
Incidentally, I have heard it said, but can't really find the source now, that the devil, at least in French literature limps - perhaps because he is considered to have one hoof in place of a foot. Le Sage wrote a book called "Le Diable Boiteux" or "The Devil on two sticks", and I notice the Old Man often has two sticks. .

Just throwing in a quick one to say that in Czech depictions of the Devil he always has one human foot and one hoof - incidentally we used this as part of our imagery in the Devil card in the Fairytale (he's also lame of course). You see it most often in Czech devil puppets - wonderful things.

Sorry, can't seem to do an attachment at the moment, but here is a link - if you're interested I'll try to link to a picture of a traditional Czech puppet also: image/cards for frame/web_Devil.jpg


Thank you, Baba, that must be where the idea that he limps comes from. (Also in music, sometimes a dotted "limping" rhythm is used to portray the devil, as in Gounaud's Faust).

Huck thank you for your fascinating reply, and the links. I'm gratified to learn that the "gobbo" was considered at least sometimes a negative figure.

I would think "Time" personified would be both negative and positive, in that time brings death, but it also brings life - time is what turns the wheel...


Perhaps the limp is a consequence of the single hoof, or the single hoof a consequence of needing to make sense of a limp (or mis-shapen foot).

What this again calls to mind is (Cf XV Le Diable) Hephaestus.