THE OLDEST TAROT DECK
It was commissioned by Filippo Maria Visconti – Duke of Milan – between 1441 and 1447.
There are still 67 cards belonging to this milestone in the history of the Tarot, of which 11 Triumphs (Major Arcana).
This deck is a stupendous and unequalled work of art, hand painted on gold or silver foil decorated with a metal punch – gold for the Triumphs and court cards, and silver for the numeric cards –.
The deck is closely linked to the Visconti family: the heraldic coats-of-arms and the mottos of the Visconti family on the cards leave no doubt of this.
Even the period in which they were made is quite certain: during the reign of Filippo Maria Visconti.
Indeed, the coin cards bear the exact reproduction of a coin that was legal tender during the period he was the Duke of Milan: the gold florin of Filippo Maria.
Characteristics of the Deck
For each suit, there are 6 different figures: king, queen, knight, lady (also on horseback), page, and maid.
The Triumphs also include some figures that do not appear elsewhere.
The three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – are indeed unusual figures in the Tarot.
The many peculiarities of this deck have led to the hypothesis that it may be one of the first experimental phases of the Tarot, in which a precise structure had not yet been defined and would only be consolidated in the years to come.
Different Names for a Single Deck
The complex history of these cards has led to the identification of this deck with different names:
- “Visconti di Modrone Tarot”. From the Milanese noble family that possessed the deck until World War II, when all traces of it were lost.
- “Cary-Yale Tarot”. This curious name comes from the American collector Melbert B. Cary, who donated the deck to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (one of the libraries of Yale University), claiming to have bought it after the end of World War II.
- “Filippo Maria Visconti Tarot”. From the name of the man who commissioned it.
General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University