Minchiate is an early 16th century card game, originating in Florence, Italy. It is no longer widely played. Minchiate can also refer to the special deck of 97 playing cards used in the game. The deck is closely related to the tarot cards, but contains an expanded suit of trumps. The game was similar to a complexified tarocchi.
Scholars generally believe that the tarot cards were invented around Florence and northern Italy circa 1440; they spread elsewhere in Italy early on. The minchiate represents a Florentine variant on the original game. The game was first known as germini and was later known as ninchiate in the 17th century.
The word minchiate comes from a dialect word meaning "nonsense" or "trifle". The word minchione is attested in Italian as meaning "fool", and minchionare means "to laugh at" someone. The intended meaning may be "the game of the fool", considering that the card "The Fool", also called "The Excuse", features prominently in the game play of all tarot games.
Minchiate Etruria and Fiorentine
The minchiate deck differs from the standard tarot deck in several particulars. The first and most obvious difference is that the trumps have almost doubled in number; there are 40 trumps in the minchiate, in addition to the unnumbered card the Madman, The Fool or the excuse.
|Card number||Italian name||depicted on the minchiate card||corresponding Minchiate Francesi card||corresponding tarot of Marseilles card||corresponding divination tarot card|
|(0)||Il matto||The madman||Momus||Le Mat (the madman)||The Fool|
|I||Papa uno; l'Uno; il Papino; Ganellino||Pope one; The trivial performer||(Mercury)||I Le Bateleur (the trivial performer)||1 - The Magician|
|II||Papa due; Granduca||Pope two; the Grand Duke||(Bacchus)||III L'impérarice (the empress)||3 - The Empress|
|III||Papa tre; Imperatore||Pope three; The Emperor; The Western Emperor||(Amor)||IIII L'empereur (the Emperor)||4 - The Emperor|
|IV||Papa quattro; Imperatrice||Pope four; The Empress (Fiorentine); The Eastern Emperor (Etruria)||(Venus)||V Le Pape (the Pope)||5 - The Hierophant|
|V||Papa cinque; Innamorato||Pope five; Love||Amor||VI L'amoureux (the Lover)||6 - The Lovers|
|VI||la Temperanza||Temperance||Temperance||XIIII Temperance||14 - Temperance|
|VII||la Forza||Fortitude||Fortitude||XI La Force (fortitude)||8 - Strength|
|VIII||la Giustizia||Justice||Justice||VII La Justice||11 - Justice|
|IX||la Ruota della Fortuna||Wheel of Fortune||Fortune||X La Roue de Fortune||10 - Wheel of Fortune|
|X||il Carro||Chariot||none||VII Le Chariot||7 - The Chariot|
|XI||Il gobbo; il tempo||Hunchback; time||Old age||IX L'Ermite||9 - The Hermit|
|XII||L'impiccato||The hanged man||none||XII Le Pendu||12 - The Hanged Man|
|XIII||la Morte||Death||none||XIII La Mort||13 - Death|
|XIV||Il Diavolo||The Devil||none||XV Le Diable||15 - The Devil|
|XV||la Casa del diavolo||The house of the Devil||none||XVI La Maison Dieu (the house of God)||16 - The Tower|
|XX to XXIII||il Fuoco, l'Acqua, la Terra, l'Aria||The four elements, fire, water, earth, air||Fire, Earth, Water, Air||none||none|
|XXIV to XXXV||la Bilancia,la Vergine,lo Scorpione,l'Ariete,il Capricorno,il Sagittario,il Cancro,i Pesci,l'Acquario,il Leone,il Toro,i Gemelli||The zodiac (Libra,Virgo,Scorpio,Aries,Capricorn,Sagittarius,Cancer,Pisces,Aquarius,Leo,Taurus,Gemini)||December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January||none||none|
|(XXXVI to XXXVIII, but usually unnumberred)||La stella, la Luna, il Sole||The star, the moon, the sun||The Star, the moon, the sun||XVII L'étoile, XVIII La Lune, XVIIII Le Soleil||17 - The Star, 18 - The Moon, 19 - The Sun|
|(XXXIX, usually unnumbered)||il Mondo||the World||the World||XXI Le Monde||21 - The World|
|XL||L'Angelo;Le trombe||The Angel;The trumpets||Renown||XX Le Jugement||20 - Judgment|
The ace to ten and the court cards resemble their standard counterparts more closely. There are the four standard Spanish and Italian playing card suits of swords, batons, coins, and cups; these contain pip cards from ace to ten, and four court cards: a jack, a knight, a queen, and a king. In the minchiate deck, however, in the suits of cups and coins, the "knaves" or "pages" (Italian fanti) have been replaced by "maids" (fantine). The knights, mounted figures in the tarot of Marseilles and similar designs, are centaurs or sphinxes in many minchiate decks.
Significant differences exist also among the trumps between the minchiate subjects and their tarot de Marseille counterparts. As discussed below, the Papess and the Pope are absent from the minchiate trumps (at least no Pope nor Popess are depicted); instead, it contains a Grand Duke. The Etrurian minchiate also lack the Empress and instead depicts two different Emperors; a western and an eastern.
The standard tarot card The House of God, becomes the House of the Devil in the minchiate deck or Hellmouth; it depicts a nude figure fleeing a burning building. The Moon depicts an astrologer studying the moon instead of the tarot of Marseilles howling dogs and lobster. The card corresponding to the Hermit is often called Time, or the Hunchback; it depicts an elderly man on crutches. All four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues don't appear in tarot, except in the very early tarot decks called the Cary-Yale Visconti tarot. The minchiate version of the Hanged Man is called the Traitor; he carries bags in his hands as he hangs upside down, a representation associated with treason in 14th-century Italy. The final card in the series is not the World, but an angel blowing trumpets.
The Minchiate Francesi, also called Minchiate de Poilly after it's attribution to engraver François de Poilly, refer to 3 different french decks utilizing the same set of engravings. The first has 42 numbered trumps, the second has 40 numbered trumps and Momus as a unnumbered card and lacks the first's "Le Chaos" card, the third has 21 numbered trumps and Momus as a unnumbered card. The intended game for the first deck is unknown, but the second appears to be intended to be played like the Italian Minchiate while the third deck appears to be intended for ordinary Tarot (despite still being called a Minchiate deck). The order of the motifs for the two latter decks have been rearranged compared to the first deck to more closely resemble their Italian counterparts. All three decks have the same 56 pips cards with French suits. The engravings share motifs with both the Italian Minchiate and the Tarot Nouveau as well as taking unique motifs from Roman Mythology.  
42-trump deck order:
#1-5 Cosmological objects (Chaos, Sun, Moon, Star, World), #6-9 Elements (Air, Earth, Water, Fire), #10-13 Age (Youth, Infancy, Adolescence, Old age), #14-18 Senses (Taste, Smell, Touch, Sight, Hearing), #19-24 Virtues (Prudence, Justice, Charity, Hope, Strength, Renown/Judgement), #24-30 Gods (Mercury, Bacchus, Amor, Venus, Momus, Fortune) #31-42 Months/Zodiac (January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December).
40-trump deck order:
Momus, #1-4 Gods (Mercury, Bacchus, Amor, Venus), #5-9 Virtues (Prudence, Charity, Justice, Hope, Strength), #10 Fortune, #11-14 Ages (Old age, Youth, Adolescence, Infancy), #15-19 Senses (Taste, Touch, Smell, Hearing, Sight), #20-23 Elements (Fire, Earth, Water, Air), #24-35 Months/Zodiac (December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January), #36-39 Cosmological objects (Star, Moon, Sun, World), #40 Renown/Judgement.
21-trump deck order:
Momus, #1 Mercury, #2 Amor, #3-8 Virtues and Fortune (Hope, Strength, Fortune, Justice, Charity, Prudence), #9-12 Age (Old age, Youth, Adolescence, Infancy), #13-16 Elements (Water, Fire, Earth, Air), #17 Star, #18 Moon, #19 Sun, #20 Renown/Judgement, #21 World.
The game spread from Florence to the rest of Italy and to other areas of Europe including France. By the 18th century, minchiate had overtaken the original game of tarot in popularity in Italy. Paolo Minucci published a commentary on the game in 1676, and the game is described in detail by Romain Merlin in Origine des cartes à jouer, published in Paris in 1869. The game was still played in Genoa in the 1930s, but its popularity declined in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The game, like other tarot games, is a trick taking game in which points are scored by capturing certain cards and sets of cards. The lowest five trumps (Daddy, Grand Duke, Western Emperor, Eastern Emperor, Lover) were called papi, "popes", even though "Le Pape" (The Pope) does not appear among the minchiate trumps. The highest five trumps (Star, Moon, Sun, World, Trumpets) were called arie ("airs") and have a special high scoring value in the game.
While the game of minchiate died out during the early 20th century, in more recent years the minchiate has become the subject of further speculative interest. It is related to the tarot, although the expanded set of trumps added to the minchiate does not shed any light on what the tarot deck was originally intended to signify.
In 15th-century Florence, at least, the tarot was thought to contain religious, allegorical, and cosmographical symbols. Justice, Strength, and Temperance were three classical "cardinal virtues" depicted in the more familiar tarot trumps. The minchiate supplies the remaining cardinal virtue — Prudence — and also includes the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity. The Sun, Moon, Star, and World figure in the tarot de Marseille trumps; the minchiate completes the series by adding all the zodiac signs and the four classical elements.
Although no divination system using this pack of cards ever existed in previous centuries, and because of this allegorical and cosmological content, in recent years tarot occultists have proposed systems of divination and cartomancy that use the minchiate deck. In Charles Godfrey Leland's book 1890 book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, an incantation is given that mentions the use of "40 cards", which are renamed in the spell as 40 gods who are being invoked to compel the goddess Laverna to do the caster's bidding. Paul Huson has speculated that these 40 cards are the 40 trumps of the minchiate deck. He has also pointed out that Leland's book Etruscan-Roman Remains in Popular Tradition (1892) contains a spell that is cast with tarocco cards, to invoke Janus.
The Italian publisher Lo Scarabeo offers a reproduction of the "Ancient Minchiate Etruria", an engraved minchiate deck that originally appeared in 1725.
The Italian publisher Il Meneghello offers a reproduction, in regular and mini sizes, of the "Minchiate Fiorentine", a woodcut minchiate deck that originally appeared circa 1820.
The late tarot artist Brian Williams (died 2002) published a modern edition of the minchiate deck, which accompanies his book referenced below.
Artist Constante Constantini, through Italian publisher Solleone, has published two different modern minchiate decks:
- Minchiate Fiorentine: modern redrawing of a woodcut design
- Nuove Minchiate Fiorentine: modern redrawing
- Dummett, Michael: The Game of Tarot (U. S. Games, 1980) ISBN 0-7156-1014-7
- Huson, Paul: The Devil's Picturebook (G. P. Putnams Sons, 1971, BackInPrint, 2003) ISBN 0-595-27333-5
- Huson, Paul: Mystical Origins of the Tarot (Destiny Books, 2004) ISBN 0-89281-190-0
- Williams, Brian: The Minchiate Tarot (Destiny Books, 1999) ISBN 0-89281-651-1
- Thierry Depaulis: Le Tarot Révélé (Musée Suisse du Jeu, 1993) ISBN 978-2-88375-013-5
- A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack, Dummet & McLeod, 2004. Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter. Vol.1, page 319.
- "Regole delle Minchiate di Niccolo Oneste (1716)". Retrieved 2011-11-01.
- as mentioned by Stuart Kaplan in his Encyclopedia of Tarot, Pope John XXIII ordered depiction of Sforza — guilty of desertion — as hanging from his right leg.
- Origine des cartes à jouer, Romain Merlin, Paris, 1869. Page 130-131.
- Tarot, jeu et magie, Thierry Depaulis, 1984. Page 86.
- "Aradia, ch. 17". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2012-04-03.
- Huson, Paul, The Devil's Picturebook, p.67, New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1971
- Huson, Paul. The Devil's Picturebook. p. 189.
- "Etruscan-Roman Remains, ch. 10".
Web sites of interest
- The Minchiate at Andy's Playing Cards
- Early notes about the Minchiate
- Regeln des Minchiatta-Spiels Rules for the minchiate game (in German)
- Images from Fiorentine minchiate deck
- Titles of and images from French minchiate deck