Trionfi (cards)

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Trionfi (Italian: trumps) are 15th-century Italian playing cards with allegorical content, related to those used in tarot, tarock and tarocchi games.

Trionfi is the plural of trionfo (Italian: triumph).


The first known use of the name Trionfi was in February 1442, in the account books of D'Este court of Ferrara,[1] when the painter Sagramoro received money for the production of four playing card decks,[2] which contained a series of trumps and the common four Italian suits (le chope e le spade e li dinari e li bastoni e tutte le figure). In the following years the name appears variously in playing card contexts, with the major part of the documents coming from the Ferrarese court.[3] Parallel to this development extant, early cards are known mainly from Milan (the so-called "Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi"), identified as forerunners of the later Tarot cards. The earliest cards of this type of deck, unfortunately not all complete, are the Brera-Brambilla Tarocchi, the Cary-Yale deck and the Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi.

Likely, the name Trionfi was used in the early times not only for decks produced at the opportunity of a triumphal occasion like a marriage, military victory or a peace treaty, as a small part of the much more voluminous festivities, which also were called "Trionfi", a type of celebration which became excessively popular in Italy around 1440-1450.[4]

A letter from November 1449[5] by the Venetian Antonio Jacopo Marcello used the expression for a deck, which was produced 1425 or earlier. It was commissioned by the duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, painted by Michelino da Besozzo and described in an accompanying text by Martiano da Tortona.[6] The deck itself is lost, but the description of Martiano da Tortona[7] offers details about the deck. It had likely totally 60 cards (four kings, forty number cards and sixteen trumps). The forty-four-suit cards used birds as suit signs and the trumps presented sixteen Roman gods.

The names Taraux and Tarocchi appear according current Tarot research for the first time in the year 1505 parallel in Avignon (France) and Ferrara. Around this time, the name Trionfi seems to modify its character in playing card context, it appears as a game of its own (Rabelais knows a Taraux and a Trionfi game) and seems no longer connected to the specific allegorical cards. The general English expression "trump" and the German "trumpfen" (in card games) have developed from the Italian "Trionfi".


It's apparent, though one cannot be sure, that any note of the word Trionfi or similar appeared in the 15th century and indicated something similar to Tarot cards as they are popular today. However, they differ from modern Tarot cards in regard of their motifs and deck structure. A Ferrarese document in 1457 notes the production of 2 decks, from which each had 70 cards - the usual modern Tarot deck form has 78 cards.

The first sure deck with 78 cards appeared in the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, with the first deck thought to have been created between 1461–1494. The deck structure was created according to the Tarot-standard, but the motifs and suits signs of the Boiardo deck are totally different. Here are some examples:

  • The above mentioned deck of Michelino da Besozzo possibly was meant to accompany a Trionfi of Filippo Maria Visconto at 2 June 1425.
  • the above mentioned Cary-Yale deck is estimated to have been produced for the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza in October 1441.
  • The above mentioned Pierpont-Morgan-Bergamo Tarocchi (estimated to be produced 1452) possibly relates to a triumphal activity in Milan in August 1453.
  • The above mentioned 2 decks from Ferrara in June 1457 seem to relate to a visit at Ferrara of the young Milanese heir of the dukedom Galeazzo Maria Visconti in July/August 1457[8]
  • We've only one note about Trionfi cards in Siena, 1451.[9] It's just the year of a 4-day-celebration for the first meeting between Emperor Fredrick III. and his bride, Eleanore of Portugal.
  • We've 2 notes of Naples in 1473[10] and 1474.[11] It's just the time, when the King of Naples prepared for the marriages of daughters.
  • It's reported, that Bianca Maria Sforza brought cards from Italy to her wedding with Emperor Maximilian in 1494. The cards were intensively discussed and admired at the evening before the wedding night.
  • A German card deck (without any sort of Tarot structure, but preferring the traditional card form) was produced for the marriage of the son of the German emperor to a Spanish princess.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dai Leon Origins of the Tarot: Cosmic Evolution and the Principles of Immortality pg. 8-9 Frog Books 920090 ISBN 1-58394-261-0
  2. ^ original text, collected by
  3. ^ Ferrara 1441, vollected by
  4. ^ Nino Pirrotta, Elena Povoledo Music and theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi., pg. 286, Cambridge University Press (1982), ISBN 0-521-23259-7
  5. ^ Translation of letter, by Ross Caldwell
  6. ^ report "The Oldest Tarot Cards", collected by
  7. ^ Translation by Ross Caldwell", collected by
  8. ^ original text, collected by
  9. ^ original text, collected by
  10. ^ original text, collected by
  11. ^ original text, collected by
  12. ^ report "The South German Engraver, c.1496", by Simon Wintle

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