Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Tarot in Literature II

The most important documents


This essay is part in Italian of the text I Tarocchi in Letteratura I


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012

Francesco Berni - Serafino Aquilano - Agnolo Allori (Bronzino) - Agnolo Fiorenzuola - Niccolò Martelli - Benedetto Varchi - Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger - Giambattista Roberti - Niccolò Forteguerri - Giovan Santi Saccenti - Anonymous 

Primero against Tarot

Francesco Berni (1497-1535) was a writer and poet. The reaction of Pope Adriano VI (Adriano Florenz), to whom Berni had addressed his Satires, forced the writer to leave Rome, where he had gone to live as guest of his relative Cardinal Bibbiena. He died of poisoning in his native Florence, where he was in the service of Cardinal Ippolito Medici and involved in court intrigue. He was 38 years old. His representation of raw reality, like the plague and the vice of gluttony, introduced in joking tones but never vulgarly, with style and courtly language, began that literary genre called the “Berni Chapter”, imitated subsequently by many Arcadian and romantic authors.

For our purposes what is of interest is the 1526 composition Capitolo  del Gioco della Primiera col commento di Messere Pietropaulo da San Chirico (Chapter of the Game of Primero with  commentary by Sir Pietropaulo of St.Chirico), where the author makes a digression about the games of the time. Next to the exaltation of the game of Primero, we find some negative comments on other games, as in the following passage, where the affirmation of a player who considers the tarot “a beautiful game” offers the cue to highlight the contrary:

“Un altro più piacevole di costui, per intrattenere un poco più la festa, e dar piacere alla brigata a guardare le dipinture, ha trovato che’ Tarocchi sono un bel gioco, e pargli essere in regno suo quando ha in mano un numero di dugento carte, che a pena le può tenére, e, per non essere appostato, le mescola così il meglio sotto la tavola. Viso proprio di tarocco colui a chi piace questo gioco; ché altro non vuol dire tarocco che ignocco, sciocco, balocco, degno di star fra fornari e calzolari e plebei a giocarsi in tutto dì un carlino in quarto a tarocchi, o a trionfi, o a mischiate che si sia: che ad ogni modo tutto importa minchioneria e dappocaggine, pascendo l’occhio col sole e con la luna e col dodici, come fanno i putti”.

("Another", says he, "finds Tarot an excellent game, more pleasing, more entertaining at parties, and giving pleasure to company  looking at paintings; and he seems to be in his glory when he has in his hand the number of two hundred cards, which he can scarcely hold, and which, not to be overlooked, he shuffles as well as he can under the table. Let him observe, he who is pleased with the game of Tarot[Tarocco], that the only meaning of this word Tarocco, is stupid, foolish, simple, fit only for Bakers, Cobblers, and the vulgar, - to  gamble away the fourth part of a carlino [money of that time] , at Tarocchi, or at Trionfi, or any Miishmash ["Mischiate", meaning "jumble", a pun on "Minchiate"] whatever: which in every way signifies only foolery and idleness, feasting the eye on the Sun, the Moon, and the twelve (signs)as children do").

In another passage, celebrating Primero, Berni writes:

«…siami concesso, non per affermare  ma per istimare o imaginare, dir che io per me credo che la denominazione di questo nome sia dedutta dal valore e dalla nobiltà della cosa, né per altro essere chiamata primiera che per essere prima e principessa, a dir così, di tutti gli altri giochi. E a dire il vero, qual altro ha più grandezza, più galanteria, più generosità e più libertà di questo? Né la ronfa, né la cricca né i trionfi né la bassetta ha a far cosa del mondo con esso. Questo è fastidioso, questo ignobile e da brigatelle, quest’altro troppo semplice, quell’altro troppo bestiale; sola la primiera è piacevole, nobile, figurata e, a dir così, buona compagna, e con tanta destrezza fa le cose sue che se ella facesse altrui tutto il mal del mondo, bisogna che l’uomo le resti schiavo, sí come di sotto dice il poeta “S’io perdessi a primiera il sangue e gli occhi, Non me ne curo”. E una grandissima prova della sua grandezza è che i gran signori a primiera giocano e non ad altro gioco, o rarissime volte».

(«Let me say, not to affirm but to esteem or to imagine, that I believe that the meaning of this name [Primero] is to be deduced from the value and nobility of the thing; not for any other reason is it called Primero, but for its being the first and the principal, to say it like this, beyond all other games. And to tell the truth, which other game has more greatness, more gallantry, more generosity and more freedom of choice than this? Neither cricca, nor ronfa, nor triumphs, nor bassetta can be compared to it. The one is annoying, the next is ignoble and of little value, another is much too simple, the last is too bestial; only Primero is pleasant, noble, rich in figures and, to say so, good company, and with so much dexterity in its things that if it did the others all the pain of the world, one would anyway remain its slave; as the poet says: “If I lost my blood and my eyes to Primero, I would not care”. And the greatest proof of its greatness is that gentlemen play Primero and not other games, except rarely»).

To conclude, Berni affirms that no game is deserving of men's time  (with the exception, obviously, of Primero), while he denigrates the “small triumphs” considering them fit for peasants.

The affirmation of the author, who restricts the circle of tarot players to plebeians, farmers and cobblers, appears in evident antithesis to the affirmations of Imperiali in his Answer to the invective by Lollio (see in Tarot in Literature I the section Two literary men from Ferrara). To Lollio, who writes poetry against the tarot because of the disgrace of having lost "three pairs [paia] of scudi [money of that time]", Imperiali answers that he would have to sing its praises instead, believing that the game merited it. We are therefore informed that this same Lollio was a skilled player and that he dedicated a large part of his free time to the game of tarot. The characters described at his table, the Podestà and Giulio Cardinale, appear worthy of every respect. Other games would perhaps have deserved those criticisms. From this description a turnaround in his convictions  may be deduced, probably dictated  either by his feelings or the geographical situation: in Ferrara, toward the mddle of the XVI century, the game of tarot was well known, and practiced also by the nobility; but in Rome, on the contrary,  it is a conjecture, whether it was also used  by the common people.

Imperiali writes:

Ma il Tarocco se ben è un giuoco antico,
Non è per invecchiar, cotanto è bello,
giuoco da far, et non disfar l’amico

Even if Tarot is an ancient game,
It does not get old, since it is so beautiful,
A game for making friends, and not for getting rid of them.

And further

Ma ‘l giuoco del tarocco è da Signori,
Principi, Re, Baroni, et Cavalieri,
per questo è detto il giuoco degli honori.

But the game of tarot is about Nobles,
Princes, Kings, Barons and Knights,
For this reason is called the game of honours.

Of the same opinion as Imperiali was Innocenzo Ringhieri, who, in his work printed in Bologna in 1551, Cento Giuochi Liberali e d'Ingegno  (One hundred Liberal and Ingenious Games), at the end of his text defines as “glorious” the “Game of Triumphs” and considers it  "most deserving of the crown of your [the reader's]  infinite honours” (1).


We now report different texts that appear of some importance regarding the order of the Triumphs at the beginning of the XVI century (2). Since they lack artistic quality of important significance their presence is above all due to the need for completeness in this close examination of texts.

Strambotti de Triumphi

An anonymous song from the end of the XV century or the beginning of the XVI century is from a collection  of strambotti with the title Strambotti d’ogni sorte & sonetti alla bergamasca gentilissimi da cantare insu liuti & variati stormenti (Strambotti of every sort & sonnets of the gentlest bergamasques, to be sung with lutes & varied instruments). The strambotto, usually composed of a single stanza of eight eleven syllable lines, was sung, as can be deduced from the above title, with the accompaniment of instruments. Mario Menghini, in an edition of his about Serafino de’ Ciminelli (3), called Serafino Aquilino" [i.e. from L’Aquila city] composer of Strambotti and gives different compositions drawn from thiscollection, among which is the Strambotti de Triumphi, appearing with minimal variations from the original, as follows:

Original text

Miracomãdo  aquel angelo pio,
al mõdo al sole alla luna & lostello
alla saetta & a quel diavol rio
la morte el traditore el vecchierello
la rota el caro & e giustizia di dio
forteza & temperanza & e amor bello
al Papa imperatore & Imperatrice
al bagatello al matto più felice.


Version by Serafino de’ Ciminelli

Mi raccomando  a quel angelo pio,
al mondo, al sole, alla luna & lo stello
alla saetta & a quel diavol rio,
la morte, el traditore, el vecchierello
la rota, el caro, & e giustizia di Dio,
forteza & temperanza & e amor bello,
al papa, imperatore & imperatrice,
al bagatello, al matto più felice.

I commend myself to that pious angel,
To the world, to the sun, to the moon and the stars,
To the arrow and that cursed devil,
Death, the traitor, the poor old man,
The wheel, the chariot and the justice of God,
Fortitude and temperance and beautiful love,
To the Pope, Emperor and Empress
To the Magician, to the Madman most happy.

Some compositions about Germini or Minchiate

The first document known in which the term Germini (Minchiate) appears is the Capitolo in Lode delle Zanzare (Chapter in praise of the Mosquito), composed between 1530 and 1540 by Agnolo Allori, called “Bronzino”(1503-1572), a disciple in painting of Pontormo, but also an amateur poet   in the "bernesca" style. The Capitolo was dedicated to Benedetto Varchi, after a request he made to Tuscan artists, among them Pontormo, to pronounce whether painting was greater than sculpture. Some verses focus on the Tuscan Triumphs:


Ponete mente il giorno delle feste
     Dove si gioca a Germini, e allora
     Vi fian le mie parole manifeste.
L’Imperadore e ‘l Papa che s’adora
     Vi son per nulla, e le virtù per poco,
     Fede e Speranza, ed ogni altra lor suora.
Il zodiaco e ‘l mondo, e’l sole e ‘l fuoco,
     L’aria e la terra, ogni cosa si piglia
     Con quelle trombe alla fine del giuoco.

Think about a festival day 
     When we play Germini, and then
     My words will be clear.
The Emperor and the Pope who are adored,
     Worth nothing and virtue a little,
     Faith and Hope and all their sisters.
The zodiac and the world and the sun and the fire,
     The air and the earth, everything is taken
     With those trumpets at the end of the game.

Further documents concerning Germini are, first, a tale by Agnolo Fiorenzuola, Sopra un caso accaduto a Prato (ca. 1541) (About a case that happened in Prato), where we find indications about the game through the players’ ways of talking: «se fa a germini e dica al compagno: Dà uno di quei piccioli” e “il compagno die ‘l trenta dua, e’ dice “Bene”; se dice: ‘Da un dell’aria’, e colui die una salamandra, ‘e dice: “Buono, buono, compare”» (If he plays Germini and tells his partner: “Give one of these small cards”, and the partner gives out the XXXII, and he says: “Well done!”; if he says; “Give one of the “arie” [ i.e., one of the top five trumps, known as arie]”, and with it he gives out a salamander [Fire, trump 20, probably mistaking  it for aria “Air”, one the four elements, of which Fire is one, for arie], and he says: “Good, good, my friend”) (4).

Another reference to Germini is in La Cortigiana (The Courtesan) by Pietro Aretino (Second version, 1534) where in Act Five, Scene 11, Rosso says: “Poco starete a far gemini de i tarocchi con Livia”. We must emphasize that this last Aretino expression is believed to mean "You’ll not often play Germini with Livia", really meaning "You have little chance to have sex with Livia" as we pointed out in the essay Tarot in Literature III  (in its Italian version only). 

One that instead belongs to the typology of compositions of “Appropriated Tarots” is the Capitulo de’ trionfi del passo col Matto e l’Amore facti in Prato l’anno MDXXXIIII (Chapter of Triumphs of the path with the Fool and Love made in Prato in the year MDXXXIIII) written by Martelli in the same year. Every triumph is connected to a gentlewoman of Prato. After this Chapter, the following one was Stanze facte a l’improviso lungo el Bisentio sopra una parte de l’insegne de’trionfi (Stanzas improvised along the Bisenzio River, on some of the insignias of the Triumphs), composed by the author, again in the same year (35 -36).

Martelli, judged a cheap literary figure by the critics of the last two centuries, during his time was variously judged. Thus Armando Sapori writes about him, treating of the commercial history of the Renaissance:  «Niccolò Martelli, a man of the XVI century, who left his business, while leaving Florence spoke of “wanting to recreate with the verses [he wrote so many of them, and ugly, dedicated to the gentlemen who hosted him] of the quarrels of the vile market”». Apostolo Zeno in his annotations to the work Biblioteca dell'Eloquenza Italiana di Monsignore Giusto Fontanini, Arcivescovo d'Ancira  (Library of the Italian Eloquence of Monsignor Giusto Fontanini, Archbishop of Ancira) (5) writes that “The young Martelli went to Rome, at the time, in the years XXVIII, when Pietro Aretino was there, who, having given him affection, composed in his praise a chapter and supported him in entering into the pleasant field of Tuscan poetry, in which then he succeeded in being more than middling happy”. Contrarily, in Book IV of the Opere di Monsignor Giovanni della Casa (Works of Lord Giovanni della Casa), edited by Baptist Casotti (6), we find that in the testimony of the erudite Compilers of the Florentine Academy of the Historical News, Martelli was man “of wonderful fertility and of great, sweet talent”.

Returning to the Capitulo de’ trionfi del passo (Chapter of Triumphs of the path), it is necessary to specify that the expression “of the path” today commonly means those cards of Triumphs known as Major Arcana, which are the most noteworthy cards from the symbolic and allegorical point of view.


This is the beginning of the poem:


Senza giudicar, Donne, a passïone
di voi s’è facto i Trionfi del passo,
però stia ognuna u’ l iuditio la pone.
E udirete, mentr’andiamo a spasso,
e mentre l’un ragiona, e l’altro canta
chi l’ha di voi più alto e chi più basso.
Quella di Marïan ch’ha in sé tanta
bellezza che potria far arder Giove,
la Tromba fia, de’ Germini el quaranta.

Without judging, oh women, for your love
Have been written the Triumphs of the path,
So each of you, stay for the judgment it sets you.
You will hear, while we are going for a walk,
And while one reasons, and another sings,
Who amongst you has the highest and who the lowest.
That of Marïan, who has in her
So much beauty as to make Jupiter burn of love,
Is the Trumpet, number forty of the Germini

The Chapter ends with these verses:


Ècci due altre cose che vanno
L’un senza l’altro, chè ‘l matto e l’Amore,
però fra queste ancor si noteranno.

Here there are other two things that go
The one without the other, that being the fool and love,
However among these they will still be noticed.

Or se tu domandassi me, lectore,
quel che d’esti trionfi pare a me,
risponderei, per far al vero onore,
che sare’ chi avessi el quaranta per sé.

Now if you, reader, would ask me
What I think of all these triumphs
I would answer, giving honour to the truth,
That I would like to be the one who had the (number) forty for himself.

In one of Martelli's letters addressed to a certain “Mme. M. Dem”, he cited his memory of how and when the occasion of the layout of the Chapter of Triumphs occurred; we find it in Il Primo Libro delle Lettere (The First Book of Letters) (7), from which we give the relevant passage:


“ began to open the season that needed recreations & pleasures out of the Earth for the happy & gracious spring that began; there seemed to go out of it something new, in order to vary the pleasures, and starting with the most beautiful & gracious (women) of the Earth, to make the triumphs of the path in terca rima, to be able to distinguish & deliver the praises of them who were deserving; & so we did with intention & correctly, without partiality, so that each one was happy with her place, equal triumphs presented as the highlight of the of the banquet of the honourable M. Giovanbattista Spighi, sung and performed [reciati, accompanied?] on the lyre by the same Author: this was enough, yet he continued with making some stanzas about a part of the triumphs, at least those always found present & together with Mme. the Countess de Bardi, stanzas that were sung & edited,... so at the end of that delightful day, long of course but brief, for the frequent & various pleasures here gathered, not many days later we ascended to the pleasant Poggio delle sacca; where, being there more than once, he felt the triumphs & composed stanzas about them, after dancing & veryhonestly celebrating in the shadow of cypresses & myrtles near a beautiful spring; some of you  were not lackng and, improvising, sang some stanzas, not only about the qualities given you from above the skies but even about the fair clothes, and  beautiful colours, that diffusely each one wore:  etc”.


Other documents concerned particularly with the game of  tarot and also their order can be found in the work La Piazza Universale di tutte le professioni del Mondo (The Universal Square of all the professions of the World), printed in Venice in 1585, by Tommaso Garzoni of Bagnacavallo, in the Tipocosmia  appears in Venice in 1561) by Alesandro Citolini of Serravalle and in the Trattatello sul gioco (Little essay about the game), printed in Venice, ca. 1570, by Sperone Speroni degli Algarotti.


On the nature of the Tuscan vulgar

Benedetto Varchi (1503-1565) was born in Montevarchi in Tuscany. His father favoured by his predisposition for literary studies, he studied jurisprudence becoming notary. Subsequently he belonged to the Florentine Academy dealing with linguistics, literary criticism, aesthetics and philosophy, but also with alchemy and botany. He wrote the essay L'Hercolano (published posthumous in 1570), the comedy La Suocera (The Mother-in-law) and a lot of sonnets. His literary activity, very appreciated by his contemporaries, gave him the reputation of being a philosopher that made him soon famous, even if in reality he was just a divulger of philosophical ideas.

His most famous work however is still L’Ercolano, a dialogue between the author and Count Ercolano about the nature of vulgar [common] Tuscan (L’Ercolano, dialogo di Benedetto Varchi  dove si ragiona delle lingue e in particolare della toscana e fiorentina (The Ercolano, Benedetto Varchi’s dialogue where there is reasoning about some languages and in particular about the Tuscan and Florentine). Success was immediate, thanks above all to the fact that it was the first book dealing with linguistics not written in Latin. Discussing whether the Greek language was richer than our vulgar [i.e. the common tongue], Varchi described hundreds of Florentine expressions, all related to current speech, without correspondences in the Greek language.

One of these concerns the game of Minchiate: "Dare il suo maggiore (Give his greatest), taking the game of Germini, or of true tarots, in which triumphs are marked with a number, which is to say, one was able to know how much some were, and so be able to judge in favour or disfavour of those that are so marked; and because the Trumpets are the greatest of the triumphs of the path, dar le trombe (to give the trumpets) means to make the last effort”.

Rustic Plays

Contrary to cultured authors who wrote poems, histories and classical style comedies, the popular artists gave outlet to their inclinations, composing strambotto, elegies and rustic comedies, and themselves acted their works in the squares, for the fun of the least refined public. The rustic plays tell the histories of common people, of peasants, who face great and small daily problems.

The greatest flowering of this literary kind was in the XVI century, above all in the Congrega dei Rozzi (The Congregates of the Rough) of Siena, whose language rerecycled late fifteenth-century Florentine experience, such as the Nencia di Barberino attributed to Lorenzo de’ Medici. The motto of the Congregates of the Rough inscribed on the coat of arms is really eloquent for the purpose of the understanding of the intent of the members: “Who sojourns here purchases what he loses”, meaning that everyone who entered into the academy assumed the title "Rough" but vice versa he lost, through his participation, every trace of ignorance and boorishness. Pope Leo X invited to Rome many times some of the “Rough” to delight himself with their humorous jokes, as a demonstration of the great notoriety that, since the beginning, the members of the congregate had achieved.


Among the most important compositions of the kind we remember La Catrina (ca.1530) by Francesco Berni, La Tancia (1611) and La Fiera (1619), both by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, L’Adone (1623) by Giovan Battista Marino, Bacco in Toscana (1666) by Francesco Redi, Lamento di Cecco (ca. 1700) by Francesco Baldovini and Assetta (ca. 1750) by Francesco Mariani.


Two of the authors are of interest for this study: Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger with his composition La Tancia, and Francesco Mariani, author of the Assetta.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, called the Younger, to distinguish him from the very famous man of the same name, of whiom he was a descendant, lived in Florence between 1568 and 1646. As he was much endowed with a good poetic vein,  he belonged to the Florentine academy and to the Crusca (with the pseudonym “L’Impostato”), making his best in the compilation of the first and second editions of the Vocabolario. From his language taste, that he had the opportunity to sharpen really in his experience as a member of the Crusca, was born La Tancia, a rustic comedy in octave rhymed verse presented in Florence in 1611.

In the Fifth Scene of Act Five, the rude Ciapino tells a dream in which he and a friend of his were struck. Even though the expression “E attendea pure a trionfar bastoni” (And even was waiting for staves to triumph) means that the peasant was expecting to incur more grave beatings, Giulio Ferraro, who  edited  an edition of the work in 1812 , interpreted the verses quoted above as “dalla carta di bastoni nel giuoco di carte, forse quello che si diceva Trionfetti" (about the card of staves in a card game, perhaps that called Trionfetti”(8).

Storditi ci rizzammo, e barcolloni,
Chiamando ajuto, e non sentiva gnuno:
E attendea pure a trionfar bastoni.
Noi correvamo stretti a uno a uno,
Perchè n'eramo li fra due ciglioni.


Ciapino. We rose again senseless and tottering,
Calling for help, and nobody heard us:
And also expected the staves to triumph (to incur a grave beating)
We raced narrowly one by one,
Because we there were between two embankments.


Mariani’s Assetta was published toward 1750. A priest of Marciano, the author (a member of the Crusca whose nickname was Appuntato), composed besides Assetta also Le Nozze di Maca (The Wedding of Maca),  both received favorably by the critics.

These are the verses that open Scene Two of Act Two of Assetta, where the author resorts to an analogy with a game of cards to describe a situation that he had encountered. Among others we find the expression “to give the rottenness”, a term used in card games of the time, to mean (according to what we find, also for this text, in the annotations of Giulio Ferraro): “it is worth double the wager; figuratively: we say "to give the rottenness" when we achieve that which is desired, saying rottenness spitefully, it is worth double spitefully."

Character: Tano, alone.

Non c'è dubbio nissuno, ho buono in mano,
Ma una carta mi dà perso il giuoco,
E a arristiarla voglio andar pian piano,

S' è già fatta la scritta, e non è poco
Ma chel che importa poi a dar il marcio,
Ulivetta chell'è ch'attizza il fuoco.

Chesta cartaccia sola mi dà impaccio,
Che Masa non ne vuol sentir covelle,
E però niente strengo, e ‘l tutto abbraccio.

Che giova aver le carte buone e belle,
Se la peggior che sia in tu le carte
Ammazza il Re, Cavagli, e fantinelle?

Ora bisogna far un cuor da Marte,
E giocarla di testa, e a ragione,
E porci tutto il ceravello e l'arte.

There is no doubt, I hold some good ones,
But one card can make me lose the game,
And I want to risk while walking the floor softly.

The writing is already done, and it is not a little thing,
But what is important is to give the rottenness (achieve satisfaction),
Ulivetta is the one who inflames the fire.

There is only this filthy card that stands in my way,
That Masa doesn’t want to listen to anything,
So I bind nothing to me and embrace all.

What good is it to have good and beautiful cards
If the worst that you have
Kills your King, Knights and Pages?

What is needed now is to have a heart of Mars,
And to play with one's head and with reason
And use one's whole brain and the art.


Three literates of the XVII century

The Jesuit Giambattista Roberti (Bassano del Grappa, 1719-1786) was occupied with letters, theatre and science. A versatile character in all senses. In Parma, at the College of the Nobles, he taught Rhetoric and had the position of Academician, also finding himself placed in charge of the organization of theatrical presentations, which constituted an important component in the educational method of the Jesuit colleges. This experience influenced the taste and artistic sensibility of Roberti, who was much interested in the Italian and nearby European theatrical experiences of those years, showing a particular predilection for the works of Carlo Goldoni. In Bologna, while teaching philosophy, he manifested a deep interest in the sciences, something that brought him to tighten his friendships with such famous characters of the time as Francesco Algarotti. After the suppression of Compagna, Roberti was in proximity to enlightenment thought. Among his numerous compositions we find a little poem with the title Le Perle (The Pearls) published in Bergamo in 1771. The work, of a didactic character, is dedicated to the fishing of pearls and their uses, to signs on gems, and to precious metals; in the notes he also mentions the manufacture of  artificial pearls, as well as systems for underwater fishing. The composition was dedicated to the Genoese patrician Count Gian-Luca Pallavicini and it is in the dedication that we find reference to the Bolognese tarot and to Minchiate, where the author, reviewing the different entertainments that attracted his friend Count, hopes also that his book could be among them:

…. e le Tosche minchiate,
Ed il felsineo vario tarocchino
Suscitatore di piacevol ira,...

…And the Tuscan Minchiate
And the Bolognese Tarocchino,
That makes people pleasantly get angry…


It is of interest to note how Roberti describes the game of Tarocchino: the expression “Suscitatore di piacevol ira" (That makes people pleasantly get angry) denotes an open attitude, benevolent even though the author was a man of the Church and moreover a Jesuit. As a man of the world, it appears evident that Roberti had understood that there could not be fun where the passions had to be controlled or even repressed.

Niccolò Forteguerri (1674 -1735) was born in Pistoia and spent the greatest part of his life in Rome as an officer of the Curia. He published anthologies in the Arcadian style, besides fables and satires, but he is remembered above all for the Ricciardetto, written between 1716 and 1725, composed of thirty songs in octaves, published posthumously with the name of the author given in a Greek way: Niccolò Carteromaco. “The Ricciardetto is a late fruit of the demise of the poetry and ideals of chivalry, in the wake of the tradition created by Pulci’s Morgante and Folengo’s Baldo. It is properly neither a satire nor a parody, since the chivalrous subject constitutes the mere beginning, the point of support for the free, joyful and witty fantasy which is the principal merit of the poem” (9).


In Octave of Canto XII we find some reference to tarots and other cards game:

Octave 46

Gli uomini stanno in casa; e se talora
Per alcuna bisogna son forzati
Ad uscir, vanno con la fante (serva) fuora;
E quando in casa si son ritirati,
Ora da questa, or da quella Signora
Cortesemente sono visitati,
E trattenuti a l'ombre, a' tarocchini,
A primiera, a tresette, a' trionfini.

The men stay at home; and if sometimes
They are forced to go out for things they need
They go out with a servant:
And when they come back home,
They receive polite visits
Now of this, now of that lady,
With whom they spend time playing ombre, tarocchino,
primero, tresette,trionfini.

Giovan Santi Saccenti (1687-1749) was born in Cerreto Guidi. He first started studying Jurisprudence, and then left it to dedicate himself to poetry. To survive he became a notary. The greatest part of his works was gathered posthumously in the volume Le Rime di Giovan Santi Saccenti da Cerreto Guidi, Accademico Sepolto (The Rhymes of Giovan Santi Saccenti of Cerreto Guidi, Deceased Academic.). In 1808 the publisher of a later reprint of this work writes about him in this way: “Even if he had a severe aspect, he succeeded many times in being pleasant, and vivacious in the company of friends, with whom he was liberal in his verses, universally applauded for that vein of sincere naturalness and spontaneity that distinguishes him. He was, in a rare example, a modest estimator of his things, and never thought about getting them published; but his relatives had some copies; these were gathered together and published for the first time, according to Roveredo in 1761 and more correctly in the year 1789 in Cerreto”.

In one Sonnet of his, Saccenti admits his ignorance concerning the game of cards and tarot:


Quadriglio non l'intendo, e alle Minchiate
Stento a saper se il Diavolo è tarocco,.
Vengo a veglia, e sto quì come un pitocco
A trincar del caffè quanto ne date...


I don't understand anything of Quadriglio and of Minchiate
I find it hard to understand if the Devil is a tarot.
I come from you in the evening and I am here as a beggar
To drink all the coffee you give me.

Bologna and the Tarocchino


Besides the Bolognese documents described in the section “Appropriated Verses” (in Tarot in Literature I) various other texts were composed taking their cue from Tarocchino. One of these has the resonant title of La Granda de Tarochini che invita le Sfere Celesti Aeree Ferree, e Sotteranee, al Trionfante Applauso Universale del Sig. Andrea Casale (10) (The Granda of Tarocchino that invites the Iron Aerial of the Celestial  and Subterranean Spheres, to the Triumphant Universal Applause of Mr. Andrea Casale). It concerns an anonymous composition in blank verse making up part of a manuscript miscellany containing documentation from the XVIII century but also reporting events of the preceding century. The most recent date goes up to 1709 with a proclamation by Frederick IV of Denmark. By the term Granda  is meant today a combination achieved with the triumphs in the game of Tarocchino. Andrea Casale (or Casali), a Bolognese noble, was born in Bologna in 1582. of Senator Mario Casali and Signora Barbara Malvezzi. Militarily he served in the army of His Catholic Majesty [the King of Spain] fighting in the siege of Ostend. Wounded, he was believed dead; enslaved by the Turks, he was conducted to Tunis. After 25 years he was ransomed by the Fathers of the Work of Ransom; once free, he went to Rome, where his identity as a Bolognese noble was contested at first, but then recognized. After ups and downs he was exiled to Civitavecchia where he died poverty-stricken in 1639.

This history is versified by the author combining the titles of the Tarocchino in different situations, as for instance we find in the followings verses related to his wound “Vien fulminato da nemica mano / Con una traditrice archibugiata / Che nel sinistro braccio lo Saetta (He is struck by lightning's hostile hand / With a traitor’s shot / That Bolts [Saetta]up his left arm) and in those concerning his return to Rome E a viva Forza delli suoi Contrarij / Per Giusta causa, e buon Temperamento / quasi in pomposo Carro trionfale / Lo riconduce nell’amata patria” (And long life to his Strength in his Contrarieties / For the cause of Justice and good Temperament / almost in a pompous triumphal Chariot / he is brought back / to his beloved country). Immediately following these verses we find that it is an Applause, or rhyme in praise of the hero, where all the Triumphs are guests, so that “Cantino con applauso universale e viva, vivo in Vita, Andrea Casale” (They sing with universal applause: long live, alive in Life, Andrea Casale) (figure 1).

A poem, composed about love using the names of the Triumphs, can be found in a miscellany of writings in prose and verse datable to the XVII to XIX century treating of religious, political and satirical matters in large part concerning the top Pontiffs (11). The work, whose title is Con li Trionfi e con le figure del Gioco Tarocchino in quest’Ordine disposti, si descrive poeticamente la forza d’Amore, (With the Triumphs and with figures of the Game Tarocchino in this order disposed, the strength of love is poetically described), describes Love driving his chariot and striking with his arrows men's hearts without distinction, affirming the madness of those people who think of withstanding him, since Love rules over everything that the sun and the moon illuminate; it concludes with the affirmation that there exists no greater power than him in the world (figure 2).

Finally, wanting to document also a moment of the dialect literature, we report a sonnet in a dialect  very different from the language of today. The document is included in miscellany pamphlet with many other sonnets in Bolognese dialect (12). The date of its composition should be between 1757 and 1763, the time when the Seven Years' War took place. Different compositions belonging to the miscellany are dated in fact approximately to that period:  the first one deals with the taking of Prague; the second is an answer to Marshal Schewerin, while others have as their subject the King of Prussia. These references are probably intrinsic to the War just cited, in which Prussia and its king Frederick II, the Great, had a preponderant role. The following is a translation from the original, which is visible in the photo (figure 3):

Playing Tarocchino

The German, French and the Russian
Against the King of Prussia they sat on one day to the table
With the idea to winning a brandy.


He who esteems the players a little less that nothing
Plays cards to his right
And discarding to that King who was nearer
He made a refusal that doesn’t exist.

He has the conceitedness to go forward
And to be able to give rottenness to the whole world
By the strength of these Prussians beautiful and elegant [in their coats]. (13)

But they start to Sminchiate (14) from top to bottom;
The allied Lords do not look at his ugly game
They all take their eyes away, but leave however the plate with the stake (15).



1 - Book X, game C, cc.160v. and following. About the oral game called “The King’s Game”, inferred from the cards, Ringhieri, illustrating the suits of the cards, associates them with the four moral virtues: Cup-Temperance; Column-Fortitude;  Sword-Justice; Mirror-Prudence (The Columns represent  Staves and the Mirrors Coins). Regarding other works that praise Primero, it is necessary to remember the Gioco da primiera, con una nuova gionta... Opera de molto spasso & dilettevole da leggere (Game for Primero, with a new addition... Works of much fun & delightful to read), Bologna, 1550, by Benedetto Clario Cieco, who defines it, without casting aspersions on other card games, with the expression "de gli altri giochi è 'l fior" (it is the flower of the other games).
2 - The information about the compositions examined is drawn from the article by Thierry Depaulis Early Italian List of Tarot Trumps,  in “Journal of the International Playing-Card Society”, Volume 36, No. 1, July-September 2007, pagg.42-47. With the exception of the Strambotti of Triumphs, brought to discovered by Thierry Depaulis, and the Primo Libro delle Lettere  (First Book of Letters) by Martelli, identified by the writer, the other documents of the “Miscellany” were discovered by Franco Pratesi, thanks to his tireless work recovering Renaissance texts about the game of tarot.
3- Le rime di Serafino de' Ciminelli dall'Aquila (The Rhymes of Serafino de' Ciminelli dall'Aquila) 1, Mario Menghini Editions, Bologna, 1894 (1896), pages XLIII-XLIV. This Strambotto was made known first by Terry Depaulis in the magazine "The Playing-Card", vol. 36, No. 1, July-September 2007.
4 -  English Translation and commentary by Thierry Depaulis from Early Italian List of Tarot Trumps, op. cit., page 45.
5 -  Parma, 1803.
6 -  Naples, 1733. 
7 -  Niccolò Martelli, Il Primo Libro delle Lettere (The First Book of Letters), Florence, Doni, 1546, page 19. Trascription edited by Barnaba Lucchesi (2009).
8 -  Giulio Ferraro (editor), Drammi Rusticali scelti ed illustrati con note (Rustic Plays, Selected  and illustrated with notes) in “Teatro Italiano Antico” (Ancient Italian Theatre), Volume X , Milan, 1812, page 232. On the game of Trionfetti see the article Triumphs, Trionfini, Trionfetti  
9 - Dizionario Letterario Bompiani (Bompiani Literary Dictionary). Works VI, page 214. 
10 - Ms. A 1920, part II, pages 1/3 and 1/4 for the Granda dei Tarocchini and page 1/5 for l’Applauso. Bologna, Archiginnasio Library.
11 - Ms. B 3949, folder 11, sheet 11. Bologna, Archiginnasio Library.
12 - Ms. 3935 Caps C - folder with indication MSS C 22, page 57. Bologna, University Library.
13 - In the game of the Bolognese Tarocchino “marcio” (rotten) is equal to “coat”, which is said when adversaries did not take any tricks. The term is still used by old players.
14 - Sminchiare = To play with the greater triumph and go on with the others (from the Florentine game Minchiate). This term is still present in the Bolognese dialect to mean a very strong repeated action.
15 - The plate that contained the stake was called Tondo or Tondino (Round or little round).


Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  © All rights reserved 2005