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Published July 03, 1996 Updated May 12, 2022

Art in Playing Cards, page 3



The Visconti Tarots, c.1445

Painted sometime between 1441 and 1447 for Philippe Marie Visconti, several such XV century sets of tarot cards survive.

Moralised imagery was popular at this time. Artists were commissioned to paint anything from wall frescoes to miniature illuminated cards such as these, thereby exhibiting the taste and cultivation of the patron. In some cases the imagery has an esoteric or philosophical content, whilst in other cases it is merely conventional or adorned with the owner's heraldic devices.

The cards are painted in gouache on thick card (175 x 87 mm), with burnished gold leaf, silver and tooled ornamentation reminiscent of the miniature paintings in medieval illuminated manuscripts and Books of Hours. There is also a resemblance, in the numeral cards, to the Mamluk cards seen in the previous page. This expensive and laborious process was, therefore, only affordable by the wealthy. However, in this way, the design of playing cards was influenced by the new spirit of Humanism, particularly in Italy.

XV century hand painted card - seven of swords king of swords The Judgement XV century hand painted card - The World

Above: 4 cards from the replica pack published by Dal Negro, Treviso, Italy. Click here to see more


By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.

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