Early evidence that playing cards were being used in Italy comes from Florence in 1376, when a game called 'naibbe' is forbidden in a decree, with the implication that the game had only recently arrived there. This is followed in 1379 by another reference from Viterbo (in the vicinity of Rome) in which it is claimed that a new game called 'nayb' was introduced by a 'Saracen' (= Oriental, Arab or Muslim). We infer that the game was still a novelty, even it's name was still something of a mystery. However, quite soon playing cards did not meet with approval from the church authorities, and they were demonised by preachers who urged that they be destroyed.
The generally accepted view is that the Arabs introduced playing cards to Europe, via both the Iberian and Italian peninsulas, in the second half of the fourteenth century, and that European cards evolved from the suit system and composition of these cards. The famous Topkapi Museum pack, made from several incomplete Mamluk packs, clearly shows four suits of 13 cards including 3 court cards. Through a process of assimilation and adaptation the original Arabic suit symbols, and even the name na'ib, became Westernised. The typical Italian suit system uses the same symbolic objects as the Spanish (cups, coins, swords and clubs), with some differences of style dating back to an early stage in their history.
Italy did not form a single kingdom; several important ducal dynasties included the Visconti's, the Borgia's and the Scaliger's. There was the kingdom of Naples, the Vatican, the republics of Genova, Venice and Florence.
Italian-suited cards from the Venice area were probably the first ones to cross the Alps and Italian-suited trappola cards survived for some time in Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and the Balkans. Cards from Southern Italy, including Sicily, are closer in design to Spanish cards. It is here that the Spaniards had come to Italy bringing with them their beloved playing cards and gambling habits.
A specimen of XV century Italian cards shows that the suit symbols and court hierarchy were indeed very close to the Mamluk set, and have not changed much since then. One characteristic of early Italian cards is that the edges of the back paper, which had a pattern or design printed on it, were wrapped around the edges of the card thereby providing a border around the front. This artesanal method of production is more time-consuming but produces stiff and robust cards which handle and shuffle particularly well. Some early Spanish cards were also manufactured using this technique.
Italy has produced a number of variant types of extended packs. The hand-painted tarot cards, which date probably from the first half of the fifteenth century, contain 78 cards. In this game, apart from the four Italian/Latin suits, which could be said to derive from the Arabic 'Mamluk' suit symbols, there are also 22 trump cards; and there are 4 court cards per suit, including a king, queen, cavalier and page plus numeral cards 1-10, making a total of 78 cards. A variant called "Bologna Tarocchino" has only 62 cards (omitting numerals 2-5). Florentine Minchiate has a total of 97 cards.
Italy today enjoys reasonable political unity, but this has not always been the case. The fourteen regional patterns found in Italy reflect the history of French, Spanish and Imperial influences. The outcome today is that the north-west use French suit signs, the north and north-east use Italian suited packs and in the southern two-thirds of the peninsula Italo-Spanish suit signs prevail.
Bergamo Pattern Brescian Florentine Genoese Lombardy (Milanesi) Napolitan Piacentine Piedmont Primiera Bolognese Romagnole Sarde Sicilian Spanish National Pattern Tarocco Bolognese Trentine Trevisane (Venetian) Triestine Tuscan Pattern
Minchiate & Tarot
Tarocchi di Mantegna Visconti Tarocchi Minchiate Fiorentine "Etruria" Minchiate Minchiate c.1850 Tarocco Bolognese Mitelli Tarocchini Serravalle-Sesia Tarot Sola-Busca Tarot Tarocco Neoclassico Tarocco della “Corona Ferrea” Tarocchino Lombardo Tarocco Piemontese Tarocco Siciliano Tavaglione Stairs of Gold Tarot
Agostino Bergallo Archaic North Italian Austrian Lloyd Steamship Co Pedro Bosio Carte da Indovino Carte Romane Carte per Signora Cucco Giuseppe Cattino Pavol Montanar Credito Commerciale Gumppenberg Lamperti (Milan), c.1820 Mamluk Cards Matarelli Transformation Mitelli ‘Gioco di Passatempo’ Modiano Cartine da Gioco Antonio Monasta "Moorish" Playing Cards Pinocchio Sardinia Spain Modiano ‘World Bridge’ Vienna pattern
Member since February 01, 1996View Articles
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.
Carte da Gioco Toscana souvenir deck, 2002.
Another pack of Dutch costume playing cards c.1880.
Stylish monochrome designs by the Archinstudio of Guido Bolzani and Gian-Piero Spagnolo, printed by Masenghini, Bergamo, Italy, 1977.
Gó Succo fruit juice promotion deck featuring Walt Disney cartoons.
San Marino stamp designs combined with photographic views by La Fotometalgrafica Emiliana, c.1975.
Dutch costume playing cards made for the Dutch market in the second half of the 19th century.
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
In standard English packs the Ace of Spades is associated with decorative designs. This is a historical survey of why this should be.
Myriorama of Italian scenery, 1824.
Dubois card makers from Liège in the Walloon Region of Belgium.
PLAYING CARDS: A Secret History
This deck was inherited from ancestors, it has has a family history surrounding it. Details of the lives of previous owners make it all so fascinating.
Video by Art of Impossible. In this video you will get a short overview of the most important historical facts about playing cards and their history.
Archaic Spanish-suited deck with 48 cards made in Toledo in 1584.
Portraits of a Lady by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.
Alice with artwork by Jesús Blasco, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.
Liberty playing cards designed by Antonella Castelli, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2003.
Il Circo illustrated by Jules Garnier, published by Lo Scarabeo, 2004.
Facsimile of Swiss William Tell deck from c.1870 published by Lo Scarabeo.
Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern
A facsimile of an early 19th century French-suited deck from the collection of F.X. Schmid.
Baracca & Burattini puppetry deck printed by Dal Negro, 1998.
Martin Mystère based on the comic book by Alfredo Castelli. The cards were designed by Giancarlo Alessandrini.
Reproduction of Richard Blome’s Heraldic playing cards, 1684, presented to lady guests at WCMPC Summer Meeting in 1888.
Facsimile of “Le Jeu de la Guerre” designed by Gilles de la Boissière in 1698.
Corner Indices were a major innovation in playing card production.
Baraja Carlos IV, Félix Solesio en la Real Fábrica de Macharaviaya, 1800.
A presentation of the main characteristics of the wood-block courts of the heart suit.
This is a presentation in a more straightforward fashion of the work done by Paul Bostock and me in our book of the same name.
Some further material relating to cards from nineteenth and twentieth century periodicals.
Facsimile of patriotic 1878 Tyrolean playing cards published by Piatnik in 1992.
Here are a few early advertisements relating to cards from newspapers 1684-1759 and a number of later 19th century documents of interest.
Hand-made playing cards by French prisoners of war in Porchester Castle, Hampshire, c.1796.
A continuation of the development of the off-spring of the Paris patterns and a few examples of how the French regional figures have inspired modern designers.
A great many regional patterns were exported from France and subsequently copied elsewhere. Some of them became local standards in their own right.
Continuing our look at the figures from the regional patterns of France.
On page 11 I illustrated several examples of the regional French patterns from Sylvia Mann's collection; this is a more in-depth look at the figures of these patterns ("portraits" in French).
Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.
Avventure di Pinocchio by Dal Negro, based on Carlo Collodi’s famous 1883 novel “The Adventures of Pinocchio”.
Notgeld - Emergency Money - was in rare cases issued on playing cards.