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, 1996
Founder 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.
A limited edition art print of the King of Diamonds 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Clubs 1984 woodblock joker.
A limited edition art print of the Jack of Hearts 1984 woodblock joker.
‘Storia del Fascismo’ playing cards depicting persons, symbols and artifacts associated with Italian...
Etchings of cats on a set of major arcana created by Evelyne Nicod.
Skulls and bones of all descriptions have become the suits and pips in this 40-card pack from Italy....
Modern designs by Italian artist Marcello Morandini using the simplest of forms and colours.
Published by Il Meneghello, this pack provides a visual history of Fascism in Italy between 1919 and...
Giuliano Costa's Jack-O’-Lantern tarot blends Rider-Waite symbolism with the rich and atmospheric th...
Reproduction of a 40-card transformation pack with designs by “WS”, adapted for the game of Black Ca...
Hot-air balloons and airships from the early days to 1988, with designs by S. Baraldi and F. Tacconi...
Traditional Italian card game with comic designs by Benito Jacovitti.
Costante Costantini's second Minchiate deck, “Le Nuove Minchiate di Firenze”, was published by Solle...
Minchiate Fiorentine created by Costante Costantini, published by Edizioni del Solleone.
A set of Tarot trumps on the subject of the cinema, with designs by Sergio Sarri.
Modern Italian fortune-telling pack from 1975, with designs by Sergio Ruffolo.
Sergio Ruffolo’s “Tarocco Indovino” is an expanded version of his “Lo Zodiaco” cartomancy deck.
Traditional Italian card game with bold designs by Costante Costantini.
Small, narrow cards designed by Osvaldo Menegazzi, bearing a strong resemblance to a Swedish pattern...
Long, narrow cards designed by Osvaldo Menegazzi, featuring Napoleon, Josephine and various soldiers...
Promotional pack for Chianti Classico wine, with designs by Costante Costantini.
Promotional pack for a German steel hardening business, with designs by Costante Costantini.
Some early examples of popular German playing cards from the XV and XVI centuries.
Characters from the famous Italian comic book series, Tex, created by Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio...
Non-standard designs by Chiari of Florence with some of the features of a traditional Florentine pat...
Anti-Communist propaganda pack with satirical designs by Benito Jacovitti.
The “Parisian Tarot”, early 1600s, with imagery and design synthesizing several influences.
Issued to mark the centenary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, one of Italy’s greatest writers.
Baudelaire playing card collection illustrated by Alméry Lobel-Riche and published by Lo Scarabeo in...
Characters from the Italian comic series Diabolik, with designs by Paolo and Sergio Zaniboni.
French-suited fortune-telling pack with distinctive designs by Italian artist Sergio Ruffolo.
Costumes, masks and symbols from the island of Sardinia, with designs by Luciano Dettori and Tonino ...