The so-called Tarocchi di Mantegna is a double series of 50 instructional engravings each, the E series and the S series. They weren’t produced by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1503), however, the subjects of the set are mentioned by Giorgio Vasari who writes in his Lives about Mantegna that he created copper prints of trionfi - another name for the tarot Trumps.
There are no suits and the images are numbered consecutively from 1 to 50, divided into the following groups: Society ⋄ Apollo and the Nine Muses ⋄ the Arts and the Sciences ⋄ the Seven Virtues and Sun, Time and the World ⋄ the Planets and the Spheres.
Thus we have a system of divine activities and functions organised into a hierarchy, reflecting an ideological structure and bringing to mind the soul's progress towards perfection. Humanists took up the challenge of reconciling Neoplatonism and Hermetism with their philosophical Christianity. The series was intended for edification of the mind, and also used as workshop patterns in artists' studios.
Besides the double series of 50 engravings each, the E series and the S series, there are a number of copies by different artists of the Tarocchi di Mantegna. The young Dürer copied of some of them. Of the known examples none were made into a pack of playing cards, but were printed onto thin paper as black and white outlines. However, woodcut copies of these engraved images occur in later educational or didactic books.
The engravings are also known to have provided inspiration to later artists, including the prolific Bolognese artist Amico Aspertini (c.1474–1552), who made copies of the tarocchi in his note books and produced fresco cycles with the same subjects. Ludovico Lazzarelli (late 16th century) was also inspired by the tarocchi images. (see Castaldo,).
The engravings all have the sharply defined character of a single school, that of Ferrara, although the E and S series show a difference in execution. The series of engravings were composed as a pious game to be enjoyed in learned company, depicting a mirror of the divine cosmic order and the divine power ruling it. The 50 cards are split up into five parts with ten cards each, every part corresponding to a stage in the divine order as it appears in Thomas Aquinas' work. The highest group, Heaven (marked with an A), includes the "Prima causa", "Primo mobile" and the seven planets. The remaining series proceed down to the lowest degree of human existence, the Misero (number 1).
Relating to the varied sources of inspiration, Joscelyn Godwinwrites about ideas deriving from Egyptian esotericism which had recently reached Europe through the Corpus Hermeticum, translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino in 1463. A Christian version of it was already well known, and given its classic form by Dante. Godwin also quotes Jean Seznec who showed that Mercury of the Tarocchi is based partly on the medieval tradition, but also on a drawing of a classical Mercury made in Greece by Cyriacus of Ancona. Jupiter has his eagle, an arrow to serve as thunderbolt, and his favourite Ganymede, but he sits in a mandorla with his feet on a rainbow, just as Christ or Mary appear in Gothic cathedrals.
Placed edge to edge, they form, as it were, a symbolic ladder leading from Heaven to earth. From the summit of this ladder God, the Prima Causa, governs the world - not directly, but stepwise, ex gradibus, by means of a succession of intermediaries. The divine power is thus transmitted down to the lowest level of humanity, to the humble beggar. But the ladder can likewise be read from bottom to top; seen in this way it teaches that man may gradually raise himself in the spiritual order, reaching at last the heights of the Bonum, the Veram, and the Nobile - and that science and virtue bring him closer to God.
Each figure in the Tarocchi di Mantegna has a name and a number. In some respects they remind us of the Hofämterspiel. A distinction is that the Tarocchi reflects a world order prompted by humanism, with the aristocracy and the church ranking lower than the arts, the sciences, the virtues, the planets and the spheres. The Hofämterspiel reflects feudal society.
Card games based around the Virtues and Vices, or Social Subjects, have of course been produced from time to time over the centuries. Possibly the tarot trumps were merely an alternative or condensed version of these images, which most educated people would recognise, added to a pack of cards for the purpose of making a new card game and to keep the players' minds on pious thoughts.
“Renaissance” playing card designs by A I Charlemagne, 1862.
Egyptian Tarot published by Naipes La Banca, Buenos Aires, c.1980.
Facsimile of Tarot de Marseille by Iohann Christoph Hes, Augsburg, c.1750.
Bharata Major Arcana Tarot by Ishan Trivedi & Sunish Chabba, 2018. Inspired by Indian art forms.
Tarocchini Bolognesi by Carlo Zanardi, c.1850
Piatnik’s ‘Bourgeois Tarot’ in a version published in 1987 with nice quality images, especially the double-ended trump cards.
V. F. Solesio Tarot, Genoa, mid-late 19th century
Rolla Nordic Tarot was drawn by Paul Mathison.
“Le Grand Tarot Belline” after drawings by Edmond Billaudot (1829-1881).
The so-called Tarocchi di Mantegna (c.1465) reflect an ideological structure bringing to mind the soul's progress towards perfection.
Aleister Crowley Tarot - Crowley and Lady Freda Harris worked on the illustrations between 1938 and 1943
Tarot, originally a 15th century card game from Italy, has evolved into a form of personal mysticism and spirituality.
The Sola-Busca Tarocchi, c.1491
Nine Lives Tarot by Annette Abolins, 2013
The ‘Housewives Tarot’ designed by Paul Kepple & Jude Buffum, published by Quirk Books, 2004.
French edition of the ‘Bourgeois’ Tarot by Héron
Tarot des Pompiers de Paris, a French Fire Brigade tribute tarot deck
Stefano Vergnano’s Tarot and playing card factory holds a special place in the history of the Tarot.
Designed by Cesare Asaro to simulate decks from the 1700s or earlier, the Tarot of Musterberg is based on the traditional Tarot de Marseille but with an imaginary historical background.
The highly individual Sicilian Tarot has the Italo-Portuguese suit system with straight, interlocking swords and batons, and maids instead of jacks
“Encyclopedic Tarot” by C. L. Wüst with “bourgeois” views of life on the Trumps.
Belgian Tarot published by François-Jean Vandenborre, Brussels (1762-1803)
Geographical and Heraldic Tarocchi cards from Bologna, 1725.
Original Tarot designs in Italian Renaissance style by Oliver Mundy.
Marseille Tarot cards by Charles Cheminade of Grenoble, France, early 18th century.
Scott Hill has been working on a tarot pack which can also be used to play card games, the pack has been designed to revive tarot and make it a fun and social interaction.
After the first edition of the Rider-Waite tarot in 1909 four further editions were published till approx 1940. These differ in several attributes: outline artwork, colours, lettering and card thickness.
Rider Waite Tarot early editions
The Rider Waite Tarot was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith.
Serravalle-Sesia Tarot published by Fratelli Avondo, c.1880.
Inner Realms was conceived from sacred geometry that inspired me to create and then pick out pieces of that design that amazed me, or inspired me to create another design...
The vibrant colours and artwork glorify the symbolism, mood and positive energy in this exciting new tarot deck from Australia.
The woodcuts were produced by Francois Georgin (1801-1863), a famous engraver during the Napoleonic period, retaining the composition and general features of the Tarot de Marseille.
Whilst the titles of the cards are in Italian, the Hebrew and Sanskrit letters on the Trump cards denote, respectively, associations with the Cabbala and Vedic metaphysics.
The title refers to “a new form of Tarocchini”. Mitelli's designs are to a high standard of artistic quality and a complete departure from the old tradition, especially the 22 Trump cards which are unnamed and unnumbered.
During the late 1940s and 1950s The Insight Institute, of New Malden in Surrey, ran correspondence courses on the Tarot, which consisted of lessons with homework which was checked by tutors as well as a set of 'Authenticated' Tarot cards.
Artwork for The Watersprite Tarot© designed and painted by Alison McDonald.
Russell Grant astro-tarot
Bourgeois Tarot by Vereinigte Altenburger und Stralsunder Spielkarten-Fabriken.
Ramses II Tarot deck was published c.1975 in conjunction with a Peruvian occult or esoteric magazine.