Let us look at the Triumphs of Petrach, starting with LOVE.


Petrarchs Triumphs - LOVE


















THE TRIUMPH OF TIME - 2 - Nicoleta Modena




Moakley 101

Part 2: Triumphs and the Game of Triumphs

Following the prelude, there are several chapters of interesting background information before discussions of the individual cards. Some of this concerns the Visconti and Sforza families and the history of the Visconti-Sforza cards as pieces of art. This information is now widely known, so I'll focus directly on just the parts that bear on Moakley's theory of the meaning of the cards.

Moakley raises an interesting idea about the symbolism of ordinary playing cards. She sees each suit as a company of knights, with suit signs as heraldic devices, the number of them showing the rank of each knight in the company. The suit signs themselves stand for the cardinal virtues: swords for justice, cups for temperance, staffs for fortitude (Fortitude is often depicted holding a column), and coins for prudence (Prudence is shown with a mirror.) These are not bad associations, and I have a certain fondness for them. However, the history of playing cards has progressed some since Moakley wrote, and it is now agreed that cards came to Europe from the Islamic world, with these same suit signs (although staffs were polo sticks). So it is not historically viable to see playing cards as a metaphor for chivalry, tournaments, and Christian virtues. (The error demonstrates how easy it is to be led astray by one's own impression of the meaning of symbols, in the absence of independent evidence.)

Moakley also mentions the numeric connection with dice games. She states the connection in rather strong terms:

"Why are there 56 suit cards, and why are there 21 trumps? The answer is found when we remember that cards, as a game of chance, replaced dice almost completely. In dice games which use three dice, there are 56 possible throws, and with two dice 21."

She doesn't elaborate. Is the idea just that game players "liked" these numbers because of their familiarity, or that there were games in which the individual cards actually stood for dice rolls? Either way, there is the problem that regular packs of cards had (as they still do) 52 cards, 13 of each suit, offering no connection with dice. So this would have to be some peculiar feature of the tarot pack, making her remark about cards replacing dice less pertinent.

Moakley also mentions "more fanciful considerations"--that 21 and 78 are triangular numbers (21=1+2+3+4+5+6; 78=1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12), and that 56 is pyramidal number (the sum of triangular numbers 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, and 21). Actually, I think these kinds of "Pythagorean" considerations are every bit as apropos as the dice idea, given the Renaissance mindset regarding numbers.

Now on to the meat. Chapter 4 is titled "Triumphs and the Game of Triumphs". Recall that Moakley's central thesis is that the tarot symbolism can be understood in reference to the idea of triumphs, as seen in the Carnival processions and in literary forms like Petrarch's poem I Trionfi. The triumph, Moakley states, is a fusion of three traditions: the Roman triumphs, the religious processionals, and the knightly tournament processions. Moakley documents the popularity of the triumphal processions in 15th-century Italy with a number of references.

Petrarch's poem used the idea of the triumph allegorically. It tells the story of Petrarch's unrequited love for a lady named Laura. In the first triumph, Love as Cupid conquers the gods and men (including Petrarch). In the second triumph, Chastity defeats Love, reflecting Laura's ladylike rejection of Petrarch's advances. In the third triumph, Death defeats Chastity (Laura was a victim of the Black Death). In the fourth, Fame defeats Death (her reputation lives after her). In the fifth triumph, Time defeats Fame, and finally (sixth), Eternity conquers Time (with the promise that Petrarch and the object of his love will be united at last in the afterlife).

Moakley documents how Petrarch's poem was adapted, sometimes quite liberally, to provide images for art and literature, and subjects for the triumphal processions. If you have a copy of Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot, Vol. II, you can see some very nice Florentine engravings illustrating Petrarch's triumphs, and compare them with tarot imagery. Here's a quick run-down of how Moakley connects the tarot cards with the triumphs of Petrarch:

Empress, Emperor, Papess, and Pope are all captives of the Triumph of Love. (The card called "The Lovers" in Tarot of Marseilles and modern decks was called "Love" in the early Italian decks, and usually showed Cupid targeting a couple with his bow and arrow.) The Chariot depicts the Triumph of Chastity. Death, of course, is the Triumph of Death. Time is the Hermit (the card was sometimes titled "Time" in the early decks, with the old man bearing an hourglass, winged and walking on crutches). The World stands for the Triumph of Eternity, which shares the symbolism of the tetramorph (the four living creatures at the corners of the card), and captures the Sun, Moon, and Stars as symbols of the passage of time. The Angel with her trumpets reflects the Triumph of Fame. (The card is sometimes called "Fame" in the Minchiate tarot).

Moakley perhaps gets carried away in claiming that both the Tarocchi of Mantegna and the Florentine Minchiate are also depictions of Petrarch's Triumphs. She even suggests that the Minchiate is so close to Petrarch that it must be the "Game of the Triumphs of Petrarch" listed in the Rosselli inventory. If anything, it seems to me that the parading out of the signs of the zodiac and the four elements takes us farther from Petrarch's pattern. And the Mantegna, certainly, is full of academic allegories that resemble nothing in Petrarch.

But what about the tarot itself? The first and last triumphs, the Triumphs of Love and Eternity, seem a congenial match with the tarot, but in between we seem to lose the thread. There is no particular reason to connect the Chariot with Chastity, Time appears before Death, Fame rudely interrupts the Triumph of Eternity, and curious items like the Traitor and the Fire put in unexpected appearances. How are we to account for the jumbled mess the tarot designs have apparently made of Petrarch's neat sequence of six triumphs?

Moakley writes:

"The tarocchi trumps are not so much a softening of the Petrarch story as they are a ribald take-off. Perhaps because, in the merry mood of the Carnival, everything possible was done to make fun of the solemn story. Two of the great Cardinal Virtues are, in the tarocchi, taken out of context and made to accompany Cupid with obviously sexual and scatalogical reference. [Moakley is referring to Fortitude's staff and Temperance's cups]...The Pope is given a mate, but those who wish may take the Pope and Popess for Jupiter and Juno. Chastity is banished in favor of her enemy, Fortune. Time is reduced to being an attendant of Death, and Fame is forgotten. Most impudent of all, Eternity is put on a level with the other triumphs instead of being unnumbered and left "out of this world" as in the minchiate pack. Undoubtedly it was this audacity and irreverance that made the tarocchi trumps so popular, in fact the game of triumphs par excellence."

I agree that the tarot has a certain earthiness and perhaps even ribaldry to it, drawing from the implications of some of the darker cards and they way the virtues and other religious symbols are interspersed amongst them. But I don't see much evidence from the Visconti-Sforza cards, which Moakley is writing on, that the tarot subjects were treated with less seriousness than the illustrations of Petrarch. If one looks at the Temperance and Fortitude cards, for example, they seem quite proper and sober depictions of their subjects.

Also, the "ribald take-off" model gives one a free reign in accounting for anything that doesn't match the supposed pattern. I don't know how one can distinguish a "take-off" (in which "everything possible was done" to pervert the underlying pattern) from a completely independent invention that happens to draw from Petrarch in a minor way, or echo it coincidentally.

I think that Moakley does herself a disservice by viewing Petrarch's triumphs as the direct model for the tarot, rather than viewing it as an important cultural parallel. From the book as a whole, it is clear that Moakley knows of other pertinent sources and parallels besides Petrarch. Yet passages like the one above promote the idea that there was nothing motivating the selection and arrangement of the trumps except the urge to create a Carnival-style parody of Petrarch's I Trionfi.

Moakley concludes the chapter with

"We have seen that the trumps of our cards are visual representations of the popular triumphs of the fifteenth century, and that they were originally a separate game, based on the story of the three triumphs of Cupid, Death, and Eternity."


 Part 3: Matto and Bagatto

Copyright 1999 Tom Tadfor Little

Friday, November 21, 2003

1470 triumphales carticelle in Vita of Bernardino

Anonymous Vita of Bernardino, 1470, in the 1685 edition of the Acta Sanctorum for May (Bollandist).

Indumenta peregrina & lineamenta pulcritudinem vultus conferentia, adulterinaeque capillaturae ac pretiosi ornatus, larvales praeterea facies, aleae, taxilli, triumphales carticelle in forum deferebantur, omnia igni tradenda arque comburenda.

"Exotic garments and beautiful looking fabrics were brought together, along with impure and expesively decorated wigs, grotesque masks, tables, dice, triumphant cards, were all carried into the forum, and everything thrown into the fire and burned."

The editors have provided an interesting note to the phrase triumphales carticelle:

"Triumphales carticelle, thus said here, might be supposed to be the word *truffa*, which signified a game (lusum) being derived from the Latin word *triumphus*: wherein by reason of four kinds of cards, which, (played in a certain way) at the victory of the game, *truffa* is called out: otherwise known as *chartae pictae*, & chartae lusoriae.

[Acta Sanctorum Maii, Tomus V, Antverpiae 1685 p. 267A]

(I have put the phrase "played in a certain way" because I'm not sure exactly how to interpret after "ex quatuor autem chartarum speciebus,*ea, ex qua sortito accepta praecipue pendet* ludi victoria, truffa nuncupatur." Does it refer to the game of triumph with normal cards?).

How many kinds of Triumph games are there? What are the Bollandists describing?   

Ross Caldwell


From: "Ross Gregory Caldwell" <>
To: <>
Subject: [LTarot] Re: 1470 triumphales carticelle in Vita of Bernardino
Date: Saturday, November 22, 2003 12:00 AM

There is a famous series of designs called the Triumphs of  Maximilian, but I don't think they are cards - possibly card-able,  but only so far in woodcuts. Are these what you are thinking about? 

(It would extend the length of time past 1500 too, if possible to  interpret it this way).


--- In, Lothar <autorbis@y...> wrote:

> Bianka Maria Sforza, wife of Emperor Maximilian,
> showed in the wedding night her husband a few playing
> cards, which he found quite interesting. This must
> have been Trionfi cards. Later she was known as
> playing much cards and Maximilian was known as having
> not much interest - for his wife. 
> This I found myself in some German secondary sources
> about Maximilian, not in playing card research notes.
> This shows, that the things aren't gathered all. 

> Also I found once a poem in German language with a
> picture of Maximilian surrounded by many dukes and
> kings of Europe, under them also Massimiliano Sforza.
> The poem added short rhymes to any person and
> caricated the political situation (probably ca. 1505
> or near to that). The poem to Massimiliano indicated,
> that the painter knew, that Massimiliano used own
> special cards. Unluckily I didn't take the source. I
> never found it again.

> Some Imperatori-texts are reachable under the point
> Imperatori.

> =====
> Lothar


> (under construction)

From: "Lothar" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: [LTarot] Re: 1470 triumphales carticelle in Vita of Bernardino
Date: Saturday, November 22, 2003 3:37 AM

--- Ross Gregory Caldwell <>
There is a famous series of designs called the Triumphs of  Maximilian, but I don't think they are cards - possibly card-able,  but only so far in woodcuts. Are these what you are thinking about?

(It would extend the length of time past 1500 too, if possible to  interpret it this way).


No, you're talking of gigantical woodcuts or engravings, a few meters high and a few meters long. I speak - of course - of playing cards in both stories, in one story Bianca Maria, daughter of Galeazzo had them, and in the other story the playing card appear in a woodcut. 

Here is Biancas Marias interest in cards noted, but not the Wedding scene:


From: "Mari Hoshizaki" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: [LTarot] 1470 triumphales carticelle in Vita of Bernardino
Date: Saturday, November 22, 2003 2:45 AM

Maximilliam's wood engravings of the triumphs, I thought, were part of illustrations and not cards...I am not certain we are writing of the same thing.

I also have a complete Dover Edition of the Maximillian Triumph Engravings, quite fanciful.

Hope the above links give a little information that helps.

Mari Hoshizaki

The poem to Massimiliano
> indicated,
> that the painter knew, that Massimiliano used own
> special cards. Unluckily I didn't take the source. I
> never found it again.

> Some Imperatori-texts are reachable under the point
> Imperatori.

> =====
> Lothar

The Six States of Man (the combination of Passion and Reason).
For each State - the Italian poet Petrarch wrote a "Triumph". The images shown here are from Bernard Quarich's edition of Works of The Italian Engravers of the Fifteenth Century, with introduction by G.W.Reid. The first book in this series was devoted to three sequences of images,

Il Libro del Monte Sancto di Dio, 1477
La Divina Commedia of Dante 1481
and The Triumphs of Petrarch.

Reid denies the credit for the Petrarch prints to Nicoletto da Modena and supports the authorship of Fra Filippo Lippi.