Il Tarocchino di Bologna

History, Iconography, Prophecy from the 15th Century to 20th Century


Andrea Vitali - Terry Zanetti
The Tarot Cards of Bologna. History, Iconography, Prophecy from the 15th to 20th Century


In Italian
Introduction by Franco Cardini

The work entitled Il Tarocchino di Bologna. Storia, Iconografia,Divinazione. Dal XV al XX secolo (180 pages with 328 colour photos and 19 black and white photos, Editor Martina, Bologna - - ISBN 88-7572-024-X) published under the aegis of the city of Bologna was assembled by Andrea Vitali and Terry Zanetti, expert on popular tradition. It is the result of several years of research that was conducted in the most revered cultural institutions of Bologna such as the Achiginnasio Library, the State Archive, the University Library and the Medieval Civic Museum.

This volume includes a very detailed documentation that sheds new light on the origin of cards that Andrea Vitali believes date back to the first decade of the 15th century and most likely can be attributed to the city of Bologna. This theory is based not only on a series of documents but also on the iconographic analyses of various antique tarot cards from Bologna that display symbolism and allegories quite similar to those present in Bologna's religious and secular art of the 15th century. The cities of Ferrara and Milan have long been accepted as the homes of tarot but, this new theory supported by documents, could prove to be important for Bologna. Should it be proven, it would mean that this game, based on the art of memory (ars memoriae) and filled with philosophical Christian mystical content originated in this Bologna.

This theory is further supported by the frescos found in the Saint Petronio in Bologna (Bolognini Chapel) and by the 17th century painting depicting Prince Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia who lived during the 15th century and who is identified in the painting by a note on the canvas that reads "Inventor of Tarocchini Cards". Although the prince was long assumed to be a legendary character, Andrea Vitali was able to locate documents that prove his actual existence and trace his movement from his birthplace in Tuscany to Bologna.

For the chapter on Prophecy, Terry Zanetti accurately researched the tradition that is linked to prophecy. His research started with a tarot card document (dating back to the first half of the 18th century) from Bologna found in the University library. Zanetti compared the tarot card interpretations found in this document with those found in various card decks dating from the second half of the 1700s, the mid-1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. From there she was able not only to reconstruct the history of significant tarot prophets but to construct informative descriptions for each card and prophecy based purely on tradition without the prophetic attributes later added in the 1900s that lacked the original traditions from Bologna.

The images in this volume come mainly from a documentary collection (antique cards, paintings and incisions) belonging to "Le Tarot", a cultural organization headed by Prof. Andrea Vitali that conducts historical and symbolic studies and who's members include many distinguished professors of medieval history, philosophy, religion and anthropology. Other photos are taken from documents retrieved from the Archiginnasio Library, the State Archive and the Medieval Civic Museum. Some photos were also taken of card decks that were loaned to us by private collectors in Bologna. This work will surely fill a great academic gap. Up until now there have been no in-depth studies of tarot cards in Bologna that did not concentrate exclusively on the aspects of the game. This volume will be a fundamental periodical not only for the content and the philological research that went in
to it but also for the important visual component.


by Franco Cardini

Prof. Cardini outlines the historical importance of tarot cards which are considered the most complete medieval symbolic system. He also covers the anthropological value of their prophetic aspects.

by Andrea Vitali

Ludus Triumphorum and Tarot Cards
In this chapter, Prof. Vitali presents a general summary beginning with the history of tarot, or "Triumphs" (Trionfi) as they were called in the 1400s. He then moves on to the meaning that was associated with the four signs (money, cups, clubs and swords) and the word “tarot”, a term that appeared in the 1500s. Finally, he explains the relationship between the game and the so- called “Medieval Mystic Staircase” as well as other influences that existed between the numerological tarot structure and eastern theology.

Triumphs, Tarot and Tarocchini in Bologna: 1400-1900
In this chapter, the author elaborates on the history of tarot in Bologna and discusses the most recent historical discoveries.

The Documents
Information found in manuscripts, books, antique sculptures, pictures and etches.

The Traitor
An iconographic examination of the celebrated portrayal of “The Hanged Man” (punishment given to traitors) depicted in the Fresco of Hell in the Bolognini Chapel of San Petronio in Bologna.

The Cards
The oldest Triumph cards from Bologna date back to the 15th century, tarot card variations appear during the 1500s, the substitution of the so-called Four Popes (the Female Pope or "Papessa", the Empress or “Imperatrice”, the Emperor or “Imperatore” and the Pope or “Papa”) appeared in 1725 and continued to be printed until the 1800s.

The Prince
The meticulous research conducted on the history of Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, 1360-1419 was based on the careful study of the 17th century painting that depicts him. This research led the author to formulate a new hypothesis regarding the invention of tarot cards.

Suitable Tarot Cards, Sonnets and Poems
It was fashionable to "suit" tarot cards for the occasion by substituting characters with the most popular celebrities of the time. In fact, this practice became a sort of sub literary genre
that this section covers in depth.

by Terry Zanetti

Magic Bologna: Among Memories and Tarots
In this chapter, the author seeks to remember Bologna as it once was during her youth. Above all, she concentrates on the most typical characters such as the famous fortune tellers or heirs to the age-old tradition of “reading the cards”.

The Genesis of Fortune Telling
A close historical examination of the art of prophecy and it's premonitory signs with documentation that spans from 1200 to the end of the 1600s.

Fortune Telling in Bologna
Enquiry into the origin of fortune telling in Bologna identified in the 18th century. This subject is presented with the use of historical documents and through comparisons made with the same prophetic art practiced in France during the Age of Enlightenment.

The Cards
Each card will include the following description: the symbolism, the medieval allegory (iconographic study), the prophetic meaning with interpretive examples, the combinations of cards, and finally, the names of the cards in the local dialect of Bologna with reference to the subject depicted on the card itself.

The Prophetic Games

Description of historic fortune telling games through the evaluation of tarot cards from Bologna.

Edited by Andrea Vitali

Collection of original and integral documents all related to the history of tarot cards and the “tarocchini” of Bologna.