The Tarot’s Oldest Ancestor, The Marziano Tarot

100dpi Cover Front Marziano book

 The Marziano Tarot decks have arrived

and you can order them now

The deck is $30 plus shipping – $7 in the US, $25 for Canada, and $35 for other countries. Shipping is the same for one to four decks.



US customers may use this button to order:

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For combing shipping on larger orders, or for international orders,

or because you just want to,

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The oldest known Tarot, or the oldest ancestor of the Tarot, depending on your definition, was described in a 1449 letter by Jacopo Antonio Marcello to Queen Isabelle of Lorraine, in hopes of gaining her favor. Paul Durrieu first discovered this letter in 1895. Franco Pratesi brought an accurate account of this letter to the attention of playing card historians in 1989, and in 2003 Ross Caldwell made a new translation, which brought it further attention.

72dpi 9 Marcurio72dpi 4 Venus













In the letter, Marcello described two decks that he was acquiring for the queen. Of the two decks, the older one was created between 1412 and 1425 for Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447), Duke of Milan from 1412 to 1447. This deck had trumps that consisted of sixteen classical gods, and did not follow the allegory that we now consider standard for a Tarot. The deck was designed by artist Michelino da Besozzo, working with a plan created by Marziano da Tortona, the Duke’s secretary, tutor, and astrologer. This is the oldest known deck to have trumps and, therefore, by my definition, is the oldest known Tarot.

The deck consisted of four suits, each with ten pips and a king and queen in the suit. The suit symbols were four different birds: eagles, phoenixes, turtledoves, and doves. According to Marziano, who wrote in great detail about the symbolism of the deck, each suit was intended to represent a life goal or desire, grouped in two contrasting pairs. As previously stated, the deck also contained 16 trumps composed of classical gods, which was not an unusual subject in Renaissance art. Besides forming a separate trump suit, four gods were assigned to each suit, with the gods representing appropriate qualities for each goal:

Eagles, representing the life goal virtue, were assigned Jove, Apollo, Mercury, and Hercules.

Phoenixes, representing the desire for riches, were assigned Juno, Neptune, Mars, and Aeolus.

  Turtledoves, representing the goal of chastity, were assigned Pallas, Diana, Vesta, and Daphne.

Doves, representing the desire for sensuality, were assigned Venus, Bacchus, Ceres, and Cupid.

The question of profundity in a game was also addressed in Marcello’s letter. The letter recounted the rhetorical question put to the Duke by the deck’s intellectual designer, Marziano, who asked if it is fitting for a serious and virtuous man such as the Duke to spend time playing a card game. Marziano answered that it is fitting if the game is equally serious and virtuous in the philosophy that it presents. He felt that his game met that standard.

As stated above, Marziano wrote a great deal about the symbolism of the deck, but less on how the game was played. There is evidence to suggest that even at this early date, playing cards were used for divination, and Marziano’s concern with symbolism and his use of birds, which are connected with ancient augury, suggests that besides a trick-taking game he may have intended a divinatory use for the deck.

No cards exist from this deck and the originals were most likely hand painted and gilded like other Milanese 15th century decks created for royalty. I have redesigned the deck as if it became a standard deck that was later reproduced in woodcuts and hand colored. My images for the cards are based on Marziano’s descriptions as translated by Caldwell and on the woodcuts found in the 15th century Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, early printed cards, as well as other Renaissance sources. In the future, Caldwell will author a book to accompany the deck, which will be sold separately. The deck measures 4.75″ by 2.75″ and it is now being printed.  You can preorder the deck through my campaign on Indiegogo or by contacting me in an email.

You can also order an archival art edition of the 16 divine trumps. I will print it on cotton paper, hand cut each card, and create a portfolio case for the deck.  These are $200 plus shipping – $7 in the US, $25 for Canada, and $35 international.

US customers may use this button to order:

Buy my product

For combing shipping on larger orders, or for international orders,

or because you just want to,

contact me at


Here are the designs for the 16 gods, the four aces; four pips, and five royals, the card back; the titles are in Italian:

72dpi 1 Giove72dpi 2 Giunone72dpi 3 Pallas72dpi 4 Venus72dpi 5 Apollo72dpi 6 Nettuno72dpi 7 Diana72dpi 8 Bacco
72dpi 9 Marcurio72dpi 10 Marte72dpi 11 Vesta72dpi 12 Ceres

72dpi 13 Ercole72dpi 14 Eolo

72dpi 16 Cupido
72dpi 15 Daphne72dpi Eagles 1 Ace

72dpi Phoenixes 1 Ace

72dpi Turtledoves 1 Ace72dpi Doves 1 Ace72dpi Eagles 7

72dpi Phoenixes 572dpi Turtledoves 7

72dpi Doves 3

72dpi Eagles 11 Queen72dpi Phoenixes 12 King

72dpi Turtledoves 11 Queen72dpi Doves 12 King72dpi Doves 11 Queen72dpi 0 Back

9 Responses to The Tarot’s Oldest Ancestor, The Marziano Tarot

  1. Jose Ventura says:

    This is one project I’m anxiously waiting for to be brought to life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating history… thanks for this!


  3. Quando será publicado? Belíssimo trabalho.


  4. pnagy1231 says:

    Wonderful helping me keep abreast of tarot’s history.


  5. Rachel says:

    Wonderful. I’m looking forward to this. Do you see any connection with the so-called Tarot de Mantega?


  6. leducdor says:

    As usual, I await your deck with suspended breath. I AM SO excited about your recreation deck, and cannot wait for the campaign to begin. –


  7. Renna Shesso says:

    Gorgeous. And birds in ancient augury (and messengers in general), of course. Thank you!


  8. Pingback: The Tarot’s Oldest Ancestor, The Marziano Tarot | The Halau

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