The Marziano Tarot
The oldest known tarot deck, with sixteen gods as Trumps and birds as suit symbols.
Conceived by Marziano da Tortona, this deck was first created by Michelino da Besozzo in Milan between 1412 and 1425.
It was first described in a letter written in 1449 by Jacopo Antonio Marcello to Queen Isabelle of Lorraine, in hopes of gaining her favor. French historian Paul Durrieu first discovered this letter in 1895; in 2003 art historian Ross Caldwell made a new translation of this letter, which shed further light on this deck.
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.
- Robert M. Place, The Marziano Tarot
Originally hand-pained and custom-created for 15th Century Milanese royalty, no extant version of this deck exists. It was recreated by Robert M. Place in 2015 in his characteristic woodcut style, as it would have existed as a standard playing card deck of its time.
Deck comes in a cardboard tuck box, and measures 4.75" x 2.75".