|The root "tar"
found in Tarocco, Taro, Tarot, Taroc, Tarock, Tarok and Tarocchi means "pack of
cards." Something on the order of a dozen decks survive in full or in part from
the 15th century. Almost all of the survivors are premier examples of fine artistry
never used for playing. In an era before plastic-coating of cards, a deck probably
was tattered and stained after a single evening's play. The Cloisters has several examples of 1450 playing cards. The cards
are made of paste board and painted with tempera and ink.
Where did Tarock come from?
|It's an interesting puzzle and there are many
different theories. The puzzle begins with the origin of playing cards.
The International Card Playing Society
presents a brief, factual history which I found refreshing after paging through dozens of
sites whose authors ignored critical pieces of evidence in order to make their cases more
convincing and more mysterious.
It seems that card playing probably originated in China, where paper was invented. The first references of playing cards in Europe date to c.1377. In 1378, the Town Council of Regensburg, Germany banned the use of playing cards. In fact, most of the historical evidence we have regarding the appearance of playing cards in Europe is of a "negative" kind.
It is unclear what types of gambling and leisure games were actually being played. The decks of cards varied from country to country: some decks having a knight instead of a queen, some having a page, knight, queen and king, some having no aces. Needless to say, cards were very different from our standardized 52 plus joker.
Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, cultural debris from the wrecked Byzantine/ Constantinople empire--men, antiquities, and books-- streamed westward, which enriched the burgeoning civilization of Renaissance Italy.
Around 1428 in northern Italy, (map of Italy) we begin to find references to cards that have on them allegorical pictures. These cards were prized and collected by royalty, who often commissioned the great painters of the time to design new cards. The pictures are thought to be visual representations inspired by Petrarch's poetic images of "triumphs," written for the Court of Giangaleazzo Visconti c.1360.
I quote from an informative site which also contains images of the "Tarocchi di Mantegna." "Around 1440 at the courts of Milan & Ferrara, there was a fashion for cards with mythological and allegorical images which were used for playing, but at the same time were imbued with deep hermetic symbolism intended for practicing the magical art of memory."
The "triumphs" ascend numerically, each higher number a triumph over the last. Likewise, the corresponding images illustrate by ascending status the stratification of human existence whether material or spiritual.
These were some of the tars used to play The Game of Triumphs, for Telling Fortunes, and for memory games. It is unfortunate that so few of these tars have survived the centuries for our examination. It is also unfortunate that our historical records have but a few references to the card games being played.