The Tarocchino is a variation on the Tarocco deck. It was born in the 15th Century in Bologna, one of the main centers of playing card production in Italy. From the same city we have also know Minchate and Tarocchi decks. The particularity of the Tarocchino game is that the cards from two to five have been removed. So the deck consists of 62 cards, 24 pip cards, 16 court cards and 22 trumps. In the 22 Trumps there is no Popess. She has been replaced by a second Pope. The two Popes, the Empress and the Emperor were known ast the four Popes, and instead of calling them by their name they were called Pope 1, Pope 2, Pope 3 and Pope 4. In game playing these four cards have the same value. In 1724 the four Popes were replaced by four Moors. This is explained later on this page.

Many books have been written about the Tarocchino by some very eminent experts, so on this page I will only give a brief introduction to the characteristics of the deck and its history. Because history there is. The Tarocchino deck has lived a life by itself from its creation in the 15th Century up until today. The game is still existing and played in a large region around Bologna. The probably oldest surviving Tarocchino cards are the so called Rothschild sheets, of which one is conserved in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the other one in the same city in the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts. These sheets have been dated to the late 15th Century. The two sheets show together twelve trumps. Except for the Devil, these cards stayed unchanged until today. Let us take as an example the sheet that is conserved in the Musée du Louvre:

On the top row we have the Tower, the Star and the Moon. On the bottom row we see the Devil, the Chariot and Death. Of the Devil we know another single card made in the 16th or 17th Century and attributed to Angolo Hebreo (Angolo the Jew):

Like on the Rothschild sheet of the Louvre we see the Devil devouring several humans. This card is the first that will undergo some changes in the Tarocchino standard cards. In the French National Library we have a Tarocchino game dating from the early 17th Century. In the image below the same cards are presented as we find on the Rothschild sheet.

We see that except for the Devil, who is presented  in a different, less horrific manner, and Death, who is mirrored with respect to the Rothschild sheet, the other trumps are identical to the ones depicted on the sheet conserved in the Louvre. These representations of the trumps are characteristic for the Tarocchino di Bologna. And not only the trumps have their characteristic appearance, also on the suit cards, we find some elements that are characteristic for the Tarocchino di Bologna. Especially the aces and the court cards keep, like the Tarot of Marseille, most of their characteristics over the Centuries. However, as we will later see, some of the cards will change. So, from the same deck as  shown here above, we show on the first row the Empress, the Emperor, the Popess and the Pope (the so called four Popes), and on the next row three of the Aces and one of the court cards are shown here below for comparison with later Tarocchino decks.

The Ace of Coins has a dog below and a hare above the suit symbol. The Ace of Swords is curved in a circle on top and ends in a Dragon like head. The Ace of Batons is like the Ace of Swords passing through a Crown. The Crown is situated much lower than on the corresponding TdM cards. The Knight of Swords has a very typical curved swords, all other court members have a straight sword. The characteristics of these cards and of all other suit cards do not change over the ages.

Somewhere between 1660 and 1665 the Bologna based painter and engraver Giuseppe Maria Mitelli designs a new deck in order of the rich Bolognese family Bentivoglio, respecting the structure of the Tarocchino, but with all cards redesigned. The Tarocchino di Mitelli, although the structure is the same, is very different in the representation of the 22 allegorical figures with respect to the standard Tarocchino deck. We  show the same six cards as appearing on the Rothschild sheet here below for comparaison. The deck shown here is conserved in the French National Library.

The images have really nothing to do with the standard Tarocchino deck.  Even the suit cards are different. Still, the images respect the symbolism behind the Tarot cards with as only difference that there are two Popes and no Popess. The Mitelli deck will later be produced by other Bolognese cardmakers, like the 1803 deck of Franciscus Baratinni.

Here below we see first the four Popes of the Mitelli deck, followed by the same three Aces and the knight of Sword as shown for the other Tarocchino decks,  emphasising the differences between these thwo Tarocchino versions.

In 1725 something happened that would have a big impact on the Tarocchino decks, with the Empress, Emperor, Popess and Pope replaced by four Moorish figures. A certain Luigi Montieri produced in August 1725 a variant of the Tarocchino deck with on each card geographic (the trump cards) and heraldic (the suit cards) information. On the suit cards he placed as many heraldic shields as the suit number indicated, so one shield on the Ace, six shields on the card numbered six, and so on. Fot the numbers higher than the suit number six, it was very difficult to put recognizable shields on the cards. With 7, 8, 9 or 10 shields on the same cards, the heraldic elements become unrecognizable. To have Sufficient space to put the heraldic shields on the cards, he removed the 7 unto the 10 to replace them with the cards numbered 2 to 5, that are originally not used on the Tarocchino deck. So here we have a deck with the suit numbers of one to six, the higher cards being removed. We finish wit a deck that has the same size as the Tarocchino deck, with 24 pip cards, 16 court cards and 22 trumps '62 cards in total). On every court card 6 heraldic shields are shown except for the King, having 4 shields of a standard size with one bigger Royal or Papal shield. Here below as example the Two of Swords, the Six of Batons, the Queen of Coins and the King of Cups.


On the 22nd card, the Fool, appeared a list of European states with their type of government. On this list figured Bologna and the card indicates the government as mixt (Misto). Officially Bologna was one of the Papal States. When the Pope heared about these card he became extremely angry. As a result, the Papal Legate, Cardinal Tomasso Ruffo threw Montieri and his staff in prison. Within a couple of days he had to release them in order to avoid troubles in town. Bologna was very attached to its liberties. In order to save his face he ordered that the four Popes in the deck (the Emperor, Empress and the two Popes) should be replaced by four Moors. The Angel should also be replaced by a Lady. From this date, all Tarocchino decks show four Moors instead of four Popes. However, the Angel was conserved, to emphasize the liberties of Bologna, and worse, on the Montieri deck the Fool keeps the mention of Bologna as having a mixt government. Here below four other cards of this non standard deck with such a big influence on the standard ones. The example below consists of the Fool,  indicating Bologna having a mixt government, one of the four Moors, the Angel still present and the Ace of Cups indicating the replacement of the cards numbered 7 to 10 with the cards 2 to 5.  Because we have a Moor on the second card we know this particular deck has been created after 1725.

On the card we see on the image part on top in the upper left corner a character in capitals. In the Geographic part we see on the same place a number . The order indicated by the numbers is quite strange. But if we follow the classical Bologna order the capitals begin to speak.  Here below the cards in the Bolonese order with the numbers and the Capitals that are marked on the cards.

R 21 Fool

O 22 Magician

T 19 Moor

N 20 Moor

E 18 Moor

V 05 Moor

N 01 Lovers

I    04 Charriot

I   17 Temperance

R 02 Justice

E 03 Strenght

I 13 Wheel of Fortune

T 12 Time

N 11 Hanged Man

O 09 Death

M 15 Devil

I 16 Tower

G 14 Star

I 06 Moon

U 08 Sun

L 10 World

C 07 Angel

The numbers do not make any sens for me at this moment, if anyone has a clue please inform me. But the capitals do. If we read them in reverse order, we see CLUIGIMONTIERIINVENTOR. The first C is an abbreviation for Canon. Putting the spaces where needed and expanding the C, we read  Canon Luigi Montieri Inventor, the signature of Luigi Montieri who created this deck.

The next deck I will show is a standard Tarocchino deck, created by Antonio de Maria in the early 18th Century in Bologna, this time with the four Moors present. Here below we see the same cards as on the Rothschild sheet  from the same deck as the four Moors presented on the Introduction to the cousins of the Tarot page. This particular deck, is conserved in the British Museum.

The cards date from somewhere between 1725 and 1770. We remark that the trumps are still not numbered. In fact, the Tarocchino deck was one of the last to introduce numbering. To complete the comparison, we will first show again the four Moors followed by the three Aces and the Knight of Swords, like we have shown for the Tarocchino deck conserved in the French National Library. The Sun and the Moon are respectively male and female symbols, so the Moor on the right, holding the Sun in his hand, represents the Emperor. The leftmost card, where you see a Moor with a Moon in her hand is representing the Empress. In biblical symbolism, bows and arrows represent the doctrine of truth, where the bows represent the doctrine and the arrows the truth. As such the Moor with the bow represents the Pope and the Moor with the arrow in her hand the Popess.

What is perfectly clear from the cards above, the 15th Century Rothschildt sheet conserved in the Louvre, the 17th Century Tarocchino di Bologna conserved in the French National Library and the 18th Century Tarocchino di Bologna conserved in the British Museum, is that the Tarocchino is the oldest standerd pattern in the Tarot family, it predates the Tarot of Marseille with almost two Centuries and it has been virtually unchanged since almost three Centuries at the moment that Nicolas Conver produced his version of the Marseille Tarot.

Somewhere between 1760 and 1780 the Tarocchino di Bologna had two major changes. To facilitate game playing, the cards became double headed and the trumps from 5 (the Lovers) to 16 (the Star) were numbered in  standard Arabic numerals. Only clones of the Mitelli decks did not adopt this change. One of the earliest  (partly) surviving Tarocchino decks made in the 18th Century and having these double headed cards is not made in Bologna, but in Ferrara by a certain Cassini. On the next figure we see some of the surviving trump cards.

We clearly recognize all trumps. The images have been adapted to the double representation, but without any other changes with respect to the older decks. The numbers on the cards indicate the (Bologna) order. The lowest and highest cards are still not numbered.

As a last historical deck we will show a Tarocchino deck from the early 19th Century. The deck is nearly complete, only the Ace of Coins is missing. Instead of the Ace of Coins there is an empty card with the tax stamp on it. The Page of Swords has the characters G.M. on his shield, indicating the producer of the deck. GM is known being cardmaker in the early 19th Century in Bologna. We first show the same six cards as on the Rothschild sheet followed by the same suit cards as we showed for the other Tarocchino decks.

Except for the Devil, the cards still are respecting the image composition as present on the Rothschildt sheet. the Devil is identical to the two centuries older Tarocchino deck conserved in the French National Library (BNF). The same can be said of the suit cards of which the same four cards are presented here as as we presented of the BNF deck, preceded by the four Moors.

The images here above are two centuries old. And the Tarocchino did not change. It is still existing and played according virtually the same rules as in the 15th Century. It is the longest living Tarot based game. To finish the page about the Tarocchino here below four cards of a modern deck, still used today to play the game of Tarocchino in the region around Bologna. We see the Ace of Swords, the Knight of Swords, the Devil and the Moon. Nothing essentiel changed since over five Centuries. Despite of technical changes, symbolism stayed the same and game rules stayed the same. Tarocchino was born well before the Tarot of Marseille and the game survived well after the game played with the Tarot of Marseille disappeared. Today nobody uses the Tarot of Marseille for game playing. Tarocchino is still a game, with identical rules as in the late 15th Century. Who can do better?

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