The Estensi decks - a trump suit of 22 cards



The oldest known decks are made for the Duke of Milan. From their accountbooks we know that the Estensi family in Ferrara also had a lot of interest in card playing and in Trionfi decks. From 1422 to 1456 Jacopo di Batheolomeo Sagramoro is mentionned from time to time in the accountbooks as a card producer for the Estensi court. In 1442 for the first time a Trionfi deck is mentionned attributed to him. From 1457 to 1463 another Trionfi painter appears in the account books, Gerardo di Andrea da Vicenza. Especially the first entrance, on the 21st of July 1457 is very important. On this date he is paid for having painted two complete decks of 70 big Trionfi cards (all data comes from the site In fact this is the first mention of the structure of the Trionfi decks. 70 cards is a clear reference to a structure of 5 suits of 14 cards. What is also interesting to know is that Galeazzo Maria Sforza, eldest son of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, at that time a thirteen years old boy, visited the Estensi court in July 1457.

Ercole of Este, the later Duke Ercole I, came in 1460, at the age of 28 years, back to Ferrara. He had spend 15 years at the Neapolitan court, that was ruled until 1458 by Alfonso V, King of Aragon, and after he died by his son, Ferdinand I. Ferdinand I had 8 years more than Ercole,  and he must have been his principal teacher. Ercole I had studied military arts, chivalry, architecture and the fine arts. He was one of the most educated persons of his time. For this reason I think that he might be the one who came  with the idea of a 22 Trump structure. We have no single reference to a 22 Trump structure before he came back to Ferrara, the oldest evidence might be the Estensi deck, formerly called the Charles VI deck, according some sources created in Florence somewhere between 1460 and 1464. The French National Library gives a sligtly later date, they place the deck somewhere between 1475 and 1500. It is now generally accepted that the deck was commissioned by the Estensi family, and probably indeed realized by some Fiorentine artists. During the rule of the Medici family, Florence became the center of the fine Arts, and Ercole, specialist in fine Arts, knew all the artists of his time. In the rest of this text I assume it was effectively Ercole I who imagined the 22 trump structure. So if I say "Ercole I imagined...", then this will not say that there is historical evidence that he did so, I'm just following my intuition. In 1473 he commissioned a second deck, this one at the occasion of his marriage with Eleanore of Aragon. On the shields carried by the figures on the court cards we find heraldic devices of both families.

The next pages deal with the cards that were added to the 14 card trump structure to arrive at the for us familiar 22 cards structure.

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