Fine dalla Torre Tarot

Tarocchi Carte Fine dalla TorreLe Carte Fine dalla Torre

XVII Century Tarot of Bologna


The International Museum of Tarot sought to publish an ancient Italian deck that was as yet unpublished in the modern era.

Something not too far from the model that gave rise to the 18th century iconic illustrations of the so-called Tarot of Marseilles; well-known to enthusiasts, (and consequently to a large degree influential over decks published during subsequent centuries).

This choice went to the 17th century exemplary Bolognese deck of cards known as the ‘Fine della Torre’, which fortunately was passed down to us nearly complete and in fairly good condition. The only known example is preserved as “Tarot bolonais XVIIe s.” by the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Estampes, KH 34 rés. boit 1, cf. cat. “Tarot, jeu et magie” n° 26 B.N. 1984. Nomenclature IPCS: IT-2.)

The original card size was 105 x 43 mm. (4.1” x 1.7”) and the Trumps were printed unnumbered although became numbered by hand afterwards.

In the new edition the card size is 6 x 14 cm. (2.4” by 5.5”)

At the time of production, being a Bolognese style deck meant it would be reduced from the traditional Tarot deck of seventy-eight to sixty-two cards; eliminating the Minor Arcana numbered: 2, 3, 4 and 5 of each suit, (following the custom in vogue in Bologna since at least the mid-16th century). Of the original sixty-two, only six cards remain lost to time: 6, 7, 8 & 9 of Swords, the Queen of Cups and Queen of Coins.

It is a similar deck to modern successors, such as the Tarocchino Bolognese, but at the same time has many resemblances to its ancestors of the 16th century (with the notable exception of the Devil card); at least with regards to the twelve surviving images of Trumps on two incomplete sheets from the last decade of the 15th century. The first is in the Bibliotheque de l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Masson Collection, (uncataloged), Paris. The second is in the Musée du Louvre, Rothschild Collection, LR 3804, Paris.

Curiosity over this precious deck of Tarot cards

In this early Tarot deck there are still traditional depictions of the High Priestess, Empress, Emperor and Pope, that were viewed unfavorably by authorities of the Papal States, and which were subsequently replaced in Tarocchino Bolognese; first by two Popes and two Emperors (by at least 1669) and eventually by images of the four “Moors” during the late 17th century.

From the perspective of symbolism, this deck shows extremely interesting details, particularly when compared to the traditional portrayal of the cards.

The High Priestess and Pope are the most remarkable cards of the Major Arcana. The High Priestess holds Keys and makes a blessing with a Latin gesture, while the Pope has a closed book and holds a cross. The latter also reveals stigmata on his hands, and has a youthful, beardless face that is decidedly feminine. The details of his Papal Tiara (a triple crown without button or cross) suggest a hypothetical design dating between 1342 and 1503.
All face cards of the Major Arcana are interesting from a historic and symbolic point of view, while the Court Cards consistently reflect complementary qualities of courtly pairing in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
The distinction between male suits (Wands and Swords) and female (Cups and Coins) is all too evident with the obvious presence of two female chambermaids. However, in this regard, there are many other significant details, such as the postures of these characters, their attire, attributes and ageless appearance.
The 10 of Coins has the inscription “CARTE FINE DALLA TORRE IN BOLOGNA” with 17th century typography. These words are capitalized and displayed vertically. Most likely one of many heirs of an abundant production of cards that was documented in Bologna with the manufacturer Pietro Bonozzi since at least 1477, while their presence was certified in town since at least 1459 (refer to the Tarot Travel Guide of Italy, 2015, page 50 by Morena Poltronieri, Ernesto Fazioli & Arnell Ando.)

The back of the cards

On the back of the cards are two winged angels. One is the classic Cupid with bow and arrow, while the other points to a large tree with a heart hanging like fruit. This is probably a reference to the myth of Apollo and Daphne; both struck by arrows of Eros, but with opposite results. Apollo fell in love with Daphne, while she flatly refused his advances after a long chase through the woods. So as not to give into the passions of the ‘God of Oracles’, this nymph, prayed for an escape and was thus transformed into the sweetly scented laurel plant, (Ovid, Metamorphoses, I, 452-567) known as “Daphne” in Greek and which consequently became the symbolic tribute to great poets in Ancient Greece.

Fine dalla Torre Tarot, box setsWork on the cards

In April 2014 Morena Poltronieri and Ernesto Fazioli (of the International Museum of Tarot) began the challenge of returning this precious Bolognese Tarot of the 17th century back to production.

The original fifty-six cards of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris are engraved on wood with a colorful façade. Poltronieri and Fazioli did not perform an actual restorative process directly on these cards, but rather worked on the images digitally, through various color definition phases, both with pastels and by utilizing computer graphics.

The first step was to print the image in A4 format and then define the contours and colors using professional pastels. The refined images were then scanned and set in Photoshop to clean up smudges caused by time and wear. One of the goals was to not interfere creatively with the look of these cards, but to preserve the original freshness, which is characteristic of the era, and a valuable and distinctive artwork. The end result is respectful of the unique designs, contours and colors, while adding a greater definition to the innate beauty and appearance inherent in the original imagery.

The missing Queens (Cups and Coins) have been redesigned and processed through Photoshop, while referring to the Court Cards of an 18th century, double sided, Tarocchino Bolognese, which is part of the permanent collection of the Tarot Museum.

For us the fruit of the labor will be in sharing the revival of one of the most important Italian Tarot works of the distant past.

After nearly four centuries, this quintessential 17th century deck is again available.

This text was written by Giovanni Pelosini and translated by Arnell Ando.

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