Tarot History - Visconti Lovers

The Lovers, Cary-Yale Visconti

Tarot History - Visconti Femaile Knight

Female Knight of Swords, Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot Deck

Tarot History - Visconti Femaile Knight

The Chariot, Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot Deck


Tarot History - The Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot Deck

Date of Tarot Deck

Uncertain, probably between the1420's and 1460's

Origin of Tarot Deck

Milan, Italy


The Cary-Yale Visconti deck may be the oldest Tarot deck in existence. In my opinion, it is also one of the most beautiful. It is one of several hand-painted Italian decks that the Visconti family commissioned in the 15th Century. 67 cards remain in existence.

Six Court Cards

The Cary-Yale Visconti deck is unique in that it seems to have been created with 6 court cards per suit rather than 4 as in traditional Tarot decks. The court cards are referred to as:

  • The King
  • The Queen
  • The Knight
  • The Female Knight
  • The Page
  • and The Female Page

This has led some to speculate that the deck may have been a "transitional" deck, from an early period in Tarot history when the 78 card deck as we know it had not yet taken form. Some people even wonder if there might have been originally only 16 Trump cards (Major Arcana), which is an interesting thought and one that I am growing more partial to.

Faith, Hope, and Charity

Another oddity of the deck is the inclusion of Faith, Hope and Charity, the three Theological Virtues. In our traditional Tarot decks we usually find Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude (Strength), three of the four Cardinal Virtues. The missing Cardinal Virtue being Prudence, which is a mystery itself. The Cary-Yale deck probably had the three common virtue cards, and may have had Prudence as well, but that is only speculation.

Tarot History - Visconti Faith   Tarot History - Visconti Hope   Tarot History - Visconti Charity






Hope's Hanged Man

Another strange image is present on the Hope card. All three of the Theological Virtues have an image of a man at the bottom of the card. On the Hope card, the man has a hangman's noose around his neck.

Tarot History - Visconti Hope Detail

Detail of the figure with noose from the Hope card.

This figure is mentioned in the Little White Book that accompanies the deck. It notes the noose around his neck and says:

"At one time the words Juda Traditor were visible on his garment . The virtue of Hope has overcome the traitor Judas, who represents disloyalty and hypocrisy."

Then, under the entry for the Hanged Man, it says:

"Parravicino, in Burlington Magazine (1903) claimed to have seen the legend Juda Traditor on the purple garment of the figure at the bottom of the Hope Card in the Cary-Yale deck. However, the inscription on the Hope card is now illegible. From his observation, Parravicion concluded that the Hope card probably 'corresponds with the twelfth tarot of the man hanged.' "

Personally, I think this is really interesting and important. It tells us a little something about the mind of the creator of the deck, and may indicate a connection with The Hanged Man card and the Traitor Judas, which seems to pop up in several decks of the ages.

It also may point to a link with Giotto's early 14th Century Virtues and Vices in the Cappella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapel) in Padua, Italy. In Giotto's paintings, the Virtue of Hope is contrasted with the Vice of Despair.

Tarot History - Giotto Hope   Tarot History - Giotto Despair

Giotto's Virtue of Hope


Giotto's Vice of Despair

Tarot History Links concerning the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot cards:

Great historical research at Andy's Playing cards

Nice Images of the Trumps

The opinion of Michael Dummett (from Trionfi.com)

Purchase the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot cards at The Tarot Garden