Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

God doesn't mind Tarocchino

A Game for the relief of poor humanity and a game of fashion


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, June 2013

A Game not unwelcome to God in eighteenth century Bologna


The work Raccolta di Prose e Lettere scritte nel sec. XVIII [Collection of Prose and Letters written in the eighteenth century], published in several volumes, brings together a truly remarkable documentation of much promise. In addition to compositions about personalities today little remembered, others appear about famous men such as Francesco Algarotti, Gaspare Gozzi, Giuseppe Baretti, Apostolo Zeno, Metastasio, Anton Maria Salvini and many others.


Among the collection of letters edited by Gamba that are of interest for our study, there is one that the cleric Antonio Golini sent to a certain Sebastiano Pedrini of Bologna. In it Golini, disheartened by the death of his friend Monsignor Peggi, "public master of reason for sixty years at the University" (1), requested him, given his advanced age, not to enter into marriage with his friend Rosalia, but to maintain a with her a most pure bond, leaving the pleasures of Hymen to young people, thereby mutually honoring the Lord "to whom is not displeasing either tarrocchino, or conversations, or other innocent amusement necessary to the relief of poor humanity, and sometimes even useful to rejuvenate the spirit." The idea that the games of tarot and Tarocchini continued to be persecuted by the Church as gambling should be limited to those situations that led to the derision, blasphemy, or even murder of the opponent. If one played in the home among responsible persons it was a game well-liked by God, as the good Golini writes, as one of many amusements that were ‘innocent and necessary for the relief of poor humanity’.


We know Antonio Golini by a brief biography reported by the editor of the book:


"He was born in Bassano in 1717.  Died in his homeland in 1782.

He belonged to the Society of Jesus until such time as the Order was suppressed, and then always passed his days in his homeland, where he died, awarded, by vote of his fellow citizens, the prelateship, which in Bassano is the first ecclesiastical seat. He never wanted to put his name on printed works, but he had the reputation of great learning and an excellent letter-writer. Quite a few of his letters were published posthumously in Bassano by his family in 1823, in 8 volumes, and from them we will have a demonstration here. I, the writer, here am reminded that when I was young I went to preach unstudied sermons before some altar of Bassano, and I was greatly excited when Monsignor Golini sometimes stopped to listen. Jesus and Mary! We are now 62 years later! These, however, do not make me forget how I felt very taken by the sweetness of his manners, of that fine personal dignity, and, I think, however, of being in his presence, proud of my tunic and my pointed cap, and blessed by the ring cakes and comforts with which with me the venerable Prelate was liberal".


Letter from Antonio Golini  to Sig. Sebastiano Pedrini (2)


"Your tears are just and well owed to the loss of the most distinguished man that will honored Bologna, and the most perfect heart that made dear and respectable friendship. Monsignor Peggi had all the qualities so that being alive or dead he was revered and loved by anyone who feels the price of eminent virtue and the most extensive and sublime doctrine. Great Master in the pulpit, a holy and immaculate priest, he was then also in society the most lovable and loving friend. I delight in having known him, and having been part of his undiminished, sweet and honorable friendship, and I glory and will glory forever, because of one of the most distinguished ornaments of my life, nor ever shall leave remembering with veneration nor shedding my tears on his memory and on his reverend ashes. These duties are rendered all the more owed in you, who were like his beloved son, whom he nurtured and cherished with sweetness and attentions more loving and solicitous than a true loving father.

Therefore weep for him without end, for it is a praiseworthy thing and your crying a debt [of gratitude]; but do not be content with that alone, but utilize it in all your activity, so that in the sight of God and the world you still render the honors due a man so worthy of his homeland, and of the most venerable ecclesiastics of the Papal States. His disciples, who are clearly many, should compete to celebrate his praises, which made him illustrious and [now] makes your province illustrious; but its subject is also destined by God to be made known in Bologna and in Italy, as far as the intelligence and affection of our Preti (3) can reach, and this was to be brought home by God himself thanks to his admirable ways, so that at his death is presented a preacher worthy of so great a topic.

To your and to the common instances add also mine, greet him [Preti] and thank him very much again for the flattering paragraph he wrote for me to Count Abbot Roberti. I am pleased that Signora Rosalia is well, and finds you in a good mood: a new argument that the scruples that detach from tightening the knot are not alone. It never entered my mind that your undiminished friendship would be less than good. So you can continue it without worries, which will not leave you completely ever, if you do not drive from your heart the cravings of marriage, in which it by divine regard does not want to join. You are now old, dear one, for these matters, and the union of the spirit you can have equally without that of matter, and so in a more pure bond love and honor mutually our good God, to whom is not displeasing either the tarrocchino or conversations, or other innocent amusement necessary to the relief of poor humanity, and even sometimes useful to rejuvenate the spirit. Enjoy these, and leave Hymen to those who are fresh in years and can honor God in this. I am, etc."


A new trend in eighteenth century Ferrara: playing 'Tarrocchini' with the left hand


The Ferrarese Girolamo Baruffaldi (1675-1755), after graduating in philosophy and utroque iure (civil and canon law), was ordained at the age of 25. From his father, a keen archaeologist, he inherited a large collection of books to which were added historical works of some importance. An archivist in 1711, on the occasion of contention exchanged between the Estensi and the Papacy for possession of Comacchio, he was sequestered with relatives and condemned to exile, accused of passing a document to Muratori proving the reliability of the arguments put forward by the Lords of Ferrara. Later, his innocence confirmed, he returned to Ferrara where he assumed the office of apostolic protonotary and canon of the Cathedral, as well as being appointed professor of Eloquence.


He later became dean of Pieve di Cento, living under the protection of Cardinal Lambertini (the future Pope Benedict XIV), whom he defended against numerous enemies belonging to the Academy of the Forest from which he distances himself  by creating his own called the Vineyard. Later all his books were confiscated again on charges of stealing the bull of Alexander VI from the archive of the Archbishop of Bologna,. Undergoing a trial he was found innocent. He died at Cento at the age of eighty.


Baruffaldi was recognized as one of the most skilled forgers of his time, as he forged several testimonies that were deemed authentic for a long time, such as the famous inscription of the cathedral of Ferrara "Born [i.e. Constructed] one thousand one hundred thirty five [i.e. 1135]" and several poems he included in the work Rime scelte dei poeti ferraresi [Selected Verses of Ferrarese poets]: and tricked even Leopardi. But beyond this aspect of the false philologist, he wrote several interesting works on the history of Ferrara, the serenade Il Concilio dei Pianeti [The Council of Planets], then set to music by Albinoni, the poem in eight books Il Canapaio focused on agronomic aspects of the cultivation of hemp [canapa[, the Iocasta [Jocasta] tragedies, the Diofebe and the Ezzelino, several comedies, and the Baccanali [Bacchanalia], of which The Tabaccheiode (a paeon to tobacco), in almost two thousand verses, is considered the most successful. The Baccanali, by their cheerfully satirical subject and variety of meters, are owing to the literary genre of the "dithyramb", even if of them, in an introduction or "progimnasio" premised in the partial edition of 1722, he will claim the originality of its invention.


In Baccanale V of the original edition of 1722, entitled I Sughi [The Sauces], the author, creating a parallel between the need to mix the sauce in the pot with the left hand, the right if you were in trouble, mentions the Bolognese Tarocchini, referring to the practice, now become a new fashion for women, of playing by distributing the cards with the left hand, even if one is not left-handed. This information is very important because the author wrote this Bacchanal in 1722, the year in which, living in Ferrara, he assumed the post of Professor of Eloquence at the University. Citing Tarocchini makes us aware that in the eighteenth century Ferrara did not use the Tarot deck derived from the tradition that dated back to the Este and the fifteenth century, but the Bolognese variant designed in the mid-sixteenth century.


The Sauces - Bacchanal V


Gira pur, nè ti stancare,

E rigira, e rimaneggia,

E tremena, e rivolteggia,

E poi torna a rigirare :

Se la destra

Non t’è destra,

Tu sommistra

Con la sinistra,

Che in cucina anco si loda

Per capriccio esser mancino,

Come appunto al Tarrocchino

Per le dame è nuova moda.


Only mix, and do not tire,

And turn it round and round, and form it again [also meaning reshuffle]

And move it often, and put bottom to top and vice versa,

And then go again:

If the right

Is not for you right,

In the kitchen, by a whim,

To be left-handed is also praised,

As precisely in Tarrocchino

For the ladies it is a new fashion (4).


1 - Giovan Battista Roberti, Opere, Tomo Secondo [Collected Works, Volume Two], Bassano, Remondini di Venezia, 1789, p. 18.
2 - Raccolta di Prose e Lettere scritte nel sec. XVIII  [Collection of Prose and Letters written in the XVIIIth century[, Volume III: Lettere Familiari [Family Letters], Tomo [Volume] II, Milan, Società Tip. De’ Classici Italiani, 1830, p. 153.
3 - Luigi Preti, a famous religious of that time. 
4 - Girolamo Baruffaldi, Baccanali [Bacchanalia], Venezia, Carlo Buonarrigo, 1722, p. 70.