Bembo’s tarots: mystery on a golden background
Tarots have hidden their mysterious origin for centuries. Even the etymology of their name is unclear: experts have tried to use varying degrees of information and imagination to explain where the word “tarot” originally comes from, with references reaching as far as ancient Egypt and the Hebrew tradition.
The relationships between the 78 cards in the deck – 56 “Minor arcana”, 21 “Major arcana”, and “the Fool” – are to be laboriously interpreted within a coded structure, which once deciphered unveils their true meaning: a complex task that only real enthusiasts, experts in the field, clever fortune tellers, and astute charlatans have been able to carry out to the end.
Tarots, however, have also inspired many talented artists, such as Brescia-born painter and miniaturist Bonifacio Bembo (1420-1480), who was so charmed by these cards’ Neoplatonic idealism and exoteric symbols that he created a deck for Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, between 1442 and 1444.
Bembo’s deck – 48 cards measuring 180-by-90 millimeters, illustrated on gold and silver backgrounds – is now part of the Pinacoteca di Brera collection.
Here are some of the most beautiful and mysterious cards by the early-Renaissance artist.