The King of Staves

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Bonifacio Bembo

The King of Staves

Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards

Italy, Milan
ca. 1450–1480
173 x 87 mm

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911

MS M.630 (no. 19)
Item description: 

Although tarot cards originated around 1425–50 in Milan or Ferrara, they were not generally used for fortune-telling until the 1780s. Fifteenth-century painted tarot cards are exceedingly rare, and no complete deck (seventy-eight cards) survives. The deck to which this card belongs has been attributed to Bonifacio Bembo and his family. Bembo was the favorite painter of Bianca Maria Visconti (1425–1468), and it seems likely that the deck was made for her and her husband, Francesco Sforza (1401–1466), whose betrothal (1432) and marriage (1441) united the two families and whose emblems and devices are intermingled on several of the cards.

Page description: 

A king wearing a crown sits with his legs crossed at the ankles holding a scepter in his left hand and a stave in his right. His garment is decorated with an eagle.