The Wheel of Fortune
Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1911
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.
The personification of fortune, a winged, blindfolded woman, is at the center of a wheel. At the top of the wheel is a seated man with ass's ears, holding a scepter in his right hand. Flanking the wheel are two male figures. One is upright, also with ass's ears, and the other is upside down and has a tail. Below the wheel is a bearded man on hands and knees. Scrolls accompany each figure. The man at the top of the wheel has a scroll with the inscription REGNO. The man at the left has a scroll inscribed REGNABO. The man at the right has scroll with the inscription REGNAVI. The man at the bottom has a scroll inscribed SUM SINE REGNO.