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The Visconti Sforza Tarot Deck: Explained

Today, we are about to embark on an intriguing exploration of one of the most significant tarot decks in history: the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck.

Whether you’re new to tarot or an experienced hand, this deck has something for everyone. So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of this Renaissance masterpiece.

What is the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck?

The Visconti-Sforza deck is not just another tarot deck. It’s one of the earliest known tarot decks, surviving from the mid-15th century. It has influenced the design and interpretation of many tarot decks that followed.

The Visconti-Sforza tarot deck is much more than just a set of 78 illustrated cards; it’s a historic treasure that has stood the test of time, offering tarot enthusiasts a unique blend of artistic beauty, symbolic depth, and historical significance.

Let’s start with the basics

Tarot decks, such as the Visconti-Sforza, are traditionally comprised of 78 cards. These cards are further divided into two groups:

  • The Major Arcana, comprising 22 cards representing life’s karmic and spiritual lessons.
  • The Minor Arcana, consisting of 56 cards reflecting the trials and tribulations that we experience on a daily basis.

The Visconti-Sforza deck adheres to this structure, but what makes it stand apart is its rich and ornate artwork. Each card in the deck is meticulously hand-painted with extraordinary details. The images are not merely decorative; they are symbolic, often drawn from Christian iconography, medieval lore, and the societal hierarchy of the period. Gold leaf accents add an extra layer of opulence to these miniature masterpieces, enhancing the deck’s overall visual appeal.

The Historical Context of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck

Moreover, the deck reflects the ethos of its time. The Renaissance, during which this deck was created, was an era of intellectual and cultural revival, characterized by advancements in literature, art, science, and philosophy. This epoch’s influence is evident in the Visconti-Sforza deck, making it not only a tool for divination but also a historical artifact encapsulating the spirit of a bygone era.

Over the centuries, the Visconti-Sforza deck has not lost its charm. It remains a source of inspiration for tarot enthusiasts and historians alike. Whether you are a beginner just starting out on your tarot journey or a seasoned reader, studying and working with the Visconti-Sforza deck can offer a deeper understanding of tarot’s roots and the evolution of its symbolic language.

Keep in mind that while this deck can be used for regular tarot readings, its unique symbolism may require some additional study and interpretation. This, however, can be seen as an enriching learning opportunity rather than a hindrance, as it allows for a more personalized and insightful reading experience.

Who Made the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck and When Was It Made?

The Visconti-Sforza deck is named after the noble Italian families who commissioned it—the Visconti and Sforza families—around the mid-15th century.

The deck was likely painted by Bonifacio Bembo, a talented artist of the period. Its creation date is not precise, but most scholars agree on a timeframe between 1440 and 1470.

The Structure and Unique Characteristics of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck

Like the majority of tarot decks, the Visconti-Sforza deck consists of 78 cards divided into two sections: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana.

  • The Major Arcana includes 22 unique cards, such as The Fool, The Empress, and Death.
  • The Minor Arcana includes 56 cards divided into four suits: Cups, Coins, Swords, and Batons.

But the Visconti-Sforza is not your average tarot deck.

Each card is a work of art, painstakingly hand-painted, often with gold leaf accents. Unfortunately, some cards have been lost or replaced over time, but the existing cards offer a rich tapestry of symbolism and history.

The Significance and Influence of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck

As one of the earliest and most complete tarot decks, the Visconti-Sforza deck has been a key reference for many subsequent tarot decks. It has shaped the tarot tradition as we know it today.

The deck’s preservation also gives us valuable insights into the culture, art, and spiritual beliefs of the Renaissance era.

How to Use the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck

You might wonder if this historic deck is only for display. Not at all! You can use the Visconti-Sforza deck just like any modern tarot deck—for personal reflection, guidance, or divination. The distinct imagery and symbolism might add a unique flair to your readings, creating a more enriching tarot experience.


There you have it—a deep dive into the captivating world of the Visconti-Sforza Tarot Deck. This deck isn’t merely a set of cards; it’s a bridge to the past, an artistic masterpiece, and a profound tool for introspection. Whether you’re a tarot novice or a seasoned reader, exploring this deck is sure to add a new dimension to your tarot journey.