Notes about the Budapest Tarot uncut sheets

Budapest Tarot

The Budapest tarot is a reconstruction based on various examples of 3 distinct pages of uncut cards, preserved at the Szépmuvészeti Múzeum (The Museum of Fine Arts) in Budapest, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and The Cary Collection of Playing Cards at the Yale University Library in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. These pages are coloured, stenciled woodcuts, whose origin would be either Ferrarese or Venetian, dating back to the end of the 15th century. The pages comprising the “Budapest tarot” are noteworthy because they depict what is probably the oldest complete series of 22 trump cards from a printed tarot deck. 

The originals and their preservation locations:

The Szépmuvészeti Múzeum preserves 20 fragments of printed pages from different but similar sets, dating back to the 16th or end of the 15th centuries in northern Italy. These examples of ancient cards are found in the form of sheets of uncut cards, most likely discovered on the covers of books. In fact, these images show many flaws, having been salvaged from the original materials, and then cut and bound together. The paper has been trimmed to match the size of the book cover, and consequently all of the remaining paper was glued together to form a thick and rigid cover. We can still see the adhesive residue, and the mutilation of the pages actually refers to these cuts.

In general, these fragmentary pages are comprehensive enough to complete the overall images from the 9 engraved wooden molds that are used to produce them. Several different sheets can be compiled between them, and by their format, their style and the sequence of cards that follow, they can form 4 games, including a Tarot.

The pages were all preserved in the Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum (Hungarian National Museum), which auctioned a few duplicates of its pages to the Metropolitan Museum in 1922. As attested in an article written by Melbert B. Cary, Jr. in 1939, the record at the time of this sale dates these pages back to the 15th century, with a Venetian origin.

The sheets from the Met are catalogued as 26.101.4 and 31.54.159, which together represent 11 almost complete cards and 7 card fragments, and 26.101.5 with 8 cards and 13 fragments.

Pages from the Szépmuvészeti Múzeum with their direct online link:

Sheet 1 :

Sheet 2 :

Sheet 3 :

It is interesting to note that a stencil that must have been used for the color yellow is part of the collection of playing cards from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. It corresponds to the sheet containing the numerical series of wands and swords, with their 2 aces, respectively a leopard and a lion. With no visible traces of color, I deduced that it was probably rejected for these reasons. A reproduction can be seen in the encyclopedia of the tarot of Kaplan (vol 2) p 282.

Other fragments are in private collections. One of them in particular has been printed in reverse, a phenomenon already recognized from the Rosenwald trump sheet.

These sheets are sometimes referred to as “Dick”. Harris Brisbane Dick donated an incredible collection of works of art to the Metropolitan Museum through the Harris Brisbane Dick Fund in 1926.

From this tarot, it can be assumed that 3 out of 4 sheets were found. The set is therefore complete, with the exception of the cups and pentacles going from the Az to the 10, or 58 cards out of 78. Knowing that each sheet has 20 cards and that one of the sheets contains the space for 2 cards, the sum”(4×20) -2″ gives well the adequate number of cards for a tarot deck.

Description of the 3 sheets :

Here is what we can observe from the 3 sheets composed of 4 rows of 5 cards.

Sheet 1:

King of Swords – King of Cups – King of Pentacles – King of Wands – Jack of Swords

R1 – King of Swords – King of Cups – King of Pentacles – King of Wands – Jack of Swords

R2 – Jack of Cups- Knight of Swords – Knight of Cups – Knight of Pentacles – Knight of Wands

R3 – Chariot – XV Tower – X Wheel of Fortune – XIII – XIIII Devil

R4 – IIII Emperor – V Hierophant – II Empress – III High Priestess -() Matt

Sheet 2:

R1 – VIIII Strength – I The Magician- Jack of Pentacles (female character) – Jack of Wands – Queen of Cups

R2 – Queen of Pentacles – Queen of Wands- Queen of Swords – XI The Hermit – XII The Hanged Man

R3 – XV III Sun – XVIIII Judgment – XX Justice – () World – XVII Moon

R4 – …. – …. (2 empty slots on the mold) – VIII Lovers – VI Temperance – XVI Star

Sheet 3:

R1 – 6 of Wands – 5 of Wands – 4 of Wands- 3 of Wands – Az of Wands (Leopard)

R2 – 7 of Wands – 8 of Wands – 2 of Wands – 9 of Wands – 10 of Wands

R3 – 5 of Swords – 4 of Swords – 3 of Swords – 2 of Swords – Az of Swords (Lion)

R4 – 6 of Swords – 7 of Swords – 8 of Swords – 9 of Swords – 10 of Swords

It seems obvious that a last sheet structured like sheet 3 was added to this tarot.

The Trumps Order:

VIII Lover – VIII Lover – VIII Strength – X Wheel of Fortune – XI Hermit – XII Hanged Man- XIII – XIIII Devil – XV Tower – XVI Star- XVII Moon – XV III Sun – XVIIII Judgment – XX Justice – () World

The placement of the World at the top followed by Justice in XX and then Judgment refers to the order of the “Type B” established by Dummett and thus indicates a Ferraran (or Venician?) origin.

This tarot is therefore all the more valuable because it constitutes practically the only physical cards trace of this tradition, which disappeared around 1600.

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