- Museum number
Knight of Swords; a semi-naked man on horseback wielding an enormous sword, with a scabbard hanging from his waist; a barren tree behind. 1491
- Production date
Height: 141 millimetres
Width: 72 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is one of four prints in the BM from the set of 78 engraved Tarot cards (22 'Triumphs' and 56 cards with four traditional suits: coins, swords, batons, cups) known in one state only and traditionally called the 'Sola-Busca Tarocchi', a name deriving from the Milanese family that owned a complete illuminated set that is now in the Pinacoteca di Brera. The cards have recently been attributed to Nicola di Maestro Antonio d'Ancona and published by Laura Paolo Gnaccolini (ed), in 'Il Segreto dei segreti. I tarocchi Sola Busca e la cultura ermetico-alchemica tra Marche e Veneto all fine del Quattrocento', Pinacoteca de Brera 2012 (reviewed David Landau, PQ XXXI 2014, pp.216-9). The arguments proposing that the painter Nicola di Maestro Antonio engraved the tarot cards are not entirely convincing but they are here attributed to him for want of a better alternative and to reflect the most recent scholarship on the subject. This group is the earliest surviving set of true tarot cards to be preserved in its entirety and is the earliest of all known packs in engraving.
Technically, the series is characterised by a great precision of outline; it is neatly cut with regular parallels and crosshatching, regarded by Hind as similar in the manner to the so-called 'E series' master of 'Mantegna Tarocchi' and thought they were Ferrarese. The 'Sola-Busca Tarocchi' may be dated to 1491 since the year was painted on one of the illuminated cards in the Brera set (the inscription 'ANNO AB URBE CONDITA MLXX' on card XIIII may be read as the date of 1,070 years after the foundation of Venice - either 421 or 453 - that should mean 1491 or, less likely, 1523).
The Knight is one of the four court cards in regular Tarocchi (the others are the Knave, Queen and King). The identity of the figure, named "AMONE", cannot be established with certainty; it may represent Amon, the Biblican king of Judah. The British Museum has four uncoloured cards (1845,0825.483-486, Hind nos. 12, 41, 53 and 54: the 'Knight of Swords', the 'Queen of Clubs', the 'Knave' and 'Knight of Coins'). Four unpainted impressions are also in Hamburg and Paris, while twenty-three cards are preserved in the Albertina, Vienna and the entire painted set in Brera (see above).
For discussion of the 'Sola Busca' Tarocchi in addition to Gnaccolini cited above, see A.M. Hind, 'Early Italian Engraving', I, London, 1938, pp. 241-244; M.J. Zucker, 'The Illustrated Bartsch, Commentary', vol. 24, part 3, 2000, pp.63-68.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number