The oldest surviving tarot cards are the 15 or so Visconti-Sforza tarot decks painted in the mid-15th century for the rulers of the Duchy of Milan. A lost tarot-like pack was commissioned by Duke Filippo Maria Visconti and described by Martiano da Tortona probably between 1418 and 1425, since the painter he mentions, Michelino da Besozzo, returned to Milan in 1418, while Martiano himself died in 1425. He described a 60-card deck with 16 cards having images of the Greek gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds. The 16 cards were regarded as "trumps" since in 1449 Jacopo Antonio Marcello recalled that the now deceased duke had invented a novum quoddam et exquisitum triumphorum genus, or "a new and exquisite kind of triumphs". Other early decks that also showcased classical motifs include the Sola-Busca and Boiardo-Viti decks of the 1490s.
Matthews’ favorite decks are those with straightforward illustrations, like the Tarocchino Bolognese by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, an Italian deck created sometime around the 1660s. Matthews owns a facsimile of the Mitelli deck, rather than an original, which means she can use them without fear of damaging a priceless antique. “The deck that I enjoy most is the Mertz Lenormand deck because of its clarity,” she says. “The background on each card is a creamy, vellum color, so when you lay them out in tableau, you can see the illustrations very clearly. I frankly get so tired of all the new Photoshopped tarots and the slick art, with their complete lack of any framework or substance.
The word tarot is derived from the Italian word tarocchi, which has no known etymology. There are many theories regarding its origin. It may be derived from the name of an Italian river, the Taro. Or perhaps it is of Arabic origin, as playing cards originated in the Middle East, becoming common in Europe by the year 1377 C.E. 18th century occultists claimed the name Tarot came from the conjunction of two Egyptian words meaning “royal road,” which indicated that the tarot was the path to wisdom.
The Burning Question reading is for times when you have a question that needs to be answered immediately—a burning question, if you will. A card symbolizing the question is placed at the center of the spread with the remaining six cards placed around it, suggesting the shape of a flame as it clings onto an object. Spread created by veteran tarot reader Laura Mead-Desmet.