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PLAYING CARD – INDIA: Indes au de ca du Gange.



A seemingly unrecorded miniature map of India printed on a playing card from a deck of Italian playing cards, made in Jesuit academic circles in Padova at the end of the 18th century.

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This miniature map of India was published in an unrecorded deck of tarot or tarocchini cards, showing parts of the world, printed in Parma or Rome around 1790.

Tarot was a popular card game in Europe from the 15th century on, usually played with a deck of 78 cards. In the Bologna area in the 17th century a reduced version of this game developed, called tarocchini, and played with a Tarocco Bolognese with a deck of 64 cards.

We could not find any references to this card in literature, but it can be put in a circle of geographical playing cards, for the University in Parma in 1790. Two similar decks of cards, with maps of only European countries, survive in the British Museum and belonged to a private collection of Lady Charlotte Schreiber. The two decks or states of this maps of European countries are:

1. An incomplete deck of 77 cards (1 missing), engraved by Marco di Pietro in Rome (Gr. par Marco di Pietro a Rome) for the College of Nobles (Pour le Royal College des Nobles de Parme) The deck included five colours: Brown for Italian maps, Red for German, Green for Swiss, Yellow for Spanish and Blue for Portuguese maps. All the cards had a coat of arms of Parma printed on the back. The style of engraving of these maps of Europe bear a striking resemblance to this card with map of Asia. Some of the cards from this deck appeared on the market in the past years.

2. A complete deck of almost identical cards, signed by a Jesuit Bartolomeo Luigi Desprotti (1741-1819) was published by Carmignani under the name Chartes LXXVIII. Ou La Geographie en Jeu de Taroques in Parma in 1790. Marco di Pietro’s name has been erased and the back.

The first set is not signed, but because it is almost identical to the second, they could be both based on Bartolomeo Luigi Desprotti’s drafts. Desprotti was an Italian Jesuit and a professor of geometry and mathematics at the College of Nobles in Parma. His most famous book was Elementi di geometria ad uso del Reale Collegio de’ Nobili di Parma.

The present card had to be published in a deck of cards showing maps of the non-European countries, which had to be published parallel with one of the two decks, mentioned above, either in Rome by Marco di Pietro, or in Parma by Carmignani.


Jesuits and University in Parma around 1790

Both of the upper decks of cards with maps of Europe, matching this map of Asia, were published in a connection with the university College of Nobles in Parma and the Jesuits.

The College of Nobles in Parma (Collège des Nobles, Collegium nobilium convittorum) was founded by Farnese Duke Ranuccio I in 1601 and entrusted to Jesuits in 1604. The the first half of the 18th century the University was neglected but things improved in 1762 under Duke Ferdinand I de Bourbon, when he founded a great state university at Parma.

The University expanded rapidly, after it confiscated the possessions of the Jesuits, who were suppressed in Parma in 1767. The independent Duchy of Parma was at the time the smallest Bourbon court and extremely aggressive in its anti-clericalism.

Yet the situation with the suppression of the Jesuits was not as black and white, as history books want to prove. Many of the Jesuits remained employed by the University for their knowledge in science, especially in astronomy and mathematics. Already in 1793 the Jesuits had obtained re-entry. The head of the College of Nobles became a Jesuit Luigi Fortis, who was in the time of the suppression of Jesuits in contact with Jesuits of Russia. New studies were added. The university experienced a rapid growth phase and established an astronomical observatory, a botanical garden and laboratories of anatomy, chemistry and physics.

Today the institution is a high school with a name Convitto nazionale Maria-Luigia.


We could not find any other examples of this set of cards with the maps of non-European countries in the literature nor in any institutions worldwide. Some examples of other cards from the same set, coming from the same source have appeared on the market in the past years.  


References: Tooley, Dictionary of Mapmakers, p. 431; F. O’Donoghue, Catalogue of the collection of playing cards bequeathed to the Trustees of the British Museum by the late Lady Charlotte Schreiber (1901), p. 10, n. 30. 67 110. http://www.miniaturemaps.net/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/1701-1800/1790%20Desprotti.pdf.

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