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GALLERY INDEX
~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
· page VI ·

THE TAROT OF MARSEILLE

part 2

back to the
GALLERY INDEX


page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VIII
the Tarot
de Paris
page IX
Viéville's
Tarot
page X
the
Minchiate
page XI
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIII
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman

most cards shown in this page belong to the mid 18th century decks printed by
Nicolas Conver in Marseille, (marked NC) and by Ignaz Krebs in Freiburg (marked IK);
the faithful reprints are by Lo Scarabeo (Italy) and by Piatnik (Austria), respectively





All the subjects of the tarot of Marseille basically match the ones belonging to the Pierpont-Morgan Visconti deck (see THE VISCONTI TAROTS), with simplified illustrations due to the inevitable change of technique, from hand-painted illuminations to woodblock prints, rather roughly engraved in some editions, later coloured by stencils.
Nevertheless, many among the allegories are absolutely similar, and also the ordering of the 22 trumps may have likely been in common with the early tarot, but only in Marseille's pattern the ranking can be told without any doubt, thanks to the roman numeral on each card.

Two subjects, though, were given a different interpretation: the Old Man (or Time) became the Hermit, while Lightning became the House of God (known in English as the Tower).

(left) the Old Man or Time (Pierpont-Morgan Visconti),
(center and right) the Hermit in Marseille's pattern (NC and IK)
The personage of the ninth trump is a standing male figure of mature age (as suggested by the beard and sometimes by grey hair), who wears a long cloak. He was seen as a hermit, and given a lantern in one hand, held from the top, a graphic corruption or an evolution of the old hourglass (held from its base), a symbol of time. With his other hand he holds a walking stick or staff, not too different from the one found in early representations.
In some editions the man's frock looks very similar to a monk's cowl, plain and brown, with a hood; such detail was retained by the pattern known as Besançon tarot or Swiss tarot (see page II).

This interpretation was not exclusive of Marseille's pattern: among the few examples of tarots from Ferrara (i.e. the eastern group, or Dummett's group B) is an uncut sheet approximately dating back to year 1500, with a woodblock print of some trumps; one of them (far right) is the Hermit, holding a lamp as in the French fashion. But in older tarots from the north-east of Italy the same personage still held an hourglass, which testifies that the lantern was a real change, occurred sometime by the turn of the 16th century.
The rank number XI, seen on the printed card, is due to a different ordering of the trumps in Ferrara's tarots, see page III, but since the name of the subject is not shown, it would be difficult to guess whether early players called this a "hermit" or an "old man".
 
two Hermit cards from Ferrara tarots:
tarot of Alessandro Sforza (c.1470-80), with an
hourglass, and the woodblock print (c.1500), with a lamp

 
Lightning in the tarot of Charles VI and
the House of God (the Tower) by NC
The House of God, i.e. the Tower, features a thunderbolt that strikes down from the top right corner of the card, splitting a tall tower and causing two anonymous personages to be tumbled to the ground. This illustration is consistent with the relevant fragment of the Cary sheet. A connection with the biblical tale of Babylon's tower has been suggested to explain this representation, which was originally called Lightning or the Thunderbolt.
In any case, the original meaning of the subject remains substantially the same, i.e. a warning or a punishment for man's pride, sent from the heavens.
We may well understand how the old subject was turned into this new shade of meaning by considering the relevant illustration in the Tarot of Charles VI, where a square-shaped tower is actually stricken by a thunderbolt.


In the twelfth trump, the Hanged Man, we see a linguistic evolution of an old subject's name. In Marseille's pattern it looks similar to the one found in other previous tarots, i.e. a young man tied by one foot to a rectangular scaffold, but the original title of the trump was the Traitor.

NC - the Hanged Man
In some areas, traitors and debtors used to be hung by one leg in a rather uncomfortable attitude, very similar to the one seen in this card: the young man tied to the scaffold may in fact be the same traitor, although French players probably labelled the trump as the Hanged Man because this form of punishment was unknown in France.
In fact, the peculiar attitude of this personage also caused problems in orienting the illustration: in some editions the number XII appears reversed, i.e. IIX, as if the card had to be looked at upside-down. This was particularly evident in the north of France and in Belgium (see part 3).

NC - the Devil

Trump number XV, the Devil, is another subject missing from Milan's 15th century decks we know. However, since it is found in early tarots of the other two groups, we may reasonably think that this already was a common feature before Marseille's pattern was created. The latter features a winged and horned demon with female breasts and a second face on its belly, symbolizing low instincts, an appetite for material things. The creature is seen from the front, standing on a pedestal to which two smaller horned figures are tied or chained. This way of representing the Devil is typical of most varieties belonging to group C, but is also one of the few details not consistent with the Cary sheet, in which the demon is shown sideways, picking up a human body with a trident while others are already in his pannier.

the Devil, fragment
from the Cary sheet

The three astronomical subjects, the Star, the Moon and the Sun, all show distinctive features in the lower half of the card, in a fashion similar to the same trumps of the Cary sheet. In the first one, a naked kneeling female pours the content of two vessels into a river. The second one has two dogs on the edge of a pond, whose center is occupied by a lobster or cray-fish, while a sickle-shaped moon with a face sheds its drop-shaped rays from above. A comparison with the Cary sheet's subject can be seen in part 1. The cray-fish may be the corruption of a crab, a reference to the zodiac constellation of the Cancer. The third subject features two semi-naked children, maybe twins or brothers, under the rays of the sun, which fall down again as drops.

The last card of the series, the World, changed its look quite radically. The traditional allegory of this trump used to be an ideal city, inscribed within a circle and overlooked by heavenly personages, such as an archangel or cherubs; in Marseille's pattern this was replaced by a female figure holding a short staff, in the center of an almond-shaped wreath, while the corners are filled by the symbols of the four evangelists: the angel for Matthew, the eagle for John, the bull for Luke and the lion for Mark, a scheme also known as the Tetramorph.
  
NC - the Star, the Moon and the Sun
 
the World, from the late 1400s (Cary-Yale
Visconti tarot, left) to Marseille's pattern (NC)
A few more trumps in Marseille's tarot developed peculiar details, although their subjects did not really change.
For instance, in the Lovers card (formerly Love) a third elderly figure is featured next to the young couple, whose purpose is apparently that of officializing or blessing their wedlock, while Cupid overlooks the scene from above.

The Wheel of Fortune lost one of its original four personages, i.e. the one below the device who, according to different early editions, is either kneeling on his fours (as in the Pierpont-Morgan Visconti tarot), or clings to the wheel (as in the fragment of the Cary sheet, or in the Tarot de Paris).

NC - the Lovers
Furthermore, the remaining personages are featured as animals, to remark man's imperfect nature through the ups and downs of fate: the ascending one is a donkey, the descending figure is probably a dog, while a crowned lion on top holds a sword. The original blindfolded female figure found in the aforesaid Visconti tarot in the center of the wheel, an allegory of Fortune, was dropped.

the Cary sheet's Wheel

Curiously, in the fourteenth trump the female figure of Temperance grew wings on her back, but kept her usual standing attitude, pouring water from one jug into another. None of the two other cardinal virtues, Strength and Justice, acquired wings as the first one did (see also the Viéville's tarot in part 3).


NC - the Wheel of Fortune


ace of Cups from the Cary-Yale Visconti tarot (left)
and from Marseille's tarot (NC and IK)
The suit cards of the deck provide a further confirmation of the relation between Marseille's pattern and Milan's earliest tarots; the most evident detail is the famous ace of Cups, whose look remained basically the same as the one found in the Cary-Yale Visconti deck (mid 14th century).
Conversely, a hand firmly grasping the suit sign was added to the aces of Batons and Swords, as an additional decorative element, never seen before.
Also the use of curved Swords and straight Batons is consistent with the northern Italian patterns, although these features are less specific, being shared by all three tarot groups.
Small indices in roman numerals were adopted for pip cards of the suits of Swords and Batons, located on both sides of the illustration, whose double purpose may have likely been that of helping the early French players, not accustomed to such complicated arrangements, in reading the card's value, but also that of modern indices, i.e. to easily tell the cards while held in hand in fan position, or simply overlapped.
Lastly, among the typical details of Marseille's tarot is the crest of the French royal family, (later on adopted by the Ile de France administrative district), featuring three fleur-de-lys, found on the 4 of Coins, which in some editions is repeated on other subjects, as well.
  
NC - 4 of Coins, ace of Swords and 10 of Batons



GO TO

PART 1
THE TAROT OF MARSEILLE:
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENTS
PART 3
OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SOME
FRAGMENTARY SUBJECTS OF THE CARY SHEET

further reference to tarot decks can be found in Tom Tadfor Little's The Hermitage



page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VIII
the Tarot
de Paris
page IX
Viéville's
Tarot
page X
the
Minchiate
page XI
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIII
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman



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regional patterns: Italy regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Germany regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

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INTRODUCTION
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INDEX
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REGIONAL
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PLAYING CARD
LINKS






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