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The Tarot and other Early Cards
· page VI ·
THE TAROT OF
OBSERVATIONS ABOUT SOME
FRAGMENTARY SUBJECTS OF THE CARY SHEET
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full view of the Cary sheet
In part 1 we described the so-called Cary sheet as a woodblock print dating back to about 1500, probably carved somewhere around Milan, that features the first known illustrations consistent with the tarot pattern now called "of Marseille".
The sheet contains only six full cards (the central ones); the remaining fourteen are cut, and since early tarots had no names nor numbers, their subjects can only be guessed by what is still visible. But the pattern is so traditional that one or two details are enough to identify a subject. In fact, despite their age, about 500 years old, the resemblance of these cards with the ones manufactured today is indeed surprising: the Magician waves a wand in front of a small table covered with trivial objects, in the Star a kneeling female figure pours water from two vessels, while in the Moon we see a crayfish in the river, with a dog on each side, exactly as in today's traditional editions.
Nevertheless, by the turn of the 16th century not all of the subjects had already developed into the "classic" Marseille-like standard. One of them is the Devil, the second card of the bottom row, whose discrepancies have been already mentioned in part 2.
Also the Popess, one of the six complete subjects, is shown sitting in front of an open book resting on a lectern, while an altar-boy or maybe a small monk (according to his tonsured head) attends on her: in the following editions, the latter personage was dropped, as well as the book-rest, but not the book.
Among the fragmentary subjects, the Sun is the card at the left end of the third row. We see its right half, in which the solar disc sheds its rays all around. Below is the figure of a child or young boy, standing naked, whose body is visible for most of its parts.
The traditional subject of the Sun should have two boys - some call them twins - whereas the card of the Cary sheet, before losing its left half, likely had only one. In fact, considering the card's actual size, obviously identical to that of the central subjects of the sheet, what is left of this trump is approximately half of the original illustration, or just slightly less (see the following picture). Also the position of the solar disc, always central, suggests that this card was cut more or less into two halves.
the Sun from different early editions (Dodal, Noblet, Conver)
But if what we see is half the original card, the space left on the missing side seems a bit too narrow for a second child, unless the two figures partially overlapped. This never happens in any other edition of the tarot of Marseille (including the earliest samples known); besides this, no parts belonging to a second human figure can be seen behind the only visible one.
Furthermore, the half card of the Cary sheet features some details which are usually not found in other editions.
the surviving right half of the Sun
- Behind the figure's head flies a thin double-tailed object, which looks like the tip of a flag; the figure is dark-haired, thus any relation to his head, such as a long pony-tail, is impossible.
- A similar yet wider object, likely made of cloth, seems to hang behind the figure's back: it may either be related to the previous detail (e.g. a larger part of the same flag), or it may represent a cape; in fact, its left part seems to follow the curve of the figure's left shoulder, ending with a darker spot, e.g. a buckle, between the figure's neck and chest.
- The figure probably holds a staff (or pole, or stick), that points upward, whose central part is hidden by his forearm, almost in the attitude of a standard-bearer.
- On the ground is a straight line, maybe a thin curb-stone marking the footway from the rougher grass on the right (a symmetrical one would have been featured on the other side of the card); the line is parallel to the aforesaid staff, but this is likely a coincidence, in which case no relation at all would exist between the two details.
So little is left of the two subjects that their identification is uncertain. However, provided that this deck had the same trumps as a modern tarot of Marseille, and relying on the fact that no suit cards appear in the sheet except the last two, we may reasonably think that the aforesaid fragments belonged to trumps, in particular to two of the missing ones, namely Justice, the Hermit, the Hanged Man, Death, Judgement and the World.
The attempt of drawing again the missing parts of an incomplete illustration cannot claim any serious research purpose, as no evidence can be given that the recreated parts are close enough to the original, and not merely fictional. Nevertheless, the final result of such operation is indeed fascinating, when the reconstruction is fully consistent with the surviving details.
The picture on the right has been drawn and kindly provided by Mario Ostidich (Milan); the parts in red are obviously hypothetical.
Visitors are free to send their own interpretation of this card to the webmaster's e-mail address; as long as free memory is left on the server, they will be shown in this page. Please do not send pictures larger than 35-40 Kbytes.
For the sake of completeness, a few words should also be spent about the two smallest fragments of the sheet, i.e. the ones in the top left and top right corners.
by Mario Ostidich
the upper left fragment of the Cary sheet
and the Hanged Man from Noblet's edition
The first of the two features a rough pole or stump (marked A in the picture on the left), that comes out of the weeds in the corner, and follows the border of the illustrations. Among the aforesaid subjects, the Hanged Man is the one whose classic features include a pole standing in the same position. In this case, the upper shape (B) would be the right elbow of the personage, from which either frills or shreds of the garment he wears hang downwards. The rounded shape below (C) would obviously be the head, although it does not really look like it; however, the personage may be wearing a cap or another kind of headware (bottom arrow), from which a few dark locks of hair come out (top arrow).
In our case, the presence of a throne rules out the Hermit, who is usually standing, and leans on a stick: its bottom part should be visible in the corner of the fragment, but it is not there.
the upper right fragment
The other fragment, shown on the left, is the most uncertain one, as the featured personage wears a long garment , such as a cloak or a robe (the bottom folds are marked A). Among the trump subjects consistent with this clothing are the Hermit and the allegory of Justice.
From what we see, the personage likely sits on a throne, seen frontwards, whose parts in the fragment (B) are the steps and the right arm (the left one, for the viewer). A throne was often found in subjects of early tarots, in which it underlined the high rank of the seated personage; for instance, in the Cary sheet also Temperance (third fragment of the bottom row), who usually does not have one, sits on a chair whose high back is clearly seen. But in the Marseille pattern this detail was soon stylized, up to the point of completely disappearing from most illustrations.
Traditionally, Justice holds a sword in her right hand, i.e. the left one for the viewer, and the two small ovals (C) remind us of the bottom part of a handle (the hand may have been just above). Regretfully, the fragment does not include the scales, held in the other hand, which would have allowed an easy identification of the subject. Instead the rather poor details available are not enough to clear this interpretation from any doubt: also personages of court cards, such as kings and queens, might have been featured wearing a robe and sitting on a throne, and particulary those of the suit of Swords would have likely held this sign in their hand.
Justice from Noblet's edition, and
queen and king of Swords from Camoin's
THE TAROT OF MARSEILLE:
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENTS
THE TAROT OF MARSEILLE:
TRUMPS AND SUIT CARDS
further reference to tarot decks can be found in Tom Tadfor Little's The Hermitage
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