Tarot History Rant #1: The Mists of Time
Unfortunately, authors still write nonsense like: “No one knows where Tarot came from……Ancient Egypt……heretics…….China……..mists of time”.
Actually, we’ve known for decades exactly where, when and why Tarot was invented.
If you’ve been telling people tarot’s origins are lost in the mists of time, please take a deep breath and repeat after me:
Wasn’t that easy?
If you’d like a quick, illustrated tour of tarot history, check out the History section of this website.
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I don’t know Sherryl. All I can say is that I feel absolutely nothing when I look at a Visconti-Sforza deck. Zero magic, zero wonder, zero fascination. I just can’t believe that those royal snobs came up with that parade of cards out of thin air. I think they just wanted to turn a game that someone else was playing into a bunch of egocentric family portraits, and smear their inbreed baby faces all over the cards…
The more I study the Visconti-Sforza deck, the more I agree with you that the Sforzas took a popular card game and revised the trump cards to depict themselves. Mary Greer had a post on her blog about a year ago that convinced me the Papesse is Sister Manfreda, a member of the Visconti family. The Hanged Man might be a sly reference to Francesco’s father who was immortalized in a shame painting, I think by the King of Naples. If we look hard enough, we could probably find links between most of the trump cards and Sforza friends and families. Not much different than posting personal photos on facebook, except for the gold leaf.
The court cards used to creep me out a bit — all those clones with vacant eyes, tight golden curls and round white faces. Then I discovered it’s actually the standard International Gothic look. You see those faces everywhere in French and Italian art of the period. Bembo’s workshop was just following the pattern. I certainly don’t see portraits of Bianca and Francesco in the cards. If you look at their portraits, you can see that Bianca tried hard to conform to the standards of beauty of the day, with mixed results. Francesco was one ugly dude – coarse features, hooked nose, and definitely no halo of golden curls, so you can’t accuse him of putting his portrait in the cards.
I’m sure the deck was an ego trip for the Duke, or whoever commissioned it. That’s what art was all about in those days – wielding political power through a display of wretched excess, and creating shock and awe by piling on the gold and jewels.
Hopefully one day an older game deck, just one or two generations before the VS will be unearthed. The one that was played with by the kitchen staff, down at the dark basement of the Sforza castle…
One of my fondest fantasies. That, and someone finding the VS Devil card being used as a bookmark in a musty old tome in an Italian archive.