Tarot History Rant #2: Renaissance Tarot
I frequently come across references to “Tarot’s origins in the Renaissance.” At least it’s not Ancient Egypt! It’s true, the Renaissance was getting underway in Florence at the time tarot was invented; but northern Italy lagged behind. Besides, Renaissance Humanism in the first half of the fifteenth century was basically a literary affair, with scholars collecting and translating Latin texts for aristocratic libraries.
Saying tarot is a product of the Renaissance because humanist ideas were circulating among the elite is like saying the 1909 Waite Smith deck is Freudian because the intellectual elite was becoming familiar with Freud’s theories in the first decade of the 20th century.
The clothing, hairstyles, gold leaf background, and subject matter of the Carey-Yale, Visconti-Sforza and other decks from Tarot’s formative period are very International Gothic — a last, brilliant flowering of medieval art and culture before that world dissolved into the Renaissance.
Check out the Early Tarot page for background on Tarot’s formative years.