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Is the Tarot de Marseille Suit of Cups about Romance?

Since the Ace announces the energy of its suit, let’s look at some Aces of Cups to see if they conjure up romantic associations.

In the image above, the 1830 Vergnano ace is a big bowl of flowers. The Avondo Brothers 1880 knock-off of the soprafino pattern (published by Lo Scarabeo as the Ancient Italian Tarot) has a cherub popping out of the window in a fancy urn. Green dolphins, sacred to Aphrodite, play around the base. Claude Burdel’s 1751 ace (from the Universal Tarot de Marseille by Lo Scarabeo) is energetic and cheerful, with a phoenix rising from a fire under a bright sun. To my mind, all three cards conjure up love, romance and friendship.

Then there’s the standard Tarot de Marseille, first published by Nicolas Conver in 1760 (shown here: Lo Scarabeo’s Ancient Tarots de Marseilles). Those pointed towers could be cathedral spires or castle battlements. They create a forbidding, walled enclosure that seals the interior off from the rest of the world. Perhaps the walls are the boundaries of an isolated town, or a very insular community. For me, the card implies withdrawal behind barriers and a fear of intimacy.

nine and ten of cups in Tarot de MarseilleWhat’s the story in the rest of the Conver suit of cups? How does the ace’s energy play out in cards two through ten? It starts out romantically enough. Cards two and three seem to be about falling in love, getting married and starting a family. But how does the story end in cards nine and ten? Nine cups are arranged in neat rows like little tin soldiers or a church choir. Some decks lack vines, giving this card a sterile feeling. In other deck styles, the vines section off the cups, isolating each one in its own cubbyhole. In card ten, the rows of cups work together to hold up a cup that’s tipped over. Or perhaps they are all looking up in awe at something larger than life flying overhead.

Rather than love, bliss and finding your soulmate, the Conver TdM cups show a progression from isolation, to a couple, to a nuclear family, to integration with a larger family or clan, then losing one’s individuality in a community that demands conformity and sacrifice for the common good.

Try this: lay out the suit of cups in numeric order. What kind of energy is the Ace offering? How does it play out through the rest of the suit? What story do you see in the sequence?  Tell us what you discover in the comments below.



2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dear Sherryl,
    You give to much honour to Nicolas Conver. He copied his cards from older ones, the oldest deck that survived who has exactly the same style is the one of Pierre Madenie. The oldest deck in the style of the Marseille Tarot that survived is the deck of Jean Noblet. And still older is the deck of Jaques Viévil that also had the Ace of Cups in the same style. What we see on the Ace of Cups is a copy of the World card of the Visconti Sforza deck, where we see a representation of the New Jerusalem as described in the Bible. The New Jerusalem symbolizes the eternal Love of God. So indeed, the energy of love of the Ace of Cups as represented on the Marseille Tarot is even much stronger than you tought.

    June 12, 2015
    • Hello Joep, You’re right, Conver didn’t invent the style, there are plenty of earlier (and more interesting) TdM decks. Connecting the Ace of Cups and the New Jerusalem in the Visconti-Sforza deck is intriguing. French card readers often interpret the Ace as a town, or one’s hometown, which goes along with the idea of an ideal city. But the Visconti-Sforza was a single deck owned by an aristocratic Italian family, so I don’t think it could have influenced French card printers. The Ace of Cups also resembles either an ornate communion chalice, or a monstrance used for relics. There’s a room in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City full of chalices that look like they stepped out of a tarot card. This is what I love about Tarot, every card can be interpreted from so many angles.

      June 12, 2015

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