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Noblet vs. Noblet

Historic deck aficionados now have two versions of the legendary Noblet deck to enjoy. The only original in existence resides at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The late Jean-Claude Flornoy’s 2007 restoration of this deck with its clean, crisp lines and deep colors has become a popular reading deck. Now Joseph H. Peterson has just released a facsimile of the deck, allowing us to study the original imagery up close at our leisure.

The two decks are nearly the same size. The Peterson facsimile is 6.3 cm wide x 10 cm tall (2.5 X 4.0 inches). The Flornoy deck is one millimeter narrower and 2 millimeters shorter. The Flornoy deck is on thicker, less bendable paper. The most noticeable difference is the white background on the facsimile and the cream background of the Noblet.

Flornoy made some consistent changes to the color: the terra cotta of the original becomes flesh colored, and lemon yellow becomes deep orange in his deck. Most of the white areas of the original are filled in with light blue or blue-gray.

Peterson supplies seven extra cards that correct mistakes on the originals. The obsessively Virgoish who can’t tolerate these mistakes may substitute the corrected card. Two pip cards have roman numerals printed backward, three trump cards have misspelled titles, and Peterson rather arbitrarily touched up the shape of World’s head and arms. The six through ten of Swords are missing and have been re-created.

Noblet BateleurThe biggest change is to the Bateleur. Here we see the Flornoy, the original card and Peterson’s corrected card. On the original and the Flornoy, the Bateleur’s wand is truncated, and he’s missing his middle three fingers. There’s not even a ghost of the missing elements on the original. Evidently, the block carver made a serious omission that no one noticed before printing. Peterson restored the fingers and the rest of the wand, as well as changing the second L to an E in the title. Peterson also supplies a third Bateleur card with the restored image but keeping the misspelled title.

The Noblet deck, printed in Paris @1650, is a Type I Tarot de Marseille. Type II, derived from the Conver and Chosson decks of the early 18th century, is considered the standard pattern today. Type I decks appeared earlier: Noblet in 1650, Dodal in 1714 (also restored by Flornoy), and a few others about the same time. Historians originally thought that Type II evolved from Type I, which then disappeared. Although Type I appeared earlier, it seems the two existed simultaneously and are parallel styles. Actually, only minor differences occur in the imagery between the two types, most notably in the Star, Hanged Man and World cards.

two Noblet baton cardsWhich deck to choose if you can only have one? I prefer facsimiles because they bring me closer to history. But I find restored decks more pleasing to look at. If you’re going to read with the deck, the restored version gets the message across more clearly, and is probably easier for clients to relate to.

Peterson’s website, esotericarchives.com is a trove of esoteric and magical writings from the Renaissance, with the bonus of an esoteric timeline.

Flornoy’s website, letarot.com has information on the four decks he has restored, a brief history of tarot with an interesting critique of Paul Marteau’s Grimaud deck, and a discussion of each trump as a step on the path of personal development.

Here’s a page about the early development of the Tarot de Marseille.

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Geoffrey #

    >> On the original and the Flornoy, the Bateleur’s wand is truncated, and he’s missing his middle three fingers. There’s not even a ghost of the missing elements on the original. Evidently, the block carver made a serious omission that no one noticed before printing. Peterson restored the fingers and the rest of the wand, as well as changing the second L to an E in the title.
    <<

    Jean-Claude Flornoy has a very different explanation for the "missing fingers." In Le Pelerinage de Bateleurs, he says that the pseudonymous Jean Noblet cunningly turned the Bateleur's wand into a "doigt d'honneur", possibly aimed at the tax collectors of the day. In that time the tax on playing cards was a major source of state income, and printing blocks were sometimes seized and destroyed to better regulate their publication. I own a pack of the Jean-Noblet, and it is clear that the tip of the "wand" has been made to resemble the glans penis—overall it looks like someone showing you the finger.

    As for the "LL", the second "L" is meant to evoke the set square of the mason, and is Noblet's way of saying that, as a master himself, he has deliberately altered the design of the card, having the authority to do so. The other misspellings, Lemperance and Etoille, were supposedly made with the same intent.

    Le Pelerinage de Bateleurs, pp. 22-23

    December 2, 2016
    • Geoffrey, thanks so much for these insights on the Noblet. I’m looking at Flornoy’s cards right now and can see how Le Bateleur is giving the finger, but with another part of his anatomy. Very tricky, that.

      December 2, 2016
    • Geoffrey, just one correction. The deck of Jean Noblet was made around 1659. The tax on playing cards was established in 1701, the reason why the deck of Jean Dodal was officially made for export only. So the doigt d’honneur was definitely not for the tax collectors.
      Sherryl also one correction for you. The Noblet deck is certainly not a type I deck. It is unique and very different of all type I and type II decks. It is their ancestor. On my website I call it a type 0 deck. Iolon, tarotwheel.net

      December 3, 2016
      • Geoffrey #

        Thanks for your comment, Iolon.

        Can you give me a source for the date you mention? A quick search on the internet tells me that there was a change in the tax structure in 1701, but there’s nothing to suggest that there were no taxes before that date.

        The idea of the Noblet being a “type 0” is interesting. Compared to the Jean Noblet, every other TdM looks poorly drawn, no? Even the Jean Dodal, which Flornoy says also came from an adept like Noblet. Do you know of any ancient or modern TdM that can match the Noblet for its artistry?

        I looked up your website. Lovely work!

        December 5, 2016
  2. Hi Geoffrey,
    A copy of the royal decision of King Louis XIV in the year 1701 to instaure the taxes can be found on http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8602065h/f1.image
    At my knowledge there is no other TdM deck that matches the Noblet deck. Interesting enough, most Italian Tarocchi deck (including the World card found in the dug well of the Sforza castle) seems to be Type I decks, so I wonder who is the ancestor of the Noblet deck. Noblet knew the Vievil deck,and there are many common features, but even being the direct ancestor of the Flemish tarot, Vievil is certainly not a TdM deck.
    Iolon – http://tarotwheel.net

    December 5, 2016
    • Geoffrey #

      Thanks for the link, Iolon. My French isn’t very good. Does the edict say anywhere that there were no taxes before 1701? If so please point out the page to me.

      I went through the first page, and this line around the middle suggests that there were “droits” previously which are now being “revoquons”: dix-huit deniers fur chaque jeu de Cartes & Tarrots, & revoquons tous dons & concessions que Nous pourrions avoir faits de semblables droits…

      Or am I reading this wrong? Certainly you know much, much more about the tarot and tarot history than I do. I just want some help from you in verifying this point. Flornoy seems sure that there were taxes on cards then. Anyway, in conclusion he says:

      Ce doigt d’honneur s’adresse-t-il à nous, public ?
      J’ose espérer que c’est au fisc qu’il est destiné et que c’est
      un bel exemple de langue des oisons. Est-ce aussi un mes-
      sage porteur de signification ésotérique ? Probablement,
      mais à ce jour le sens m’en reste obscur.

      December 7, 2016
      • Dear Geoffrey,
        Let me be a little bit clearer. The Noblet deck is the first Tarot deck that is purposely printed in mirror. On the Noblet cards (and on all later TdM decks) you are not looking at illustrations, you are part of the scene, you are looking in a mirror at you inner self. The doigt d’honneur is addressed to yourself, it invites you to throw away established norms, to judge for youself, to be tolerant and open for everything that life offers to you.
        Iolon – http://tarotwheel.net

        December 7, 2016
  3. Dear Geoffrey,
    The answer is allready in the title page : “Edit du roy pour l’établissement d’un droit sur les cartes à jouer”. The translation is “Royal decison to instaure a tax on playing cards”. So this text creates a new tax, it does not change any previous one. In the text you refer to, the King says that this tax replaces any gift or priveledge he previously made, he is not talking about a previous tax. The 18 deniers (that’s a hell of a lot, not one single Tarot card counts more than 10 deniers) is the amount that has to be paid for producing any single card game or Tarot.
    Even if Jean-Claude Flornoy (who was a good friend of me) hopes that the “doigt d’honneur” was for the tax collectors, this seems to me a general remark, it does not imply that there existed a specific tax on Tarot cards when the Noblet deck was produced. When Flornoy is talking about the doigt d’honneur as a nice example of the “langue des oisons”, he is talking about a nice example of local dialect, the language the lower class people are using. So the “doigt d’honneur” of Jean Noblet might have the same meaning as “f**k you” in the language of today. And this can be addressed to anyone.
    Iolon – http://tarotwheel.net

    December 7, 2016
  4. Dear Geoffrey,
    Let me be a little bit clearer. The Noblet deck is the first Tarot deck that is purposely printed in mirror. On the Noblet cards (and on all later TdM decks) you are not looking at illustrations, you are part of the scene, you are looking in a mirror at you inner self. The doigt d’honneur is addressed to yourself, it invites you to throw away established norms, to judge for youself, to be tolerant and open for everything that life offers to you.
    Iolon – http://tarotwheel.net

    December 7, 2016
  5. Geoffrey #

    Thanks for your replies, Iolon. I have been spending time on your website. So many images of some many different tarots! And so much discussion of the small details. Just what I was looking for!

    December 8, 2016
  6. Reading your conversation has made me think more deeply about this card. I used to think it was just a clumsy piece of carving. But now it seems obvious that Noblet was making a very strong statement, in a very public way, in a very vulgar manner. He must have known that his audience would understand the reference and approve. In fact it might even enhance his reputation. After all, he was a businessman and would not want to alienate potential customers. So who’s the audience for this? Was the deck exported throughout France, or just sold in Paris? Was there something going on politically that had everyone riled up, so they would immediately make the connection with the gesture? Or could this be a popular culture reference or an inside joke that we have no way of understanding. Like my theory that the Spanish Captain’s sword in the Vandenborre deck is a reference to a bit of stage business in the commedia dell’arte.

    December 8, 2016
  7. Geoffrey #

    I am mildly scandalized to hear that you should have ever thought of a Noblet card as clumsy! 🙂 I’d like to pose the same question to you that I posed to Iolon above. Have you ever come across a TdM deck that is as finely crafted as the Jean Noblet?

    The Camoin-Jodorowsky comes close, yes, but—compare their court cards. Each Noblet court figure has a distinct personality. Consider the Baton King’s indecisiveness or the Baton Queen’s self-assuredness: it seems as if the engraver knew exactly what effect he wanted, and he went ahead and achieved it.

    Do the Camoin-Jo figures each have a distinct personality? I don’t own a CJ deck, but from images on the internet, I get the feeling that the designers were not sure what personality to give their court figures, and so they simply followed tradition. The CJ cards were designed using a computer, by the way, so there was much, much less chance of error there, and yet it is the Noblet that shines.

    >> But now it seems obvious that Noblet was making a very strong statement, in a very public way, in a very vulgar manner.

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head there. I sometimes wish Noblet hadn’t “spoilt” the Bateleur with that piece of crudity.

    Interestingly, in his book, concluding his tax collecter explanation, Flonoy wonders (excerpted above) if the “doigt de honneur” may have any esoteric significance, and then says that if it did, it is lost to us today.

    Perhaps Iolon can offer us something more…

    December 9, 2016
  8. Geoffrey, I certainly wasn’t implying that the entire Noblet deck is a clumsy piece of work. I originally thought the block carver made a terrible mistake with the hand of Le Bateleur; then the mistake slipped past Noblet and he printed it. Of course, that’s absurd! He knew exactly what he was doing. The fact that I even thought such a thing shows my personal limitations. I spend most of my time reading books rather than looking at cards, so I don’t think deeply enough about the images. That’s why I treasure Iolon’s website, and why I enjoy conversations like this one – they make me take a closer look and learn from the images.

    I’m looking at the court cards of both the Noblet and Jodo-Camoin decks right now. I agree that the facial expressions on the CJ deck don’t change much from one card to another. One of my favorite decks for facial expressions is the Pierre Madenié. They all have a slightly detached, amused expression – an attitude I try to cultivate myself. But looking at the batons court cards, just as in the CJ deck, there isn’t much variety in the faces.

    I have to agree that the subtle differences in expression among the Noblet court figures make this deck even more intriguing. Lining up the batons courts in order from King through Page, it seems the expressions get progressively lighter and more optimistic. The Swords court figures have very similar faces. The Queen of Coins is very disagreeable – not only the face, but that very large hand holding the coin.

    Thanks for inducing me to put down my book, get out my cards and actually look at them.

    December 9, 2016
  9. The finest carved TdM deck ever is without contest the Madenie deck. But this only refers to carving techniques. The most revolutionary TdM deck ever is without any doubt the Noblet deck

    December 9, 2016
  10. Geoffrey #

    Sherryl, I apologize for my insensitivity—I was merely trying to express the mock-horror of a Noblet admirer at seeing his favorite tarot deck misunderstood.

    Look at this magnificent website of yours! It wouldn’t have been possible without a clear eye for detail. No other testimony is needed of your capabilities.

    Also, you have studied many, many decks, whereas I have studied only the Noblet. The beauty of the Noblet cards, and Flornoy’s explication of the trumps and the pips seemed so perfect and complete, I didn’t bother reading another author or studying any other tarots. So really, my knowledge is extremely narrow and limited, compared to yours or Iolon’s.

    Thanks for the tip about the Pierre Madenie deck!

    December 13, 2016
  11. Geoffrey, I was not at all offended – I knew your horror was facetious. I think it’s wonderful that you found the deck you truly love so quickly. I had to kiss a lot of frogs before finding my one true love – Pierre Madenie.

    December 13, 2016
  12. What do people generally feel about the Flornoy vs. the Peterson decks. I like the color palette of the Peterson and the original look. The Flornoy looks nice but the whole color palette has changed and it’s too crisp. But so many seem to love it.

    June 23, 2017
    • Flornoy’s deck seems to be a favorite for so many people. I don’t know if many people who are in love with Flornoy buy the Peterson. I usually prefer facsimile decks over decks that have been cleaned up, just because I feel closer to history. I agree with you on the Flornoy, I’ve never liked it much – too clean, and just not my taste.

      June 23, 2017

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