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Tarocchi di Besançon Miller 1780

June card from tarocchi di Besancon Miller

When we think of the Tarot de Marseille (TdM), France usually comes to mind. But the game of tarot was played throughout Europe, with locally printed decks that had their own unique touches. Giordano Berti has recently produced facsimiles of two German Tarot de Marseille decks. The Tarocchi Miller is a Besançon-style deck where the Pope and Papesse are replaced with Jupiter and Juno.

Tarot arrived in Germany in the mid-1600s, just as the Tarot de Marseille pattern was becoming the dominant style in France. By the 18th century, Germans were playing the popular game of tarot with decks imported from neighboring regions of France where the Besançon style was very popular. German printers copied this style for their own decks. There are two theories about why the Pope and Papesse were eliminated, and they might both be true depending on the region. It’s surmised that Protestants, who were numerous in eastern France, didn’t want to see Catholic religious figures on their cards. On the other hand, Catholics thought the Pope on a playing card was sacrilegious, and a female pope even worse.

In 1780, the printer Josef Rauch Miller of Salzburg printed a Besançon-style deck with many quirky features that set it apart from a traditional TdM.

Devil and Lovers from Tarocchi di Besancon MillerThe first thing I noticed were the brackets at the top corners of the trump cards with two sets of roman numerals. Perhaps it’s an indication of the political atmosphere of the time, but neither Emperor nor Empress displays the imperial eagle. The Empress has the coat of arms of the town of Salzburg on her shield, while the Emperor has the obligatory tax stamp.

I’m not sure what’s going on in the Lovers card. An old woman wearing a large lace cap (at least that’s what it looks like to me) watches while the lovers clasp hands over a little table. Is she a marriage broker or chaperone? Are they sealing an engagement? Cupid aims his arrow directly at the old woman while she holds a yellow object that I can’t make out in her upper hand.

The Devil is dressed like a clown with the Fool’s feathers in his hair. His Two court cards from Tarorcchi di Besancon Millercompanions seem to be hybrid human animal. The one on the left reminds me of a dancing bear.

The bright red lobster on the Moon card floats on his back toward the bridge on the left while waving his claws as if signaling for help. Nearly every trump card has a unique feature that gives this deck a distinct personality – Death’s red skullcap, The Hermit’s short pants and Fu Manchu mustache, and the Hanged Man’s crown and little ruffled skirt.

The Batons and Swords pips appear bold and energetic with their large leaves and flowers rendered in strong colors. The numbers are placed wherever they fit best—for the swords it’s inside the center oval. All the court cards seem well-fed and pleased with themselves. The rather portly Knight of Cups with his pencil mustache looks to me like an ageing 2 pip cards from Tarocchi di Besancon MillerLothario.

The Deck and Book

The cards have a lovely silky feel and rounded corners making them very pleasant to handle. The colors are deep and mellow. Like all of Berti’s decks, the cards come in a gold bag and are housed in a sturdy hand-made box covered in dark blue and maroon marbled paper. The 35-page booklet gives a history of tarot in Germany, and fascinating diary entries by Salzburg citizen Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart mentioning social events where he played tarot.

If you collect historic tarot decks, Berti’s German decks are a nice way to extend the range of your collection.

Berti’s website where you can learn more about the deck and purchase it.

Here’s an article on Besançon type decks. .

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