Tarocchi Francesi (The Anonymous Tarot de Paris) Restored by Il Museo dei Tarocchi
One of the oldest complete French decks that still exists, the very quirky Tarot de Paris was printed in Paris about 1650. Only one example has survived—a complete deck in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Until now, there has been only one other version on the market, a facsimile published in 1985 by Grimaud for André Dimanche and reissued by Editions-sivilixi. Now we have a fresh opportunity to acquire this hard-to-find deck. A good deal of thought went into designing this unique deck, but the stenciling was a bit sloppy, making some of the lines hard to read. The Museo dei Tarocchi’s deck (Tarocchi Francesi) is ideal for studying card details as the images are sharper, the colors brighter and the cards enlarged, without sacrificing historic authenticity.
For some reason, the deck’s creator failed to put his name on it. The Two and Three of Cups have Faict a Paris Par (Made in Paris by) running up the left side. There’s room on the right side for the printer’s name, so its omission is mysterious. There’s evidence that he was making cards in Paris about 1650 at the same time as Jacques Vievil and Jean Noblet. It’s hard to imagine who, if anyone, actually used this deck. Since the cards display influences from several countries, perhaps the printer hoped to produce an international deck that would transcend borders and sweep throughout Europe. (Read more about this in the Comments below.)
The suit cards are a jumble of influences from Italy, Spain and Germany. The swords are curved scimitars and the batons are rough branches. The Aces depict a rearing animal holding a flag with the suit symbol. The coins display the arms of various cities and noble families from throughout Europe. Intriguingly, the Three of Coins (Shown at bottom) has a magical seal covered in sigils, hinting that there might be other occult references in this deck. (As someone pointed out in the comments below, I Iet my imagination run away with me here. It’s actually a coat of arms on the 3 of Coins, and it’s doubtful the printer was hiding a secret code in the deck.) Many court cards resemble their Tarot de Marseille counterparts. All of them are in motion and have definite personalities. I’m very happy to see so many strong women in this deck, from the sassy Empress to the Amazon Queen of Swords.
The trump cards are named and numbered as in the standard Tarot de Marseille pattern, but many are unique. Il Bagatto (center back wearing ass’s ears) is playing a game with beareded men, rather than children, as in some early Italian cards. Under the table, a monkey scratches a dog’s back. The Popess holds her book away from her body with her fingertips as if it were something disgusting she hated to touch. The Moon depicts a man with a harp serenading a naked woman on her balcony. The Sun card show a woman with very long hair looking in a mirror held by a monkey, with what seems to be an Ace of Batons behind her.
The bilingual book (Italian and English) that accompanies the deck is the result of two years’ research by the authors, Morena Poltronieri and Ernesto Fazioli. They cleared up my confusion over some of the jumbled images in the facsimile, especially La Foudre, Temperance and Sun. But I was left with several questions. Why are geese or swan pulling the chariot? Why two faces – a woman and a bearded man – on the figure of Justice? I’m not satisfied with their explanation that it’s Athena being born from Zeus’s head. They misread the sphinx at the Emperor’s feet as a dog, making their interpretation of this card totally irrelevant. I wonder why the names of some cards are badly misspelled or broken in strange places: Lan Pereut, Ler Mite, A Trempance, Les Toilles. Surely the printer knew better. Is it some kind of code?
Inexplicably, the authors refer to the Popess and Pope as the High Priestess and Hierophant, tipping us off that they’re steeped in esoteric tarot. This influence seeps into their card discussions and colors their divinatory meanings. The suits are given Golden Dawn associations with the elements and seasons. The list of keywords for each suit card is taken straight from the Waite Smith deck with no reference to the actual seventeenth-century cards. I have no idea why Italian card makers recreating a 350-year-old French deck would use late 19th-century English occult divinatory meanings. Perhaps they hoped to make the deck more marketable by pandering to an audience who only understands tarot through the Waite Smith lens.
At left is La Foudre, the card I had the hardest time understanding. This card is traditionally a lightning-struck tower or tree; but in this deck it’s a Hell mouth, shown here in the 1984 Grimaud facsimile and the larger Museo dei Tarocchi restoration. In the newer deck, the images have been enhanced, although in some cards the image has been very slightly clipped along the edge. The borders and the cartouche at top center have been standardized in all the cards; but unless you compare the two decks closely, you probably won’t notice these differences.
This is a wonderful opportunity to own a hard-to-find deck. I’m very happy I purchased it. Comparing the two versions has helped me see the facsimile with new eyes and discover things I missed before.
This edition of 200 is printed on sturdy, smooth card stock. The deck and book are housed in a handsome black box with a satin finish, and a card is pasted to the cover. A signed and numbered slip of paper is enclosed. The deck comes in a heavy green velour bag and the 127-page book is included in the box.
If you are in the US, order here from Arnell Ando. See many more pictures on this web page.
Everyone else email Morena Poltronieri at: Museodeitarocchi @ gmail.com
A discussion on facebook led me to see this deck in a new light. The printer’s name on the Two and Three of Cups was removed by shaving the wood block down to the base. This means the wood blocks for this deck had a previous owner who either died or went out of business. When this happened, the wood blocks were either inherited by the next generation, or purchased by another printer.
I assumed the Tarot de Paris was an experimental deck with a small print run. But after examining the lines, it’s obvious the wood blocks were not new when this deck was printed. Every line is made from a very thin ridge of wood that’s covered in black ink and pressed into the paper. Eventually, the wood wears down and bits break off. We can see this on the Four of Swords where a segment of one blade edge is missing. I’ve seen print jobs in much worse condition, so I don’t think these wood blocks were more than a few decades old.
This means the Tarot de Paris had multiple print runs over a period of decades. The deck was popular enough that a printer felt it was worth his while to acquire the blocks and do a new printing.
The shields of the coin cards contain coats of arms, most of which have been identified. They are nothing to do with ‘magical sigils’, as far as I am aware.
The bottom coin on the 3 of coins seemed a bit odd to me. I thought someone slipped some magic into the cards.
1st and fourth quarter are of Navarra; 2nd & 3rd [fleur-de-lys and bend through them] are those of Évreuxt. It represents the House of Évreux-Navarre.