The Agnolo Hebreo Devil Card
The most unique single reproduction card in my collection is the Devil card printed by Agnolo Hebreo (Angelo the Jew) shortly after 1500 and now residing in the British Museum. It was undoubtedly part of a complete tarot deck; but no other cards by this individual exist anywhere, and there is no trace of him in the records. This Devil card is the only clue we have that the printer Agnolo Hebreo may have existed. It’s possible the name is a pseudonym borrowed from popular culture by an anonymous deck designer.
Satan chomping on sinners was a popular image in the late-medieval/early-renaissance period, usually in the context of a Last Judgment fresco designed to terrify believers into obedience. Here’s a fresco by Taddeo di Bartolo done in 1391 in San Gimignano. This image was lifted from Tarotwheel.net, which has a wonderful page on the history of the Devil card, with lots of gruesome imagery (link below).
A very similar Devil is found on one of the Rothschild sheets, two uncut sheets of twelve trump cards printed about 1500. Many of the Rothschild cards are nearly identical to standard Bolognese cards. But the Bolognese Devil is rather different—in profile and not eating anyone. Lo Scarabeo used the Rothschild Devil in two of their Visconti-Sforza reproductions: Their smallest version which is still in print, and a gold leaf deck printed about twenty years ago.
Most card backs at the time were either plain, checkered, or had the printer’s name with a mythic or symbolic image. This unique card back shows a man scratching his rear end. The motto on the ribbon says “The loser scratches his ass.” In modern Italian, “that itches my ass,” means “that annoys me.” It’s hard to tell what the jumbled items at the bottom are, but it looks like a large diamond playing card just above his front foot. Perhaps this itchy fellow just lost at cards.
Since this is one of the oldest surviving Devil cards, Marco Benedetti used it for his recreated Charles VI deck by inserting the figure into the Charles VI border.
Marco Benedetti printed a special Devil card for me with the edges of the back paper folded over to the front and glued down to make the border, just as they did centuries ago. I gazed at the card for a while and asked, “What can you tell me?” The Devil replied, “I’ll tell you what’s eating you.” So, I designed a spread to give me that information.
The top card is what’s eating me right now. The card on the left tells me about the source of the problem and the card on the right is what I can do about it.
You can tell the Empress has a sweet tooth from the large donut she’s holding. My inability to control my sugar addiction is really eating at me. The cheerful Devil prods me to have just one more, it won’t hurt. And of course, I always give in. Justice tells me to weigh my portions and count calories like a rational person.
Sullivan Hisman’s Rosenwald deck is a good choice to pair with this card, since they have similar sepia tones and come from the same time period.