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Posts from the ‘Tarot History’ Category

From My Bookshelf: Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France

Are you ready for immersion in the electrifying atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Paris? Etteilla, Cagliostro and de Gebelin flourished in this era of scientific marvels, crackpot inventions and magnetic healing. Pseudo-science, alchemy, astrology, and fantasies of the Golden Age swirled about uncritically in the public mind. In this atmosphere, stories of golden tablets under the pyramids inscribed with ancient wisdom didn’t seem the least bit implausible. Read more

From My Bookshelf: Courts and Courtly Arts in Renaissance Italy

If you want to immerse yourself in the world that gave us the Visconti-Sforza and Sola Busca decks, this book, subtitled Arts, Culture and Politics 1395 to 1530, will deliver.

Nothing was ever the same in Italian politics and society after Gian Galeazzo Visconti purchased the title of Duke from the Holy Roman Emperor in 1395. Other rulers soon followed suit: the Gonzaga of Mantua, Montefeltro of Urbino, d’Este of Ferrara and the rulers of Savoy.

Unlike a French or German aristocrat who could trace his pedigree back to Charlemagne, a newly-minted Italian duke did not have a divine right to rule. These parvenus were acutely aware of their modest origins as merchants or condottieri who had usurped civic power. They felt tremendous pressure to over-compensate by amassing a trophy art collection and building ostentatious palaces that were stage settings for elaborate ceremonies and festivals. Read more

A Fifteenth Century Flemish Hunting Deck

While 15th-century Italian aristocrats were commissioning gilded and hand-painted tarot cards, aristocrats further north were doing the same with regular playing cards. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is offering a facsimile of the only complete playing card deck from the 15th century in existence. This deck is unique for several reasons: it’s Burgundian, it’s the oldest known deck of its type, and it’s oval-shaped. Read more

Tarocchi Fine dalla Torre

The Museo dei Tarocchi near Bologna, Italy has given us many highly creative art decks. Now they have produced an historically significant bolognese tarocchi based on an original that rests in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Bologna has its own unique tarot tradition that dates back to the early sixteenth century, and possibly earlier. The order of the trumps is slightly different, and pips two through five of each suit have been removed to make a shortened deck that was very popular for card games back then. Some trump cards have distinct imagery: the Fool as a street musician playing a drum and horn, the Three Magi on the Star card, and a woman with a spindle for the Sun are just a few examples. The Aces are very distinctive as well. In the early 18th century the deck took its present form when the Empress, Emperor, Papesse and Pope were changed into the four Moors and the trump and court cards became double-headed. Read more

Tarot History Rant #5: Etteilla the hairdresser

At least three times in the past few weeks I’ve heard people refer to “the hairdresser Etteilla,” mindlessly repeating disinformation that Eliphas Levi and A. E. Waite rather viciously spread about the founder of modern tarot. Etteilla-bashing hit its stride in the mid-19th century when Eliphas Levi published statements like:

Etteilla or Alliette, an illumine hairdresser, exclusively engrossed by his divinatory system, and the emolument he could derive from it, neither proficient in his own language nor even in orthography, pretended to reform, and thus attribute to himself the Book of Thoth.

This illuminated hairdresser, after working for thirty years, only succeeded in producing a bastard set, the Keys of which are transposed, so that the numbers no longer answer to the signs.

The writings of Etteilla, now very rare, are obscure, wearisome and barbarous in style.

Generations of authors have mindlessly parroted Levi without bothering to learn about the man behind the slander. Read more

From My Bookshelf: Nuns Behaving Badly

This book came about when the author, an American music professor, discovered a thick, lavishly bound manuscript of secular songs from a mid-1500s convent in Bologna. The following lyrics caught the professor’s eye:

You who’ve got that little trinket,
So delightful and so pleasing,
Might I take my hand and sink it
‘neath petticoat and cassock, squeezing.

Intrigued, professor Monson began his career as a topo d’archivio, an “archive mouse” scurrying about the archives of the Sacred Congregation in Rome, which oversees monastic discipline, looking for clues about what was really going on behind those convent walls. Read more

The World in Play: 15th Century Playing Cards at The Cloisters

Luxurious playing cards from the 15th and early 16th centuries, including two tarocchi decks, are on exhibit at the Cloisters in New York City until April 17, 2016. This is a unique opportunity to see Visconti Sforza and Visconti (Carey Yale) cards side-by-side.¬† If you can’t make it to New York, you have alternatives for seeing these cards. Read more

The Cartomancer Winter 2015

The third issue of The Cartomancer just landed in my inbox, and it’s a beauty.

My favorite section contains luscious full-page layouts of decks. I love the black background that intensifies the colors and makes the cards sizzle. One deck caught my attention: the Tribal Secrets Tarot where the creator photographed belly dancers interpreting the cards in their own way.

Some of my favorite articles: Read more

Fifteenth-Century Playing Cards from Guinevere’s Games

In the fifteenth century, playing cards were a novelty. Italian aristocrats commissioned hand painted, gilded trionfi decks from their favorite artists, while their counterparts farther north were doing the same with one-of-a-kind playing card decks.

Guinevere’s Games offers four fifteenth-century playing card decks through Gamecrafters. Three of these decks were hand painted luxury items, while the fourth is a basic black and white deck. These are not collectible facsimiles. They are printed in rich colors on smooth paper and could be easily shuffled and used for game playing. Each deck is housed in a tin and accompanied by background information. Here are details on each deck. Read more

The Spanish Captain in the Vandenborre Deck

Question: Who is the Spanish Captain, and what’s he doing in a tarot deck?

The Short Answer: He’s a character from the Commedia dell’Arte who substitutes for the Papesse in a type of 18th-century Belgian deck.

The Long Answer: Read the rest of the article.

What is Commedia dell’Arte?

It’s a type of popular theater with roots in the classical world. It flourished in Renaissance Italy and spread throughout Europe, especially France, in the 14th through 18th centuries. An array of standard characters appeared in every play like Harlequin, Pantalone, and Pulcinella, who was the prototype for Punch and Pierrot. The audience instantly recognized these characters by their masks, their walk, costume and regional accent, as well as characteristic slapstick routines, stage business, gestures, jokes, and favorite curse words. Read more