Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Tarot: History, Art, Magic

A selection of images from the catalogue


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012


From the catalogue Tarot: History, Art, Magic (Le Tarot Editions), here are pictures with comments of some original works exhibited in the six sections of the exhibition. On the contents of the sections, read the article The History of Tarot.


The Geocentric Universe,
 woodcut (Albrecht Dürer, 1471 - 1528) from Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1493)
In the medieval conception of the cosmos,  a series of concentric spheres rose up from the earth into the sky. After the circle of Fire, from which the celestial fires of divine retribution fall - depicted in the tarot by the Tower card - there are the planets, the sun and the moon, zodiacal bands and fixed stars. The outer circle is the base of the Primum Mobile through which God moves the whole universe. The same structure is mirrored in the tarot cards, from the Tower to the World.

Jacob’s Dream
 etching (Raphaël Sadeler, Antwerp 1560 - Munchen c. 1628)
The possibility granted to Man to reach contemplation of the Godhead is symbolized, in medieval theology, by a Mystic Staircase, along which one encounters angels, intercessors between God and humanity.

Triumph of Love, woodcut from Il Petrarca (Venice, Nicolo Bevilacqua, 1563)
Love as in “Instinct”, one of the controlling forces of mankind, opens Petrarch’s  series of Triumphs. It is represented by a blindfolded Cupid (blind love), who throws his arrows at the men and women who follow his chariot. Their hands are tied behind their backs, symbolizing their powerlessness against such a force.

Triumph of Modesty,
etching (Philip Galle, Haarlem 1537 - 1612)
The Triumph of Chastity (Modesty, Reason) triumphs over love (Instinct), but it is defeated by inexorable Death, according to the hierarchical order of the principal forces that govern mankind according to Petrarch.

Triumph of Death
, etching (Philip Galle, Haarlem 1537 - 1612)
In Petrarch’s Triumphs, Death triumphs over love (Instinct) and  Chastity (Modesty, Reason), but is in turn overome by Fame. Death’s chariot is drawn by oxen, evoking the Egyptian psychopomp bull. The skeleton is usually depicted cutting down men of high rank - kings, emperors, popes and noblemen - as illustrated in the so-called “Charles VI Tarot” of the 15th century.

Triumph of Fame
, woodcut from Il Petrarca (Venice, Nicolo Bevilacqua, 1563)
Petrarch writes: “in spite of death the fame of our works remains in the memories of men”. In this engraving Fame is depicted by an Angel sounding his trumpet, signifying, as affirmed by Ripa, “the universal cry emitted for the ears of men”. Fame’s chariot is drawn by elephants, held to be highly intelligent animals, and accompanied by soldiers on horse-back, a clear reference to the military glory and triumphal chariots of the ancient Roman consuls and emperors who, following their victories, went to the Capitol to receive the triumphum. This allegory is associated with the Chariot card, which in the most ancient known list of Tarots, attributed to a monk at the beginning of the 16th century, is referred to as “lo caro triomphale vel mundus parvus” (the triumphal chariot, or rather a small world), meaning that terrestrial glory only creates ephemeral illusions. In fact, in the Petrarchan order, Fame only succumbs to inexorable Time.

Caesar's triumph
, etching (Adriaen Collaert, Antwerp 1520 - 1570 ca.)
The seventh card of the tarot, the Chariot, refers to a Roman tradition, whereby victorious generals would parade the streets in their chariots on their way to the Capitol to be crowned with laurel, the symbol of everlasting glory.

Triumph of Time
, etching (Georg Pençz, Nuremberg 1500 ca.- Königsberg 1550)
Time triumphs over Fame and is defeated by Eternity. It is depicted with wings to reflect its fleetness (time flies), with crutches, to highlight its old age, and an hourglass, a tool of measurement. Its chariot is drawn by deer, regarded as swift, long–lived animals, and it is accompanied by children, adolescents, adults and elderly men, allegorically positioned in relation to their own offspring: seconds, minutes, hours, years. This depiction of Time corresponds to the Hermit in the Bologna Tarot and the Florentine Minchiate.

Triumph of the Godhead
, woodcut from Il Petrarca (Venice, Nicolo Bevilacqua, 1563)
In this Triumph Jesus Christ and his Father are portrayed seated in a chariot surrounded by saints and children (the kingdom of the Heaven belongs to these). The winged lion that draws the cart is one of the living creatures of the Apocalypse and is the symbol and attribute of St. Mark. In the Middle Ages this animal represented the Resurrection because, according to the bestiaries, when its cubs are born, they lie as dead for three days and do not come to life until their father breathes on their muzzles. The World card in the fifteenth-century Tarot is depicted by an angel above a circle in which there is a landscape representing the tangible world that God houses within Himself. Sometimes the angel is replaced by a female figure holding in her hands a sceptre and a golden globe, symbols of command. This is the representation of Glory or Fame according to the iconographic canons of the time.

Cupid, Venus and Saturn
etching (Antonio Morghen, Florence 1788 - 1853)
As in Petrarch’s Triumphs this allegory means that love and beauty, represented by Cupid and Venus, are triumphed over by Time.



The Jester,etching (Heinrick Ulrick, Nuremberg c. 1572 - 1621)
The Fool of the tarot is represented both as a jester and as a poor wayfarer. On the smiling countenance of the fool-jester, as he appears in most ancient tarots, Ripa writes. in his essay of Renaissance Iconology. that “Laughter is a telltale sign of foolishness, according to the words of Solomon; however, one can see that the men considered to be wise rarely laugh, and of Our Lord Christ, who was true wisdom and knowledge, we never read that he laughed”.

Figure of the Fool, woodcut from Biblia Sacred Vulgatae Sixti Quinti Pont. Max. (Venice, Damianum Zenarum, 1603)
In this Bible, illustrating Psalm 53, there is the same representation of the fool as in the Florentine Minchiate: a man dressed in rags, surrounded by little boys. He has feathers on his head (representing the lightness of his intellect); he rides a stick, while holding a toy, a whirligig that spins while he runs. An identical description is given by Ripa in his iconographic representation of the insane: “A man of mature age will be laughing and and riding a stalk; in his right hand, he will hold a paper pinwheel, a pleasant instrument and an amusement for children, who take great care to make it turn in the wind”. The same author also tells us that “in the city, it is held to be wisdom for a man of mature age to engage himself in matters of the family and of the Republic, hence it will be reasonably called Folly to abstain oneself from these actions, in order to play childish games, of no import”.


Allegory of Good and Evil, woodcut (Virgil Solis, Nuremberg 1514 - 1562)
The non-believer was considered a fool, and figures of fools often appear in 15-16th century Bibles, illustrating the verses of the Psalm 53, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God”. The engraving shows a fool laughing before an angel, who covers his eyes with his hands so as not to see such wickedness.


Lex Canonica, etching (Sébastien Her Clerc, Metz 1637 - Paris 1714 and Jean Audran, Lione 1667 - Paris 1756)
In the 15th-century Visconti-Sforza Tarot, the Popess appears as a female figure wearing a monk’s habit; she holds in her right hand the pastoral staff with crucifix, and in her left, the Book of Wisdom (the Bible or the Gospels). On her head she wears the papal tiara. The iconographic origins of this picture are to be found among the personifications of the highest moral and religious virtues, for example, the Fides monochrome painted by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Faith appears in hieratic form bearing the symbols of her mansion: in her right hand a staff with a cross and in her left a scroll where the first sentences of the Nicene-Constantine Creed can be read. The presence of Faith in the order of Triumphs is in perfect keeping with the medieval Christian view of the Mystical Staircase as a means of reaching and contemplating the Godhead. In this engraving Lex Canonica (Canon Law) is portrayed wearing the typical papal tiara and holding keys and the swords, symbolizing the right to bind (lock) and loosen, the prerogative of Canon law.


Pope Joan, woodcut (Michael Wolgemuth, Nuremberg 1434 - 1519) from Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1493)
For a long time it was presumed that the figure of the Popess in the Tarots represented the mysterious Pope Joan, a woman who, disguised as a man, became pope following the death of Leon IV (755). Platina, prefect of the Vatican Library, wrote that “through cruel means (as was desired) Giovanni Angelico became pope. Although a woman, she led people to believe he was a man.” (Lives of the Popes, Venice 1666). According to the legend she was found out when she gave birth to a child, immediately stoned by the people. This event resulted in the “stercoral” chair.  Platina also tells us that “so as not to make the same mistake again, each time a Pope is elected, he must sit on an open-bottomed chair so that the last Deacon, by touching him, can see that he is male”. 

Pope on the Throne
, woodcut (Michael Wolgemuth, Nuremberg 1434 - 1519) from Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg, Anton Koberger,1493)
The depiction of The Pope in the Tarot reflects a classical version found in the religious and profane art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: he is seated on a throne, holding the papal tiara and leafing through a book (a typical papal attribute) and holds the keys that symbolize his descent from St. Peter.


Samson and the lion, woodcut (Virgil Solis, Nuremberg 1514 - 1562)
In the Strength card an unarmed maiden opens a lion’s mouth. Its iconographic root is the biblical narration of Samson who, with the Lord’s help, slew the lion of Timnath with his bare hands (Judges 14, 6). This story was interpreted by medieval Christianity in a moral sense as a victory of rational faith over instinct. The opposition of the lion, an image of sheer strength, and the virgin, symbol of spiritual strength, becomes the triumph of the spirit over the material world.


Fortitude, etching (Jacob Matham, Haarlem 1571 - 1631)
Fortitude is a Christian virtue that triumphs over brutal instinct and false divinities. In the tarot Strength/Fortitude is typically depicted  by a woman bearing a broken column, a reference to the story of Samson, destroyer of the temple of the god Dagon (Judges, 16, 29).


Justice, etching (Jacob Andreas Friderich, Germany 1683 - 1751)
Justice appears in the Tarots in its most common form: the right hand bears an upright, unswerving sword to defend the right and the left a set of scales with which to weigh the value of every action.


The Wheel of  Fortune, woodcut (Albrecht Dürer, Norimberga 1471 - 1528) from Das Narrenschiff  by Sebastian Brant  (Basle, Johann Bergmann von Olpe, 1494)
The allegory of Fortune is generally represented by four figures precariously balanced on a wheel. They represent the instability of the human condition, as illustrated by the captions: regnabo, regno, regnavi, sum sine regno (I will reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without a reign), written on scrolls that identify each character. This Wheel of Fortune, composed just of animals, reflects the dominant theme of the work, that of sin and mankind as a damned mass: the world is the seat of sinful foolishness with the utmost contempt for virtue.


Fortune, etching from Iconologie by Jean Baptiste Boudard (Parma, Philippe Carmignani, 1759)
In some rare tarot cards Fortune is represented with a foot resting on a ball and holding a cornucopia, the symbol of plenty. Her precarious position on the ball denotes the goddess’ instability.

Fortune’s Games, etching (Giovan Battista Bonacina, Milan - Rome active 1631 - 1659)
In this image Time, represented as Saturn, is shown playing dice with the goddess Fortune, whose hair evokes the motto “to seize fortune by the forelock.” The stake in this game is the World.


Judas commits suicide, etching (Philipp Gottfred Harder, Bavaria 1710 - 1749)
The card of the Hanged Man, in the so-called “Charles VI Tarots” of the fifteenth century, depicts Judas, who betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Originally this character was called El Traditore (the Traitor) and in the XVI century the various tarot orders use the same term, or Impichato (The Hanged Man) or Penduto (The Hanging Man). Giovanni of Modena’s fresco of Hell in the Bolognini Chapel in St. Petronio in Bologna (1410) features an image of a hanging man which closely resembles that depicted in Tarot. From numerous documents and testimonies we know that being suspended upside down by one foot was a punishment inflicted on traitors during the Middle Ages.


Temperance, woodcut (Giuseppe Cesari, 1568 - 1640) from Iconologia of Cesare Ripa (Venice, Nicolò Pezzana, 1669
In the Sermones de Ludo tarot list of the sixteenth century, Temperance is rightly positioned near Love as a virtue that teaches moderation of the instincts. Temperance is generally depicted in the illuminated tarots of the fifteenth century in its more common version, a maiden pouring water from one vessel to another that is full of wine, signifying mitigation, damping what is too excitable. It expresses the necessity to dominate certain instincts that are balanced by this virtue. In this woodcut Temperance is represented by a maiden with a bridle in her hands, obviously symbolizing the quelling of passions, and by an elephant, also a symbol of chastity, as affirmed by Ripa “because being accustomed to a certain quantity of food it never wants more than its usual ration, and so just eats its customary amount”. 

El fuego ÿ l’amor
, etching (Daniel Van den Bremden, Antwerp 1587 - c. 1650) from Spiegel vanden Ouden ende Nieuvven Tijdt by Jacob Cats (Dordrecht, Isaac Burchoorn, 1632)
This allegory is connected with Temperance, a virtue whose “water” can assuage the effects caused by the “fire” of passion. In the background, the tryst between a man and a woman is a visual expression of the consequence of the effect of the fire with which the woman heats her sex before the fireplace.


The Last Judgement and Hell, etching (Carlo Lasinio, Treviso 1759 - Pisa 1838)
This etching shows iconographic parallels with the Judgement, Devil and Hanged Man tarots. The card of Judgement reflects the standard iconography of Universal Judgment, as Matthew describes it: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose" (27:52). In some images the scheme is enriched with blessed and damned souls, while in Heaven God the Father appears with the saints alongside angels sounding trumpets. Sometimes only the archangel Michael is depicted, bearing scales for his task of evaluating the actions of those who have risen from dead. In the Bologna tarot cards cards there is only one angel playing music, while in the Florentine Minchiate an angel appears flying above a city while sounding a trumpet, sometimes accompanied by the writing Fama Volat, indicating that even though his sound can be heard in all places, men must always act for the betterment of their spiritual wellbeing because the search for ephemeral earthly glory alone clashes with divine judgement. The punishments of hell are imposed according to Dante’s law of retaliation: for instance, we find traitors suspended upside-down, according to the custom of the time. The Devil, whose card is the only one not to have survived in the illuminated tarots of the fifteenth century, is usually represented in the cards of the following centuries according to the classical iconography that identifies his bestial nature: with the wings of a bat, the talons of a falcon, or the cloven feet of a goat, and sometimes even as a gastrocephalus Devil, as in this etching, denoting the transfer of the seat of the intellect to the abdomen, that is to say used for the basest of appetites, as well as his greed in the devouring of souls.


Lot intoxicated by his daughters, woodcut from Figures des Histoires de la  Saincte Bible by Guillaume Le Be’ (Paris, Guillaume Le Be’, 1666)
During the Renaissance period The Tower card went by a variety of names: in Sermones de Ludo it appeared as Arrow (thunderbolt), other authors, including Garzoni, Piscina, Pomeran and Teofilo Folengo referred to it as The Fire. However, it was also called Devil’s House (Ferrara) and Pluto’s House or simply The House, by Aretino. It was also called The House of the Damned, Hell and Heaven. All these terms are not contradictory, but indicate the allegory represented, that is the destruction of a house by fires or thunderbolts which, according to the cosmological conception of the time, were thought to come from the Sphera Ignis, thesphere or circle of fire that was above the Earth, through which God meted out His punishment. The fall of celestial fires from the Sphaera Ignis is represented here by the biblical episode of Lot and his daughters, with Sodom destroyed by divine anger.


The destruction of Troy, metal engraving (Teacher of the Virgilio of Grüninger, XVIth century) from Aeneidos (Lyons, Jac Saccon, 1507)
The image of a tower struck by a divine thunderbolt, with men falling from its top, is comparable to the same card in the Bologna and classical Marseilles tarot packs.


Spes Jobi, etching (Catharina Klauber, Hamburg XVIIIth century)
At the beginning of the sixteenth century the iconography of some Triumph cards changed, like that of the Tower card, also known as “the Devil’s House” and “God’s House”. At the bottom of the 16th-century Cary Sheet is the head of a cow beneath a tower; in the 17th-century Vieville Tarot, the tower is replaced by a tree with a shepherd and his flock, while balls fall from the sky, as in the Cary Sheet: these represent stylized fire and stones of destruction, as we can see in the work of Lucas van Leyden, “Lot and his daughters”. Destruction caused by celestial fire depicted here comes from the bible story of Job’s house, which was destroyed by the Devil, who tested Job’s faith in God. In fact, the Bible says: “The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them”(Job 1:16); “Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house; and, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead” (Job 1:18-19).  This verse of the Bible was painted by Bartolo di Fredi in 1367 in the Collegiata in San Gimignano. The fresco shows us a house with battlements, and the roof falling in and killing those living inside. One of these is shown while fleeing outdoors, according to an iconography which can be found in the Florentine Minchiate. A devil appears above the house, sounding a trumpet. Under the fresco appears the following description: “How the devil crushed the houses where the sons and daughters and the possessions of Job were”. In this verse of the Bible, evil is inspired by Satan. The feeling of pain which emerges from this test is holy, since its existence is necessary to prove man’s faith in God: in all these things, Job never sinned, nor did he accuse God of foolishness: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). God granted permission for the test suggested by Satan in the certainty that Job would have passed it. The Biblical story tries to teach us that God can allow any man to be struck and oppressed. With the words of the Lord's Prayer, “Do not lead us unto temptation”, we ask God not to have us face temptation, which can be of two kinds: the kind that leads us to commit evil because it appears as something pleasant, or the kind that can lead us to doubt God because it causes pain. Even in tragedy and temptation, man has the opportunity to choose. The terms attributed to this card, i.e. the House of the Devil and later, The House of God, can be understood in light of the above. The house of those who keep the faith will be protected by God, the house of those who deny the Creator will fall into the hands of the Devil, as expressed in the Book of Proverbs (11:14), "The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish”. 

Maison de Dieu
, from Le plaisant jeu du dodechedron de Fortune (The pleasant dodechedron of Fortune) by Jean de Meun (Lyons, Franòoin Didier, 1564)
In this “book of fate”, attributed to the alchemist Jean de Meun, author of the Roman de la Rose, the responses are based on the twelve astrological houses (dodechedron = a 12 - cornered figure). The ninth house that is the Maison de Dieu (God’s House), a term sometimes used in reference to the Tower card in the Renaissance period, expresses among other meanings “prodigies, new signs and divine punishments that often lead to torment.”


The Magi, etching (Georg Daniel Heümann, Nuremberg 1691 -  1759)
The Star card of the Visconti-Sforza and the Colleoni illuminated tarots of the fifteenth century feature a young girl who holds a star up in her hand, while those of “Charles VI” and Ercole I d’Este show two astrologers studying the sky. A single astrologer appears in the Vieville card of the XVII century. The Magi appear in the card of the Rothschild collection, and in the Bologna tarot card they are portrayed holding Christ’s crown. One of them, bearing the gift’s box, appears on horseback in the Florentine Minchiate. All the Stars represented in these cards have eight points.


St. Christopher, woodcut from Cosmographia Universalis by Sebastian Munster (Basle, H. Petri, 1511)
In the so-called “Charles VI Tarot” and in those of Ercole I D’Este, the Moon is represented as a celestial body studied by astrologers. In the Visconti Tarot we find a maiden who holds in her hand the crescent moon, in accordance with a common method used for other cards, such as the Star card in the same pack or the same card in Bartolomeo Colleoni’s Tarot. In Bologna’s San Basilica of Petronius and in the basilica of San Clemente in Rome, there are frescoes of Saint Christopher bearing the young Christ who holds in his hand a full moon as tidings of light, as Saint Ambrose said:“ Therefore I announced you through the moon, Christ’s mystery”.


Inconstancy, woodcut (Giuseppe Cesari, 1568 - 1640) from Iconologia by Cesare Ripa (Venice, Nicolò Pezzana, 1669)
In the Moon card of the 16th-century Cary Sheet, we find an image that has changed completely in relation to the iconography of the 15th-century cards:  the star’s rays shine on a half aquatic, half-terrestrial landscape. In the water is a crayfish or crab, while on the hilly ground there are two constructions, one opposite the other. Cancer is at the zodiacal seat of the moon, but it is also an animal symbolizing inconstancy, as I discovered in the Iconology of Cesare Ripa, which portrayed her as a “woman whose feet tread upon a great Crab, just like the one in the Zodiac; she is dressed in blue and in her hand she holds the moon. The crab is an animal that walks up and down in much the same way as those who are undecided and delight in deliberation, action, war or peace. The Moon is extremely changeable, as we see; however, it is said that the fool changes as does the moon, never remaining the same ...”.


Jupiter and Callisto, etching (Giacomo Frey, Hocdorf 1681 - Rome 1752) 
Among the countless loves of Jupiter, one of the most memorable is that for Callisto, a nymph of Diana who tarried in a wood, and who was approached by Jupiter, disguised as Diana, who took advantage of her. In the engraving two dogs appear, animals sacred to Diana, one white and one black, as can be seen in The Moon card from the beginning of the 17th century. They represent lunar qualities, their colours signifying that the Moon’s influences are constant both at night and by day, even when its disc is not visible to mortals.


Iside Pharia, woodcut from Imagines Deorum qui ab Antiquis colebantur by Vincezo Cartari (Lyons, Barptolemaeum Honorati, 1581)
The woodcut shows Isis holding a boat in her hand. This is Iside Pharia, Isis the bearer of light, because she is the Moon and because of the qualities of her mysterious rite, the Navigio d’Iside (the Navigium of Isis), which involved her followers heading out to sea toward a lighthouse, a clear symbol of spiritual illumination. As Cartari affirms “Isis, or the Moon, is always a lighthouse to sailors, even in its waxing and waning phases.” In the Moon card this is represented by two lighthouses set side by side beneath the full moon.


In Iuventam, woodcut from Emblemata by Andrea Alciati (Parma, Pietro Paolo Tozzi, 1621)
In the illuminated card of Francesco Sforza’s Triumphs the Sun is represented as a winged boy holding a shining star in his hand. This is the Genius of the Sun, as it appears in the "Iliac" card in the “E series” of the Mantegna Tarot. The card of the Tarot of Ercole I d’Este depicts Diogenes sitting inside his barrel and conversing with a young man, probably Alexander the Great. The image refers to the biblical teaching in the book of Ecclesiastes (1:12-17), which is that all that is done under the sun is vanity, even the thoughts of wise men (2:12-17). In the Cary Sheet of the 16th century there is an iconographic variation:  although damaged, it still illustrates the iconography that later became established in Marseilles Tarots - the presence of two youths beneath the disc of the sun: this presence is connected with the concept of the “ever youthful sun” of the ancients, who in fact represented the young Apollo and Bacchus together, emblems of the sun and its youth. Bacchus was in fact considered “the same, the Sun”. “This (the Sun) the ancient ones depicted with a young, beardless face, as Alciato did in his emblems of youth, painting Apollo and Bacchus younger than the others, as Tibullus says that Bacchus and Phoebus are eternally young, with resplendent hair on their heads” (Vincenzo Cartari, Images of the Gods of the Ancients). This woodcut of Emblem 100, “In Iuventam” (On Youth), in the World card of the tarot of the 16th century directly stems from the medieval representations of Christ Pantocrator, sometimes surrounded by a mandorla, and at other times by hosts of Angels or Saints, as well as the four Evangelists in animal form (tetramorph). 

Celestial Jerusalem
, etching (Adriaen Collaert, Antherp 1520 - c. 1570)
The World card in Visconti-Sforza Tarot shows Celestial Jerusalem within a circle held by two angels. This representation is in keeping with the explanation given in “El mondo cioè Dio Padre” in which the author of the first list of Tarot known in the “Sermones de Ludo” describes this Triumph. The descent to the Earth of Celestial Jerusalem is mentioned in John’s Apocalypse as one of the final moments of the history of humanity.


Christ in Majesty, woodcut (Michael Wolgemuth, Nuremberg 1434 - 1519) from Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1493)
The garland around the female figure (Soul of the World) in the World card of the tarot from the 16th century directly stems from the medieval representations of Christ Pantocrator, sometimes surrounded by a mandorla, and at others by hosts of Angels or Saints, as well as the four Evangelists in animal forms (tetramorph)


Imagines Sanctae Mariae Virginis, etching (Anonymous, XVII century)
The Anima Mundi (Soul of the World), as it is depicted in the World card of the 16th century, is in the middle of a mandorla, and it appears in many depictions of the Virgin in Glory and of Christ Pantocrator. The mandorla is the symbol of interiority concealed by outward appearance, therefore encapsulating the mystery of interior enlightenment. In this particular etching, the mandorla is symbolically replaced by a maternal uterus, signifying that the divine nature of Christ was concealed by His human form. 

, etching (Bernard Picard, Paris 1673 - Amsterdam 1734) from Le Temple des Muses by La Barre De Beaumarchais (Amsterdam, Zacharie Chatelain, 1733)
Some historians have seen in the female figure in the World card the depiction of the eternal feminine, to which is connected the myth of Pandora, here represented at the centre of an almond composed of masculine figures. When Zeus scorned Prometheus, who had formed the man, he gave Hephaestus the order to make a woman. Hephaestus formed the woman with earth and water, Athena gave her the aptitude for womanish jobs, Aphrodite beauty, Hermes shrewdness. This woman, having had gifts from all the gods. was called Pandora. (from pan = all and dora = gifts). Then Hermes conducted her to Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus who, despite the warning of his brother, fell in love with her. Then the happy life of men ended. Pandora had received from Zeus a vase that contained all the evils;  she uncovered it and they flew out. In the bottom of the vase remained only hope. 

The vision of Ezekiel
, etching (Nicolas Lermessin, XIXth century)
Depiction of the Tetramorph, the four Evangelists in their animal forms, as we find in the World card beginning in the 16th century.



The alchemist in meditation, etching (Victor André Texier, You Rochelle 1777 - Paris 1864)
Alchemy is considered one of the more excellent hermetic sciences: through the study of changing base metals into gold, the alchemist tried to discover the secret of the Godhead imprinted in every element.

The cultivation of Knowledge, etching (Anonymous,  XVIIth century)
This complex hermetic allegory depicts the tasks required to acquire Knowledge. On one side are the tasks of cultivation and the search for inner goodness as dictated by Charity, represented by the phoenix, the bird that nourishes its young with its very flesh. Time is in the centre (represented by Saturn), forcing Intelligence (Mercury) to dig a hole to firmly plant what has been cultivated:  the Tree of Knowledge. The left side features the symbols of the finished work. At the bottom is an uroboros; higher up there is a dolphin with a ring; a cockerel (a young rooster, symbolizing Intelligence) perched on the trumpet of Glory; and above, the phoenix taking flight with its young.

The Danaiades, etching (Bernard Picard, Paris 1673 - Amsterdam 1734) from Le Temple des Muses by La Barre De Beaumarchais (Amsterdam, chez  Z. Chatelain, 1733)
A substantial change in the iconography of the Star card begins in the 16th Century, in the Cary Sheet: a naked maiden is portrayed kneeling down, pouring the liquid from two pitchers into a body of water below. In the sky above her, a great eight-pointed star appears with four other smaller stars, two on either side. The figure is a Naiad, a river nymph, depicted according to the standard description in 16th-century texts on iconology. There is a splendid example of a Naiad painted in the Chamber of Psyche in Mantua’s  Palazzo Te. The Danaiades, or Naiads, became an allegory of purity, being nymphs attached to pure springs. They were associated, according to the neoplatonist Porphyry in his work De Antro Nympharum (Of the Cave of the Nymphs, a highly popular text throughout the Middle Ages), with the purity of souls that descend into generation. The close relationship of the soul with the sky, the soul’s point of entry and also its point of return, was the general belief of the Phisologia Ionica (5th-6th century B.C.), but it assumed its definitive formation in Plato’s myths as described in his Phaedrus and Timaeus. The water-life relationship is also encountered in Christian mysticism. On the Naiad’s right shoulder, as represented in the Cary Sheet, is a small eight-pointed star, just like the one in the sky. The same star often appears on the mantle of the Virgin Mary, denoting fullness and purity of life (Stella Maris). The number 8, indicating completeness of life, is also associated with the eighth day from the beginning of Creation, the time at which the universe came to life fully, following God’s rest on the seventh day. Christian baptisteries are octagonal, because this number indicates the fullness of life attained through the waters of Baptism.

The World, stencil-painted woodcut from a pack of Lombard Tarots (Ferdinando Gumppenberg,  Milan c. 1830)
In the World card of an Italian Tarot of the 16th century, now housed at the Museum of the Sforza Castle in Milan, we find an iconographic variation that was to become an established feature of tarot cards: a young girl depicted in a mandorla, surrounded by the figures of the four evangelists in animal form (tetramorph). It is the Anima Mundi (Soul of the World), previously represented by a female figure in the Latin manuscript Clavis Physicae written by Honorius of Autun in the XII century, now in the National Library in Paris. This set of sketches and diagrams represents “one of the most perfect expressions of the imaginative activity of men in the 12th century and at the same time a faithful translation of a representation of the world tied to the Platonic, or Platonized, system, as the Greek fathers and their disciple the 9th century John Duns Scotus, had interpreted it. Abelard will see in the Holy Spirit the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi of which the monks of Chartres also speak. William of Conches, annotating  the Timaeus(c.360 b.c.e ), affirms that the Soul of the World is a spirit or a natural strength within things that lends them movement and life. It is entirely and integrally in all things, but its power acts in a different way. It lies at the centre of the universe and lends movement to the stars, gives vegetation to the trees and the plants, sensibility to animals and reason to mankind. In the aforementioned card of the World, the Evangelists in animal form (tetramorph) appear at the four sides of the mandorla, as described in St. John’s Apocalypse and as they appear in the visions of Christ Pantocrator. In 1565 Francesco Piscina wrote a famous essay entitled Discorso sopra l’ordine delle figure de Tarocchi (Treatise on the order of the figures of Tarots), and on the subject of this card he writes: “Therefore the author has put the image of the world between these four Holy Evangelists to teach us that the world cannot live without religion, of which these Holy Evangelists have written the precepts, for religion is the most important basis for peace and keeping people happy, and without it we could not save our soul, which is born just to serve our Lord and God”.


Noblemen playing at cards
, etching (Bartolomeo Crivellari, Venice 1725 - 1777) from The paintings of Pellegrino Tibaldi and Nicolò Abbati by Gianpietro Canotti (Venice, Giambattista Pasquali, 1756)
In the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna some frescoes by Niccolò dell’Abbate (1512-1571) depict men and women engaged in different pastimes. One shows them playing cards: the Six of Coins, the Six of Swords and the Four of Batons are clearly visible.

Lucerna Mutini Alati
, etching from Romanum Museum sive Thesaurus Eruditae Antiquitatis (Vol. II°) by Michael Angelus Causeus (Rome, Fausti Amidei , 1746)
The Florentine term Minchiata, meaning something of little importance (a trifle, a bagatelle, etc), comes from the Latin Mentula, penis. In Italian and in numerous dialects the concept of “stupid little things” as in things of no importance, including card games, is expressed using terms derived from appellatives for the male sexual organ.

Bologna Tarot cards
, stencil-painted woodcut  (Bologna, Al Leone by Francesco Berti, 1770)
Bologna Tarot Cards consist of a 62 card pack whose iconography is inspired by Renaissance models. The earliest known document concerning the production of Tarot in Bologna dates back to 1442 when  the court of Ferrara paid Marchionne Burdochi, a merchant of Bologna, for the supply of  "a pack of triumph cards; preserved by James, the crossed - eyed footman, for Master Ercole and Sigismondo brothers of the Lord" (uno paro de carte da trionfi; ave Iacomo guerzo famelio per uxo de Messer Erchules e Sigismondo frateli de lo Signore). In the 16th century, to make the game easier, the pack was reduced from 78 to 62 cards, by eliminating four cards from every suit (from the second to the fifth). The substitution of the so-called "Popes" (Popess, Pope, Empress and Emperor) with four Moors took place in 1725, following strained relations with the Papal Government, which was against the presence of the Popess and the Pope in what was regarded as a gambling game.

Minchiate of Florence
- 2,  hand-painted etchings  (Florence, Etruria, between 1801 and il 1807).
The Minchiate cards appeared in Florence in the 15th century. The pack includes the 78 traditional cards, plus another 20 Triumph cards:  Prudence, the three Theological Virtues, the four elements and the 12 signs of the zodiac. From an iconographic point of view, the most remarkable variations lie in the fact that the Popess is not among them, while the  the Empress, the Emperor and the Pope have respectively become the Grand Duke, the Emperor of West and the Emperor of East. In the numeral cards, the knights are represented by centaurs and monsters, while the foot-soldiers of the cup and coin suits are represented as female characters, the so-called fantine.

Minchiate of Florence
, stencil-painted woodcut (Bologna, Al Soldato, mid-18th  century)

Minchiate of Florence, stencil-painted etchings (Florence, c. 1820) 

Lombard Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut (Bologna, Al Mondo by David and brothers, c. 1780)
The Triumph cards appeared in Milan at the Visconti-Sforza court in the 15th century. They are illuminated cards attributed to such famous artists as Bonifacio Bembo, Anthony Cicognara, and the Zavattaris. In the 1500s the iconography of these cards underwent a radical transformation dictated by styles  found in the Cary Sheet of the XVI century. This model spread from Lombardy to French territory, giving rise to the so-called “Marseilles Tarot”.

Milanese Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut(Milan, Ferdinando Gumppenberg, 1825)

Milanese Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut(Milan, Ferdinando Gumppenberg, c. 1840) 

Milanese Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut (Milan, Edoardo Dotti, 1c. 860)

Piedmontese Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut (Turin, Marengo, c. 1860)
Tarot cards came to the Piedmont region via its neighbour, the Emilia region. The earliest known document is that by Francesco Piscina of Carmagnola who wrote in 1565 the Discorso sopra l’ordine delle figure de Tarocchi (A treatise on the order of the figures of Tarots). As regards their production, in an edict issued in 1586 by Duke Carlo Emanuele, it was written that Giovanni Baptist Ferrofino was the one who introduced the production of Tarot cards into the Piedmont region. The iconography and producton of Piedmont Tarot cards was similar to that of the “Marseilles” type.

Piedmontese Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut (Turin ?, Viarengo, 1880)
Twin-picture cards were invented to provide players with an instantly clear view of each card.

Sicilian Tarocchini
,  colour offset (Catania, Concetta Campione, c. 1950)
The oldest Sicilian reference to the card game of Tarot appears in a notice put up in 1736 by Don Pietro de Castro, president of the Kingdom at that time. The notice prohibits the playing of certain gambling games, both in public and private, while other games were permitted, but exclusively in private. The Tarot cards fell among the latter, if played “merely for fun”. The sequence of Triumphs does not respect the traditional one, and iconographically speaking, there are some variations: card 20 represents Jupiter; card 19, Atlas (like the World card by the famous Bolognese engraver Mitelli, 17th century); card 15, the Devil, was eplaced by the Vessel, borrowed from the Minchiate to represent the element of Water; and there is also another virtue, Constancy, at number 4. Besides the Fool there is another unnumbered card - Poverty.

Backs of tarot cards
. From left to right: above Minchiata of Florence “Al Soldato”, Minchiata of florence “Etruria”, Bologna tarocchino “Al Leone”, below Lombard tarot “F. Gumppemberg”, Lombard tarot “Dotti”, Lombard tarot “F. Guppemberg”.

Marseilles Tarot
- 2, stencil-painted woodcut (Marseilles, Bernardine Suzanne, c. 1820)
The Marseilles Tarot was produced at the beginning of the XVIII century based on the 17th-century Parisian models, which in turn originated from 16th-century Lombard packs. Towards the close of the 18th century these Tarot cards were associated by archaeologist Court de Gebelin with the mythical Book of Thoth, which he regarded as the model most in keeping with the presumed Egyptian prototype.

Besançon Tarot
, stencil-painted woodcut (Besançon, Renault, 1830)
This tarot card appeared in France toward the mid-18th century. Due to religious pressure, the figures of the Pope and the Popess were replaced respectively by Jupiter and Juno. The Church had already applied similar pressure in the past, the most famous example being the replacement in the Bolognese Tarot pack at the end of the 17th century of the figures of the Pope, the Popess, the Emperor and the Empress with the images of four Moors.

Nouveau Tarot
, colour chromolithographs (Paris, B. P Grimaud, c. 1900)
This game was developed for Savoy at the request of the administration of an Indirect Tax, with a view to the prohibition of use in France of similar games made in foreign countries. It is a twin-figured Tarot depicting scenes of daily life:  cards 2 to 5 portray the four ages of man; cards 6 to 9 represent the four phases of the day; cards 10 and 11 represent the four elements; cards 12 to 15 depict four pleasures (dance, arts, etc.); cards 16 to 19 the four seasons; card 20 represents the game of cards and that of bowls; card 21 and the unnumbered card, Foolishness.

Allegorical Tarot
, hand-painted woodcut (Vienna, Joseph Estel, 1815)
This pack of twin-figure Tarots, is part of a family of similar packs that feature different scenes from the Orient according to a fashion of the time. In card number I we find Harlequin and Colombina playing a harp and a tambourine respectively. Many pictures feature aquatic and land monsters as well as sea divinities.

Tarot cards “with animal scenes”
, hand-painted etchings (Vienna, Joseph Estel, c. 1820)
Andrea Benedictus Göbl was among the first to produce tarot packs with animal scenes. Several printers followed suit in this subject. No animal was chosen by chance; its choice was based on its moral teaching value in terms of allegory.

“Industrie und Glück” Tarot
(Industry and Luck), coloured cromolithographs (Wien, F. Piatnik & Söhne, c. 1870)
Published throughout the territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1865 up to the time of the First World war, the figures of this Tarot pack illustrate scenes from rural life of different populations of the empire.

La Maison Academique
(The Academic House) by Monsieur de la Marinière (Jeans Pinson de la Martinière) (Lyon, Jean Bapt. Deville, 1674)
A famous work in which the author deals with different games of the time, including snakes and ladders, Billiards, War, etc. A paragraph is dedicated to Le plaisant Jeu de Cartes de Tarots  (The Pleasant Game of Tarot Cards), defined as “recreational & fine, amusing, for playing for a long time and in many different ways, thanks to the many characters”.

The manufacture of cards
,  Plate I from Cartier in the Encyclopedie of Diderot-D’ Alembert, Paris 1770
The plate illustrates the studio of a Parisian card-maker.


Fig.       1 -  Worker painting on canvas

              2 -  Worker painting points

              3 -  Printer

              4 -  Cutter

              5 -  Worker bringing card to the cutter

              6 -  Retoucher

              7 -  Press operator

              8 -  Oven for heating the glue

              9 -  Heater


Fig.       1 -  Hanging cardboard

              2 -  Pick

              3 -  Pricker for perforating the card to be laid out

              4 -  Dovecot or box for surplus cards

              5 -  Heavy wood frame where the figures are collected

              6 -  Stencil.

Tarot bands
, from Chamber Notice about Bands and Stamps of Cards and Tarots (Turin, Real Press, March 28th 3 1761)
From the beginning of the XVIII century the Savoy imposed heavy taxes on the cards imported from French and Lombard territories. Then, when Savoy’s domains began their own production, the sovereigns imposed taxes on manufacture as well, entrusting the collection of the said taxes to “excise men”. Chamber Notices and Royal Edicts stated permitted games and prohibited ones, as well as the models of the stamps and the bands to be wound around the packs.

Inlaid wood card boxes, with compartments, Italy, 18th century.

Lacquered wood game box, containing four rectangular chip boxes. Hand-painted love scenes feature on the box lid and on those of the four small chip boxes. Venice, 18th century.

Lacquered wood chips boxes, containing four rectangular chip boxes. Hand-painted pastoral love scenes feature on the box lid and on those of the four small boxes. Venice, 18th century

Lacquered wood game box, containing four rectangular chip boxes. Casket and inner boxes decorated with Chinese scenes. Venice, 18th century.

Lacquered red floral wood game box, containing four rectangular chip boxes, each with a rotating bone disk scorer on its lid. Bone chips. Venice, 18th century.

Lacquered wood game box, containing four rectangular chip boxes. Hand-painted love scene on the cover of the box and maritime scenes on the four small inner boxes. Fish shaped, rectangular, square and round mother-of-pearl chips. Venice, 18th century.

Lacquered cardboard card and chip box, containing four round chip boxes featuring hand-painted landscapes on their lids. Bone chips. Vienna, early 1800s.

Lacquered wood game box, containing four rectangular chip boxes. The box lid and those of the four small inner boxes are painted with a vase of roses in neoclassic style. Bone chips feature in a variety of shapes. England, early 19th century.

Wood card and chip box, featuring silver trims in neo-Gothic style containing four rectangular chip boxes whose hand-painted lids feature four Kings. Ivory and gemstone chips in various shapes and colours. Italy, early 20th century.

Art Dec card box,walnut, corners in thuya, feet in silver, back in ebony with ivory  inserts.  Italy ?, around 1930.

Brawl among card players
, etching (Jonas Süyderhoef, Leida 1613 - Haarlem 1686)

Considerable conversation
, etching (Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, Bologna 1634 -1718)

He who plays for need loses by necessity
, etching (Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, Bologna 1634 -1718)

The Cheat
, etching (Pieter Tanjé, Bolswart 1706 - Amsterdam 1761)

Das Lombre spiel
 (The game of Ombre),  etching  (Johann Jacob Haid, Kleineslingen 1704 - Augsbourg 1767)

Interrupted game
, etching (Jean Heudelot, Montpellier 1730 - ?)

The game of Whist
, colour engraving (Jean Dambrun, Paris 1741 - after 1814 )

The Cheat, hand-painted etching (Anonymous, France, early 19th century)

Napoleonic officers and gentlemen playing at cards
, drypoint (Anonymous, France, early 19th century)

Parisian living-room
, colour lithograph (Claude Thielley, Rully 1811 - 1891)

Brawl among cards players
, tapestry (Anonymous, France, Louis XIV era )

The merry-go-round of fortune:
game of going up and down, colour lithograph from the Magazine Il Papagallo  (Bologna 1877)


, etching, (Pierre Philippe Choffard, Paris 1730 - 1809)
In the 18th century, Egypt was considered the land in which, more than in any other in antiquity, the secrets inherent to the relationship of the visible with the invisible had been deciphered thanks to the great Hermes, the mythical character who inspired the esoteric philosophy of that period.


Mercure-Thoth, inventor of astronomy, etching (Antoine Louis Romanet, Paris 1748 - c. 1810) from Histoire de Mercure in Monde primitif analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (Vol. I°) by Antoine Court de Gébelin (Paris, chez l’auteur, 1773)
In antiquity the god Mercury, the Greek Hermes, associated with the Egyptian god Thoth, was regarded as the inventor of writing, the sciences (astronomy in particular) and the author of numerous magical–religious essays. Hermes Trismegistus, or Thoth, ranks among the first persons to spread laws throughout the world. The Reverend Father Luigi Contarino Crocifero wrote about this in 1619 in his work entitled Il vago e dilettevole giardino (The delightful, pleasurable garden), under the chapter Gli Inventori di tutte le Scienze e Arti (The Inventors of all the Sciences and Arts), that “God gave the Laws to Moses. Moses gave them to the Hebrews of the world in 2453. Draco, then Solon, gave them to the Athenians. Quinto Mercury Trismegistus to the Egyptians”. This legendary figure was a reference for 18th-century esotericists in the elaboration of their theories on the Egyptian origin of tarot cards.

The four Cardinal Virtues, Plate V from Du Jeu des Tarots in Monde Primitif analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (Vol. VIII) by Antoine Court de Gébelin (Paris, chez l’auteur, 1781)
This famous work began all the esoteric speculation about tarot. Court de Gébelin, a Protestant minister with a liking for archaeology, was Royal Censor, president of the Musée, a Parisian literary society, and for many years venerable master of the Masonic Lodge Les Neuf Soeurs, of which many illustrious thinkers of the age were members, such as encyclopaedists Diderot and D’Alembert and Franklin, the scientist. In this eighth volume of his work, in the essay Du Jeu des Tarots, he affirms the Egyptian origin of the Tarot, and to prove his theories he included a series of etymologies he believed to be of oriental and Egyptian origin:  for instance, he traced the word “tarot” back to the Egyptian Taros = Tar + Ros, which he translated as "Royal Path of Life". His interpretation was clearly influenced by the Egyptian revival, which was developing, particularly in French Masonic circles, and to which Cagliostro contributed with the formulation of his famous Rite. The figures of the Arcana, reproduced in plates outside the text, were copied from a Marseille Tarot pack, whose basic characteristics remain unchanged, with the exception of the way they face, having been reversed by the engraver, and the figure of the Hanged Man, which De Gébelin wanted to turn upside-down to develop the concept of Prudence, which was absent in the tarot. 

Etteilla in his studio
, from Etteilla or the only way to read cards by Etteilla (Amsterdam, A Paris chez Lesclapart, 1773)
Writer of mysterio-philosophical works and member of the Masonic Lodge of the order of Filaleti, Etteilla founded his ideas about tarot on what de Gébelin had expressed:  an ancient Egyptian book whose pages contain only not a universal medicine for the spirit, but also the secret of the creation of the world and the fate of mankind. In this work, he expressed for the first time his conception of tarot as the “Book of Thot”.

, etching from Maniere de se récréer avec le jeu de cartes nommées tarots (A Way to entertain oneself with the pack of cards called Tarots) by Etteilla, (Amsterdam and Paris, Segault and Legras, 1783)
In this work, Etteilla subsequently elaborated his theory on Egyptian Tarots, comparing them to the teachings dictated by the Corpus Hermeticum. In his interpretation, the symbols of tarot acquired richer new magical and philosophical meaning. For the minor Arcana he used a pack of cards from Piquet, containing the suits of Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs, assigning a divinatory meaning to each card. He used only 32 cards, having removed cards 2 to 6 from the suit of Hearts, according to a routine also used for the game.


The Beak of the Sabbath, from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Dogma and Ritual of High Magic) by Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant) (Paris, Germer Baillière, 1856)
The first volume of this work, which covers magical dogmas, is in 22 chapters, each one based on a branch of esotericism, in turn inspired by each of the “Major Keys” of the tarots. In chapter 22 of the second volume, Levi gives an interpretation of the tarot based on its presumed Jewish origin. He assimilated the 22 “Greater Keys” to the letters of the Jewish alphabet, making the cards correspond with the sephiroth of the tree of Cabala and assigning the “Greater Keys” to the paths that connect one sephira to another. The "Beak of the Sabbath" drawn by Levi summarizes the salient points of the occultist tradition. It represents the emblem of the dissolution (solve) and thickening (coagula) of the energies that the Magician can acquire and direct, according to a complex system of correspondences, among the various astral planes. 

Lodge Plan
, etching from L’Ordre des Francs-Maçon trahi et le secret de Mopses revelé (The order of the French Masons betrayed and the secret of Mopses revealed) by the Abbey Perau (Amsterdam, ? - 1745)
In the symbolism of Freemasonry, the columns of the Temple of Solomon represent initiation into Masonic Mysteries. Levi was the first to combine the work of the Masonic Lodges with the symbolism of the tarots. To Levi the columns between which Popess and the Pope sit, as well as the supports of the canopy above the Chariot, are linked to the symbolism of the columns Jakin and Boaz of the Masonic Temple. 

The Pope
, from Le Tarot Divinatoire by Papus (Gerard Encausse) (Parigi, Librairie Hermétique, 1909)
Papus, a leading exponent of French Freemasonry and member of the Cabbalistic order of the Rosy Cross, considered the tarots as symbols of an inner journey based on the Tree of Cabbala, which leads the initiate to knowledge of the astral universe and the divine. According to him, the 22 Major Arcana of the tarot find a precise reference in the 22 letters of the Jewish alphabet, as the expression of divine emanation:  Aleph = Magician;  Beth = Popess;  Schin = The Fool, etc. His famous essay included inserts outside of the text and Egyptian-style Tarot figures, surrounded by Egyptian, Hebrew and Sanskrit letters, as well as the “archeometric” symbol and sign of the  zodiac.


The Chariot, from Les XXII Lames Hermétiques du Tarot Divinatoireby René Falconnier (Paris, Librairie de l’Art Indépendent, 1896)
Both the text and the Egyptian illustrations of this divinatory-cabbalistic tarot pack are inspired by the description of the "hermetic blades"[corresponding to Etteilla's "feuillets", leaves, also meaning pages], of the tarot provided by the esotericist Paul Christian. Every card features a letter of the alphabet of the Magi, whose characters, inspired by the ancient Samaritan alphabet, must have been invented, since they do not correspond with any of the magical alphabets which had appeared in the West up until that time.


Magic talisman, manuscript Book of Exorcism and Incantations with which one may ask of hidden treasures, or others to a spirit called Fanfarello, who is above the hidden treasures by Father Everard, Udine, 17th century
These instructions “drawn up by the R. P. Edward of the Sacred Inquisition of the university of Bavaria, full professor of Mathematics”, contain a figure similar in iconography to the card of the World, according to the occultist conception.  At the sides of the talisman appear the names of the four Evangelists, the four principal angels of sacred magical operations and the four prophets, which in this way form the quaternary of the elements. Inside the circle appears the Christian Trinity or the divine Unity, analogous to the hermetic Soul of the World and to alchemic Quintessence.


Virgin and Child, etching (Anonymous XVIth century)
The Empress card in the occultist Tarot of Oswald Wirth represents creative intelligence and the mother of forms, images and ideas. She is the Immaculate Virgin of the Christians, in which the Greeks would have recognized their own Venus-Urania, born resplendent from the dark billows of the chaotic ocean. Queen of the sky, she soars to the uppermost sublime heights of idealism, above every objective contingency, as shown by her foot resting on the half moon. 


The conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, woodcut (Michael Wolgemuth, Nuremberg 1434 - 1519) from Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1493)
The rays of the sun in the Sun card of the Marseilles Tarot and in that of Oswald Wirth are represented in drop form, signifying divine light spreading beneficial effects. Here the same rays highlight the influence they exerted in the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.


The martyrdom of St. Peter, woodcut (Michael Wolgemuth, Nuremberg 1434 - 1519) from Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1493)
In esoteric interpretation the card of the Hanged Man assumes a value comparable to the sacrifice of St. Peter. Being suspended upside down, which is typical also of some initiatory rites, is equivalent to placing oneself in a "positively-oriented" relationship with the celestial world.


Maria married to Joseph, etching (Jean Pesne, Rouen 1623 - Paris 1700)
The Lovers card in the Etteilla’s “Book of Thoth” is linked to the alchemical tradition involving the mystic union of king and queen, or of Mary and Joseph, the emblems of the “conciliation of opposites”.


Hercules at the crossroads of vice and virtue, burin (Giacomo Frey, Hocdorf/Kt. Lucerne 1681 - Rome 1752)
To the left of Hercules, the half-dressed maiden pointing with her hand to the cards and masks on the ground represents Vice, base practice in connection with all things material. The other, fully-dressed female figure, who is showing the hero a unicorn (an animal regarded as pure) standing on a rock, represents Virtue. A similar representation appears in the Love card in the Marseilles Tarot that the nineteenth-century occultists interpreted as a necessary moment of spiritual choice.


Herculis Iudicium, etching (Robert Strange, Orkneys 1721 - London 1792)


Egyptian Tarot - Grand Etteilla I - 2, hand-painted etchings (Paris ?, ?, beginning of 19th century) 
These rare cards were probably commissioned by D’Odoucet on the basis of  the original deck done in 1789 by Etteilla, his teacher, perhaps even from the same plates. These figures are true to the originals except for Card 1 (upper left in 2), which has a sunburst in place of the opening in the clouds of Etteilla's original.


Le Petit Oracle des Dames - 2, stencil-coloured etchings ( Paris, B.P. Grimaud, c. 1860)
The iconography of these 42 cards, which appeared in 1807, is partly derived from Etteilla's tarot cards: in them we find Prudence, the Moon, the Tower (House of God) , Etteilla's "Jugement" as the “the Creation of Man and Woman”, Fortune, Death, Strength, the Devil, the Star, Love, and  the World, with the Fool and The Jester (Magician) appearing together on card 21, while the remaining cards illustrate scenes from everyday life. And like the Besançon cards, Jupiter and Juno are also present. These cards were used in the work Les songes  (1809) as references for the explanation of dreams. 

Tarot Egyptian - Great Etteilla III
- 2
, chromolithograph  (Paris, Delarue, 1890)
Late nineteenth-century interpretation of Etteilla’s deck, which playing-card historians  call "Grand Etteilla III" because it is historically the third basic design-scheme for the  "Grand Etteilla". Etteilla had the "Grand Etteilla I", while "Grand Etteilla II" was introduced by Blocquel-Castiaux c. 1838.

Esoteric Tarot
 - 2, colour typographic impressions (Spain, ?, early 20th century)
This pack, inspired by the Grand Etteilla III, embodies the esoteric concepts and divinatory meanings established by the French nineteenth-century occultists symbolized by hieroglyphic figures and cabbalistic letters. Besides the images of the Arcana, each card, on both sides, bears the corresponding Jewish letter and its pronunciation in Latin characters. Small figures appear among the Jewish letters, generally 

Rider Waite Tarot
- 2
, colour chromolithograph (London, William Rider & Son, 1910)
In his work The pictorial key to the Tarot (London 1911), Arthur Rider Waite, defender of a purely Christian esotericism and opposer of every magical and oriental deviance, explained the symbolic and divinatory meanings of the figures of the tarots that he conceived to serve the "Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross." Inspired by Renaissance art and hermetic literature (some figures of the Minor Arcana echo the iconography of Sola-Busca Tarot of the 15th century), Waite had Pamela Colman Smith compose this pack of cards, which still today enjoys an excellent reputation in occultist circles and has become the cartomancy pack par excellence. The images here are of the rare first edition. 

Oswald Wirth Tarot
- 2
, colour typographic impressions from Le Tarot des Imagiers du Moyen Age by Oswald Wirth (Paris, Le Symbolisme, 1927)
In this work, which today is still regarded as the most important for the esoteric study of tarot, thanks to the author’s ability to clarify the existing similarities between the symbolisms of the most important mystery Western and Jewish traditions, such as Alchemy, Astrology, Freemasonry and the Cabbala, plates were included outside the text of the 22 Major Arcana of the tarot. They are tarots made not for fortune-telling, but to serve as an authentic manual of occultism.



Explication of the cards, from Manière de tirer les cartes (Anonymous, France, XVIII century)
Cartomancy manuscript based upon the meanings of Etteilla’s cards.


Table of propitious and ill-omened days, from Medicus Officiosus by Ferd. Caroli Weinhart (Venice, Jo. Gabrielem Hertz, 1724)
According to superstition, some days are better than other for practicing cartomancy. Since ancient times this conception, based on astrological factors, has also been held to be true for other situations, as may be deduced from this eighteenth-century essay of medicine in which the author, a famous physician of the time, lists the propitious and ill-omened days – based on common superstition – for commencing treatment or undergoing surgery.


Etteilla in his studio, from Science des signes ou médecine de l’esprit connue sous le nom d’Art de tirer les Cartes (Science of signs or medicine of the spirit known under the name of the Art of reading Cards) by Melchior Montmignon D’Odoucet (Paris, chez l’auteur, s. d., c. 1804)
The author, who describes himself as one of the interpreters of the “Book of Thot”, holder of Etteilla’s funds, his collaborator and continuer of his works, develops in the first part of this book the theory of the "Book of Thot" and the practice of the science of signs, regarded as medicine of the spirit. In the second part, he deals with the science of combinations concerning the lotteries in France and the interpretation of dreams and visions.


The cards of destiny, from L’Oracle parfait ou nouvelle manière de tirer les cartes (Perfect oracle or new manner of reading the cards) by Albert D'Alby (Paris, chez Blanchon, 1802)
The author writes: "The perfect oracle is nothing more than an imitation of the oracles pronounced by the Chaldeans, Egyptians and Greeks, on matters concerning past and future: the correct term for this is Horoscope. The following essay teaches the way of divining using the cards, which are regarded as emblems of astrological knowledge".


Love, from Les songes espliqués et raprésentés par 74 figures. Du moyen de connaître l’avenir par une nouvelle manière de tirer les cartes (Dreams explicated and represented by 74 figures. The means of knowing the future by a new manner of reading the cards), by anonymous (Lilac, Blocquel et Castiaux, 1809)
A rare pocket essay on Oniromancy, in which dreams are interpreted on the basis of the cards of Etteilla-inspired Petit Oracle des Dames.


The Prophecy, from Les oracles sibyllins by Marie Anne Le Normand (Paris, chez l’auteur, 1817)
The page opposite to the title page of this autographed work shows Mlle Le Normand during a cartomancy session with Josephine Tascher de la Palerie, first wife of Napoleon, who appears in the doorway. The writing says "I see approaching with giant footsteps a prophecy that was made to me at the time of my divorce. It said that when Napoleon left me, his luck would run out...”.


Mlle Le Normand fortune-teller of the Empire, from La Sibylle au congrès d’Aix La-Chapelle by Marie Anne Le Normand (Paris, chez l’auteur,1819)
This work represents one of the few texts on Cartomancy written by this famous sibyl, who was said, after her death, to have been the personal fortune-teller to Napoleon as well as to,  as she herself said, Empress Josephine. The illustration on the verso opposite the title page shows her reading the cards, spread on a table across the map of Europe, to one of the Emperor’s generals.


Cagliostro reading the cards, from Le Grand Etteilla, ou l’art de tirer les cartes (The Grand Etteilla, or the art of reading cards) by Julia Orsini (Paris, chez tous le marchands de nouveautés, s. d., c. 1850)
This work of Mlle. Orsini (probably a pseudonym) includes a long summary of the Dictionary of Synonyms of the Book of Thot (1791), an enormous compendium of all possible meanings of the figures in the "Grand Etteilla", published by the Society of the Interpreters of the Book of Thot.

Mlle Le Normand reading the cards to Napoleon, from L’art de tirer les cartes by Johannès Trismégiste (pseudonym of Lorambert) (Paris, chez tous les librairies,1849)


The Magician, from Les récréations de la Cartomancie by Mlle Le Marchand (Paris, chez tous le marchands de nouveautés, 1856)


Ignorantia, woodcut by Le Ingegnosi Sorti (The ingenious Fates) by Marcolino of Forlì (Venice, 1540)
The use of the cards for a completely different divinatory purpose from the cartomancy practice of today, is illustrated in this Renaissance “Book of Fate” which has 50 questions which may be answered by extracting a card from the suit of coins from the standard Italian pack. Each combination refers to an oracle expressed in tercets.


Le Livre du Destin - 2 (The Book of destiny), hand-painted etchings (Paris, ?, c. 1800)
A famous cartomancy game involving 32 cards, plus one blank. The various meanings correspond to the contents of the anonymous manuscript of the XVIII century partially inspired by the interpretations of Etteilla. Together with an explanatory vignette of the divinatory we find the corresponding French suit card.


Les Fleurs Divinatoires - 2, hand-painted etchings (France, ?, c. 1840)
In these 32 rare cards, the flowers denote particular human inclinations. The laurel, for instance, is associated with “Victory”, represented by triumphant soldiers; the aconite is associated with “Revenge”, symbolized by a woman pouring poison into a glass of wine. Another 32 additional cards describe more broadly the allegory of each figure and the combinations illustrated.


Solar and Planetary System, hand painted etching (Johann Baptist Homann, Kamback 1664 - Nuremberg 1724)
Astrology was considered the mother of the divinatory sciences. The combining of tarot cards with the zodiacal signs constituted an ongoing research for nineteenth-century occultists and fortune-tellers.


Grand Jeu de Société - Cartes Astro-Mytho-Hermétiques - 2, stencil-painted lithographs (Paris, B.P. Grimaud, 1864)
It was said that in the last years of her life, Mlle. Le Normand (1768 ca. - 1843), card reader of the Revolution and the Empire, created this deck of 52 cards plus two others, the male Consultant and the female Consultant. Its interpretation is described in a work of five volumes entitled The Great parlour game and secret practices, published in 1845. Signed in the introduction by a mysterious Countess X, the work appeared under the pseudonym of Mme la Countess de * * *. The first volume, Explication et application des cartes astro - mythol - hermétiques, avec la manière de faire les talismans. Suivi de la géomancie et d’ un double dictionnaire de fleurs emblématiques (Explanation and application of astro-mythological-hermetic cards, with the method of creating talismans. Followed by geomancy and a double dictionary of emblematic flowers), illustrates the content of the pack. The game is interesting for the number of alchemical, mythological and astrological references that evoke the Egyptian and Greek tales revealed of 1760 by Dom Pernety and the spiritual conceptions of the hermetic society of the Enlightened of Avignon that the author founded in 1765. Besides the reference to the French suits, the top of every card features a particular constellation, while at the bottom we find flowers, animals and mythological scenes. 

Petit Etteilla
, stencil-painted etchings (Paris, B. P. Grimaud, 1895)
Cartomancy game of 32 cards created by Etteilla and published for the first time in 1791, the year of his death. The introduction to the explanatory booklet states: “The way of divining with French cards and Egyptian cards is entirely owed to the famous Etteilla, who made his début in France in 1753 with the publication of his essay Art de tirer les cartes”.


Le Petit Etteilla, ou L’Art de tirer les cartes (The Small Etteilla, or the Art of reading the cards), (Lille, Blocquel et Castiaux, s. d., c. 1820)
"My daughter, the King of Diamonds announces friendship and marriage". These words illustrate the figure on the verso to the title page of this work on cartomancy as given by Etteilla, accompanied by 30 French cards obtained using the woodcutting technique.


La Sibylle des Salons - 2 (Sibyl of the Salons) colour chromolithography (Paris, B. P. Grimaud, 1890)
Printed for the first time in 1828 with 52 figures inspired by the English Sentimental Cards of the end of the 18th century, this cartomancy game was subsequently redesigned by the famous illustrator Grandville (Gérard Jean Ignace Isidore). For marketing reasons, the game was called La Sibylle des Salons, the appellative by which M.lle Le Normand was known, since she was still rather famous at that time.


Petit Le Normand, stencil-painted lithographs (Germany, Anonymous, c. 1850)
Around 1840 a German publisher created a divinatory game with the simple name of Wahrsagekarten (divination cards). Since some figures had been borrowed from La Sibylle des Salons, attributed, for marketing reasons, to the famous diviner, the model became the prototype of a series of packs that were published under the name of Mme Le Normand throughout almost all of Europe. The box lid of this Petit Le Normand reads in German, French and English, “Kartenspiels der berũhmten Wahrsagerin Mlle Le Normand in Paris“ (Playing cards of the famous card reader Mlle Le Normand in Paris). Each of the 36 cards features a vignette that visually expresses the divinatory meaning, which is described in greater detail in an enclosure.


Le Petit Cartomancien: Jeu de Bonne Aventure (The Small Cartomancer: Fortune-Telling Game), colour lithographs (Paris, B. P. Grimaud, c. 1890)
Each of the 36 cards making up the pack, falsely attributed as La Sibylle du Salons to Mlle. Le Normand, features a brief description of their general meaning, various divinatory meanings according to the number orientation of the card (right side up, upside down), the reference to the number of the suit and an explanatory illustration.

Petit Le Normand - Warhsagekarten n. 2 (Truth-telling cards), chromolithographs (Frankfurt, B. Dondorf, 1900)
One of the most commonly played cartomancy games, it was created by an anonymous German in the mid-1800s, reprinted several times over times and falsely attributed, for marketing reasons, like those after it, to M.lle Le Normand. Besides the allegorical figure, each of the 36 cards features in the top right-hand corner the Company mark, the progressive number inside a circle on the left and the corresponding French suit card in the middle or, alternatively, a brief divinatory explanation composed in rhyme.


Sibylle die wahrsagende Zigeunermutter (Sibyl of the truth-telling Gypsy mother), colour photolithographs (Nuremberg ?,  J. C. Jegel, c. 1870)
Game of 32 cards with the meaning written at the bottom of each card in three languages: German, French and English.


Wahrsagekarten (Truth-telling cards), colour lithographs (Geûens-Willaert, Bruges, c. 1910)
36-card pack. On the top are the French suit cards, whose court figures are represented in historical dress in the style of Daveluy and, on the right, information as to the divinatory meaning. Under every figure there is the name of the card in Dutch.


Les secrets du destin - L’avenir devoilé (The secrets of destiny - the future revealed), colour lithographs (Paris, David, 1892) 
The name of the publisher of these 32 cards appears on the Ace of Clubs, dedicated to the Armée de la Ville de Paris (Army of the City of Paris), whose coat of arms appears. The figures represent famous characters in French history, including Joan of Arc, Cardinal Richelieu, Empress Josephine, etc. The most recent character is a gentleman dressed for a ball, dated 1892. Top left are the French suit cards with their divinatory meaning underneath.

Le Jeu du Destin Antique
, colour lithographs (Paris, B. P. Grimaud, c. 1910)
This divinatory game associates eight cards (king, queen, jack, ten, nine, eight, seven and ace) of every suit with particular situations or behaviours. The same divinatory reading is made with the card both right side up and upside down. The scenes depict ancient warriors, farmers, fishermen, Zouaves and moments from everyday life. At the top left are the French suit cards, and on the right, the signs of the zodiac or allegories.


L’Oracle Symboliquè, stencil-painted lithographs (Paris, Charles Watilliaux, c. 1880)
Described as a Jeu de Salon Amusant et varié (an amusing, varying drawing-room game), it is composed of 20 cards with allegorical scenes taken from everyday life.


Nouveau jeu de la main (New game of the hand), chromolithographs (Paris, B. P. Grimaud, c. 1890)
In this 56-card game, by the use of Renaissance palm-reading conceptions connected to the theory of the seven colours, the seven types of temperament, and the seven types orshapes of hands, an individual's fate could be told. The top of each card features the corresponding French suit cards.


Chiromantic hand, woodcut from Les Oeuvres by Jean Belot (Lyons, Claude la Riviere, 1654)
Among the hermetic arts of the Renaissance period, Chiromancy deserves a special place as a learned form of divination linked to complex astrological conceptions. The lines of the hand were held to reflect the astral influences believed to influence everyone's character and the destiny. In the ancient Latin version of the Works we find that "God has set some signs in the hands of all the children of men, so that all the children of men may know his work" while in Proverbs we find "In his right hand is the length of the days and in his left wealth and glory" (3:16). 

Bologna Tarocchino
, offset (Bari, Guglielmo Murari, between 1916 and 1922)
The first known document on tarot from a cartomantic point of view (with the exclusion of the isolated Renaissance case cited in the Chaos del Tri per Uno (Chaos of the Three for One) of Teofilo Folengo) belongs to Bologna. Dated roughly around 1730, this manuscript is on the divinatory meanings associated with a 35-card pack. Its interpretations show some similarity to those that Etteilla was later to develop in his “Book of Thot”. The cards reproduced here once belonged to a Bolognese card reader, and feature hand-written divinatory notes. 

Italian Cartomancy
, colour lithographs (Italy, ? , c. 1890)
A revision of the cartomancy pack La Sibylle du Salons, dating back to 1828 which in the following decades was adapted for more versions by different printers. The French suit cards, which appeared in the top left hand corner of the early Le Normand models, were replaced by the initials: C (cuori/hearts), F (fiori/clubs), Q (quadri/diamonds), P (picche/spades). Under the figure, beside the divinatory meaning, on the right there is a sequence number and on the left a lottery number. The game is consists of 52 cards.


Italian Cartomancy (mignon) (very small), colour chromolithographs (Italy, ?, c. 1930)
A pocket or travel version of the previous game.


Luxury Cartomancy, colour offset (Trieste, Modiano, 1942)
The figures of this cartomancy tarot with an Egyptian flavour, printed by Modiano, are inspired to those described by Papus in his Le Tarot Divinatoire.


La tireuse de cartes (The card reader), hand-painted etching  (Jacques Chèreau, Blois 1688 -1776 )

Les amans curieux  ou La diseuse de bonne aventure (The curious lovers, or the fortune-teller), hand-painted  etching  (Augustin Legrand, pseudonym of Auguste  Claude Simon) (Paris 1765 - c. 1815)


La credulité sans reflexion (Gullibility without reflection), hand-painted etching  (Louis Michel Halbou, France 1730 - Paris 1810)


The fortune-teller, hand-painted etching (Anonymous, Austria 19thcentury)


Die kartenschlaegerin (The card reader), hand-painted etching (Adrien Schleich, München 1812 - 1894)


Visiting card of Mme Noirot, physiognomist,  typolitograph print (Paris, c. 1860)


Copyright by Andrea Vitali