But it is for the reader himself to judge the Tarot, by learning to distinguish in it the marvels which are promised. We are going to proceed methodically, and show how one can make a silent book speak.
(Oswald Wirth, The Tarot of the Magicians)


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Looking at the images of the Trumps in the Tarot of Marseilles allows us to suspect that many of its symbols are well rooted in Medieval Art. Furthermore, this initial suspicion can be confirmed if we look carefully to some art production of this time or read into the words of its writers.

Medieval Art was mainly a Christian Art, which was symbolic in its very foundations. The use of these kind of symbols in the XVth Century, when the Visconti Tarot was created, is not out of place at all, since the conception of the world in the early stages of the Renaissance was build on the dictates of the Catholic Church and its doctrines. And they were a legacy from Medieval times.

Art was a tool for instruction and worship. And as such, it followed some well defined set of rules. Émile Mâle synthetized the foundation of these rules in three general principles (1913:1-22):

The art of the Middle Ages is first and foremost a sacred writing of which every artist must learn the characters.

Émile Mâle himself can explain much better this principle: 
He must know that representations of God the Father, God the Son, the angels and the apostles should have the feet bare, while there would be real impropriety in representing the Virgin and the saints with bare feet… There are also accepted signs for objects of the visible world which the artist must learn. Lines which are concentric and sinuous represent the sky, those which are horizontal and undulating represent water… Thus we have a veritable hieroglyphic in which art and writing blend, showing the same spirit of order and abstraction that there is in heraldic art with its alphabet, rules and symbolism (1913:2).
The second characteristic of medieval iconography is obedience to the rules of a kind of sacred mathematics.

Once again, let see what Émile Mâle has to say on this point:
Position, grouping, symmetry and number are of extraordinary importance… In early times certain passages in the Bible led to the belief that the right hand was the place of honor… The medieval theologians in their turn laid great stress on the dignity of the right hand place, and the artists did not fail to conform to so well established a doctrine…Again, the higher place was considered more honorable than the lower, and from this some curious composition resulted. Of these the most striking is that of the figure of Christ in Majesty supported by the four beasts of the Apocalypse. The four beasts, symbols of the evangelists as we shall show later, were place according to the excellence of their natures… (1913: 5-7).
The third characteristic of medieval art lies in this, that it is a symbolic code.

On this last principle, Émile Mâle wrote:
A detail of apparent insignificance may hide symbolic meaning… In the art of the Middle Ages, as we see, everything depicted is informed by a quickening spirit… Such a conception of art implies a profoundly idealistic view of the scheme of the universe, and the conviction that both history and nature must be regarded as vast symbols… From what has been said it is evident that medieval art was before all things a symbolic art, in which form is used merely as the vehicle of spiritual meaning (1913:15-22).
Of course, we can find interesting hints into the symbols of the Tarot of Marseilles in the quotations extracted from Émile Mâle’s book.

For example, we can learn about meaning of lines and positions of the figure in the cards and also about the connotation that having bare feet did have in the Middle Ages. Moreover, we can conclude that Le Monde is a derivation of that image of the Second Coming of Christ in Majesty to exert his Last Judgement. But going further, by studying medieval symbolism we can discover as well that the hand coming out from a cloud was a representation of God the Father, the highest Christian divinity, meaning his intervention in human affairs. Is his hand the one coming out from a cloud in the Ace of Sword or in the Ace of Wand?

Medieval Art is a key to understanding the Tarot of Marseilles. Of course, it is not the only way to decipher its meanings, but it is at the very least a very fundamental and inescapable one. 


Mâle, Émile
Religious Art in France: XIII Century. (London & New York: Dent & Dutton). 1913.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Considering the long history of the Tarot of Marseilles tradition, it results very clear that the decks following this pattern have many similarities among them, as well as many differences. One can guess that cardmakers transmitted their knowledge in their workshops and the disciples basically followed the designs of their masters. Some others just copied the patterns from available decks that were continuously modified in the process. Of course, each artist made his own contribution and imprinted a personal mark in his production.

Before the establishment of the pattern known today as the Tarot of Marseilles, some important facts took place and they must be mentioned in any review of the development of this tradition.

The Cary-Yale Sheet (Milan, Circa 1500)

The discovery of what is now known as the Cary-Yale Sheet (hosted in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University) shed much light in the earlier history of Tarot and helps to explain the processes that ended in the Tarot of Marseilles.

The Cary-Yale Sheet is an uncut piece of printed paper where the lines of some of the Tarot cards can be seen. These images have striking similarities with some of the French decks, such as the Vieville and the Anonymous from Paris, but also with the Marseilles Pattern.

The Moon card is of special interest because it contains all of the elements that conform Trump XVIII in the Tarot of Marseilles Tradition, except for the dogs. Other cards also have impressive connections with the Marseilles Pattern, calling for further research on the subject.

The importance of the Cary-Yale Sheet is determined by its antiquity, which bears witness to the early history of Tarot decks and also of the early origin of the designs in the Marseilles Pattern. This could mean that there was a broad agreement on the figures conforming a pack of Tarot cards at a very early period, even though the design itself was open to artistic creativity.

Cary-Yale Sheet

The Tarot of Jean Noblet (Paris, circa 1650)

As very early sample of the French Tradition, the Tarot of Jean Noblet is an important antecedent of the Tarot of Marseilles with particular features and almost all the elements in the pattern to come. The only surviving deck is preserved in the National Library in Paris and it is not complete, lacking five cards in the suit of swords. Jean Claude Flornoy, who published a modern edition of this deck, wrote a very accurate description:

Its design, while conforming to the “Marseille style”, is original. Specialists, and all who enjoy significant details, will find numerous fueatures worth examining (Flornoy, 2014).

The Tarot of Jean Noblet is much smaller than what we are used to see in a regular Tarot deck. But it has a nobility in its colors that allows the modern reader to connect with a historical pack in a familiar way. As a landmark in the history of the Tarot of Marseilles Tradition, the Noblet has its place as an earlier sample of a French Tradition which, eventually, produced the Marseilles Pattern in its fullness.

Tarot de Marseilles Type I & II

In observing some of the features present in the composition of different decks pertaining to the Tarot de Marseilles Tradition, Thierry Depaulis elaborated a classification which has been widely adopted among those dedicated to the study of this pattern. He published this classification for the first time in 1986.

Depaulis classified the decks pertaining to the Tarot of Marseilles Tradition in two kinds: Type I and II. Regardless of some posterior tendency to think that these categories have a relationship with how early a deck is; truth is that by comparing the dates this affirmation appears as hardly possible. Notwithstanding, Depaulis has written that "Type I is represented by earlier packs than Type II".

Tradition of the Tarot of Marseilles
Type I
Type II
Nicholas Rolichon (Lyon, XVII Century)
Jean Dodal (Lyon, circa 1705)
Jean-Pierre Payen (Aviñón, 1713)
Jean Tissot (Besançon, circa 1725)
Cosmo Antonio Toso (Génova, circa 1730-40)
Jean Payen (Aviñón, 1743)
Joseph Chaffard (Marseilles, 1747)
Jean-François Tourcaty, Jr. (Marseilles, circa 1750)
Joseph-Noël Icarden (Marseilles, circa 1755)
Pierre Madenié (Dijon, 1709)
François Chosson (Marseilles, 1736)
Jean-Baptiste Madenié (Dijon, 1739)
Claude Burdel (Friburgo, 1751)
François Bourlion (Marseilles, 1760)
Nicolas Conver (Marseilles, 1760)
Joseph Feautrier (Marseilles, 1762)
Antoine Bourlion (Marsella, 1768)
Jean-François Tourcaty, Jr. (Marseilles, circa 1785)
Amphoux & Arnoux (circa 1802-1803)
André Arnoux, (after 1808)
Bernardine Suzanne (Marseilles, 1839)
Source: Thierry Depaulis: “The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies II”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 2, pp. 101-20.

The real pertinence of this classification is the existence of some important symbolic differences among both types. For example, in decks of Type I, we can see a number 4 in Trump IIII, a blindfold cupid in Trump VI, and the full face of the Moon in Trump XVIII. There are many other differences between the two types, including the name of The Fool, which in Type I is Le Fol and in Type II Le Mat.

Here a comparison follows between the Tarot of Jean-Pierre Payen (Type I) and the Tarot of Nicolas Conver (Type II), depicting the cards where some major differences can be seen:


Depaulis, Thierry
“The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies I”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 1, 2013-14, pp. 21-41.
“The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies II”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 2, 2013-14, pp. 101-20.

Flornoy, Jean Claude
The Tarot of Marseilles of Jean Noblet. (Éditions letarot.com). 2014.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

What is it exactly the Tarot of Marseilles?

Many people have wondered and researched on the origins of the Tarot, trying to find a precious original deck. Many others have believed that this first Tarot corresponds to what we know as the Tarot of Marseilles. Furthermore, some have tried to rebuild a primeval version of this deck, reclaiming that they have accomplished the restauration of the symbols and images to its original state.

All these ideas have brought to the study of Tarot a good deal of misunderstanding. In other words, they take us to dogmas and false pretentions of authority which are very far from what the Tarot conveys through its powerful symbols.

The history of the Tarot is not an easy undertaking. Its true details have been obscured by many errors which came to be considered as a common sense. Fortunately, many serious and erudite researchers have made important efforts to clarify that which before was clouded and little sure.

Now we know that the Tarot is not as ancient as we thought before, though its symbols have a long history behind. Tarot is not found prior to the XV Century, when the Visconti family ordered its first magnificent samples. After that, many versions and variations came to life by the hands of artists spreading through different places in Europe.

In France, we found a very specific pattern of design for the cards that conforms to the Tarot pack. This particular pattern was denominated as Tarot of Marseilles for the first time in the XIX Century –1856 and 1859 by Romain Merlin and then 1889 by Papus–. Later in 1930, Paul Marteau used this name to publish his deck and then in 1949 its very popular accompanying book. Since these two publications made by Grimaud, the Tarot of Marseilles is the common way to refer to this pattern of French design.

But looking back, we find that there are many different decks which belongs to this pattern and were not manufactured in the city of Marseilles. Each one of them is now referred to commonly by the name of its artist or cardmaker. Some examples of these decks are the following: Jean Noblet (Paris, circa 1650), Jean Dodal (Lyon, circa 1701), Jean Pierre Payen (Avignon, 1713), Pierre Madenié (Dijon, 1709), Claude Burdel (Fribourg, 1751), among many others.

But it is undeniable that the city of Marseilles has given us some of the greatest cardmakers and fine examples of the Tarot of Marseilles pattern: François Chosson (1736), François Bourlion (1760), Nicolas Conver (1760), Joseph Feautrier (1762) and Bernardin Suzanne (XIX Century).

Today Marseilles is the city where Yves Reynaud has taken some important steps to forward our knowledge of the Tarot by publishing facsimile editions of some ancient decks, as the Madenié (1709) or the Chosson (1736). And here Wilfried Houdouin is also in process to finish a complete new version of the Tarot of Marseilles.

All this allows to state that there is not a single deck that can be exclusively called the Tarot of Marseilles. Instead, what we have is a tradition whose main peculiarity is a certain pattern of design of its cards. This pattern is the foundation over which each cardmaker builds his own work, and the result will be always personal and full of singular details that can or cannot be present in other decks of this same tradition.


Depaulis, Thierry
“The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies I”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 1, 2013-14, pp. 21-41.
“The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies II”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 2, 2013-14, pp. 101-20.

Reading the Tarot of Marseilles © 2012 | Designed by Bubble Shooter, in collaboration with Reseller Hosting , Forum Jual Beli and Business Solutions