Saturday, 23 May 2009


Heinrick Ulrick

approx. 1572 - 1621)
The Jester-Etching

The allegories which appear on the trump cards belong to the iconographical tradition common to most of Europe from the 13th century. They may be found in the decorations of the Gothic cathedrals, in the frescoes of public buildings, and in encyclopaedic and astrological manuscripts. In practice, the figures represented on the cards of the Triumphs are a real Biblia Pauperum, that means a "the Poor men's Bible". Playing the cards, people directly drew from these a knowledge of the Christian mysticism and its contents, concepts that were continually recalled in their minds, according to the method of the Ars Memoriae of the time. They may be readily interpreted by reference to the cultural context of the courts of northern Italy, and their taste for moralizing images derived both from religious tradition and classical mythology. For the ancient gods continued to play a role in medieval Christian culture, even though their characters were different from those of the original divinities.On the one hand, they were held to be civilizing heroes who taught men many arts, like Minerva, the first weaver, or Apollo, the medical god. On the other hand, they were interpreted as allegories of virtue and vice, and it is in this sense that they appear on some of theTarot cards. Obvious examples include Strength, represented by the mythical Hercules as he destroys the Nemean Lion - the symbol of animal instinct; Love, represented as Cupid ready to launch his darts against incautious lovers; Prudence, represented by Saturn; and the Modesty of Diana, the Immodesty of Venus, the Truth of Apollo illuminating Earth with the disc of the sun.Many Tarot figures clearly employ Christian iconography. For example, the World is sometimes represented by the Celestial Jerusalem placed inside a sphere supported by angels or dominated by Celestial Glory. The card bearing the Popess, identical to that in Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, derives from the image of Faith. Amongst many other possible examples, representations of virtues such as Temperance, Justice and Fortitude echo the classical iconography to be found in the sculpture of Gothic cathedrals or the minatures of the sacred books.Other sources of inspiration include ancient astrological treatises. The figure of the Bagatto, or Juggler, appears among the Children of the Moon - that is to say, the trades which are influenced by the moon. The Misero, or Fool, is found among the Children of Saturn, the Lovers among the Children of Venus, the Pope among the Children of Jupiter, and the Emperor among the Children of the Sun. Moreover, astrologers appear in several packs of trumps as representations of the Moon or the Stars.Lastly, there are images drawn from everyday life. An extremely interesting example is the figure of the Hanged Man, which refers to the punishment inflicted upon traitors.In the Bolognini Chapel of the church of San Petronio in Bologna an identical figure is represented in a fresco by Giovanni da Modena as the retaliation punishment for idolaters, since idolatry was considered the most awful kind of betrayal because addressed to the disownment of the Creator. Although the punishment of hanging by a leg has been represented in other works, the San Petronio fresco is the only known example which concides perfectly with the Tarot card.

AN INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITIONunder the patronage ofMinistry for the Cultural and Environmental Heritage and Foreign Office Protocol no. 16638 dated January 1995LE TAROT Cultural Trust for Historical Studies and ResearchStradello Cappuccini 14 - 48018 FAENZA - ItalyTel & Fax +39.546.661143 / cell. / letarot@virgilio.it

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