It is known that Duke Filippo Visconti enjoyed "French romances" ((Rabil, "Humanism in Milan," in Renaissance Humanism Vol 1, p. 243). And there is a set of illustrations of a Grail romance done around the same time and place, in the same artistic style as the Cary-Yale (Kaplan vol. 2 p. 126; an example is below).
There may be other references in the card as well. We may be dealing with an image that reflects topical events and other myths or doctrines. I am dealing with only one aspect.
The relevance of this interpretation of the CY card is that in Wolfram's Parzival, the Grail is described as a stone with miraculous powers, one that fell from heaven, the "lapsit exilis" (in Google Books, Lefevre translation p. 124); it gives life to the phoenix after it has consumed itself in flames, and it preserves a man from death for a week once he has viewed it. The analogy to the Philosopher's Stone, equally the goal of a life-consuming but life-preserving quest, would have been obvious.
The next Milanese card, in the PMB, does not have the specific references to the Fisher King and the grail-knight that I see in the CY. Yet the castle being held up by the two putti has also been compared to the Grail Castle, notably by Kaplan (Vol. 2 p. 174). He gives us an image of a Grail Castle inside a zodiac; the castle indeed does look like the one on the card. Unfortunately he does not say when and where this image comes from, other than a 1951 book about the Grail. In any case, it is quite possible that the PMB castle is a Grail castle, continuing the tradition of the CY. Francisco Sforza built a new castle on the ruins of the old Visconti one, which could fancifully be likened to the Grail Castle. He also sponsored the plans for an idealized version of Milan itself, styled "Sforzinda" by its author (http://www.sforzinda.com/english/idealcity.html). The two putti on the card look to me suspiciously like two of the Sforza children, Galeazzo and Ludovico (hereby charged with upholding the ideal); but that is a topic for another thread.
O'Neill has compared the PMB card to the 9th emblem of the Splendor Solis, a 22-imaged German work first published 1532-33--"although the style of the Splendor Solis illuminations suggest an earlier date," according to Adam MacLean (http://www.levity.com/alchemy/splensol.html). The author allegedly learned alchemy in Venice, according to a purportedly autobiographical statement in the Aurum Vellus of 1598 (reprinted in Henderson and Sherwood, Transformation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis, p. 188ff).
This 9th emblem is of a hermaphrodite holding a round shield in one hand, which has a pastoral scene on it (for the full illustration, a good reproduction is at
https://picasaweb.google.com/josepablo5 ... 8593132226). We know that the heads are of both genders because of the gold and silver wings, masculine and feminine.
Here is the detail, from a reproduction of the emblem in Henderson and Sherwood, p. 89.
O'Neill says that the emblem shows "the hermaphrodite holding the world in its hand" (Tarot Symbolism p. 287). That is possible; unfortunately the text of the Splendor Solis does not talk about the shield specifically. All it does is to quote other alchemists on the four elements and the quintessence (http://www.rosicrucianis.org/html/en/li ... rable.html):
The Philosophers give to this Art two bodies, namely: Sun and Moon, which are Earth and Water, they also call them Man and Wife, and they bring forth four children, two boys, which are heat and cold, and two girls, as moisture and dryness. These are the Four Elements, constituting the QUINTESSENCE, that is the proper white MAGNESIA, wherein there is nothing false. In conclusion SENIOR remarks: "When these five are gathered together, they form ONE substance, whereof is made the natural Stone, while AVICENA contends that: "if we may get at the Fifth, we shall have arrived at the end."
So perhaps the concentric circles on the shield are the four elements, starting with earth and ending with fire.
In its other hand, the hermaphrodite holds an egg. The Splendor Solis talks about this egg at length (http://www.rosicrucianis.org/html/en/li ... rable.html):
So let us understand this meaning better. The Philosophers take for example an Egg, for in this the four elements are joined together. The first or the shell is Earth, and the White is Water, but the skin between the shell and the White is Air, and separates the Earth from the Water; the Yolk is Fire, and it too is enveloped in a subtle skin, representing our subtle air, which is more warm and subtle, as it is nearer to the Fire, and separates the Fire from the Water. In the middle of the Yolk there is the Firm ELEMENT, out of which the young chicken bursts and grows. Thus we see in an egg all the elements combined with matter to form a source of perfect nature, just so as it is necessary in this noble art.
As an oval rather than a circle, the egg relates more properly to the Marseille-style card than to the PMB. The Marseille card typically has a person in the middle of an oval, which in turn is in a rectangle with the four creatures of Ezekiel's Chariot in the corners. Below are some examples. At left is the Conver 1761, where the figure is clearly feminine, although the implements in her hands might suggest different genders: the magician's wand and something like Isis's sistrum, or a perfume bottle. Moreover, the crossed legs plus the triangle formed by her head and hands suggests the alchemical sign for Sulphur (http://chemistry.about.com/od/periodict ... Symbol.htm); Sulphur is masculine (http://books.google.com/books?id=duCKyp ... ne&f=false).
Next (above) is the "Sforza Castle" card of the 16th or early 17th century ("Sforza Castle" merely refers to where it was found); it appears to have either a female or an effeminate male; then the Noblet, where the figure has a masculine build but also feminine breasts; and finally the Vieville, with its masculine figure suggestive of Christ.
The sexual ambiguity of the figure in the middle of the card is perhaps related to the hermaphrodite in alchemy, with its double gender. As enclosed by an egg-shaped oval, the Marseille image also suggests the embryonic chick inside the egg, which in the Splendor Solis represented the quintessence. In this case, the four elements are in the corners of the rectangle: the bull for earth, the lion for fire, the eagle for air and the angel for water.
There is also the alchemical significance of a round shape in a four sided shape. O'Neill says that this combination appears frequently in alchemy. For an explanation, he cites Jung, but with no specific reference. One case I can think of is in relation to Ripley's Cantilena, the verse that starts:
The Mother's Bed which erstwhile was a Square
Is shortly after made Orbicular...
Anything angular is imperfect and has to be superseded by the perfect, here represented by the circle...As the square represents the quaternio of mutually hostile elements, the circle indicates their reduction to unity. The One born of the Four is the Quinta Essentia. (Mysterium Coniunctionus p. 316)
This analysis is quite in accord with the Splendor Solis.
Another alchemical emblem that I think is worth bringing to bear on the Marseille World card is an image from the c. 1415 Heilege Dreifaltigkeit. Here a young female child is being crowned by the Trinity, with the same four creatures in the corners (Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism, p. 479).
The scene is clearly that of the Coronation of the Virgin. From the picture alone, it is not easy to decipher the alchemical meaning, although it appears that it is an expression of the divinization of matter and of the feminine. Roob explains (Alchemy and Mysticism p. 478):
The Book of the Holy Trinity (1415-1419) sought to sweep away the erroneous doctrine that only God the Father and the Son are essentially one, for Mary was also born in the Holy Spirit, and had conceived in the Holy Spirit: "jesus mary mother of god he himself is she his own mother in his humanity." The son represents the spirit (Mercury), the father the soul (Sol) and the virgin mother the body (Luna). She is the divine matrix, the great mystery from which all being springs. "If she dissolves, it is to give male nature (...) and when she congeals, it is to take on a female body."
The clause "he himself is she his own mother" suggests the same ambiguity of gender that appears in the tarot card.
To better understand the image and the quotes that Roob gives, we might go to a later text, the 1550 Rosarium, which seems to borrow from this image. It has a similar Coronation scene but without the four creatures.
The Latin sentences floating above the figures read "Truly, the moon is the mother; and by the father the son was created; whose father is the sun" and "The dragon dieth not except with his brother and sister; and not with one alone, but with both of them" (Fabricius, Alchemy p. 172). Maier uses a similar quote as epigram to Emblem 25 of Atalanta Fugiens: "The Dragon does not die unless it is slain with its brother and sister, who are Sun and Moon" (de RolaGolden Game p. 100). The "dragon," I think, is the prima materia. Here is a clearer version of these banners.
In the Rosarium text, the accompanying quotations from previous alchemists are all about "dissolving bodies." For example, here is "Albertus Magnus"
Know for a certainty that no spirit of bodies can be tincted unless it first be dissolved.
The elevation of the virgin--a young virgin at that, who has not yet given birth--corresponds to such dissolution, in the opposite of fixation/coagulation. It is the "solve" of "solve et coagulate." It precedes the birth of the Tincture, the last "death" before the last "rebirth." It is the "if she dissolves" in the final quote by Roob. It is perhaps also comparable to the egg yolk before the development of the embryo.
Compared to alchemical sequences with this Coronation scene, the corresponding image in the tarot is out of sequence: if the Judgment card shows us the purified Stone, capable of conferring immortality upon others, the World shows the step before that. Here the sequence follows the so-called "southern" tarot order of Bologna and Florence, as opposed to the "eastern" of Ferrara and the "western" of Milan, in that the imagery of the World card precedes that of the Judgment card. Alchemically, the reason for making the World last might be so as to end on an immaterial note, the Christian heaven, whereas alchemy returns from heaven to end in matter. The Rosarium says at this point:
Unless the soul goes forth from its body, and rise up into heaven, thou makest no progress in this art.
It then quotes "the parable of Senior concerning the white tincture," in which the mother describes how she will give birth to "a most mighty son" after she has lain with her "beloved...receiving his seed into my cell..."
This Rosarium image, like that of the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit, is of a female child. As such she corresponds to the Conver image. But other alchemical texts portray this scene much more ambiguously. Mylius presents it with a child that is either male or of indeterminate gender (Philosophia Reformata Emblem 19, 2nd series (below, from de Rola (Golden Game). De Rola (p. 181) calls it a "child," but then refers to it as "he."
Also of interest in the Heilegen Dreifaltigkeit image, of course, are the four creatures in the corners. Roob says (p. 478):
The higher trinity of body, spirit and soul is joined by the four Evangelists, as the four sublimated elements: Luke, the bull, is fire (Mars), Matthew the angel, is water (Venus), John, the eagle, is earth (Saturn) and Mark, the lion, is air (Jupiter).
Roob's assignation of element to creature is rather non-standard. Normally the bull is earth, the eagle is air, and the lion is fire. But that is not as important as that they are the four elements in a process of sublimation. The result of such sublimation would seem to be the fifth element, the quintessence, of which the figure in the middle is the expression.
This configuration of the four creatures in the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit is not identical to that in the Marseille-style card, which conforms to many religious representations of the four creatures (see Vitali's essay on the card for examples). Yet this precise arrangement of the Heilegen Dreifaltigkeit's four creatures can be found in another representation of the four creatures, in the so-called "tarocchi of Mantegna," in its S- series representation of the Empyrian sphere of the cosmos, done around 1485 (http://trionfi.com/mantegna/; click on S-series card 50). This card is the highest of the whole sequence of 50 stages and represents the highest part of Heaven. Perhaps it is by influence of the "Mantegna"--or vice versa--that the card with the four creatures became the last and highest of the trumps.
The creatures were not represented at all in the earlier E-series version of these cards. Perhaps the S-series image was influenced by the alchemical text. I could not find another instance of the same configuration, besides those of the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit and the S-series "Mantegna."
For a final alchemical image comparable to the Marseille-style card, here is a page from Ms. Palat. Lat. 412 (in Jung, Psychology and Alchemy p. 201)
Here the four scribes suggest again the four evangelists. In the center is an egg, with a double-headed chick hatching from it. One head wears a temporal crown, the other a papal tiara. It is the emperor-pope of which I showed other images in the chapter on the Emperor. It is what the Rosarium portrays as the risen Christ. Mylius, in his version of the Rosarium series, turned that figure into a risen Emperor (http://www.frimureri.com/grad.jpg-for-web-large.jpg).
For Jung it is the "captive world-soul" escaping from the chaos inside the egg. He concludes:
Out of the egg--symbolized by the round cooking vessel--will rise the eagle or phoenix, the liberated soul, which is ultimately identical with the Anthropos who was imprisoned in the embrace of Physis (fig. 98). (Psychology and Alchemy p. 202)
Jung is referring to the myth of the Poimandres, in which the double-sexed Anthropos descends from and is caught in the embrace of matter.
Why that is symbolized by an egg might well be simply the aptness of the analogy to a chicken egg, as in the Splendor Solis. But there are also mythological possibilities. O'Neill points to the Orphic (O'Neill says "Gnostic," but it is Orphic) myth in which the primal, androgynous god Phanes hatches from an egg, as expressed in the famous Greco-Roman medallion known in the 16th century (as I have read in either Wind or Kerenyi) and now in the Estensi Library of Modena.(http://www.sfmission.com/gallery_files/ ... phanes.jpg)
In this case, the corners contain the four winds (Hans Leisegang, "The Mystery of the Serpent," in J. Campbell, ed. The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, p. 211, at http://books.google.com/books?id=59GmQD ... ds&f=false); but they, too, were correlated with the four elements, as can be seen in Durer's "Philosophia" (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Lu-6PwakMv0/S ... 02p211.jpg).
The ascents of Jesus and the Virgin, both connoted in the sexually ambiguous image of the tarot World card, are particular instances of Anthropos's escape from Physis. At the same time, in alchemy it is not an escape but a transformation, from the impure state of the King and Queen to the divine substance of the Lapis, still very much in this world, just as the Virgin is when she immaculately gives birth to Jesus, and as Jesus himself is while on earth, even after his resurrection. It is the attainment of such divine substance that is the alchemist's goal. To the extent that the tarot is an exercise in the imitatio Christi, that is also the goal, however unreachable, of the tarot sequence as well.