Re: Panofsky

mikeh wrote:except that in the case of the tarot, we don't have one extant 15th century work, we have many, in fragments of varying completeness answering to varying patrons or markets, in which images from other totally unrelated works in the illuminator's model book have been used as needed, and put in their simplest form when made into woodblocks.
Which is very much why, when studying Tarot history seriously, one must develop an Ur-Tarot theory. Otherwise you are just looking at specific images and interpreting them as unique works of art, as if there were no wider considerations of genre and the conventions that govern it. How to interpret something mass-produced in different versions (of the genre "card game") and for which the original source is lost? That takes history, and a theory. My best methodological model is texutal criticism, which tries to establish the original reading of Biblical texts through analysis of the various copies made through time.

My methodology leads me to say that the Ur-Tarot was the Bolognese version of the A family, iconographically and ludically; iconographically until 1725, when the papi were changed to mori, and ludically more or less the same until today, taking into account the slow evolution of playing customs that occur within every old game. It also leads me to guess that the game was invented in the second half of the 1430s, in Florence, and probably closer to 1439 than to 1435. I'm willing to bet on it, but there is no one with the answer, so it is just a theory and nothing I can wager and no way to win or lose this bet.

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

Hi Michael,
mjhurst wrote:
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:In any case, the common point between insane vagabonds and professional fools is that they act crazy, and that they are entertaining. The Bagatto is an actual entertainer in all cases, and is not insane. Hence Michael's explanation that this pair represents "fools and conmen" in general.
That, and 2) the claimed parallel between this pair and the other two pair, Empress and Emperor, and Popess and Pope, and 3) the claimed parallel between those three groupings and other works of art which show a tripartite division with the third group being outside the fold.
I see that, and I think it is a clever reading, but one that I am nevertheless not persuaded by. I'm not persuaded not only because in none of the examples you use to show this third division "outside the fold" are characters like a Fool and a Bagatto used, but also because I don't see these kinds of personifications used to illustrate "the damned" in Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries. It could be that I am missing it, I admit. I am not the best person for remembering iconographic details or reading them.

When a conjurer is illustrated, like in Children of Luna pictures, his presence symbolizes the diversion of entertainment - the children of Luna like to have fun, and he gives them fun. He and his fool(ish) companion are not there to personify damnation. In the dances of death that have fools, he is no more damned or saved than the rest of the crew; he is just another station in life whose lifestyle can't protect him from the grim reaper. When a fool actually appears in a role in a rappresentazione, like an undated (yet 15th century) one in Milan, the fool actually does the blessing and excommunications, in the name of the just mock-elected Pope:

"Finally Ghinzoni notes a strange one, undated, from the quarter Vercellina, which took place on the piazza del Duomo. It is a sacred-profane rappresentazione where 18 Cardinals present their offerings. Then, before a representation of the city of Rome, they preach a bit. After preaching, they go into conclave and elect a Pope.. With trumpets they announce to the crowd "habemus Papam, dominum Senensem" ((Pope Pius II had been elected, 8 August 1458, and Ghinzoni thinks this is around that time. Pius was cardinal from Siena, with the support of 18 cardinals). After the coronation of the Pope, the fool Bassano (Bassano buffone) beside the Pope, gives a blessing to all and damns and excommunicates "count Ludovico" (my summary of an Italian article - of course it is in a frame, so you have to click on "Trionfi and Spectacle in Milan" in the left margin)

So it seems to me to be a far too "heavy" reading of these two characters. You have to reason that, because they are the lowest in the hierarchy, and because it is a triple ranks of man, that they therefore must symbolize the lowest types possible for human beings. Since, of course, they are not "those that work", they must be outside entirely - therefore, they are the damned. But the premise of a ranks of man may be wrong. Of course I don't mean that the Pope and Emperor are not ranks, but that these six cards may not represent a schematic ranks of man, including the saved and the damned, all of humanity.

I just can't see it in those characters, they don't seem to be particularly damned, and there are no iconographic parallels that come to mind where they are used to represent such people. I don't know if the stock use of fools in literature to expose the folly of mankind can be considered a documentary parallel - is the concept of damnation really paramount there?

(To accept your interpretation of the Fool and Bagatto as personifications of souls damned to Hell, we would have to add another "first" to Tarot's inventiveness, too. Unless, as I said, I am missing its use in other art of the time and place, which is likely.)

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps


First thanks for keeping your brilliant discussions alive, although I'm having hard time reading everything and staying up to date, so my intervention might be slightly off-topic, please ignore if that is the case.
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:On the other hand, we can note that in all (but one, the "Belgian Tarot" where he is numbered XXII) Tarot games known the Fool is unnumbered and plays the special roles noted above.
I'm probably saying something stupid here, but apart fromt the Rouen-Bruxelles pattern the Sola Busca supposed fool is numbered 0 - but there are probably serious reasons not to consider that one given that it is on many aspect an exception.

As a side note and in the "overinterpretation" category, the Mat/Bateleur couple from the anonymous parisian tarot seems to echoe Michael's views as presented by Ross (from what I understand, and again this is possibly not relevant at all in the present discussion).
Edited to add : rereading the previous post, it seems that the fool/conjurer pair seems to be a consensus, so my previous point was indeed irrelevant.


The meaning of trump one

MJ Hurst wrote
...But until you do write that definitive history of everything, why don't you write a post like mine, on how to begin? That way we can see how our approaches differ. What guidelines do you suggest to constrain the blather which dominates fora such as this? Or is that endless, haphazard, speculative chatter a good thing, to be encouraged?...
"There is admittedly some danger that iconology will behave, not like ethnology as opposed to ethnography, but like astrology as opposed to astronomy. There is, I am afraid, no other answer to this problem other than the use of historical methods tempered, if possible, by common sense. (Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts).
P.S. IMO the best book for understanding the iconology of Tarot, its place in the larger cultural scheme of things, is Willard Farnham's The Medieval Heritage of Elizabethan Tragedy, (1936). If the trump cycle is anything like what I suggest, then this is also the medieval heritage of Tarot.

P.P.S. I would also recommend Eco's Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992).
OK, now I've read Eco (Interpretation and Overinterpretation, as well as his Limits of Interpretation ch 1-3), Panofsky (Meaning in the Visual Arts Intro., ch. 1), Gombrich (Symbolic Images ch. 1, 5, 9), and Farnham (Medieval Heritage of Elizabethan Tragedy).

I think that "historical methods tempered, if possible, with common sense" is a good guideline. It sounds like Panofsky, although I didn't see that part in Meaning and the Visual Arts (1955), just the part where he talks about the danger that iconology will behave "like astrology as opposed to astrography." I assume he meant astronomy. Perhaps you could clarify the reference. [This sentence removed. See next post.]

In accord with Michael's invitation, I will try to give an analysis of the meaning of trump I (Roman numeral One). For the natural meaning, I will focus on the Rosenwald Sheet (from I pick that one because it seems the easiest to apply Panofsky's method to.


When I go to "conventional" and "intrinsic" meanings I will expand the scope to include other early cards (15th century) that have a similar picture on them. It would be too tedious and repetitive to go through the natural stage for all of them. I will also cite some relevant texts. When I get to the "intrinsic" part, I will quote some guidelines and state others, to address the issue of "blather". However I think that on THF at least, there's not a lot of that, and progress is being made.

First let me state something theoretical that is not clear in Panofsky. Analyzing the meaning of an image is not the same as explaining why it came to be as it is. One has to do with interpretation; the other has to do with reasons why, i.e. antecedent conditions, causes and intentions. These are different subjects, although they overlap (for more on this, see the last section of my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=939#p13781). For now, on the "natural" and "conventional" levels, I am doing interpretation. Later, on the "intrinsic" level, I will get to explanations, and guidelines. I am going to proceed with the Rosenwald in a historical way; that is, seeking to get at the meaning it would have had at the time it was done, the early 16th century someplace in northern Italy, I'd guess Florence.

1. Natural Level, what I see is what seems to be a man standing at a rectangular table, dressed in short sleeves, a short tunic, and shoes, with a welcoming gesture. He has on a hood that has two long protrusions on each side of the head, like donkey's ears, but with balls on the end. On the table, from our left to our right, are five small circles, a short stick of some kind in his right hand, three larger circles, and a longer stick. He wears bracelets on both hands. On the left of his head is the Roman numeral I. On the top two corners of the card, are double v shaped marks. This card is one of 21 special cards on one sheet. The other three on the sheet are queens with distinctive objects in their right hands: one with a large circular object, one with a sword, and one with a cup. The particular identical double v shaped marks in the corners of card I are shared by card II, which represents a female Pope, and an unnumbered card representing what looks like a devil. Cards I to XII are numbered, although some of them backwards. Kaplan says that the numbers are correctly written on the other surviving copy of the sheet.

2a. Conventional level, as an image and as an object in a game. I recognize the man on card I as similar to representations on "children of the moon" engravings of the previous 50 years, in which men and children crowd around a table; he might be an entertainer; he might also, having got their attention, be playing a game with them for money, a game in which one tries, on a bet, to guess which cup the small object is under. In some representations, on cards and otherwise, the small round objects are balls or shells (below a child of the moon from De Sphaera, for the Sforzas in the 1460s, and next to it the d'Este card, c. 1473).


On the other hand, the items on the tarot figure's table might be shells, cups, a knife, and a wand. I know the knife from other representations of the card in other decks, especially the PMB.


If we take the small round objects as coins or coin-like objects, the big round ones as cups, and one stick as a knife, these could also be the signs of the four suits. So we might also see the man as similar to the dealer in a card game, which would be appropriate for the first card.

The wand is probably used for magic tricks. The cups and the small round objects, however, also fit the betting game. I don't know what the knife is used for, if that's what it is--perhaps to check for counterfeit money, and also in some trick. Or it is there merely to signify the suit of Swords.

Probably there is a title attached to the card, as in the Steele Sermon and other lists of the time: "Bagatella" or something similar. That means "trivial thing" in Italian. That might refer to its trick-taking ability; but by extension might also refer to the person's role in society.The card is used in a trick-taking game of which this is the lowest of the trump cards. It can take non-trump cards but no other trumps except the Matto. It has a particular point value for the one who has it, probably high, based on published rules later. Probably it can have points at the beginning of a hand, if shown to the other players, as well as at the end.

In some decks, it is possible to see the man at the table as an innkeeper, with one stick being a writing quill, the other a knife to sharpen it, the small round objects as coins, and one of the big round objects as an inkwell. In fact Alciato's 1544 description does call him an innkeeper (as does Piscina's Discourse). However in the Rosenwald it does not look like he is keeping accounts, and if he is, there is no explanation for the other big round objects, nor for his jester hat, unless it is Carnival.

I notice that the sheet does not have a Matto card. Since it has some suit cards, I assume that this card combines the Fool in his capacity as an entertainer with the Bagatella of slight-of-hand fame.

Probably the average person playing a game of tarot would just see the man as an entertainer telling jokes and doing magic tricks, and/or inviting people to match their eyes against his movements in the shell game.

2b. Conventional level: literary sources. Here I turn to Petrarch's De Remediis, which is where I first noticed two persons like this Bagatella appearing c. 1400 in a similar context as I see him here, in that other figures in that frontispiece also appear nearby on the Rosenwald Sheet. This book is not a source for the image, because it describes no such people as we see on the card. But it was a popular book, in Italian as well as Latin, and does consider entertainers and gamblers. It consists of a series of dialogues between Joy and Reason, or occasionally Hope and Reason. On entertainers I see Reason saying, against Joy, that while there have been a few great entertainers, such as one praised by Cicero, who "changed the harsh and proud mind of Sulla..and forced to mirth and laughter...those grave and severe old fathers and the very Senate that reigned over the world" (Rawski trans., p. 84), the wits of today have "depraved taste and poor judgment" (p. 85). As for gambling, "he who loses suffers and he who wins is tempted and lured into the trap"(p. 81). Even board games for fun are degrading, for "the stupid rejoicings, the silly rages" (p. 80). The only game Reason recommends is a competition in speeches among friends edifying the company on subjects "relevant to virtue and the good life," where the poor speakers are fined to provide money for a good meal together (p. 81). Of course Reason says something similar about popes and emperors, disdaining them as well, as too caught up in the world and too corrupt.

Reason here might not be expressing Petrarch's own view, or the view that a 15th-early 16th century reader might take. Petrarch considers the music of the spheres, the songs of the angels, the sighs of the saints and the groans of the damned to be good music for the ears (p. 72f). The problem is that one can't hear them except in the mind. In Petrarch's time, and in the 15th century even more so, there was music that sought to emulate these sounds and stimulates our bringing them to mind; surely that is good. Visually, Reason denigrates paintings and says one should look at the wonders of God's creation, such as the sun and the stars. But again, paintings can help us to see these things, and less exalted sights, as God's wonders. In De Remediis, we have to remember that this is a dialogue between two opposites, Joy and Reason. The first seems to reason poorly, and the second to have very narrow view of joy. Moreover, in his Trionfi, a chaste love is not bad, nor is a desire for this-worldly Fame, if earned appropriately. In De Remediis, however, Reason pours scorn on the desire for fame through writing books. In De Remediis,it seems to me, the reader is invited to make up his or her own mind (I am disagreeing with Farnham, who thinks that De Remediis unlike his other books, expresses total contempt for the world.) So I, at least as a 15th century reader, say, taking a middle way, that the entertaining products of human artifice are not all bad, if they stimulate us to find joy in God and God's creation. So a game that instructs one on the road to salvation is not to be condemned out of hand. This card instructs one to avoid the world's tricks, lures, and vulgarity. No wonder the decoration at the top links it with the Devil. The connection to the Popess isn't clear.

If the items on the Bagatella's table are those of the suits of the regular cards, there is another lesson: to avoid gambling for the same reason one would avoid this trickster if one saw him on the street: it is at best a waste of time and more likely he is much more expert than you are. But a card game for no or trivial stakes that requires that one know the road to heaven is not out of place, hopefully--to adapt Petrarch's example--where the winnings go to something shared with the loser, like a common meal.

This card game, however, judging from its first cards, is suspect. There should be no numbers on them, as indeed there were not on the earlier cards of this type.Their positions should have to be memorized, to serve such a purpose best. With numbers, its designs may be merely a cover for degrading behavior. On the other hand, we notice that after card XII (the Old Man) there are no numbers. It is perhaps these unnumbered cards that show the road to heaven. The others are perhaps of more relative good, whose value even pagans recognized, in a world of evil, triviality, and distraction. I say "relative good" rather than evil, because the virtues of Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice were considered of great value, even though they relate to this world rather than the world to come.

3. Intrinsic level. Here I want to start by addressing the question: why is this card the way it is? What is its explanation? This deck is rather late, as early tarot decks go. So to explain the card, we should probably say, he used an earlier model or models. Whether his model also combined features of the Bagatella and the Matto is unknown. We do have earlier decks where the Matto and the Bagatella are distinct, notably the PMB and the d'Este. The Charles VI has a Matto similar to the d'Este's, but no surviving Bagatella.

A problem is that I know of no use of that particular image--a man at a table with something like the objects we see on it, as a trivial performer--in earlier art. The representations of the Bagatella as a child of the Moon are later than the first known instance of the card. That tells us how people understood the image, but not what it meant originally, or why it was there in the first place.

Panofsky advises looking at other images similar to the image in question in previous representations. Here the closest I can find is a representation in Panofsky of Jupiter as a judge (Meaning in the Visual Arts, fig. 14, from Munich Staaatsbibliothek, Clm. 10268, fourteenth century).


This is a widely diffused type for Jupiter, originating in the mid-13th century in an astrological-astronomical treatise by Michael Scot (Seznec, Survival of the Pagan Gods, p. 156). Sometimes Jupiter is a monk teaching students. or administering the sacraments ( ... 29.jpg.jpg, both from Seznec). However such an interpretation would require considerable elaboration to justify. And he is hardly a trivial performer. (But never fear, I will return to this question later.)

Giotto has Prudence at a lectern, which is somewhat like a table, with one hand up, as in some Bagatellas, and a pen in the other, rather like the wand or knife ( That has some visual relationship, but is conceptually distant. It is similar to Scot's image of Mercury, who was portrayed, following his Arab sources, as a scribe (at right below, figure 62 of Seznec; the other is another Scot-inspired illumination, part of Seznec's figure 64)


For other representations of men at tables with things on them, I again see, before 1450, only representations of gods. There is Asclepius next to a table, in ms. vat. regensis 1290, the so-called Libellus, 14th century, which was the source of many of the images of the gods in the "Mantegna" cards ( ... lepius.jpg). Asclepius would make sense as the god of apothecaries. There is also Mercury again, in ms. palat. lat. 1066, an illuminated version of Ridewell's Fulgentius metaforalis, c. 1420-1425. He stands at a table, next to a woman, with various piles of what look like seeds, while thrusting his lance into the scene below, which has Argos pierced by it in the eye (I can't find a jpg file of that image; it is in de Rola's Alchemy: the Secret Art, and in Hans Liebeschuetz's 1926 study on Ridewell). It may be that Mercury there, like Asclepius, is being portrayed as a healer. The antiseptic properties of mercury salts were well known (the woman might stand for salt). Another association for Mercury is as the inventor of gambling games, in Plutarch's On Isis and Osiris, section 12. Since he wins, he might also be the first cheater at games. This Mercury is the same as Theuth, i.e. Thoth, identified as the inventor of "draughts and dice" in Plato's Phaedrus ( ... /plato.htm). These associations would have been well known to Milan's resident Greek scholar and tutor Filelfo.

None of these prior images explain why we have the Bagatella images we see. It is a fair assumption that such people as the Bagatella actually did exist at fairs and markets. So the artist and designer need not have worked with any pre-existing convention in art. But this still leaves us up in the air as to why he, or the commissioner of the deck, chose that particular image.

With no numbers on the early cards, we don't know for sure what the order of the sequence was. Yet I think it is a fair assumption that the Bagatella was number One, as it is in the Rosenwald explicitly and in the Steele Sermon and other lists, preceded only, when it is there, the Matto.

The main issue, I think, is why a figure like that, out of all the possible choices, was put at the beginning of the sequence. Without an explicit statement by a designer, I think answers are necessarily speculative. I do not think one has to postulate an Ur-tarot of some specific design, as I don't think it would give any better answer than one might get simply from looking at these early Bagatella cards, with it as number one (allowing also for a zero) in the context of the other cards of the sequence, of which some are known and some unknown.

That he is of the lowest order of society, corresponding to the lowest number, does not seems to me adequate. Slaves were lower, as well as common laborers. He at least has a trade. And morally, murderers, pickpockets, and cheaters are certainly lower. He isn't shown cheating people; he just entertains or outwits them. If he says he's doing magic, that's explicitly part of the show.

One answer to my question comes readily enough if we consider the card's number: it is the first of the sequence. As such, it can function as an introduction to the game for which the deck is used: on the one hand, harmless entertainment as long as you don't take it too seriously, and on the other hand, a word of caution, not to succumb to the folly of thinking there are none better than you at the game, whether played fairly or by cheating, and more generally not to be deceived by appearances.

I am aware that this analysis brings together the sharp separation that Decker, Dummett, and Depaulis make between the "meaning" of a tarot image and its "use"--in games, fortune-telling, novels, etc (Wicked Pack of Cards p. 29). To be sure, meaning is not the same as use. But meaning arises in the context of use, including past uses of the same word or image. If a woman with a sword and a scales means Justice, that is because that image has been found useful for conveying the idea of Justice: treating people equally and, when necessary, severely. If that image now is made part of a sequence of images, that adds meaning to the card, as part of the sequence. If it is put on a playing card, that gives the image additional meaning: it is a trump with such and such trick-taking power and point value, if any; and its other meanings--which are still there, despite the new use--is less important, the more important winining the game is, as opposed to teaching the meaning of justice. But I would welcome additional discusssion of this point.

In any case, what I have said so far about the meaning of the Bagatella card seems to me not enough. It seems to me that the card's position, at the beginning of the sequence, suggests something more, that it is about beginnings. In fact, I think all 6 initial cards--with the Matto as 0--are about beginnings. I agree with Flornoy on this ( ... cture.html): they are, on one level, about some basic facts of childhood, the first earthly stage in the soul's journey, where one is subject to external authority but must learn to acquire internal authority. Children are fascinated by magic, and especially they want to become magicians themselves, not in the Harry Potter way, but in the way of knowing from their own experience that what looks like magic in fact has a rational explanation. Young children see the world in magical ways. On the one hand, it's delightful; and on the other hand, what is really happening? Hence the fascination. So the figure's capacity as a magician is relevant to beginnings. And more than that, it's how skillful he is. It is magical how people can read what is on a page just from black squiggles. It's also a skill to be learned. The "Mantegna" sequence, c. 1465-1470, has "Artisan" as its number 3, a young man with skills, at a table like the Bagatella, higher in status than the beggar and the servant. The Schoen horoscope, 1515, on which are many correspondences to the tarot trumps, has a similar figure for its 2nd house, with birth for house 1.


Another thing children need to learn is wariness: watch your back, don't be friendly with strangers unless your parents are with you, and so on. The negative side of the Bagatella teaches that. In this way the person at the table might indeed have suggested the virtue of Prudence, as in the Giotto image, through recognizing the temptation to be imprudent.

But I don't think the Renaissance would have gotten enthusiastic even if that was all there is. Once the humanist sees the card as part of the beginning, he would see other edifying interpretations, following the Renaissance principles of association and similarity, in the contexts of meditation, of developing associations to remember what cards have been played in the game, or of merely displaying his wisdom in the banter that goes on during a game. In the Renaissance, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm; so the origin of the human being is a reflection of the origin of the cosmos. "In the beginning God created heaven and earth," starts Genesis. The First, number One, therefore, is God, as we read also in Macrobius (Commentary on the Dream of Scipio 1.6.8, Stahl translation p. 101) and Philo of Alexandria (On the Creation).

In this regard, there is another association to the four types of objects on the table: not only the four suit-objects but the four elements, with which God, in Plato's Timaeus, created the universe. Actually, it is not only the four elements, but also the four qualities (cold, warm, dry, moist), and the four humors. Two examples are the four Evangelists and the four winds. Duerer did a "Four Apostles," not all evangelists, but associating them with the four elements. The Sola-Busca court cards seem to reflect assignments of suit to humor, as Marco has observed. Another example, I think, is the Issy Chariot of the 1450s, viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917&p=13591), where I think the four ladies with their suggestive hand gestures represent the four elements, and the lady in the middle the quintessence, in alchemy identified with the color red.

The exact correspondences between object and element/humor varied. Here is one, c. 1476 (Dixon, Bosch, p. 81); the suit object for water is not shown; instead, we have a priest, who would be associated with the communion cup, which also associates with water; and for air we have the very small falconer's stick. The other two are clear enough, and they are what makes my comparison to suit objects work:

From this perspective, this trickster could be a symbol of the creator, creating out of the elements what appears to be a random world of good and evil all mixed together, but which nonetheless contains a divine plan. Like the dealer in a card game, he deals everyone the cards they are born with, some with good hands and others not, but all lead to God, if the players know and follow the sequence. The world is like that created by the Bagatella, sometimes entertaining, sometimes a temptation, sometimes evil, but always a challenge that strengthens one's character, and to that extent positive.

Along the same lines, there is a resemblance between the Bagatella and a priest at his altar. This is especially pronounced in the PMB, where a cloth covers what appears to be a container of some kind, like a communion cup. The first priest was Jesus, who broke bread and gave wine in remembrance of him. Jesus as Logos is also a world-creator, according to the Gospel of John, which says, directly paralleling Genesis, "IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made." The PMB Bagatella similarly has a very weary look, like Renaissance representations of Christ looking down on his corrupt world.

In this context, the precedent I found of Jupiter at a table as a judge would not be as out of place as we might have thought. Jupiter overthrew Saturn, Saturn was associated with the practices of the Jews, and Christ is the one who overthrew those practices, and moreover was a teacher on earth and judge in heaven.

We can see how the image of Mercury or Asclepius at a table of medicines for balancing the four humors is related to the Bagatella, Jesus was a healer, both physically and spiritually. Priests, too, played both roles. Mercury as the inventor of games also makes sense, here dealing out the elements, cards, and humors. Mercury, of course, was also a trickster god. That such associations connect the card to earlier images of men at tables even makes me wonder whether in fact the card was introduced with such associations in mind, so as to compare the Bagatella to God. But whether all these associations would have occurred to the designer of the card I don't know; but they certainly fit and would tend to make the associations, and the card, popular with humanists.

Granted such an interpretation, another question arises. Is the Catholic priest a trickster, and the wafer he offers no more than a piece of bread? One answer: whether the transubstantiation is real or not, it is the symbolism that counts. This question and answer are not too advanced for the Renaissance. The answer would have saved some from the Inquisition, for example the physician in 1497 Bologna who said that Jesus not not divine and died for his own sins (Michael M. Tavuzzi, 2007 Renaissance inquisitors: Dominican inquisitors and inquisitorial districts in Northern Italy, 1474-1527, p. 114). Fortunately the Bentivoglio successfully intervened on his behalf.

The result, for one who looks closely at the card, and especially the PMB, is a coincidence of opposites, the lowly negative trickster and (in the Rosenwald) the first two persons of the Trinity. Since God is said by Nicholas of Cusa to be just such a union of opposites, the card now reflects the divine mystery. If other cards can be interpreted both positively and negatively, they, too, might have a sacred aspect of this sort.

By now, one might think I have gone too far. So I will talk about guidelines. First: my line of thinking is in accord with Umberto Eco's understanding of Renaissance hermeneutics. He says, in his essay "Intentio Lectoris: the State of the Art," in Limits of Interpretation, 1994, p. 51:
Medieval interpreters looked for a plurality of senses without refusing a sort of identity principle (a text cannot support contradictory interpretations), whereas the symbolists of the Renaissance, following the idea of the coincidentia oppositorum, defined the ideal text as that which allows the most contradictory readings.
While I am not sure that he has captured the Renaissance "ideal text" precisely, it is certainly in the Renaissance spirit to look for contradictory readings in the images of the tarot. Relying on contradictory meanings is not confined to the Renaissance; it is used in the common rhetorical device called irony (

Another guideline is stated by by Decker, Dummett, and Depaulis in their comments on interpretation (Wicked Pack of Cards p. 33f):
People of the Renaissance reveled in hidden symbolism, and the occult sciences enjoyed greater prestige in the Christian world than at any other time before or since. Any theory to this effect must pass a severe test, however. It must depend, not on any direct evidence that can be cited, but on the intrinsic plausibility that of the particular interpretation proposed, which must draw on nothing that was not available at that time and place. But it ought not to be too plausible; it cannot be anything which, if present, would leap to the eye of a man of the Renaissance looking at the cards. The reason is that, if the trump sequence was designed in accordance with any esoteric symbolism, this fact was very quickly and generally overlooked. None of the XV and XVI-century sources so much as hints at such a thing, and the absence of such a hint from some of these sources would be very surprising if their authors had had any inkling that any such symbolism was there to be found.
Decker, Dummett, and Depaulis are contrasting "esoteric" symbolism with "exoteric" symbolism. "Exoteric" symbolism is symbolism that is familiar to people in general at a particular time, e.g. a woman holding a sword and scales means Justice. "Esoteric" symbolism is that understood by fewer people, "symbolism intelligible only to those instructed in astrology and other arcane subjects" (p. 33).

That seems to me extreme; we need not go so far. The preachers and those who thought like them were ignorant of the Renaissance blending of the Christian and pagan traditions, in the context especially of newly available Greek and Latin texts, and old ones in a new context. The only "arcane subjects" required, I think, would have been knowledge of this body of Greek and Roman pagan texts, supplemented by newly available images (although being harder to get to know, they would be less necessary), and well-known generalities such as "the microcosm reflects the macrocosm," "God is a coincidence of opposites," "there is a divine plan behind all things," etc. Knowledge of astrology, beyond the common interpretations of the planets and zodiacal signs, is not required, at least that I can see.

Even so, this symbolism would have been known only to some who played the game: for sure (in the case of the PMB Bagatella) the Sforza family and their friends, e.g. the card-makers, the tutors, and probably allies like the Medici, but also other many other educated people, as there are no secrets involved, in the sense of codes knowable only by those specifically privy to them. As such, the card is a "hieroglyph" as defined by Alberti, a picture whose meaning is hidden from the vulgar but which "could be understood easily by expert men all over the world, to whom alone noble matters should be communicated" (Art of Building, trans. Rykwert et al, p. 256, full quote at

Those who know, don't tell. If nothing else, it would mean taking meanings out of their contexts in the precious ancient works, reducing a mystery to the limitations of language. It also might reduce people's motivation for reading these texts, and hence employment opportunities for humanists. It also might add fuel to the fire of the preachers' condemnations.

And for those without the requisite understanding, the card has meaning enough: cautionary instruction, the prospect of entertainment, and an easily identifiable image in the game.

So far, these are my guidelines. It isn't much, and more is needed. Here it remains important to distinguish interpretaton and explanation. For explanations, there is the consideration of internal coherence and with other known facts, in so far as they are facts and not unjustified assumptions. In looking at the historical context, paying attention to absences as well as presences is important. Simplicity or economy of explanation is not a good guideline, except at a very fundamental level of universally applicable generalizations. I have discussed these issues at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=939#p13781, in relation to Ross's chart, but they and other issues need more discussion at a more general level. I don't know what to think about the concept of "explanatory power." On the face of it, the expanded account I have given explains more than seeing the Bagatella just as a trivial performer, in that it accounts for the similarity to previous images of men at tables; and explains the card in terms of Renaissance philosophy and the symbolism of the four elements; but I don't know if these needed explaining,.

For interpretations, the limits are something else. Interpretations pertain to texts or images in relation to particular audiences and uses by these audiences; they are different from the author's intentions, but are not whatever an audience decides is there: they have to be responses to something in the text or image. Also, it seems to me that there should be some relationship between exoteric meanings and esoteric meanings: the latter is in some way "higher" than the former. But it does not seem to me that any so-called "esoteric" meaning has to be part of a well-worked out system of esoteric meanings, because we are not dealing with a code, just interpretive contexts that are known by greater and fewer numbers of people. There isn't even a definite boundary between the two categories. Also, the extent to which specific cards have esoteric meanngs may depend on when they were introduced into the sequence and what ideas were current at the time; we don't know that all the cards came at once; the same is true for variations in details on the card. Beyond that, at present I cannot say more than what I have already said here and in the post just referred to. Otherwise, I have nothing to guide me except reason, for making inferences, and facts, for making inferences from.

For now, it seems to me that once we see the Bagatella as the beginning, or part of the beginning, it is inherently plausible that an interpretation will relate both to the childhood of the human being and that of the universe, given that the macrocosm reflects the microcosm and the lowest is the highest. I will continue.

Since the Rosenwald Bagatella has a jester's hat, we should consider whether the Matto can be coherently interpreted as God, too. In Christ, God appeared as one of the lowliest, a mere wandering beggar, a fool and a heretic (to Judaism), but a Wise Fool. The idea of the Wise Fool as representing God and one seized by God is almost a commonplace of humanist thought, expressed eloquently at the end of Erasmus's Praise of Folly, and the object of Cusa's Learned Ignorance. In Macrobius, the One exists on three levels: the Supreme Being, which knows no beginning or end but is the beginning and end of all things; Mind (Nous), which springs from the Supreme Being and produces the patterns in created things; and the Soul of the Cosmos, which animates the universe (p. 101). Here, too, there is distinction that parallels that between the Father and the Son in the Gospel of John. As for the animating power, that may have a correspondence in the first six cards of the tarot as well.

It would be interesting but not essential to see whether a Pythagorean (as opposed to Neoplatonic) numerological interpretation, with the One as God, would work for the other numbered cards in the sequence. Another possible interpretation of this early 16th century card is a Kabbalist one, for this is very much the era of the Christian Kabbalah. In the books on Kabbalah published in Latin then, starting with Pico's famous 900 Theses, there is no doctrine of the meaning of the 22 Hebrew letters. but there is of the sefiroth, which Pico translates as "numeration", numeratione, e.g. in Thesis 28.11 (Farmer, Syncretism in the West p. 350). The first numeration is Kether, from which all else flows, but before that, outside the Tree, is the En Sof, the Unlimited. So we have our Bagatella, and outside the sequence, the Matto, the crazy one who doesn't respect social limits (such as, in the d'Este, of keeping his pants on). And so on down the tree, if meaningful parallels can be made, until one gets to the bottom, where at the Wheel the direction reverses, and the soul moves upwards to its source in eleven more steps. While it would be presumptuous to explain the Matto at the beginning as the En Sof (because Kabbalah wasn't very diffused then), he certainly fits as a a later interpretation, and in the case of the Matto, pehaps even before Pico's book. Whether such an interpretation works, and in what order of the cards there is the best fit, is something I have worked out to some degree in a blog,

Such an interpretation is not an explanation of the origin of the cards, I want to emphasize; it is an interpretation that would have come later. However there is one thing it might explain, namely: how the so-called "C" order came about, as I think it is the most natural one for a Kabbalist interpretation. As far as I know, there is no evidence for the "C" order before 1544, in Alciato. Perhaps all the decks had other orders at first, but someone in Lombardy or France changed it. Alciato had been living in France before his book came out. That's a hypothesis that further investigation could falsify, or replace with something better, in the sense of fitting the facts.

I could say more on how the "intrinsic" meaning of the card--as expressing beginnings, in the context of Renaissance humanism--would naturally lead to other interpretations in certain times and places. That, too, would be speculation, but historically based speculation to the extent that it is tied to the imagery and texts of concern to particular users of the tarot at a particular place and time. But I'll stop here.

Re: The meaning of trump one

Hi, Mike,
mikeh wrote:
Michael wrote:"There is admittedly some danger that iconology will behave, not like ethnology as opposed to ethnography, but like astrology as opposed to astronomy. There is, I am afraid, no other answer to this problem other than the use of historical methods tempered, if possible, by common sense. (Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts).
I think that "historical methods tempered, if possible, with common sense" is a good guideline. It sounds like Panofsky, although I didn't see that part in Meaning and the Visual Arts (1955), just the part where he talks about the danger that iconology will behave "like astrology as opposed to astrography." I assume he meant astronomy. Perhaps you could clarify the reference.
Sorry about that. The "common sense" line was from a private communication with William Heckscher in which Panofsky described a Northern Renaissance symposium he had attended. Panofsky lamented a particularly absurd reading which was presented by alluding to a passage from Virgil: "I was dumbfounded, my hair stood up, and my voice stuck to my mouth." He then elaborated:
Panofsky wrote:If every ordinary plant, architectural detail, implement, or piece of furniture could be conceived as a metaphor, so that all forms meant to convey a symbolic idea could appear as ordinary plants, architectural details, implements or pieces of furniture: how are we to decide where the general "metaphorical transfiguration of nature ends and the actual, specific symbolism begins?... There is, I am afraid, no other answer to this problem than the use of historical methods tempered, if possible, by common sense. We have to ask ourselves whether or not the symbolical significance of a given motif is a matter of established representational tradition;... whether or not a symbolical interpretation can be justified by definite texts or agrees with ideas demonstrably alive in the period and presumably familiar to its artists;... and to what extent such a symbolical interpretation is in keeping with the historical position and personal tendencies of the individual master.
He also apparently included the old line about iconology and astrology in the letter, leading to my confusion about the source of the "common sense" bit.
mikeh wrote:Also, "common sense" is sometimes hard to distinguish from "common prejudice"; it should not be used as a defense against historical investigation.
It should be used as a defense against inane readings. I'm pretty sure (judging by both context and "common sense") that's what Panofsky meant, although you are free to to characterize him as a biased and anti-historical party-pooper. FWIW, most readers of his work and writers on the subject have concluded just the opposite.

Best regards,
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.

Three comments on method

This is a follow up to my previous long post at posting.php?mode=reply&f=11&t=937#pr13. I have some additional comments about trump one, chiefly of a methodological nature but also with some additional facts. They are in the nature of additional guidelines I think are worth following in historical research. Two of them amplify points already made by Michael earlier on, although I can't at the moment find them; I don't know if he wouldn't agree with my comments. Then at the end I have one correction to my earlier post.

FIRST COMMENT. When investigating how the Renaissance might have interpreted one set of symbols in terms of another, for example tarot in terms of Kabbalah, we have to keep in mind the context in which such interpretations were in fact made. An example is in Pico's 900 Theses 27.10, in which he says that the "ten punishers" in the Corpus Hermeticum, enumerated in 27.9, correspond to the "evil order of ten and its leaders" in Cabala. The context is a belief in a prisca theologia, the ancient theology given by God, of which Christianity is the highest expression, yet is also reflected in many other symbol systems, such as alchemy, Kabbalah, natural magic of stones, the Corpus Hermeticum, the Chaldean Oracles, etc. The Chaldean Oracles were thought to be the earliest surviving expression, coming from the Magi of Persia led by Zoroaster. They have of course been altered by different cultural contexts.

The point of relating the tarot to different expressions of this prisca theologia is to show how the tarot sequence can be seen in terms of each, as essentially similar systems. Therefore in interpreting the Christian images of the tarot in terms of Kabbalah, etc., the context of each part of the comparison cannot be ignored, particularly the order in the sequence and, in the case of images, the meaning of the images in their own context. So correspondences to the tarot should follow the same order, more or less, as the tarot sequence. I explained one way of doing this in my earlier post. The same is true for alchemical images, which usually occurred embedded in sequences, with mottos and explications attached. These must be respected; it is not permissible, I think, to just pluck images out of their context and notice the similarity to tarot images, as for example Robert O'Neill and Robert Place do. We also have to respect the times and places the images occurred. I have tried, in my comparison of alchemy, Kabbalah, etc. with tarot, to interpret with these considerations in mind. I To do otherwise would be unhistorical, missing the point of those comparisons, which was to show them as different aspects of the prisca theologia. I have found that these comparisons actually do work--however I don't think it is because they are all from the same prisca theologia, but rather from the same Eastern Mediterranean milieu of first two centuries of the common era.

SECOND COMMENT. There is the question of how informative one should consider antecedent similar images in cases where their first appearance is in the tarot. Specifically, I compared the Bagatella to a 14th century image of Jupiter as a judge and to 13th-14th century images of Asclepius and Mercury. The problem is that artists worked from model books and took images used previously in whatever manner suited them, regardless of the differing context. Here I think it is partly a matter of how common these images were. If we see pictures of people at tables similar to the ones I mentioned in many different contexts, either before or at the time of the tarot image, that seriously weakens any case for similarity of content between the two images. I have looked and not seen such images in other contexts before or at the same time as the PMB Bagatella.

Also, if there are other images at the same or earlier time in the same general area as the tarot image, not of people at tables but with other distinctive similarities to the tarot image, that weakens, strengthens, or otherwise modifies other associations, depending upon the content of the images. People make associations and attach meanings based on similarities to other things they have seen, especially other images, but also other artifacts generally.

As an example I want to consider the PMB Bagatella's hat. It was fashionable to depict people in exaggerated hats at this time and place. It harked back to a previous time, when powerful people's clothing, and ordinary people's at spseical occasions, was more extravagant, but it is an exaggeration even of that. It is exaggerated like the hat Uccello in 1438-40 put on the hero of San Romano, the condottiero Niccolò da Tolentino (, but of a different shape, broad-brimmed rather than bulky and top-heavy. Why that shape? One possibility, which fits the similarity to Jupiter, is that it was meant to be comparable to the horns on an Egyptian image which was common in the Egyptian ruins near Cairo, shown below along with the card. I got this image from the internet, which identified the god as Khnum, the Egyptian creator god, who not only made the other gods and the world, but fashions human beings on his potter's wheel. The site did not say where the came from, but I did find it once in a book, although I no longer have the reference, saying it was from an above-ground causeway at Sakkara, which is near Cairo. [Note added 8/25/13: I retract the last sentence. It was another image, similar to the Tarot de Marseille Devil card, that was from the causeway at Sakkara. I still don't know where the stele above is from in Egypt.]


There were also other gods depicted with similar horizontal horns, notably the supreme god Ammon. It could be an image of either or any. Although Ammon's cult was centered on Thebes and Khnum's near Aswan, Khnum was also a god of the Nile, and even in the 15th century their images could have been seen in many places along that river.

The PMB Bagatella comes at a time when travelers and merchants, of whom the most notable was Cyriaco d'Ancona, were allowed entry to some of the ancient ruins. Cyriaco visited Egypt three times, the last in 1435 or 1436, along with the rest of the eastern Mediterranean, and brought back drawings and notes, six volumes worth. He reportedly got as far as Cairo, but I imagine that would have included nearby ruins such as Gaza and Sakkara. He was eminently suited to take advantage of the Egyptomania then prevailing in Italy. Panofsky even in 1955 commented on this Italian fascination, in an analysis of a 1560-1570 Titian that featured three animal heads (Meaning in the Visual Arts, p. 152)
To understand the three animal heads, however, we must go back to the dark and remote sphere of the Egyptian an pseudo-Egyptian mystery religions--a sphere which had vanished from sight in the Christian Middle Ages, dimly emerged above the horizon with the beginning of Renaissance humanism toward the middle of the fourteenth century, and became the object of passionate interest after the discovery of Horapollo's Hieroglyphica in 1419.
He refers us to Seznec, Survival of the Pagan Gods, p. 99ff, who mentions how Horapollo inspired Alberti and Ficino. Elsewhere I have documented Alberti's how Alberti applied it in the 1430s for a new form of personal impresa. Panofsky adds later:
The year 1419, we recall, saw the discovery of Horapollo's Hieroglyphica, and this discovery not only gave rise to an enormous enthusiasm for everything Egyptian or would-be Egyptian but also produced--or, at least immeasurably promoted--that "emblematic" spirit which is so characteristic of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
That Panofsky does not mention Alberti as in the first wave of this spirit (although mentioned by his source Seznec) is perhaps because it is not of relevance to his topic, which is a painting of the 1560s.

Cyriaco was in close touch with the Florentine promoters of Horapollo, as was Filelfo, exiled from Florence by Cosimo and in Milan starting in the 1440s. I see the early tarot as part of this same movement. The courts gave Cyriaco a warm reception. He corresponded with Filippo Maria Visconti and Filelfo. In 1449 he visited Leonello d'Este and Sigismondo Malatesta. He spent his last years in Cremona (birthplace of the PMB, I think), where he died c. 1453-1455 (; Woodhouse, Gemistos Plethon, pp. 226ff). His Commentarii went through various hands until a fire in the library of Alessandro and Costanza Sforza destroyed most of them in 1514; other manuscripts were destroyed in another fire of 1532; a few, none of Egypt, still remain (wikipedia).

I do not know how Cyriaco would have characterized the image above. But Renaissance antiquarians would have identified a man with the head of a ram as Ammon, the Egyptian Zeus, described as such by Herodotus ( ... dtbk2.html; I put in bold the most relevant parts):
The Thebans, and those who by the Theban example will not touch sheep, give the following reason for their ordinance: they say that Heracles wanted very much to see Zeus and that Zeus did not want to be seen by him, but that finally, when Heracles prayed, Zeus contrived [4] to show himself displaying the head and wearing the fleece of a ram which he had flayed and beheaded. It is from this that the Egyptian images of Zeus have a ram's head; and in this, the Egyptians are imitated by the Ammonians, who are colonists from Egypt and Ethiopia and speak a language compounded of the tongues of both countries.[5] It was from this, I think, that the Ammonians got their name, too; for the Egyptians call Zeus "Amon".
If the hat's inspiration was not such an image as that from Sakkara, there were others. An example is the "Bembine Tablet", which surely was someone's valued possession before Pietro Bembo acquired it in 1527 from an unknown seller (probably a looter in the Sack of Rome). Here notice not only the ram but his priests. The table here is a place of sacrifice, I assume of a young goat.


That Ammon was equated with Zeus (see also e.g. ... s/1A*.html, and Isis and Osiris IX, at fits the symbolism of Jupiter shown by Panofsky from the 14th century. Also, in the Phaedrus, Ammon is the king to whom Theuth revealed his arts (274d), including games of chance, but of which the most important was writing. Tarot is a similar memory aid.

I cannot imagine that Bianca Maria would not have known Cyriaco in Cremona, or that either he or Filelfo would not have been able to identify as a god the image of the ram or ram-headed man with the horizontal horns. If so, the wavy hat reinforces the image of the Bagatella as a god, even the supreme God.

This association of the PMB Bagatella to Ammon, however, remains a conjecture, backed up only by the novelty of such images at the time, correlated with the bizarreness of the hat and its aptness in a Renaissance context. The broad-brimmed hat is not repeated on the other early extant Bagatella cards. Yet it was important enough to be resurrected in the Parisian decks of c. 1650 and thereafter. Perhaps then it had other associations.

Pardon the lengthy and speculative example!

THIRD COMMENT. By the same token, what about examples considerably after the date of the card in question? Although these are relevant to how a card is understood then, how relevant are they to the earlier time? Can we appeal to documents and images later to explain an image earlier, or say how it was interpreted then? I myself gave two examples of this, for the Bagatella. One was the "Mantegna" image, of a skilled worker at a table. I used this to exemplify the idea of the Bagatella as skilled in his art. It co-opts the image of the skilled slight-of-hand artist for another use, a skilled worker. It might have also co-opted the negative aspect as well, i.e. that one can't judge from appearances: work that seems of high value might not be. In a similar way the image of a lady with a tiara which we see in the late 16th century, co-opts an earlier religious meaning, whatever it was. In such cases, we cannot say that one is the other, merely that there might be some borrowing, as well as an association at the later time.

My other case was that of a skilled worker representing the 2nd astrological house in the Schoen horoscope of 1515, along with childbirth in the 1st house. In this case, not only is the image relevant (although in the case of childbirth, it is different) but also the particular astrological house. These first and second houses would have been well known to the PMB's audience in 1450s Milan, because the Sforza used astrologers often before undertaking things, be it a battle or an alliance: the first was of beginnings, and the second was of skills, education, etc. The first house was that of life, but particularly birth, as its zodiacal sign was the first in that series, Aries; the second house was that of livelihood ( It makes an association between the card and other happenings subject to chance which one might nonetheless be the master of. In that sense I might be justified in saying that the principle that Schoen used applied even in 1450. Otherwise, it is merely a natural co-optation, there and in the other 11 houses (which also reflect concepts in the tarot but don't always follow the tarot order), which serves to promote an interpretation that may or may not have been there at first, but is a natural one given the similarity and that the time and place are not that much different.

Another example from a later time is an illustration to Cartari's Imagini of Venice 1650, p. 165 in which the god Mercury is shown with horizontal wings on his hat ( ... ari165.jpg). This is unusual, in that the wings were usually shown as perpendicular to the picture plane in a frontal view. Coupled with Garzoni's statement, which he attributes to Pico, that Mercury was the inventor of tricks, in the context of slight-of-hand card tricks (quoted by Andrea Vitali at ... 13&lng=ENG, Appendix), it makes me wonder if at that time the Bagatella was associated with the god Mercury. However the time interval seems to me too long to use in favor of a 15th century interpretation.

So I say that such examples from later times can be used, as they convey one way the image was seen at a particular time; but as far as earlier times, the longer the lapse of time, the weaker the case. Also, the introduction of a new context for the image, or something similar, is typically a case of co-optation to serve a particular purpose, borrowing from it some similarity in meaning, and the new use needs to be evaluated in that context.

CORRECTION. This is regarding my dengrative portrayal of magic in mid-15th century Italy, as mere slight-of-hand entertainment where the fascination would have been to find out how it was done. I had forgotten about the Magi, celebrated in repeated frescoes and miniatures in both Milan and Florence, both before and after the PMB. They were the occasion of elaborate festivities, both as secular rulers and as disciples of Zoroaster, the originator of the prisca theologia. As such they were shown sumptuously dressed, as is the PMB figure (to whom the title "small thing" hardly applies). It is true that the objects on his table are not those of a Magus from the East. Yet a certain aura remains, not only for that image but others later in the century, because in Florence of the Medici, and wherever Ficino was admired, "natural magic" (as opposed to "diabolical magic") was well respected, at least when practiced by learned doctors of the courts as opposed to poor old ladies in the countryside. Later the interest in magic continued unabated, with Pico, Agrippa, and others. Even as late as the 17th century, the figure of Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest is hardly unsympathetic. But of course I am only speaking of a particular current in these times, not the mainstream.

Note: several hours after originally posting, I added one sentence to the end of my "First Comment."

Trumps 2-5

MJ Hurst wrote, on another thread (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=940#p13789; I put in bold the part I want to address.
Fools and magicians are inherently ambiguous figures. In addition to the things noted above, they are also figures of fun. The ironic usage of fools and folly, as in the "fool for Christ", is particularly significant. That is why only a fool (or deceiver) would begin their analysis of the trumps with either of them. Context is required to understand their significance. As the lowest figures in the trump cycle, these specific two characters were clearly not intended to be honorific, despite centuries of Tarot folklore. Therefore, cognates and connotations like those I've mentioned are the most salient. Because Tarot was primarily a game, the playful aspect of these two characters is perfectly appropriate. Because the trump cycle is a moral allegory, the sinful aspect of these two characters is also perfectly appropriate. They represent Temptation, just as the games burned in the bonfires did.
The ironic usage of the phrase "fool for Christ" comes from 1 Corinthians 4:10. In the Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate:
We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are honourable, but we without honour.
This in turn relies on 1 Corinthians 1:18-21:
For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the prudence of the prudent I will reject. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world, by wisdom, knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe.
That is to say, someone who looks like a fool in the eyes of the world may not be. And someone who looks like a great sinner in the eyes of the Sanhedrin may not be.

2 Corinthians deals with the word "deceiver" in an ironic way, at 6:18, speaking of Christians as living:
...By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; ...
In other words, Christians are considered dishonorable, of evil report, and as deceivers, yet they are the opposite of these. It is this same double sense that would naturally fit the imagery of the Bagatella, not by everyone, to be sure, but by those who appreciate double meanings.

Whether the two images, the Fool and the Bagatella, were "intended as honorific" is beyond my capacity to say. I have no idea whether the designers of the various decks intended this (as I made clear in my post on the Rosenwald card). Intention and meaning are two different things. If they were not, it would not be possible to say something other than what one intended. I only know what a natural interpretation of the cards would have been at that time, for someone familiar with Catholic ritual, the Vulgate New Testament, and the Renaissance doctrines of God as a coincidence of opposites and that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm.

Michael says that to understand the significance of the two cards, and especially the ironic sense, one must look at the context. I assume he means the context of other cards in the sequence. Indeed, I did not address the other cards, except to say that they came after the first two, and that they were the lowest trumps. It was a start, and it is not unusual, in starting an analysis, to start at the beginning. However I am happy to remedy my omission. There is enough irony to go around.

As far as I can see, the analysis of the other four of the first six goes along the same lines as that of the first two. From the Pope backwards to the Fool, the six are representatives of the highest and lowest orders of society, from the perspective of power over others. This corresponds to their trick-taking power in the game. The Fool is the weakest, with no power. The Bagatella only has the power to entertain, to charm, and to tempt into his trap so as to relieve us of some spare change. But just as in the case of the Fool and the Bagatella, the lowest is also the highest (as indicated also by the points they score), it is the same on the other end of the six: the highest is also the lowest. I will proceed step by step.

We recognize the Pope by his male gender and Papal accoutrements, notably the tiara. We recognize the Popess by her female gender and papal tiara, as well as, in the Rosenwald, being dressed similarly to the Pope. We recognize the Emperor by the imperial aagle, symbol of the Holy Roman Empire until after the fall of Constantinople, when the double eagle was used. It was the symbol of Roman power before that; also, the Eagle is the bird of Jupiter, head of the Greco-Roman gods.

A complication is that in the A and C orders, the Popess is number 2, while in the B, she is number 4. That difference might affect the meaning, since we have to look at the card in relation to its place in that sequence. In the B order, the power relationships are clear. There is also the complication that unlike the other three, the Popess has no corresponding personage in medieval society. We have to interpret her according to legend, or in terms of some heretical group, or metaphorically in an institutional way, in which case she might be, on analogy to the Empress, the pope's wife, the Church, or as the feminine side of spiritual authority as opposed to the Pope as its masculine side.

Of the six, the Pope has the most power, followed by his wife the Church (assuming that interpretation for the moment), and after that the Emperor and the Empress. The relationship of the Pope to the Church as man and wife is a matter of medieval convention, in which the Church is the wife of the Pope by contract. The Pope's supremacy over Emperors is shown through his power to excommunicate them, put their domains under interdicts (meaning no administration of the sacraments), and even declare them heretics and call for crusades against them (as actually done in the 13th century). The Pope has the additional power, at least in the Church's eyes, of being the one who crowns the Emperor. Without his cooperation, there is no Emperor (although to be sure the electors of the Empire recognized no such restriction, and emperors sometimes found it inconvenient to go to the pope). The Church's power is in virtue of being the wife of the Pope, and the Empress's power--the person of the Empress, or the institution of the Empire--is in virtue of being the wife or delegated authority of the Emperor. The Emperor and the Pope rule by divine sanction, in medieval doctrine; the Empress and the Popess get their authority from their male counterparts.

These highest four powers are also a source of honor and power in others. The Emperor makes and unmakes Kings and Dukes, as well as Poet Laureates such as Petrarch. The Pope gives and takes away honors from others, appointing prelates, cardinals, archbishops, and the heads of monastic orders at his pleasure.

If the Popess is number 2 in the order, next to the trickster Bagatella, she could by association be Pope Joan, a woman who was chosen pope by her pose as a man. Or she could represent female spiritual authority, which was much weaker than that of the males and so could properly be put between that of the Empress and the Bagatella. Or she could simply be the wife of the Pope, but separated from him in the sequence by mere coincidence.

From the standpoint of Reason in Petrarch's in De Remediis, all of the powerful positions 2-5 (assuming that the Popess is interpreted as powerful) are just more powerful examples of the same tempting power as in the case of the Bagatella, and all the more dangerous because of their much greater power. Looking to such powers as a source of fulfillment is part of the vanity of the world. Here is what Reason says about the papacy (p. 289f):
In short, duly conducted, the papacy constitutes the greatest honour, the greatest burden, the greatest servitude, and the greatest toil. But mismanaged, it is the greatest danger for one's soul, the greatest evil, the greatest misery, the greatest disgrace, and in all respects a perilous undertaking.
And in elaboration of that second point:
The earliest of its rulers aspired to martyrdom. Today, they think that they are called to pleasures and vie for the office that nearly everyone covets. For what reason other than to be powerful and rich does anyone want the bishopric of Rome or of any other city? Against all precepts of justice, men seek to rule, not to serve others--and, which is sacrilegious and shameful to talk about--great benefices, preferments, and prebends are often bought with large gifts in hopes of a fatter appointment.

Alas for the dreadful perversion of values!
In this case, the principle "as above, so below" has a different application than in the case of the Bagatella and the Matto. All the planets had their negative aspects as well as their positive ones, as a look at Renaissance astrology texts shows. A more Christian examplar is Giovanni da Paolo's illumination of Dante's Third Circle of Paradise, 1440s, ... _paolo.jpg, in which the Devil, sitting on the Campanile of Florence, pours gold florins into the Pope's open hands.

The preachers are not likely to have endorsed this view of the image, even though we have Dante and Petrarch themselves in favor of it. Here is Dante, speaking through the mouth of Folquet de Marseilles (the man floating in di Paolo), to Dante about his native place:
Your city, which was planted by that one
who was the first to turn against his Maker,
the one whose envy cost us many tears

produces and distributes the damned flower
that turns both sheep and lambs from the true course,
for of the shepherd it has made a wolf.

For this the Gospel and the great Church Fathers
are set aside and only the Decretals
are studied as their margins clearly show.

On these the pope and cardinals are intent.
Their thoughts are never bent on Nazareth,
where Gabriel's open wings were reverent.
The one who planted the city is Satan, here assigned the sin of envy. The "damned flower" is the Florin. The "shepherd" is the clergy. The "Decretals," with their margins blackened from use, are the books of canon law, which is what gives them their financial privileges. In Dante's time all the popes except Celestine V were canon lawyers (interpretation from Robert and Jean Hollander translation, p. 225f).

I would add that applying the term "wolf" to the clergy here is the reverse of Folquet's, for whom the heretics were the "wolves," not the clergy ( ... ur&f=false). The Dominican inquisitors with which he was associated had prided themselves on being the "dogs of God" (domini cane)protecting their flock from the wolves of heresy. Dante is actually following the reversed analogy made by a different troubadour, Peire Cardenal ( ... lf&f=false).

Petrarch's Reason speaks about the Emperor in similar terms to that of the Pope (p. 257-264). Reason commends the Empire of old and a few of its emperors (Augustus, Diocletian, Marcus Aurelius, and Pertinax, p. 258). But now (p. 263):
REASON. Glorious names, shady deeds, the perfidy of the world, and human credulity, these are the hooks which drag the giddy mind this way and that. Beautiful is the word "empire," beautiful the word "kingship," but empire and kingship are the most difficult of all offices if properly conducted; if not, they are utterly perilous and often deadly.
Petrarch enumerates the temptations. There is the hope of a life of ease, of which nothing could be further from the truth, due to others' plots. Next is the temptation to exact private vengeance against those that displease one. That is a sure road to an untimely end, as many have found. There is the temptation to spend the people's money as one pleases. There is also the temptation to immoral behavior, about which he gives no particulars. Last is the temptation to forget one's humanity (p. 264):
REASON. When fools are made emperors, they do not recall that they are human or, once, were human. This was shown by Tiberius Caesar. When a friend of his, who tried to remind him of their old friendship by recalling some of the bygone days they shared together, scarcely had opened is mouth to say "You remember--" he stopped [280] him abruptly and, without permitting him to finish, said hastily: "I do not remember what I was"--dishonest and proud words, devoid not only of all friendship but of all humanity.
I am reminded of Prince Hal's infamous words to Falstaff: "I know thee not, old man" (II Henry IV 5.5.52).

Yet it would have been hard to deny that these entities, the Papacy and the Empire, do things of benefit to humanity and have the potential to do more. The Church, under the Papacy, conducts education and the sacraments, as well as administering aid to the poor. The Emperor adjudicates among states and peoples and so is a potential source of peace, as he was in the days of the Roman Empire.

What Petrarch's full opinion is regarding the Papacy and Empire of his day, he leaves unsaid. Probably people in the 15th-16th century would not have been so negative about the reality of Pope and the Emperor as Petrarch's Reason. It is the same as with the Bagatella, and the game itself, which can be a source of instructive entertainment, and also a series of images for contemplation in their own right. Moreover, cards 4 and 5 correspond to popular positive archetypes, such as Plato's "philosopher king" or Siena's "good government" for the Emperor, and the means of salvation for the Pope.

In the instruction of a prince--and other young people--the four cards indicate temptations to be avoided: not high position itself necessarily, but the abuse of its power. Francesco Sforza starved the city of Milan into submission to become its Duke, but then achieved peace and prosperity and didn't try for more. His son Galeazzo Maria, who surely played tarot with the PMB or something like it, was frequently upbraided by his parents for his arrogance. When he became Duke, he abused his power--using whatever women he liked for sexual purposes, treating cruelly some who displeased him, spending lavishly, etc.--and then was murdered by men he trusted. Ludovico Maria abused his power as regent and succumbed to the temptation to bribe on a grand scale so as to get recognition as Duke from the Emperor. The Emperor did nothing in return, unless marrying Galeazzo Maria's daughter counts, and in the end left him to die in a French prison, even taking away his title. The Sforza girl who became Empress lived a lonely life in cold Innsbruck among relatively uncultured foreigners and died an early death. Such are a few object lessons one can contemplate looking at these cards.

As far as esoteric meanings--in the sense of meanings for special groups--the Empress has her eagle-shield on her lap, where an infant would sit. That suggests the succession of generations that provides for the future continuity of the Empire. In the PMB, the Empress's green gloves are emblematic of fertility. There might be the implication that the succession not only depends on the female but goes through her, and an identification of the figure on the throne as Bianca Maria Visconti as well as the Empress (an identification fostered by the three rings on her front). In the CY, the eagle is a display of the Visconti's right to display the imperial emblem in virtue of the Ducal status conferred by the Emperor. That this continues in the PMB suggests that this status continues, in virtue of the old pre-1453 privilege passed to the husband of the Duke's only child.

For the Pope and the Popess in the PMB, the Manfreda hypothesis remains a reasonable one (see the recent discussion toward the end of the thread "Visconti and Sforza Marriage Commemorations"). It gives a Guglielmite/Joachimite side to the dichotomy, male spiritual authority/female spiritual authority. That is, male spiritual authority goes up to Christ, while female authority goes to Popess Manfreda and above them to the Holy Spirit, also seen as the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven (as the absence of the usual dove in some Bembo depictions of her Coronation suggests). The Visconti gave particular importance to the Holy Spirit in the art they commissioned, and Bianca Maria was in many ways her father's daughter (e.g. in their attitude toward astrology; see Monica Assolini, The Duke and the Stars, p. 72ff).

The PMB Popess, of course, also looks like Giotto's Faith; she has faith in the validity of her mission regardless of persecution: the faith of a martyr (although to be sure, it is also Faith as one of the virtues possessed by all members of the true Church).

That the interpretation of the Popess card as some sort of feminine spiritual authority, in contrast to masculine spiritual authority, likely was in fact part of her raison d'etre and how she was understood early on, even outside of Milan, is suggested by the failure of artists to use the Popess image to mean the Church in 15th and early 16th century imagery. If she represented the Church, the image of a lady with a papal crown surely would have been used with that significance by artists then. Yet there is no trace of such symbolism in Catholic imagery, that I can find, until the image that Ross posted from 1424. It is not even clear that there was a Popess in 15th century Florentine packs: the numbers on the Charles VI, whenever they were put there, do not allow for her, as Ross said somewhere.

In the 15th century, before Luther's split with the Papacy, it is as though the symbol of the tiara-lady was being purposefully avoided. The only ladies with papal crowns I have found are in two contexts. One is Baldini's c. 1475-80 use of papal crowns in his portrayal of the Sybils (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917&p=13782&hilit=sybil#p13782), who were prophetesses (as was Manfreda, in anticipation of the age of the Holy Spirit). The other is in a Triumph of Love, Venice c. 1488 ( ... 1-love.jpg), of which Andrea Vitali gives a color version (, fig. 3 and 4); here she seems to be one of Love's captives, in other words Pope Joan, who in the legend was undone by the passion that got her pregnant. Illustrations of Pope Joan had images similar to that of the Rosenwald Popess (e.g., from Ferrara 1497, according to Ross at In the Steele Sermon, the preacher says of her "O Wretches! That which the Christian faith denies!", seemingly referring to Boccaccio's "something that the Christian religion does not permit any woman to do", meaning become pope ( ... nd_Pope.22). Also, in at least two places in Aretino she is alluded as the tarot Popess, once negatively and once positively--the latter, however, spoken by a professional whore. Cranach's portrayal of the Whore of Babylon for Luther's translation of the Bible in 1522 is an elaboration of the same theme, probably casting the Roman Church in that role ( ... tament.jpg). After that the Roman Church could no longer ignore the image of the tiara-clad lady; but even then, the first we see of her as the Church, in 1524, is in Paris rather than Italy.

The PMB Pope (at right below) has what I think is a severe look, even though he is in the act of blessing, in contrast to his d'Este equivalent: if so, it is his power to excommunicate, to interdict, to condemn heretics and wage crusades against them, that would seem to be stressed.


I see also a certain resemblance of both to Giotto's Injustice (at left above). The context here is its commission by Bianca Maria and her husband; Francesco was excommunicated, meaning deprived of the sacraments of the Church, for 5 years, until that pope's death, due to a property dispute with him in his capacity as secular ruler ( ... te&f=false).

There was likely also a not very esoteric interpretation of the Pope as the Anti-Christ. This was a theme of Joachimite prophecy, still prevalent in the 15th-16th centuries (Pico, at 11>9, wisely set the date for the end of the world far in the future, Jan. 1, 2000). It was also sometimes applied to an Emperor. (In the 13th century, popes and emperors had routinely called each other the Antichrist.) The actions of Popes and Emperors did nothing to dissuade many from this idea. The Popes called for a crusade against Protestantism, which resulted in much bloodshed and suffering for a hundred years, more than had been seen since the fall of Rome. The works of the moderate Catholic humanist (whom Panovsky extols as a model of that movement) Erasmus were placed on the Index by Paul IV in the late 1550s (; how many continued to be banned is not clear). Humanists with independent thoughts in Italy would have had to be very careful. At the end of the century, indeed, a leading heir to one trend of humanism, Giordano Bruno, did find himself tortured and burned alive.

Esoteric interpretations based on classical and alternative sources, in the late 15th through 17th centuries, would have followed whatever the corresponding sequence in the sources dictated, to the extent it was parallel to the tarot sequence. In Neopythagoreanism, the Two signifies the separation of matter from form: given a feminine persona, it is the material principle, like the Virgin Mary in Christianity. Three is the number of enformed matter, that is to say, matter with the imprint of form. It is like the Logos descending into the womb of the Virgin. Four is the perfection of the material principle, like that of the ideal of the Emperor over the material conditions of life, in the three dimensions of space, where a minimum of four points define a solid (a tetrahedron). Five is the principle of the vegetative soul, that is, that which is born, matures, dies, and is born again. That is the province of the Pope. All this is in the Theologumena Arithmeticae available to qualified borrowers in Florence and Venice, published in 16th century Paris. The part about the Dyad is also in Macrobius, although for 3 and 4 he strays into nothing I can fit with the tarot sequence. He does assert the Neoplatonic trinity of Nous, Logos, and World-soul, of which the Popess would correspond to the World-Soul.

Pico's presentation of the sefiroth is similarly amenable to putting in service to an esoteric interpretation of the tarot (not, let me say again, as its raison d'etre/i]). In Conclusion 28.8 we read:
Souls descend from the third light to the fourth day, and from there to the fifth, and from which departing they steal into the night of the body.

Thus the sefira Binah, corresponding to the Empress, is for Pico the source of all individual souls, and "in the soul, reason" (11>67). The second sefira is Hochmah, Hebrew for Wisdom (28.25, also Reuchlin, English trans. p. 287), Sophia in the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. The fourth sefira is Loving-kindness (to which Reuchlin adds Mercy), identified by Pico (28.38-39)with Abraham as love and "inner fear" (of God) , and a prototypical ideal Emperor: mercy is the quality that Petrarch says a ruler must have, as opposed to vengeance. The fifth sefira is Isaac, Judgment, and the "outer fear" (Pico 28.3, 28.39). For Reuchlin (pp. 286-289), I include the Latin, as I think the translator has missed some things (p. 286 for Latin, 289 for English):
severity (severitas), ...fear [timor), ...seriousness (gravitas), ...negative law (legis negativa), ... night (nox); the dark appearance (spes fusca).

And also (p. 288 for Latin, 291 for English):
...on the side of harshness (ad latera de mentiae & severitas; shouldn't this be "on the side of lies and harshness"?); ... the thirty-five princes of guilt and the seventy princes of Esau...
This grim characterization corresponds to the Pope, with his power to provide or take away the sacraments, the alleged means of salvation. For more quotes relating to these four, see my blog at

I could of course say more, but that is my start on the other four of the six.

Note: about 3 hours after I wrote this, I added, for additional clarification, a paragraph near the beginning explaining, one more time but briefly, that there is a distinction between intention and meaning. Let me also add at the end that I am not saying that a Kabbalist interpretation was intended by the creators of tarot cards. I am merely saying that the tarot sequence, or at least its first six cards, lends itself naturally to the Kabbalist interpretation that I have suggested, considering what Christians in Italy and other European countries had available to them concerning the Kabbalah in Latin in the late 15th-early 16th centuries.

These trumps in relation to the new theology

I thought of another approach to the first six triumphs: to see them in terms of the humanist sermon and the new humanist theology. Before reading Charles Dempsey's The early Renaissance and vernacular culture, I had thought that the type of sermon corresponding to the tarot sequence fit only the model of Bernardino of Siena, dealing with the virtues and vices. But now I see that there were other forms, even ones corresponding to different theologies, e.g. the thematic and the epideictic. The thematic developed out of scholasticism and presented a logical argument for the audience's edification. The epideictic was the main form in the papal court and I assume in other Italian courts. It developed out of a theology popular among humanists that Dempsey calls "Incarnationist". He introduces this idea in the context of examining a series of paintings of the Sibyls done for Cardinal Rosini in Rome c. 1431. They differ from their usual presentation, from Lactantius and Augustine, in which typically only the Erythraean sibyl was represented, who presented one long prophecy--which Augustine said was a combination of 10 separate prophecies by 10 sibyls--covering the whole life of Christ and ending at the Last Judgment. In contrast, Orsini has 12 separate prophecies (adding 2 new sibyls), and they are all new inventions focused on the birth of Jesus. Dempsey explains (p. 130f):
They do not follow Lactantius or Augustine, nor do they pertain to the whole of Christ's life and final appearance on the Day of Judgment (18). They foretell the Incarnation only...This is highly significant, for it shows that the Orsini sibyls were conceived as an early expression of what has been called the new humanist, or, alternatively, Incrnationist theology that Charles Trinkaus, John O'Malley, and Salvatore Camporeale have posited as a fundamental contribution of Renaissance humanist theologians (19). Incarnationist theology shifted emphasis away from that of a medieval Sacramentalist theology, which focused upon human sin and the redemption from sin promised by Christ's death and resurrection. It instead celebrated the values and potentialities of human life itself, values sanctioned by Christ's very decision to appear on earth in the age of Augustus. Indeed, that Christ chose to do so in just those days was taken as an affirmation of the advanced state attained by hujman culture at the dawn of the new era, carrying with it the promise of an ultimate human perfecibility here on earth that would set the stage for the second coming of Christ.

18. Maurice Helin, "Une texte inedit sur l'iconographie des Sibylles," Revue Belge de Philoologie et d"Histoire 15 (1936): 349-66. [followed by a long account of the 10 in Lactantius's Divinate instiutiones, which I omit here].
19. See in particular the classic study by Charles Trinkaus, In our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought (Chicago, 1970); J. W. O'Malley, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome:Rhetoric, Doctrine, and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court c. 1450-1521 (Durham, NC, 19779), esp. chap. 4; and S. J. Camporeale, "Renaissance Humanism and the Origins of Humanist Theology," in Humanity and Divinity in Renaissance and Reformation: Essays in Honor of Charles Trinkaus, ed. J. W. O'Malley, T. M. Izbicki, and G. Christianson (Leiden, 1993), pp. 101-24.
Looking in Trinkaus, I see that this shift in emphasis is already enunciated by Petrarch in De Remediis in a notable departure from the Stoic indifference to the world that is in so much of that work. In section 93 of Part II Petrarch has Reason answer the man who feels sadness [Dolor] for no reason except the general "misery of our times" that he sees around him--it is the era of the Black Death, after all. First, Reason reminds him of the "beckoning hills, the sun-drenched hills, ....fields of golden wheat, the budding vineyards, the ease of cities...the starry firmament" and so on (I am using Rawski's translation, p. 224f). Then she looks at man himself (p. 225):
You have a body, admittedly mortal and frail, but commanding in appearance, beautiful and erect, able to view the sky. You have an immortal soul, a road to haven, and inestimable goods bought at a paltry price, which I have left to the end, knowing they are so great that I myself could not comprehend them without the teachings of the faith: the hope of resurrection of the body after burial, whole and shining, without guilt, cleansed to resume in great glory the erstwhile place, which surpasses all dignity of man on earth and also that of the Angels--that [70] nature of man without sin, so linked to the nature of Godhead, that He Who was God Himself became a man and, being but one person, comprehended perfectly within Himself two natures, and was both, God and man, so that being made a man He might make man a god...What more, pray, could man, I do not say hope for, but aim at, and think of, than to be God? And behold, he is God!...
It is much the same as Ficino and Pico della Mirandola would say more than a century later. Thanks to the Incarnation, man can be God. In fact many other humanists said much the same thing, as Trinkhaus shows. O'Malley in turn shows that the typical sermon for the popes, and "distinguished and learned audiences" generally, similarly stressed the positive, designed not to lecture their audience but to "move and to please" them (both p. 44), with sermons dedicated to praising God in his "works and deeds which our only response is gratitude, love, and praise" (p. 49). Scripture itself is such a "history of God's actions."

This new style seems to have come in part from the Greeks who taught the first teachers of Greek in Italy. O'Malley associates Guarino of Verona first with John Chrysoloras and then, in Venice, with a student of Guarino's named Pietro del Monte, whose sermons to the pope in Rome O'Malley looks at. Here is O'Malley's description of a sermon del Monte gave at Lent in 1450 or 1451:
It is no exaggeration to state that this Lenten sermon, where Adam's Fall and Christ's suffering are treated, is a call to joy. The Fall is subordinated to the theme of man's dignity in his creation as God's image and likeness and to his restoration when the Word became flesh. The cross is presented not as a sign of how grievously sin offends God so as to require such expiation but of how immense is God's love for man and of how excellent is Christ's victory over sin and death.
O'Malley's next example is from Gasperino Barzizza, a Padua humanist also associated with Milan.
The oration is thoroughly epideictic, but less obviously and less exuberantly so than the oration by del Monte. Barzizza's oration conveys the message that Christ is the great victor, who by shedding his blood at his circumcision and on the cross has overcome evil and the devil and thus has set us free. The oration congratulates Christ on his triumph, which is compared with military triumphs from Roman antiquity.
It strikes me that in a courtly setting the tarot would naturally have been seen in a similar positive light, about the great deeds of God, his triumphs as it were, which are also ours. But there is a problem. It is in a milieu that emphasizes the Incarnation as the main event, and the precondition for the ascent; in fact, we cannot hope to be virtuous without it, because reason without grace is not enough to subdue the will. Yet the event is not seen in the tarot. At a time in which the Incarnation is seen eveywhere in art--visitations of the Magi, Annunciations, Madonna and Childs, etc/--all we have in the tarot is the Last Judgment, and, when Justice is at or near the end of the sequence, God's Justice.

The early tarot sequence, it seems to me, would have been different things to different audiences. For the common people accustomed to being lectured to about virtues and vices, these can be found. But there might be somethng for the courtly humanist milieu as well, if we see the Bagatella, Popess, and Empress as representing something besides what is on the face of the cards: that is, the Logos as world-shaper of John 1:1 (as well as at his Last Supper), followed by the Virgin of the Annunciation (typically depicted reading that passage from Isaiah, although not with a crown at that stage in her life) and a Madonna for whom an eagle-shield substitutes for the Christ child. After that, the Emperor and the Pope represent the two main hierarchies of power in the Christian world, continuing what was begun in Roman times. And before that, the Fool for God. This would not be the original conception of the design of the cards, I want to stress, but one that the new theology and sermons would naturally suggest.

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