Re: Dummett and methodology [was Re: The Sun]

Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:In this case, the new discoveries tend to confirm that a type of playing cards called "trionfi" was standardized early. When people bought "trionfi", they knew what to expect. These weren't commissions of fanciful and different objects.

But we know from the commissions too that trionfi had standard subjects. None of the commissions specify different subjects; they ordered trionfi, and they got trionfi - it was standardized name for a standardized kind of deck. Just like when they bought regular cards they knew what they were getting and how to play with them.

The game isn't about what pictures are on the cards, it's about winning points.
It seems to point in this direction (early standardization), but it's not sure. Esch didn't find "Minchiate" in his lists, but most decks came from Florence. And in Florence Minchiate existed. It might be, that Minchiate was also running under the name of "Trionfi". And we don't know, how many cards these "Minchiate called Trionfi" had.
Generally Trionfi cards didn't appear so often on the table of the customers (once in a month or so might be an average, the custom officers used different writing forms (likely it wasn't always the same officer) and possibly it was often a discussion, how much value these foreign and unknown items had.

There are often different prices. A standardization might have begun, and it likely was increasing with the time.

The earlier price system of the silk dealers (as long Trionfi decks played no big role), had been rather stable. Cheap decks, middle class decks, expensive decks.
Similar the custom in Rome. Playing Cards from Gaeta look stable in their prices.
But the Trionfi cards (likely caused by "missing standard" and-or "rarity") created problems.

Esch notes (or speculates), that the custom prices naturally not always mirrored reality. Common goods had list prices, unusual items needed estimations.

But it's better to discuss it here:

... it has nothing with Dummett's methodology to do.

Re: Dummett and Iconography/Methodology

mjhurst wrote:Hi, Huck,

Glad to see that you read my post. Let me explain one little detail, so that you might understand it a bit more. The detail is the use of quotations marks.

Some people misuse them in place of bold or italics, just to emphasize a word or phrase. I don't do that, because it is often confusing and always stupid.

I use quotation marks for one of several reasons. For example, the name of an article may be put in quotes, while the title of the periodical in which it appears is put in italics. For example, an ironic usage (e.g., sarcasm) or a special usage (e.g., a "term of art" or jargon), may be put in quotations marks to emphasize the special meaning which is being assumed. Most often though, I use quotation marks to quote people.
Well, I've another use of quotes, for instance a use which makes sense for somebody, who speaks in a foreign language. You don't have the problem, I have. If we would talk in German, you would have also specific problems.
Maybe you translate this as "always stupid" (a quote in this case), but nonetheless this use is occasionally good to be understood. Maybe not in your case.

about "archetypal"
Here, for example, I used a "term of art", jargon introduced by Dummett et al. in A Wicked Pack of Cards. When I introduced the term in that post, it was in the phrase, "so-called "archetypal" Tarot decks". Both the adverb, "so-called", and the quotation marks around the word, are indications that this is not my own coinage of a new term. In fact, you are familiar with the passage and the term, and I have quoted it on more than one occasion. I will take this opportunity to do so again.
The Tarot pack has many different forms; rather than framing a definition that covers all of them, it is better to describe the archetypal version, which is also the best known. It is archetypal in that every other form that has existed from 1500 to the present day is derived directly or indirectly from it. It may or may not have been the original form.... But the Tarot pack had certainly been standardized, as regards the number and identity of the cards, by 1450: the archetypal form was that which resulted from that standardisation.

In its archetypal form, the Tarot pack consists of seventy-eight cards. There are four suits, not those of Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs most familiar in English-speaking countries, but of Cups, Coins, Swords, and Batons. Each suit has ten numeral cards, from Ace to 10, and four court cards, King, Queen, Knight, and Jack. This makes fifty-six cards. The remaining twenty-two are all picture cards without any suit sign. One of them, the Fool – il Matto in Italian – stands by itself... The other twenty-one cards form a sequence, usually numbered with Arabic or Roman numerals from I to XXI: for what we shall later see as good reason, they will be referred to as ‘trumps’. They depict a series of standard subjects – the Emperor, the Pope, the Wheel of Fortune, the Hanged Man, the Devil, the Moon, the Sin, the Angel (or Judgement), the World, and so on. In several later forms of the pack, some of these subjects were changed: the Pope and his unexpected associate the Popess were particularly liable to replacement. But, when the pack was first standardised, the subjects of the trump cards were standardized, too: they were at first everywhere the same.
(Decker, Depaulis, Dummett, A Wicked Pack of Cards, p.25.)
So you are completely wrong about why I chose that term. In fact, it was chosen by me as a quote, in that post, to be a recognizable allusion to an extremely well-known book on Tarot history, and that book's assessment of the early history of the deck. It was chosen by them, presumably, to express the fact that every other form of Tarot that has existed from 1500 to the present day is derived directly or indirectly from it. That's what they claimed, anyway. They also noted that it is the best known and widely used. But maybe they're liars too.

English Wikipedia: Archetype
1. A statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.
2. The Platonic philosophical idea, referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing.
3. In Jungian psychology, archetypes refers to a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
4. Archetypes can refer to a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting or mythology. This usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and Jungian archetypal theory.
German Wikipedia: Archetyp
allgemein ein Muster(exemplar), das zeitlich oder strukturell am Anfang steht, völlig neu und Vorbild für die Nachfolger ist, siehe Muster oder Prototyp
I cannot recognize, that the attribute "archetypal" in relation to "Trionfi decks" is given with right, independent if it's your word or a quote of DDD.
Our whole discussions are about this point, that it was plausibly was not so, that it stood at the beginning. Similar is the use of "Ur-Tarot".
It seems to be a communication technique to win a point in the debate, which you can't win otherwise. It's a cheap trick to claim such words for your side.
DDD are excused, cause they don't sit at our table and a "Wicked pack of cards" has its own time. In your case, you know that it is disputed.

"Deck with 4x14+22 - structure" looks like a good neutral word.
You are also completely mistaken when you claim "there's no evidence for an early form of that, what you call the 'archetypal deck'". As we have discussed repeatedly, virtually all of the surviving decks appear to be fragmentary examples of that design, and the most notable exception appears to be the remains of an expansion of the archetypal design, thus also attesting to the existence of that archetypal design.
I think, I have given enough arguments, that the present knowledge about Trionfi cards of 15th century might be explained otherwise, not only in this way. Especially my explanation, which is more an "evolutionary model", doesn't need to avoid contradictions.
Huck wrote:You say: "... You speculate about the "14 figures" which relate to no deck at all and whose subjects are wholly unknown."

Well, if I take you serious, then you lie, and you know it. So I take it as a humorous gesture to amuse yourself. You know, that there are three documents ...
As Ross has pointed out, you completely failed to understand that quote as well.

Well, I already stated, that, if you meant it in this specific and limited way, I don't mind. I know as you know, that the note doesn't offer the content of the pictures.
But I wonder, that you attacked the note of 1.1.1441, cause it has "no content", but weren't lucky to have some content of the 14 cards with the 5x14-deck in PMB. I think, it's clear since old times, that the note of 1457 and also hat of 1.1.1441 have naturally no content information beside the glorious facts, that at least they have "number of object or cards" (as nearly all 200 early Trionfi notes, that we have meanwhile, have no number of cards, but mostly only prices, number of decks and dates), but it's not, that the 5x14-theory is dead without them.

Perhaps you remember the time, when nobody was aware, that "70 cards note" and the "document of 1.1.1441" existed. The 5x14-theory was already there. The both others just came as additional confirmation.
You should at least learn about quotation marks. As used by some people, they indicate that the words are being quoted from some other source, and you should usually be able to figure out the source, and perhaps even the reason for that source being quoted.
As I've said, I've personal reasons to handle this a little bit different. Italic doesn't look well and it's more work. The typewriter italic looked far better than the computer italic.
Italic was loved for its beauty and elegance. That's rather gone on the pixel-monitor. Maybe I've become old-fashioned with the time.

Re: Dummett and methodology [was Re: The Sun]

Thanks for the comments, Michael (back at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=975&start=60#p14715). As a result, I have a couple of additional things to say.
MJ Hurst wrote
You seem confused here, and as you have jumbled different questions it is confusing. The idea that the "pattern" to be explained is the "cards that change in the order", i.e., the part that doesn't display a pattern, is nonsensical.
Explaining (as opposed to interpreting) that "nonsense" was the main point of my previous post, at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=975&start=50#p14457. If you want to talk about that post, do so. Otherwise you are not addressing the issues I raised. The period of experimentation I am concerned with is before there were 22 trumps, not after. The variability is during that period. Then comes the parts that are invariable, inserted into the already-variable sequence in an invariable, standardized way.

MJ Hurst wrote,
1. Did Dummett DENY THE POSSIBILITY that we could learn anything from the variations? If he didn't say anything like that, denying and eliminating and so on, and if no one has ever made that claim on his behalf, and yet you post a long argument against this strawman position which you attribute to him... WTF?

2. Did Dummett DENY THE POSSIBILITY that the original sequence might be other than the 22 trumps, or WTF?

3. Did Dummett DENY THE POSSIBILITY that subject matter might have changed, or WTF?
What I wrote (2nd formulation) was:
Put a different way, his development of A, B, and C, made three unjustified assumptions:
1. That the variability within the different groups is unimportant for establishing an original order, solely due to local initiatives after the original deck had been designed.
2. That the original deck had 22 cards.
3. That the original cards all had the same subjects as they did on most of the later lists.
I did not formulate Assumption 1 clearly enough; it spoke unjustifiably about "establishing an original order"; and it didn't acknowledge that Dummett actually does see the variability as important in deciding what comes first, in the case of the B order's virtues. Let me try again:

I said that Dummett didn't include, in his theory, the possibility that
1. the variability in cards' position is important, in determining what comes first.

So the assumption he makes is
1. That variability vs. invariability within the groups in the A and C orders, including that of the virtues, is unimportant for understanding how the sequences came to be.

I hope that formulation says what I want.

Then I wrote:
I want to emphasize that what I am doing here is not affirming any of the possibilities that I call "omissions" as part of a hypothesis. I am merely removing their denial, their elimination from consideration.
When I wrote "denial", that was too strong a word; cross out the phrase "their denial" in the sentence I wrote. What I want to say is that Dummett did not include these possibilities as part of his theory. I am using the word "or" in mine. His theory is like a special case of mine (as a refinement of his), like, but in a much more modest way, Euclidean geometry is a special case of non-Euclidean geometry. I am saying that it is reasonable, given the evidence, to consider other possibilities, even spell them out as part of a tarot-origin theory. I am not advocating them in particular. They are terms connected by the word "or".

Ross: the only reason I brought up 1422's note about 13 "cartexelle" (not "figure", I see, re-reading, thanks Ross) was that the number 13 came up when I was looking at variable vs. invariable cards, viewtopic.php?f=11&t=975&start=50#p14457: there were 12 variable cards, thereby suggesting that they might be earlier than the rest, and there were reasons for thinking that Death's invariableness had a special cause. So that made 13. Otherwise, I would have ignored the 1422 note.

This weekend I read a nice short interpretation (as opposed to explanation) of the standard tarot sequence that I agree with, in footnote 5 of Laura Paola Gnaccolini's "Il segreto dei segreti. I tarocchi Sola Busca e la cultura ermetico-alchemica tra Marche e Veneto alla fine del Quattrocento", in the catalog for the Brera exhibition of the Sola-Busca (Milan 2013, p. 52).
Dal Bagatto al Mondo o all''Angelo (Giudizio), in una sorta di percorso di elevazione del giocatore dalle condizioni, più legate alla terra fino a Dio;...
(5. From the Bagatto to the World or the Angel (Judgment), in a sort of path of elevation of the player from more earthbound conditions until [ending with?] God;...)
(She then gives a long list of references to the early painted cards, or "miniati".)

It's simple. Just one break, that from "earthbound conditions". Then up you go, allegorically speaking, til you can't go any higher. It's the "ladder" of which Bonaventure and others spoke, in those or other words, and which is congenial to the "cosmograph", as it was called, presented by Piscina and Anonymous (as Marco presented as one alternative at viewtopic.php?f=12&t=984&p=14706&hilit=Piscina#p14706). The "Last Days" narratives and illuminations are a source of allegorical images that illustrate that allegorical ladder (viewtopic.php?f=12&t=984&p=14652&hilit= ... aph#p14652). There are other ways of describing the sequence, too, but that is one of the simplest.

Re: Dummett and methodology [was Re: The Sun]

mikeh wrote: This weekend I read a nice short interpretation (as opposed to explanation) of the standard tarot sequence that I agree with, in footnote 5 of Laura Paola Gnaccolini's "Il segreto dei segreti. I tarocchi Sola Busca e la cultura ermetico-alchemica tra Marche e Veneto alla fine del Quattrocento", in the catalog for the Brera exhibition of the Sola-Busca (Milan 2013, p. 52).
Dal Bagatto al Mondo o all''Angelo (Giudizio), in una sorta di percorso di elevazione del giocatore dalle condizioni, più legate alla terra fino a Dio;...
(5. From the Bagatto to the World or the Angel (Judgment), in a sort of path of elevation of the player from more earthbound conditions until [ending with?] God;...)
(She then gives a long list of references to the early painted cards, or "miniati".)
Hello Mike,
it's good to know that you have given up Decker's idea of the Bagat as the genius of “Tabula Cebitis”, “the helpful spirit, in Christianity known as a good or guardian angel”.
Seeing the card as representative of the basest of earthbound conditions certainly makes much more sense!

Re: Dummett and methodology [was Re: The Sun]

Marco wrote,
Hello Mike,
it's good to know that you have given up Decker's idea of the Bagat as the genius of “Tabula Cebitis”, “the helpful spirit, in Christianity known as a good or guardian angel”.
Seeing the card as representative of the basest of earthbound conditions certainly makes much more sense!
I haven't given up that idea! The "helpful spirit" (on one way of interpreting that card) is right where he should be, at the bottom of the pictures that he referred to, setting the soul off on its journey.

Anyway, I don't think either of us want to say that the Popess is the second or third basest condition, at least not as the only interpretation.

The nice thing about Gnaccolini's description is that it doesn't say where the "ascent" starts; at least I didn't read it that way. If it's an ascent from "earthbound conditions" it might be that it starts when you leave those conditions. But when is that? Is the whole thing an ascent, or just the second part? She doesn't say anything about the Fool and the Bagat being the basest conditions. She keeps it simple.

Also, I ended by saying that there are other simple ways of describing the sequence. Another simple way is that of "descent and ascent of the soul". From that perspective, the "helpful spirit"--or spirits--is at the beginning of the descent. But that's not a subject for this thread. See my post at viewtopic.php?f=12&t=984&start=50#p14738, where I derive it from pseudo-Dionysius, the cosmograph, and the "tohu/bohu".

Refining Dummett

Hi, Mike,
mikeh wrote:
Marco wrote:it's good to know that you have given up Decker's idea of the Bagat as the genius of “Tabula Cebitis”, “the helpful spirit, in Christianity known as a good or guardian angel”. Seeing the card as representative of the basest of earthbound conditions certainly makes much more sense!
I haven't given up that idea! The "helpful spirit" (on one way of interpreting that card) is right where he should be, at the bottom of the pictures that he referred to, setting the soul off on its journey.

Anyway, I don't think either of us want to say that the Popess is the second or third basest condition, at least not as the only interpretation.
A couple points. First, some of us are not looking for an assortment of appealing "interpretations", something we can pass along to our fortune-telling colleagues to enrich their readings, but rather an adequate historical explanation, something that makes sense of the subject matter and sequence of the trumps. It's not the same quest. You want many interpretations, even wholly arbitrary ones like Bagatto as the guide from a particular Table of Cebes print. There is nothing in the trumps, their depiction in any known deck, nor their sequence which supports that silly idea. Conversely, I want at least one good explanation. Based on what's been published in the last 232 years that task is infinitely harder, but that's why it is appealing.

Second, only a few days ago you were talking about the possibility of value in Dummett's 3-sections analysis, and about the need for a refinement of that. Now you have completely abandoned all that, forgotten in less than a week. If the group spans the range from Matto and Bagatto to the most exalted Vicar of Christ in only six subjects, then naturally there are going to be abrupt, schematic shifts in subject matter. But you seem to have already moved on from one (apparently disingenuous) argument to the next.

If the lowest trumps are a separate section, with a particular type of subject matter with the Emperor and Pope as the highest examples of that subject matter, then we can understand many things about the design of the trumps. Beyond that, if the pairings -- Matto/Bagatto, Empress/Emperor, and Popess/Pope -- if these affine groups have significance, then that significance IS the refinement which is needed. This pattern is not subtle, complex, obscure, or otherwise difficult to perceive. It is not some vague parallel with an unrelated work. These pairings are fundamental to the design of Tarot.

In contrast, you seem to cling to the occultist view that the Fool, the Magus, and the High Priestess are a meaningful grouping. Yes, I know you get a rash when that is pointed out, but look at your argument here. When Marco says that seeing the Matto or Bagatto as representative of low-lifes makes good sense, you instantly bring in the Popess. You don't even feel any need for any justification of this silly argument -- the occultist and New Age views are so ingrained in you that it just seems natural to confuse these cards.

Of course, if you don't "see" the pairings, there is little that can be said.

Things are, of course, more complicated than that. There is even a sense in which the Matto, Empress, and Popess may be seen as cognate subjects within the context of the lowest trumps. Each is under the leadership of another, the Bagatto, Emperor, and Pope, the higher-ranking member of their respective pairs. The pairs themselves form a tripartite Ranks of Man, and a Ranks of Man is the perfect subject matter for the lowest trumps in a hierarchical moral allegory. OMG -- it kinda fits together into a larger whole!

A Tripartite Ranks of Man

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

Re: Refining Dummett

If one has 6 ideas, and it are recognized as six pairs, it's a question, if the whole has the association of 2 dice as background.

If we follow the Marseille order ...

1 Bagatello
2 Popess
3 Empress
4 Emperor
5 Pope
and identify 0 (=Fool) = 6

we have the pairs 2+5 = 7, 3+4 = 7, 1+6(= 0 Fool) = 7

This feature of 3 sevens was often used in dice games - see Mitelli and his many games.

The "6" or "6+6" or "6+6+6" often finished the complete game, so the association 6=0 might have had this background.

4 lights + Judgment + World are another 6-elements-group at the other end of the Tarot-hierarchy, with Judgment and World cause their specific character possibly mirroring Bagatello and Fool.

21+0 = 21
20+1 = 21
19+2 = 21
18+3 = 21
17+4 = 21
16+5 = 21

... similar to that, which was already analyzed long ago at this place:

Naturally different orders, which moved emperor-empress-popess or Iustitia don't fit in this scheme.

Re: Dummett and methodology [was Re: The Sun]


Prolegomena to a study of the groups, subjects and sequence of the Tarot trumps
(mostly an art(ist) appreciation exercise)

A depiction of heaven and earth will place heaven above earth; everyone intuitively understands this. The things of heaven are higher than the things of earth. So, in a vertical hierarchy, where would you then put depictions of concepts and ideas, or personifications of moral concepts like allegories? Since they are not people you can meet or things you can bump into, nor are they real but untouchable like the heavenly bodies and supreme realities like God on his throne, such symbols will be placed higher than earth and Man but lower than heaven and God, in the middle space between the two. This is what the tarot trump sequence does, and so do countless other works showing formally similar hierarchical orders. Only the specific iconographic content will differ, depending on the context and function of the work. This is the threefold scheme of the trump sequence.
When we look closely at the various orders, we find that there was far from being total chaos. A first impression is of a good deal of regularity which, however, is hard to specify. Now the cards which wander most unrestrainedly within the sequence, from one ordering to another, are the three Virtues. If we remove these three cards, and consider the sequence formed by the remaining eighteen trump cards, it becomes very easy to state those features of their arrangement which remain constant in all the orderings. Ignoring the Virtues, we can say that the sequence of the remaining trumps falls into three distinct segments, an initial one, a middle one, and a final one, all variation occurring only within these different segments.
Game of Tarot, p. 398.

The threefold architecture of the trump sequence that Dummett discovered is not just a quirk of Tarot - it is a basic principle of spatial organization in iconographic vertical hierarchies - the basic moral valuation of hierarchical space, the low, middle, and high places; the center, and the sides. It forms a part of what Aby Warburg in 1912 described as the "...noch ungeschrieben 'historischen Psychologie des menschlichen Ausdrucks'" (the yet-unwritten 'historical psychology of human expression'). It is so basic, intuitive and natural that it is essentially unconscious and remains unmentioned, assumed, in discussions of how to read art. It is not a complicated insight, but it is profound; it has enough analytic power to generate new ways of viewing some artistic productions, for instance blowing life into a seemingly static monument like Donatello's tomb for Giovanni XXIII (see below in the examples I analyze in their threefoldness).

It was in September 2013, after a week or so of seriously wrangling with three "triumphs" (Love, Death, Eternity), a narrative that I saw in the trump sequence, that I appear to have truly begun to realize Dummett's threefold structure for the profound insight it was. From my notebook:
"We can look at the Monopoly squares and say "that's Atlantic City". With a little digging / research we can say it is Atlantic City, first third of 20th century.
"Likewise with Tarot we can look at the trumps and say they contain a moral allegory and with a little research locate it in the first half of 15th century Italy.
"But neither was intended to teach what the symbols represent, although we can draw a lesson from either of them. Court cards not numbered; rank is implied. Similarly the court cards don't tell a story, although they are a meaningful hierarchy. Similarly for Chess figures or any game with symbolic figures representing the hierarchy.
"It would be absurd to suggest that the order of the court cards was invented to teach how a court was organized. It would be absurd to suggest that the Chess pieces teach how a kingdom is organized. Both can do that, in a vague way, but that it not their intention. The understanding of the hierarchy is implicit, expected of the audience. Similarly, all Italians of the 15th century would recognize the vague hierarchy in the trumps: celestial and eternal things are higher than moral allegories, and moral allegories are higher than human stations/types. These are the three divisions recognized by Dummett, and already recognized in the 19th century (and arguably the 16th).
"The nature of the differences among the various trump orders shows that there was a broad understanding of these three divisions, and the overall hierarchy. "

"Threefold scheme of art; planets (children), Schifanoia, pictures of people having visions, etc. Pseudo-Mantegna perhaps most relevant scheme:

1. Ranks
______ __Muses (poetry, art)
2. Ideas --- Liberal Arts (science, intellect)
_________Virtues (morality)
3. Celestial

"(Three registers) Check descriptions of Schifanoia, Ps.-Mantegna, etc. for an authoritative statement to that effect."

Looking for any authority who described "threefoldness" in vertical hierarchies proved difficult; it became apparent that it was such a fundamental, underlying and completely natural basis for the spatial organization of iconographic information, that people describing such art assumed it rather than explained it as a principle.

I found a few art historians who pointed in that direction, such as Dale Kinney, "The Apse Mosaic of Santa Maria in Trastevere", in Elizabeth Sears and Thelma K. Thomas, eds., Reading Medieval Images: The Art Historian and the Object (U Michigan Press, 2002), pp. 19-26:
Where should the viewer start 'reading' this mosaic? Literally, with the inscriptions? In the center? From the bottom? From the top? Structure, both physical and pictorial, provides an intrinsic hierarchy and with it, a place to begin. (p. 22)
She then proceeds with her analysis of the verticality, horizontality, and in situ qualities of the work, along with the inscriptions. She concludes (p. 25):
It takes desire and effort to read them, a physical premonition of the intellectual exertion that will be required to penetrate the allegory once it is perceived. To the art historian, this is a signal that visual analysis has done its work, and it is time to move on to the library.
(this is another implication of my motto, "con gli occhi et con l'intelletto")

Another one was Alastair Fowler, Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge UP, 1970):
A more pervasive but also more elusive element, whose bearing on literary forms we are only beginning to grasp, is the spatial character of Renaissance thought (2). I shall only touch on one aspect of this: the tendency to order ideas in visual schemes (especially linear sequences). The dominance in the Renaissance of the pseudo-Horatian doctrine ut pictura poesis has long been obvious. But the application of the doctrine to literary structure as distinct from texture or imagery, is far from obvious. (p. 17)
Fowler's note 2 says: "This topic is brilliantly discussed by Fr. W(alter) J. Ong in The Barbarian Within (New York, 1962), Ch. V, "System, Space and Intellect in Renaissance Symbolism"; see also the same author's "From Allegory to Diagram in the Renaissance Mind", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, XVII (1959)." I was not able to see Ong's book, but I could get his article, but found it concerned with the influence of printing on the representation of allegorical tableaux, and otherwise too diffuse generally to find the kind of authoritative "quote" on the insight I was looking for.

I realized I would have to do it myself, and assembled a few examples from art I was working with at the time, as well as those more generally known to us (such as the E-Series and Costa's Cappella Bentivoglio triumphs). Finally, when reading Aby Warburg in order to understand Schifanoia better, I came across his formulation "historical psychology of human expression", and realized that the threefold structure was an example of this. Shorthly thereafter I realized why it was "psychological" - the terrestrial (bottom, ground) is tangible, real; the celestial (planets, stars, the divine) is real, visually tangible, but between them is an impassable gulf - we can't go up there, we can't touch those things: we can't fly. So this "middle space", the "air", becomes, naturally, the realm of the conceptual, the quasi-real (when personified), thought-objects, personifications of ideas, values, the means by which the intellect bridges the gulf between the lower and the higher reality. This is why personified and allegorized morality goes in the middle section, why the designer put it there, and why no one would have had a second thought as to why it was where it was, as a coherent section of the sequence.

Vertical hierarchy (structure and function of composition impose constraints and variations)

Physical : Bottom-Middle-Top
Value of placement: Low-Middle-High
Descripton: Terrestrial, literal - Conceptual , figurative (of intellectual or moral principles)- Celestial, divine
(Psychological origin - terrestrial and celestial are real, but man can't fly - he can't touch the celestial. The middle - the "air" - becomes the home of the conceptual)

Six examples -

I. Palazzo Schifanoia, Sala dei Mesi

1. Acts of Borso (terrestrial)
2. Moral qualities of the decans (personified; decans are ten-degree segments of the 360 degree circle of the zodiacal band, to which astrologers assign moral qualities)
3. Gods of the months (Manilius), with mythological and planetenkinder scenes

Because the terrestrial and heavenly registers are self-evidently so described, I shall only detail why the "faces of the decans" between them are in fact a moral register.

April - faces of the three decans

(for Ibn Ezra, Raphael Levy, Francisco Cantera, eds., The Beginning of Wisdom, Johns Hopkins UP, 1939, pp. 159-160; for Picatrix, William Kiesel and Hashem Atallah, eds., Picatrix; The Goal of the Wise (Ouroboros Press, 2002), quoted in Shawn Nacol, Scion's Handy Guide to the Decans (PDF, 2005), pp. 10-14)

1. Ibn Ezra, "A hirsute woman, who has a son and who wears clothing partly burnt."
Picatrix, "A woman of curly hair, having a single child who is dressed in clothes like unto fire, and she herself dressed in similar clothes. And this is the face of plowing and working the earth, of sciences, geometry, of sowing seed, and making things."
2. Ibn Ezra, "A man who resembles a ram in his face and his body, whose wife resembles an ox; his fingers are like goat's hoofs. That man is very hot and gluttonous, and he does not have peace of mind; he cultivates the earth, and he drives the oxen to plow and to sow."
Picatrix, "A man like the figure of a camel and having on his fingers are hooves like those of cows, and he is covered completely with a torn linen sheet. He desires to work the land, to sow, and to make things. And this is the face of nobility, power, and of rewarding people."
3. Ibn Ezra, "A man whose feet are white and likewise his teeth, which are so long that they stick out beyond his lips; the color of his eyes as well as his hair is reddish, and his body resembles that of the elephant and the lion, but prudence does not reside in him, since all of his thoughts are bent on doing evil; he is seated on a cloth. There go up also a horse and a little dog."
Picatrix, "A man of ruddy coloring with large, white teeth appearing outside of his mouth, and a body like an elephant whose legs are long; and there ascends with him one horse, one dog, and one calf. And this is the face of laziness, poverty, misery and fear."

II. Triumphal Arch of Alfonso V in Castel Nuovo, Naples

1. Triumph of Alfonso (terrestrial)
2. Virtues (moral)
3. Archangel Michael flanked by saints Anthony and Sebastian (celestial)

The rivers Sebeto and Volturno (under the arc as the "vault of heaven", i.e. the "world", centered, symbolically, in the land of Naples between these rivers) - the virtù of the King causes the land to flourish (the rivers are not personified below, where two decorative griffons bear the horns of plenty, so it is not the land that has brought Alfonso victory, but rather Alfonso that has brought the land victory).

Looks like this now -

As engraved in 1870 -

The statue at the top

is the Archangel Michael, who until sometime after the 18th century had wings, as in this engraving from 1756 -

This Michael was probably the model for the image on a coin of Ferdinando of Aragon, son of Alfonso and king of Naples 1458-1494.

An actual example -


In the engraving from the 1870 Moniteur des architectes above, you can vaguely see the dragon Michael is slaying (I have not been able to find a good photograph with a top view of the pedestal).


Alfonso's arch is not merely a triumphal arch, commemorating a victory, but also serves an architectural function as a gate. One of constraints of the design was that it match the height of the two towers it stands between. This accounts for the second, decorative arch above the main entrance arch. What precise symbolism it had remains obscure, but the presence of a statue with an antique toga suggests that the people on it represented philosophers or other great figures of the past, i.e. exempla, belonging to the moral aspect of the threefold division, rather than the terrestrial and real Triumph of Alfonso, or, because it is under the Cardinal Virtues, to the celestial realm.

Threefold symbolic structure of entire monument - ... iteur6.jpg

Boiled down to symbolic essentials of the hierarchy - ... hbasic.png

Note that the four Cardinal Virtues stand for "all virtue". The iconography of the triumphal arch is a contextualized and idealized representation of Alfonso's triumph, not merely an attempt to depict what really happened. We know from written descriptions that the Theological Virtues were also present at the event, and of the Cardinal Virtues only Justice played a major role, along with four other Virtues, Magnanimity, Constancy, Clemency and Liberality; Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence played no particular role at all; Fortune-Occasio, who played a central role in the actual triumph, is not represented on the arch, and neither is Julius Caesar, another central figure of the real event (although he might have been in the middle section, with the second arch).

III. Lorenzo Costa, Cappella Bentivoglio Triumph of Death (starts with allegory, introduces concept of "literal" as a subset of "terrestrial" or "real" (actually vice-versa))

1. Triumphs of Fame (and Fortune) and Death (and Chastity)
2. Exempla (Fame), souls ascending (Death)
3. Souls ascending, angels, God the Father, Jesus, Mary (in Death triumph only; the two compositions are a diptych)

In the Death triumph, the physical space of the viewer is important - he is already looking up, above his head - this composition starts in the conceptual realm, with an allegory. Yet the picture can still be analyzed in the usual threefold way. In this case, the triumph, although strictly speaking allegorical, is presented as real, as it might actually be seen on the ground. The weight of the geographic features all around emphasize the point - this allegory is the "terrestrial", bottom part of the structure. We can now understand that our terms need some refinement; the lowest level is not always a depiction of the literally real, but is also a literal depiction of some kind of reality. As in the "quadriga" reading of scripture (and Dante), the first, most basic and lowest level is the "literal"; since all art is representational (even Borso's acts, while real, are idealized representations of those acts), we can see that the lowest level, the terrestrial, worldly, or mundane, can actually be seen as a subset of the literal. In the case of Costa's painting, the "literal" reality is the Petrarchan text, and this forms the lowest register of the underlying threefold structure.

But there seems to be a real story woven into the allegory: the death of a child, standing for all deaths. We are not part of Death's long train, we enter the scene from a different angle. Our eye might first meet an exotic musician, perhaps Orpheus, his back turned to us: this is a private mourning we are coming upon. Or, we may first fall upon a young woman presenting a nude child, partly covered by the somber robe of the musician, who looks straight at us. This must be the dead. As our eye is drawn inward, Costa's placement of the two other nudes suggests an ages of man motif, first a young, beardless man, next a bearded mature man. Nudity symbolizes the purity of the soul, so these men are deaths at various ages. Like the child, these perhaps represent real people who would be known to the intended original audience of the composition.

Our eye is drawn to where Death meets Chastity (virtuousness), an explicit representation of Petrarch. Then following further, finally we get to the visual center of the composition, Death itself, pointing upward. Going up from Death's scythe, we immediately enter a celestial panorama, conceptually moving from sadness to joy; schematically it is a series of concentric rings occupied by souls, saints, apostles and angels respectively, until the inmost space, the realm of divinity proper. We note that the first souls above the scythe's blade have become angelic infants; one is nude, and looks like the child gazing at us at the beginning, and two are wearing red and green, which with white are the same colors as the virgins meeting death below. In Dantean symbolism these colors stand for the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (perhaps it is Dante and Virgil in the distance). In these three children, then, the allegory and the real reference, our entry point, of the composition are blended.


The moral overlay suggests that the mountain is part of the moral landscape: the grim procession is descending from the mountain, or, we are mentally ascending it, to contemplate death. The presence of hermits in the procession recalls another famous triumph of death, in Pisa. Despite the implication of a vast, murmuring throng, accompanied by mournful music, the mountain and hermits remind us that the mystery of death is encountered in solitude and silence.

Costa's work conflates with vertical values of space and placement perspective uses of those spaces; the three-dimensional aspect allows God to be both the highest and most distant, as well as at the center of the encircling choir of angels, as the summit of the ascent. The change from linear and two-dimensional representations, which used size and placement alone to indicate importance, to three-dimensional perspective realism forces late-quattrocento artists like Costa to adapt space and placement accordingly; we are now invited to go in and up, whereas before the perspective of the viewer was implicitly static - the picture did all the work for itself.

The dynamic nature of the interaction between the real and the conceptual in this painting makes it more challenging to map than a monument like Alfonso's Arch or a strict hierarchy like the E-Series, but applying the threefold analysis to it looks something like this -

The light blue is the entry point, the ground of the viewer's perspective and expectations, where real and recognizable people meet the gaze; almost simultaneously the allegory or moral stream in purple begins, with the musician's turned back; the blue fades and the purple stream grows larger as the gaze is drawn inward, and can go either straight upward or take in the side-streams of the Petrarchan allegory. In both cases these meet in the exact visual center of the painting, where the celestial realm begins.

This discussion of Costa's Triumph of Death is something of a digression, since it does not illuminate the structure of the Tarot trump sequence per se. But it illustrates how the threefold structure can be used to look at a composition in a new way; it has helped us broaden the definition of the lower level, and helps us appreciate works that similarly begin, on the lowest visual level, with allegories or moralities. However, as we can see in Costa, there is always a real terrestrial context in which to view the work, its ground in real events, or literal representations of them.

IV. Donatello tomb of Giovanni XXIII

(structurally/conceptually equivalent to Costa Triumph of Death; Death implicit in function/meaning of monument; so in tomb context, the terrestrial level is the context itself, death is the "ground" of the monument)

1. Theological Virtues (same role as Virtue-Pudicità in Costa Triumph of Death)
2. Effigy of dead man ascending (middle - corpse is actually in the sarcophagus)
3. Mary and Jesus (welcome into the celestial realm)

The relationship of the viewer to the imagery is important again. Since I haven't found any photographs of the monument which show a person standing close by, I have added one in the proper dimensions.

One can immediately see that the viewer is looking up at the Theological Virtues; already the mind is being taken on a climb, ascending. Since the context of death does not need to be spelled out on a tomb (although it often is), the moral level, like in Costa, forms the first explicit or visual level.

With the idea of the "middle" space, and the analogy of Costa's and countless other depictions of souls ascending to heaven, we see now that the effigy of the dead man is figuratively ascending, on the wings of his faith and piety (the three Theological Virtues) into the bosom of heaven. By virtue of the threefold analysis, movement has been granted to a monument that seems static, which we would otherwise pass by without a second look.
In retrospect, I can see that this analysis works for other tombs too, like the Rosellini one we recently looked at. In this, however, there are no Theological Virtues; beneath the sarcophagus, at the base, there is a kind of Arcadian tableau of memento mori. As we know, on the side there is a chariot of the soul (the other side is invisible, apparently, to viewers). All in all, the pagan elements are kept low, as is appropriate in a Christian monument.

V. Pseudo-Mantegna (PsM) model book

1. Human conditions
2. Muses, Arts and Sciences, Virtues
3. The celestial order

The middle, conceptual level has three parts, themselves hierarchically placed according to moral value. The lowest, the pagan muses; the middle, the intellectual arts and sciences; the highest, the moral virtues.

VI. Tarot trump sequence
1. Human types (highest and lowest; highest complete ranking of court cards)
2. Virtù and Fato
3. Heavenly order

Underlying, threefold conceptual structure of the trump sequence (like many other vertical hierarchies, why it made sense intuitively)- ... cture1.jpg

The ludic structure, how it was learned at the table (conventional groupings, one ludic (highest and lowest, a group because counting cards), no narrative necessary) - ... cture1.jpg

The tarot trumps are neither monument, nor painting, nor quasi-encyclopedic model-book; they are the pieces of a game. Their context is ludic, and play-function is therefore one of the constraints upon their design.

Note that for none of the above examples is it necessary to understand the implicit, sometimes explicit threefold structure. As an analytical tool, it merely explains why morality goes in the middle space, and by looking at different works that way, we can understand what that middle space is. It is sometimes physically in the middle of the composition, as in Schifanoia, Alfonso's triumphal arch, the E-Series, and the Tarot trump sequence; other times it is the physical placement, above the viewer's gaze, that places the entire composition in conceptual space, with the lowest, terrestrial realm implied or only hinted at in the composition itself, as in Costa's painting of the Triumph of Death; at other times, such as in Donatello's tomb monument for Baldassare Cossa, the composition begins in the middle, moral and allegorical, space, with the context remaining implied (death), but nevertheless clear.

This explains why the various sequences share the threefold sensibility, and why Dummett was able to reduce it to three families. It also explains why the designer chose these three types of subject matter, vertically arranged in three divisions, to illustrate the pieces of his game. It finally explains why it was easy for the players to understand the logic of the subjects, why they were where they were. The threefold structure is a necessary, but not sufficient, explanation for the choice of subjects and their number - different subjects could occupy the lower, middle and highest levels (exactly as in the PsM, which is partly why so many people cannot believe it is not a card game related to Tarot); or, a story whose plot is so well known that the iconographic sequence clearly illustrates it and therefore doesn't need these symbolic ranking spaces; or, with the addition of numbers, the trumps need have no iconographic program at all, indeed no content at all but the numbers themselves - but with this threefold hierarchy of groups in the back of their minds, the specific placement of pieces in the hierarchy was easy to memorize. It can be done in a matter of minutes (with this basic "grouping method" I have taught several people completely unfamiliar with any Tarot at all the Bolognese order, including the counting trumps and the equal-papi rule, to test how well it works).

Re: Dummett and methodology [was Re: The Sun]

Hello Ross,
thank you very much for this great post! I like your exposition of the three layers and I find the Naples and pseudo-Mantegna examples very clear.

I would like to go deeper into the assignment of the Devil to the central section: a point I am not sure I understand. At the beginning of your post, you describe the three sections (from top to bottom) as:

* real but untouchable [entities] like the heavenly bodies and supreme realities like God on his throne;
* depictions of concepts and ideas, or personifications of moral concepts like allegories;
* people you can meet or things you can bump into.

Isn't the Devil “real but untouchable”?

For instance, could Duerer's Knight, Death and the Devil be seen as an example of the three categories, in which the transcendental is represented by the Devil?

It seems to me that the Devil belongs to the same section as the Angel, one at the bottom and the other at the top.
Moreover, there are cases in which the Devil and “fire from heaven” appear together. For instance this biblia pauperum page, or the Livre de La Vigne manuscript. I think they both often (usually?) represented “divine punishment” and, being next to each other in the sequence, were possibly meant to be seen as related and as belonging to the same section.
biblia_pauperum.png (392.55 KiB) Viewed 8191 times

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