...in the Sacro Bosco image, the "precipice" seems to put the three figures composing the allegory of Astronomy on a kind of "stage". This could also be the function of the precipice in the Visconti-Sforza trumps where it appears.
And Pen replied
I think you're right. But if that's the case I can't help wondering why it appears on some cards and not others.
Good question, Pen. I think cliffs have a variety of functions. In the Schifanoia, they separate scenes from each other. And that's what a stage does, too. Then there is a very particular separation of scenes we call death. As I expect you know, Kaplan (Vol. 2, p. 47f) relates the PMB cliff cards to the Certosa at Pavia, which has a church on a cliff. Galeazzo Maria moved GianGaleazzo's body there in 1474, as I said on the 5x14 thread, in relation to the added cards (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&start=90#p5070
; find "Certosa"). Ludovico and Beatrice are buried there, too. I think that most of the PMB cards with cliffs have to do with death. In the original cards, The Death and the Fool both have cliffs. The poor addled homeless beggar is going to die soon, both in fact and in the pageantry of Carnival; he's a continuation of the sacrificial year-king. He has seven feathers on his head, for Lent that follows. I'm not sure if the Bagatto has a cliff or not. Life is a game of chance, rigged toward a definite outcome. For the Temperance, Star, and Moon, and Sun, well, the last three are the "three luminaries" before the Apocalypse,i.e. life after death. Another thing is, I think, they replace the "theological virtues of Hope, Faith, and Charity (i.e. mercy), also having to do with life after death. And what does Temperance have to do with death? Well, that's a longer story; for one thing, the virtue delays death.
Another hypothesis of mine is that the three "added cards" with women, all the same woman, depict Elisabetta Maria Sforza, who died in childbirth in 1472, age around 15, with the cliffs as death (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&start=50#p4857
; find "Elisabetta"). She had probably married on her brother's orders. On the other thread, I argued this point using what is likely another portrait of her, in a ca. 1480 altarpiece, with two ladies who are likely Bona of Savoy and Ippolita Maria Sforza; they were together once, in 1468. The artist was contemporary with Benedetto Bembo and probably worked on projects with the Bembos, as Galeazzo tended to hire ad hoc groups. (See the section “Second artist” at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&start=30#p4821
; I have since found a similar portrait of Bona, in her Book of Hours.) I got the idea from an exhibit of 22 paintings I stumbled upon last winter in a small Mexican town (Tuito, Jalisco); each painting was a take on a different Waite-Smith card, but making a woman the central figure, the same woman each time. There was no explanation, but when I got home and showed people my photos, I learned that the woman was a Spanish female singer who died a few years ago at the untimely age of 61. The paintings were a memorial.
There is a small cliff on the World card. That's a stage, perhaps to suggest the elevated, idealized quality of the walled town, like a Certosa or Sforzinda (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filarete
, especially the Sforzinda image).
I have no thoughts yet on the "Triumphs of Batista Sforza." Such a lot of cliffs!