I've mentioned it before elsewhere, but I think it's worth bringing up again. Let's take a look at the Lovers card from the Jean Noblet Tarot, (Paris, 1650):
Notice the area that contains the cupid? The shape of this area has always bothered me. It seems erratically drawn, why isn't the shape more circular or evenly distributed?
We find a similar design on the Jean Dodal Tarot, (Lyon, early 1700s):
The Dodal strikes me as less odd, but still somewhat strange.
I would have left it at this, but noticed something very interesting one day when examining a set of cards illustrated in Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot, Volume II.
The deck that caught my eye was one created by François Heri, a Tarot of Besançon style deck (where the Pope and Popess are replaced with Jupiter and Juno). Like the Jean Dodal Tarot, it was created sometime in the early 1700s. This deck is particularly interesting because it is the only deck I have ever encountered which is similar in proportion to the Jean Noblet Tarot. The deck is shorter and wider in proportion to other Besançon decks just as the Noblet shows the same relationship to other Marseille tarots. The two are obviously related somehow. There are little differences on nearly every card, most of these of a typical Besançon style; (as an example, the Devil is slightly different than in Marseille Tarots, he has hairy legs and his minions are shown in profile).
Because the Heri and the Noblet are so similar, I find it very exciting to compare where they "agree" iconographically, and where they differ. Unfortunately, I've only the enlarged black and white images from the Encyclopedia to use for comparison; but it is the best that I have at this time to work with. It was in such a comparison that I first noticed a striking difference between the Heri and the Noblet on the Lovers. The Heri has clouds about the Lovers.
For me, the Heri depiction makes much more sense.
And that's odd because in almost every way, the Heri is a generally cruder. Why would Heri add the clouds?
Perhaps the answer is that the clouds are just a typical detail that appears in the Besançon decks, but not in the Marseille decks? It's true they do appear on other Besançon decks. Here for example is the Marseille Tarot by Jean Dodal, and the Besançon Tarot by J.B. Benois:
Notice how poorly the wings of the cupid are drawn on the Jean Dodal; and also the way the upper leg is disconnected from the body? Even though the Jean Dodal is the older of the pair, again I feel that the Besançon Tarot makes more "sense". It's interesting as well to note that both the Heri and the Benois Besançon Tarots follow the same "Tarot de Marseille I" style exemplified by Noblet and Dodal. Even the character's feet which are missing from the Dodal are also missing on the Benois.
The "Tarot de Marseille II" style associated with the François Chosson and Nicholas Conver portrays the Lovers card very differently. Here is the François Chosson:
Here the Cupid is reversed and without a blindfold, the feel is entirely different.
I'm not sure what to make of this. I'm inclined to think that the card "should" have the clouds on it. The depiction in the Besançon Tarots makes more "visual sense" to me than their cousins in the Marseille Tarots.
To be fair, it's very possible that when the Besançon style was first being developed, a cardmaker also felt that the cupid could be improved and redesigned the Marseille card to have the clouds.
I'm not so sure though.
I'm more inclined to think that the Besançon Tarots "retain" a feature that probably existed in early Marseille decks, but was "lost" in the Marseille "bloodline" by the time of the Noblet.
There is another possibility that I have been considering ever since I first noticed this years ago. Is it possible that the Noblet and the Dodal are actually modified Besançon Tarots, adapted to meet the style of the Marseille? Is the "Tarot de Marseille I" really a modified Besancon to take on traits of the "Tarot de Marseille II"? I think it unlikely, but worth mentioning.
What do you think? Are there clouds above the Lovers?