A few clarifications from my previous post. First, I want to make clear (after reading Michael's footnote to his May 1 blog entry) that my interest in seeing the card as Isis was not from a belief that the cards were Egyptian, but rather that it seems to me unlikely that de Gebelin was the first to think of an Egyptian interpretation to cards, given the interest in all things Egyptian and especially their "Mysteries", starting with the humanists of Italy of the 1420s--not seeing the cards as Egyptian per se, but as expressing those "mysteries" as part of the prisca theologia
perfected in Christianity. In the 16th and 17th century, the cards were already referred to as "hieroglyphs", as Ross has pointed out (http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=94755
), although not necessarily suggesting Egypt. Previously in this thread I have given reasons for suspecting such an Egyptian interpretation as early as the Cary Sheet (correlating with a Pope who had his apartment decorated with pictures of Isis and other Egyptian figures), continuing into the Noblet and other French cards. I don't advocate it as the only interpretation of any deck, and not for the card's origin, or for the minchiate and decks which have merely "four papi"; but it seems to me that in Milan and France, at least, the Popess card could have taken on an Egyptian meaning for some audiences. In this context, it seems to me that de Gebelin was probably only the first who had a strong enough desire to argue an Egyptian interpretation (which he did in extreme form!) and who could also get away with putting it in print, given the loosening of censorship in Paris at that time and his own high status (he even became one of the royal censors). On the other hand, censorship in Europe was not so complete that Isis could not have been alluded to clearly elsewhere in those centuries--in Basel, Amsterdam, even Venice--so I am always looking for unambiguous verification of my hypothesis (which I admittedly have not found).
There are still a few things about the image I posted that puzzle me. What about the various markings on her dress that look like hieroglyphics? And what looks like a tail sticking out, which would associate her to the Devil? I am thinking that people in 17th century Venice might have made the same mistake that I did, and concluded from the weird appearance and prominent obelisks/pyramids (vs. small colisseum) that she was indeed Isis, and that there was somothing exotic and devilish inside, or at least Egyptian, a connotation useful for a variety of titles.The motto around the circle would be to disavow such an interpretation, and so protect the publisher from the censors, but some people might not notice or understand it. It could be a way of attracting attention and increasing sales, for this and other books.
It remains true, I think, that Italian 15th century representations of ladies with papal-like tiaras are far from suggesting the Church. I only know of three types. First, of course, are depictions of Pope Joan, in illustrations of Boccaccio. Second is in the Hypnerotomachia
, published 1499 Venice, where she is the head priestess in a group of priestesses devoted to Venus (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385&start=40#p8626
). Third are in engravings of the sibyls, pagan prophetesses, 1465-1480 by Baldini, especially the Libyan. SteveM showed us her at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385#p8275
. I discussed her and others at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917&start=150#p13782
All of three of these examples are rather exotic. Given that the Popess card would have been familiar to artists at that time, it seems strange that none would use the image to represent the Church in art then, if that is what it meant in the tarot. It is as though the image were then too tainted for it to be suitable for such a purpose.
Another 15th century tiara-lady is the English one that JMD found of Mary as Queen of Heaven, viewtopic.php?f=11&t=295
, which Pen posted at the beginning of this thread. (In Italy before the 15th century, there are also such Marys with papal tiaras, and Faith and Mercy as well, as Michael shows.) In England as well, I found a tiara-lady just recently, of the Empress of Rome, in a series of sculptures in the cathedral of Norwich, sometime after 1455. Here is one image, from Black's Medieval narratives of accused queens
The Empress of Rome is a legendary Christian Empress in a tale that was popular in the 13th century. I attribute her revival, and her depiction with the papal tiara, to the closening of diplomatic and commercial ties between Milan and London at that time, in particular involving the Sforza and Borromeo families. Since the legend of the Empress of Rome is in certain peculiar ways like the legend of Guglielma then current (that of Pulci and others before him), I attribute the papal headgear in that context to a Milanese connection. For more details see the thread "Visconti Marriage and Betrothal Commemorations", the post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=917&start=150#p13776
One last consideration in the 17th century, which I don't think I've mentioned: one title for the Popess card in France was "Pances", a word in Lyonnaise dialect that means "belly". See e.g. http://pfffrrrummmp.blogspot.com/2011/10/la-pances.html
); the blogger (SteveM?) interprets this as saying that the Church is too fat. That is possible, but it might also mean, given that she is female, that the Popess is pregnant. In that sense the title fits Isis (pregnant with Horus), the Virgin Mary, and Pope Joan.