Re: The Empress

Hello friend. Good article, thanks.

a) I think in CY and PMB, the Empress represents the Empire, as always, but may be in secondary meaning represented Bianca Maria (I'm working on this hypothesis).

b) The ladies of the courtship of Bianca Maria wore green suits. It seems that was one of his favorite colors.

c) About the origin of Dracula, I wrote an article time ago. Maybe you may interested (in Spanish, sorry):
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

The 16th-17th century Empress

Yes, Bianca as secondary, Empire as primary.

Green also appears in the seven other cards in the PMB, and only those (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=395&start=20#p7959). It means something.

Anything of relevance to tarot in your Dracula article? It looks great, by the way, something I'll read.

OK, now for something I'm sure people will disagree with.



It seems to me that anyone seeing the PMB or Cary Sheet card would have also brought to mind other madonnas with emblems of the emperor, king of kings, on their laps: Mary and Jesus first, and by the end of the century Isis and Horus; both of these sons were saviors of their people. Some people maintain that Bianca Maria had paintings done of herself as the Madonna, sometimes with one of her children as Jesus. (For examples To me this is the most believable of the claims on this site. A picture in a church of oneself as the Virgin is a great way to protect your image against mutilation, confiscation, or destruction by your enemies later.)

Along with Isis, perhaps by the end of the century, there would also also Venus with Cupid, who like Jesus represented the spirit of love. Below left is Isis with Horus, on a Roman coin, of which there would have been many in Italy of this time; the hawk was Horus’s bird, corresponding to the eagle further north. On the right is Venus and Cupid, from the 1499 Hypnerotomachia. (This book also has the rather Popess-looking Priestess of Venus. See my post at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385&start=40#p8626). By such associations, the Empress card becomes larger than the Empire.

These Empress-associations are the same as the mythological figures that I identified for the Popess, except that I have dropped Rhea and added Venus (see my post at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=385&start=20#p8528 and following). The eagle substitutes for the Horus-hawk. That this substitution could have been a conscious thing, to be recognized as such by card-players in the courts, is shown by an argument in Wind, Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance, p. 231f:
As the imperial bird of Zeus, the eagle was credited with virtues that Plutarch, in De Iside et Osiride, had ascribed originally to the falcon, the symbol of Horus and Osiris: 'This bird,' he said, 'is distinguished by the sharpness of its vision and the speed of its wings' (footnote: De Isis et Osiris LI). Ripa said the same of the eagle: 'havendo egli (sil. l'aquila) la vista acutisssima e il volo di gan lunga superiore a gl' altri animali volatili', (Footnote: Iconologia, s.v. ingegno), an argument borrowed from Piero Valeriano who, although committed by the Egyptian character of his Hieroglyphica to retain these attributes for the falcon (footnote: Hieroglyphica XXI fol. 155v), was sufficiently generous and inconstant to ascribe them to the eagle as well. (Footnote: ibid. XIX, fol. 141v, s.v. 'ingenium velox', on the authority of Pindar, Nemean Odes iii, 80f.
Wind cites the Latin of Xylander's and Calcagnini's translations, printed too late even for the Cary Sheet. However the Greek Plutarch was readily available, and even, after 1400, Latin translations in manuscript (Curran, The Egyptian Renaissance: The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt in Early Modern Italy, p. 22). In post-1450 Milan, the poet/scholar Filelfo could easily have had both. Given the intense interest in Egypt by his Florentine humanist circle, it would be surprising if he did not have at least one.

Then there is the question of the inference from falcon or hawk to Horus. "Falcon" and "hawk" are equivalent; some translators use one, some the other. Boas' English translation of Horapollo never uses the word "falcon"; neither does the translators of Plutarch. What about the association between the hawk/falcon and Horus. Wind simply asserts that the bird stands for Horus. It did, in Greco-Roman Egypt, but did the Renaissance know that? Plutarch (LI) associates the hawk to Osiris, not Horus. But given the reference to "the eye of Horus" in LII, the eye being a major attribute of the hawk, that bird would likely have been associated to Horus as well as to Osiris. It is the royal succession that matters, the dynasty of Osiris, with Horus as his heir-apparent. Horapollo, another authority that Filelfo almost certainly had (see later in this post) says the hawk can represent any Egyptian god (Boas trans, p. 45, in Google Books)--and also, interestingly the soul (grounds for another interpretation of the shield!).

Because of the child, the association is to the goddess herself, and not some priestess impersonating or her or with special access to her favors. As for Rhea, she was not shown in classical or Renaissance art with the infant savior Zeus on her lap; the scene would have been too pathetic, since she was going to have him raised far away.

The back of the chair, in both the Cary Sheet and the Noblet (at the top of this post, on the right), suggest wings; Isis took the form of a bird, the kite. I do not know whether this identification was known at the time or not; I can't find it in Plutarch or Diodorus. There is Leonardo's childhood memory, in his diary, of being attacked by a kite ("nibbio," notoriously once mistranslated as "vulture") in his crib; but whether the bird's relationship to Isis was known, I don't know. Freud's analysis of the memory as a maternal image, despite the mistranslation, may not be off the mark. The vulture clearly was seen as a maternal image during this time, and the kite is just a particular kind of small vulture, which eats small live animals as well as carrion.

Here is what Hadot says about the Renaissance vulture (The Veil of isis: An Essay on the History of the Idea of Nature, in Google books):
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, another type made its appearance: a naked woman, her breasts swollen with milk, this time accompanied by a vulture; it is attested to in Ripa's handbook of iconology. (Footnote: c. Ripa, "Natura," in Nova Iconologia (Rome, 1618).) This vulture leads us to suppose that there was a tendency to imagine Nature in an Egyptian context, for in Horapollo's Hierogliphica the vulture is placed in relation with nature. According to this work from the end of antiquity, translated in the Renaissance, the vulture symbolizes nature, for all the individuals of this species are of the female sex, and they engender without having need for a male. The vulture can therefore represent nature's fecundity and maternity. (Footnote: Kemp, Natura: Ikonographische Studien zur Gescheche und Verbreitung einer Allegorie, Ph.D. Dissertation, Tubingen 1973, p. 23, citing Horapollo, Hieroglyphica, 1, 11(Paris 1574); and P. Valeriano, Hiroglyphica (Basel 1574) p. 131.) The motif of the vulture, this time of Isis/Artemis, was taken up once again in the seventeenth century, for instance, in the frontispiece of Blasius's book on the anatomy of animals. (Footnote: See Gerardus Blasius, Anatome Animalium (Amsterdam 1681.) (pp. 233f, in Google books.)
This reference to Ripa is unfortunate, if one takes the trouble to look at what Ripa actually says about his Natura and her Vulture. Here is Ripa, followed by a 17th century abridged Engish translation (which leaves out Ripa's grounding of his interpretation in Aristotle's Physics:


She is naked, to denote the Principle of Nature, that is active or Form, and passive or Matter. The turgid Breasts denote the Form, because it maintains created Things; the Vultur, a ravenous Fowl, the Matter; which being alter'd and moved by the Form, destroys all corruptible Bodies.
If this vulture "destroys all corruptible bodies," it is hardly "nature's fecundity, and maternity." If Blasius in 1681 has the vulture again at her side,t hat is probably to represent the destructive side of nature, as in Ripa. His image, showing the bursting breasts and the vulture, is below. There is a certain comparability in composition to the Empress card, to be discussed later.


Hadot's reference to Horapollo is more appropriate. In that highly influential text the vulture is the maternal power, although he says that it is a power from the heavens and nowhere says it is nature. That particular attribution is reported by another ancient authority on hieroglyphics that surfaced in Italy around the same time as the Horapollo, Ammianus (quoted in appendix to Boas translation of Horapollo, in Google books, p. 103). Interestingly, I do not find it it any other ancient source. Yet the architect Leon Battista Alberti repeats it, in a famous passage, published 1486, that I have discussed more fully elsewhere ( ... stcount=44). It begins: "The Egyptians employed the following sign language: a god was represented by an eye, nature by a vulture..." So he must have known this text, still in Greek at that time--not implausible, given his residence in Florence during the 1430s, when this text was being discussed there. The famous 1499 fantasy, the Hypnerotomania, also implies that a vulture represented nature, in its translation of a "hieroglyphic" inscription that Porphilo sees. It shows, and also says that it shows, for its second image, an altar with 'on its face, the images of an eye and a vulture" (c1; Godwin translation, p. 41). The second phrase of the "translation" reads " the god of nature..". So clearly eye = god and vulture = nature, as the commentators on this point have recognized. as the So now there is a precedent for vulture as nature in the emblem tradition. We also have to wonder how the author of the [Hypnerotomania happened to read a book on architecture. Some have suggested Alberti as the author, or one author, of the Hypnerotomania. But it is perhaps not surprising that the author of a largely architectural fantasy would have noticed this passage in a book on architecture; it was quite famous in its time, the first of its kind since ancient times. This is a topic for further investigation, but not here.

Fortunately, to explain the apparent wings on the Empress, we only need for her to be maternal and a largish bird. Could Harapollo's Hiroglyphica have influenced the Cary Sheet card. One might think that since it was not published until 1505 and not published in Latin until 1585, the answer would be negative. However there was a Latin abridgement, which some scholars think was done by the early 1430's. Moreover, the architect Filarete, writing an architectural treatise for Francesco in Milan during the 1450's, refers to a text that numbers eels among the animals depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Harapollo is the only ancient authority who talks about the meaning of an eel-hieroglyph. Filarete said in the book that he got the information from his friend Filelfo. Filelfo was indeed one of a group of humanists to whom the Greek text was readily accessible, through the right associations with the right scholars and through knowing Greek.( All this is discussed in detail by Brian Curran in Egyptian Renaissance: p. 36 for Ammianus, p. 104 for the Latin abridgement of Horapollo, and p. 85 for Filarete.) So it is not out of the question that the vulture would be an association to the card. It is one of many possible Egyptianate features in the Cary Sheet cards.

Here is Hadot a couple of pages later, this time on more reliable ground. I gave this quote in a post on the Popess, but it is at least as relevant now:
. Since the end of antiquity there had been a tendency to identify the Ephesian Artemis with Egyptian Isis in order to personify nature. For instance, Macrobius describes the statue of Isis as follows: "Isis is the earth or beneath the sun. This is why the goddess's entire body bristles with a multitude of breasts placed close to one another [as in the case of Artemis of Ephesis], because all things are nourished by earth or by nature." (Footnote: Saturnalia I, 20, 18.) In arithmology, that is, the discipline of Pythagorean origin that established a correspondence between numbers and metaphysical entities and the divinities that symbolized these entities, the Dyad was identified with Isis, Artemis, and Nature. (Footnote: Iamblicus, In Nichomachi Arithmetica Commentaria, pp. 13, 12. [Iamblicus], Theologoumena Arithmetica, p 13, Il. 13, 15. See R.E. Witt, Isis in the Graeco-Roman World pp. 149-150.)

In the sixteenth century, Vincenzo Cartari, in his handbook of iconography titled Images of the Gods, published in 1556, cites this text by Macrobius to prove that the ancients liked to represent nature with the features of Isis/Artemis. He specifies that a statue of this kind was found in Rome, and that he himself has seen an analogous figure on a medal of the emperor Hadrian. He might also have recalled, so far as the identification of Isis with nature is concerned, how Isis presents herself in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius: "I come to you, Lucius, I mother of all nature, mistress of all the elements." (Footnote: Metamorphoses XI, 5.)

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries there was perfect awareness of this confusion between the two goddesses. (Footnote: see Baltrusaitis, La quete d'Isis, pp. 113ff.)
It appears that I could add Diana/Artemis to my list of goddesses associated to the Empress card, although I think that association is weak compared to Isis: Artemis was impersonal nature, whereas Isis has her personal side, the mother of a particular savior-child. Moreover, I can't think of how Artemis would fit into a narrative involving a large number of the trumps. I can for Isis.

Another addition might be Semele, mother of Dionysus, although she didn't have a child on her lap either. She was dim-witted enough to think that she could see Jupiter as he really was. The closest she got to her child was feeling it in her womb. She burned to a cinder, while Hermes rescued the foetal Dionysus. The Noblet Empress, with her half-open eyes (above right), conveys that cluelessness well. But at least she conceived Dionysus. This association makes the card part of a narrative about Dionysus, addressed in all or many of the cards, supplementing the primary narrative, which is Christian.

As Empress, Bianca Maria Sforza was a kind of real-life Semele, minus any children that we know about. Stuck in freezing Innsbrook after inopportunely aiding her grandiose uncle, she hardly ever saw her husband. All there was for her to do was spend money, of which she never had enough (Gerhard Benecke, Maximilian I, an analytical biography). She died childless at age 38.

The next empress, too, didn’t see her husband much. He was off fighting the Protestants. She had plenty of money, thanks to the Aztecs and the Incas. She nominally ruled when Charles was away, but was actually just a figurehead (The world of Emperor Charles V, ed. Blockmans and Mout). She died in childbirth, too, at age 36; but she had six children to show for herself. Following her descendants, we eventually get to Marie Antoinette, another numbskull.

What matters in the Empress is her ability to produce a savior-child, the image of his father, who is the Father himself or his earthly equivalent by divine dispensation. She is the vehicle of the Pythagorean Triad, the child of the form-father (either the Bateleur, as Monad, or the Emperor, as father) and matter-mother (the Popess Dyad become Empress). We see that child in the Sola-Busca Three of Coins and Three of Batons (viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530&start=10#p7946; it and the previous spost there, on the Twos, also contain the relevant quotes from the Neopythagorean Theology of Arithmetic). In this respect there is a certain parallelism between the Ripa Natura and the compositionally somewhat comparable Empress card. Both nature and the child (individual representatives of kinds, in Aristotle, the Triad in the Theology and 3 in the cards) are the product of form (in Aristotle, corresponding to the Monad, 1 in the cards) and matter (in Aristotle, corresponding to the Dyad, 2 in the cards).

By 16th-early 17th century, to humanists interested in Kabbalah, the Empress might also have been associated with the third sefira of the Kabbalah. The sefiroth were in these years called “enumerations,” i.e. numbers. (They may even have originated in the same milieu as Neopythagoreanism, Roman-era Alexandria.) So the sefiroth would have been closely identified with the Neopythagorean teachings about the first ten numbers (plus zero, which they hadn’t written about, but which has a Kabbalist correlate in the Ayn Sof). Pico, in the 900 Theses (1486), called this sefira “the source of all souls” (28.6); “the river that flows from Eden” (28.11); and “the antecedence to form” (11>31). To these, Reuchlin (1518) added “providence” and “mother of sons.” These are to be sure just a few of many descriptors of this sefira in the Christian Kabbalist works of the late 15th and early 16th century.


In the Conver 1760, the Empress’s image improves slightly over that in the Noblet. At least she has her eyes open, perhaps looking sideways at her husband—or at her advisers, in case he is away. We can perhaps imagine this one as the protector of the sick and weak, sponsor of hospitals, server of “cake” (which I understand was something like brewer's yeast, not a bad idea), etc., and so a true representative of divine providence. I suppose that the tarot-makers couldn’t risk having the King’s tax-collectors close them down. In 1760, we are in the last days of the Kingdom of France. Vive la République, etc. The Empire won’t be far behind.

Note: I edited this post on Sept. 4 to add my comments about Ripa and Horapollo.
Edited again on Sept. 5, 2010, to add Ripa scans and my discussion of Wind on falcons and eagles.
Edited again on Sept. 6, correcting the discussion of Wind and adding discussion of Alberti and the Hypnerotomania on vultures.

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