The Emperor

A thread to discuss the iconography of The Emperor
The Tarot will lose all its vitality for one who allows himself to be side-tracked by its pedantry. - Aleister Crowley

Re: The Emperor


Referring to the English friar John Ridevall, who '...composed a moral treatise in which he used the 'images' of the ancient gods as starting points for for the classification and definition of Virtues and Vices...' Gombrich later states:

From Symbolic Images, E.H. Gombrich
It is most unlikely that Ridevall ever wanted his verbal picture translated into an actual image, and indeed there is only one comparatively late attempt of such a translation (Fig 147) in a fifteenth-century German MS of remarkably poor artistic quality....

...A ram-headed figure surrounded by eagles would be just the kind of image that would impress itself on the memory and would enable the preacher to enumerate the qualities of Benevolence in the context of a lengthy sermon.

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Re: The Emperor

"not only are God, the angels, planets, and the cardinal virtues disparagingly placed and named, but the true lights of the world, that is the Pope and Emperor"

Medieval theory of the 'two lights' of temporal and spiritual authority associates the Emperor with the Moon:


The Silver ladder of Habsburg Ancestors

Golden Ladder of Habsburg Ancestors from Jakob Mennel, Der Zaiger, 1518, illuminated miniature. Vienna Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod. 7892, I, fo. 24.

"The first of these ladders (fi g. 17), made of silver, leads up to a moonlit sky. On the eight rungs of the ladder stand Maximilian’s various ancestors, graded according to social rank; he sits at the top of the silver ladder receiving the imperial crown from two angels...”

"...Together these paired ladders convey the medieval theory of authority, the “two lights theory,” where the greater spiritual power of the papacy outshines the temporal power of the emperor, as gold outshines silver or the sun the moon."

"MARKETING MAXIMILIAN The Visual Ideology of a Holy Roman Emperor" by LARRY SILVER, p.47/48

In the Tarot de Marseille pattern in a 3x7 grid pattern of the numbered trumps IV the Emperor in the bottom row is parallel the Moon in the top.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

The Imperial Eagle Again

At the beginning of the thread "the 5x14 Theory: An Investigation Part II" Huck and Ross were discussing the issue of the stylized eagle that appears on the CY and PMB Emperor's Hat and Empress's shield. I was interested in discussing the Michelino, so I ignored that discussion. Now I'd like to get back to it. Also, in my later presentation on that thread of Tolfo's analysis of the Cary-Yale, I skipped over her analysis of the Emperor and Empress. I would like to revisit Tolfo as well.

Illuminations of Dante's Divine Comedy sometimes show the imperial eagle on an emperor's hat, as below, 14th century (from Peter Brieger, Meiss and Singleton, Illuminated Manuscripts of the Divine Comedy, Vol 2).


The Milanese eagle-hats of the Brera-Brambrilla, CY, and PMB are a direct descendant.


So is the eagle-shield of the Cary Sheet (below right). In contrast, the "tarot of Mantegna" (below middle) has a real eagle. This non-stylized eagle might reflect how the cards looked in Ferrara. The d'Este deck from that city has no extant Emperor or Empress. I don't know why Kaplan, Vol. 1 p. , says that the tiara'd figure (*below left) is the d'Este Emperor


The Charles VI Emperor * (below middle) has no eagle. There is no extant Empress. The Rothschild Emperor (below middle) is similar; as has been hypothesized, perhaps it is just an earlier version of the Charles VI. Since this and what might be a Pope card are the only extant putative trumps, there is speculation that they belonged to an "Imperator" ("Emperor") deck, of which there is much mention in letters and accounts of Ferrara, 1423 to around 1450, but nothing describing the cards except the number VIII, presumably the number of special Imperator cards. The same is speculated of the Brera-Brambrilla, although in this case the other surviving trump is the Wheel of Fortune, which might depict the rise and fall of emperors.


I am not aware of other extant 15th century Emperor cards. Only the Milan Emperors have the stylized eagle, suggesting that the Cary Sheet, prototype for the "Marseille" image, derives from a Milanese deck. The minchiate Western Emperor card (above right), perhaps reflecting a 15th century tarot Emperor card, has a real eagle, like the "tarot of Mantegna," but placed where the Cary Sheet stylized eagle is.

The designs for all these decks originated in Italy. But why only Milan for the imperial eagle? Were there any restrictions on its use, such that it would be improper, for example, for a republic such as Venice or Florence to allow images that used it on their playing cards? That could explain the Rothschild, Charles VI, and "Mantegna" cards. And also the Rosenwald Emperor and Empress, which I haven't mentioned yet, as being slightly later, which have no eagle on them. But wouldn't Ferrara have been in a better position, since its marquess title--to Modena and Regio, if not also Ferrara--was conferred by the Emperor? (The title of Duke of Ferrara was first conferred by the Pope, on Borso.) I don't know. And we have no extant Emperor or Empress from Ferrara.

What hinges on the answers to these questions? Well, perhaps the dating of the earliest proto-tarot decks, now lost, that bear any resemblance to the ones standard today.

The beard on the CY Emperor, as Huck reminds us, is probably that of Sigismund. Here is a woodcut that comes close to the image on the Milanese cards (from Hind, An Introduction to a History of Woodcut, Vol 1, p. 87).


Since Sigismund died in 1437, that would tend to date the design of the card--not the actual card, just the design--to before then, if Filippo Visconti sponsored it. It seems to me that he would have simply put whatever emperor was then reigning on the card, unless he wanted to memorialize Sigismund. He did have a reason for doing so: in 1426, Sigismund had confirmed his title of Duke, already given to his father and descendants in 1395 by Wenceslaus. On the other hand, according to Tolfo (, Filippo in 1433 refused even to meet Sigismund when he came for the traditional crowning in S. Ambrose. Here is what Tolfo says:
L' Imperatore può essere identificato con Sigismondo del Lussemburgo , che nel 1426 aveva confermato a Filippo Maria il titolo ducale conferito a Gian Galeazzo Visconti. L'imperatore sta ricevendo una corona da un personaggio in basso a destra identificabile quindi con lo stesso Filippo Maria, tanto più che sulla sua veste c'è il motto visconteo a bon droyt . Ma Sigismondo verrà incoronato imperatore solo nel 1433, anno in cui Filippo Maria si rifiuterà addirittura di incontrarlo a Milano per la tradizionale incoronazione a re d'Italia in S. Ambrogio

(The Emperor can be identified as Sigismund of Luxembourg, who in 1426 had confirmed to Filippo Maria the title of duke that had been conferred upon Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The emperor is receiving a crown from a character in the lower right then identified with the same Filippo Maria, especially since it has on its clothing Visconti's motto “a bon droyt.” But Sigismund is crowned emperor only in 1433, when Filippo Maria will refuse even to meet him in Milan for the traditional coronation as king of Italy in S. Ambrose.)
How strange, for Filippo to refuse to meet Sigismund and then put his likeness on a playing card (and perhaps also that of his wife, as I will discuss in connection with the Empress)! Tolfo indeed puts the design of the card, and the whole deck, or at least the trumps, at 1428. But the actual cards can't be that old, because of the apparent Sforza devices scattered throughout. The earliest occasion for such devices would have been his betrothal to Bianca Maria, in 1430. There is also the design of the coin images, which reflect Visconti's 1436 "rearing horse" ducat. But the coins could easily have been redone in that style. Similarly, the particular design on the Emperor card could have been established at any time after 1426, and then repeated without much change in a later deck.

Then there is the eagle. In 1433, Huck tells us (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&hilit=double+eagle#p4572) the design of the Holy Roman Empire's eagle changed from a single eagle to a double eagle. I am not sure what his source is. Assuming he is right, what does that say about the date of the card's design?

If Visconti had established the design, it seems to me that he would have used whatever the latest eagle design was that he was entitled to, just to emphasize his legitimacy, and so entice Francesco into submitting to his authority with the expectation of becoming legitimated himself in conjunction with the marriage to Bianca Maria.

This perspective suggests that the convention of the stylized eagle on the Milanese cards was established by Filippo after 1426 and before he knew about the flag switch of 1433--or was not established by him at all. If not by Filippo that early, who else? Well, the Sforza could have determined its design after 1450 to show the continuity of their not-quite-legitimate dukeship with the Visconti, by using the old flag and an old emperor. Or both could be true: the Sforza could have used a pre-1433 design for a post-1450 commemorative deck now known as the Cary-Yale.

Perhaps none of this follows. Perhaps the stylized eagle hat and shield was a common way of depicting the Emperor and Empress, on cards in all sorts of places, which happens not to have survived elsewhere. But somehow I think it is more likely that the stylized eagle was used only in Milan, no later than 1434, either as part of an "Imperator" deck of 8 trumps, a deck similar to the CY of around 16, or something in between. Once the 16 trump Michelino was in use, it might have been hard to go back to 8. Both the Brera-Brambrilla and the CY have Coins of a sophistocated design, in advance of Filippo Visconti's 1436 "rearing horse" ducat (see the ducat pictures at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&p=7160&hilit=T ... cats#p7160), done at least after the medal-designing visit of Pisanello in 1441, or even the time of Sforza's ducats of 1450. So the single stylized eagle points to a lost Milanese imperator or, perhaps, triumph deck of 1434 or before, before both the Brera-Brambilla and the Cary-Yale.

Re: The Emperor

How strange, for Filippo to refuse to meet Sigismund and then put his likeness on a playing card (and perhaps also that of his wife, as I will discuss in connection with the Empress)!
Jan Hus and a pope paid for the prize, that they followed trustfully an invitation of Sigismondo ... Filippo Maria, more carefully for himself than other Visconti before him, died successfully in his own bed and for his own reasons. That's a point, which one shouldn't overlook.

Uncle Bernabo ... died in prison
Father Giangaleazzo ... possibly poisoned.
Mother ... died in prison
His brother-in-law, Louis d'Orleans ... assassinated
Brother Giovanni ... assassinated
His first wife, Beatrice di Tenda ... exexuted
His daughter ... possibly poisoned
His grandson Galeazzo Maria ... assassinated
His grandson Lodovico ... died in prison
his great grandson Giangaleazzo ... possibly poisoned

Well, call it fearful or wise: it was difficult to kill Filippo Maria Visconti. "Survive and let die", might have been his motto. His absence was "Realpolitik", it had logic. In his lonesome social class life was dangerous. A lot of people had reason to attempt something, and he personally didn't trust this emperor.
Remember 1328, the experience of Galeazzo I., ruler of Milan: "In 1328, after accuses of betrayal from his brother Marco, as well as that of the assassination of his brother Stefano Visconti, the emperor had him imprisoned in Monza."

Actually in a chess game it's a common strategy, to cover each weak point. Mostly such players end in a draw, which is a rather common result in this game. Filippo Maria was known as chess player.



Rather similar to other Flower kings in the Master PW deck.


In 1433, Huck tells us (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=365&hilit=double+eagle#p4572) the design of the Holy Roman Empire's eagle changed from a single eagle to a double eagle. I am not sure what his source is. Assuming he is right, what does that say about the date of the card's design?
... .-) ... I would assume, that, if the emperor commanded "I change my eagle", for technical reasons it was impossible to change the earlier eagle everywhere, naturally especially in foreign countries. And likely one would find further use of the one-headed eagle also in Germany, likely connected to a detailed heraldic explanation, why this was possible. ... :-) ... and here it is.
Wikipedia to Reichsadler:
"Sigismund of Luxembourg used a black double-headed eagle after he was crowned Emperor in 1433, while the single-head eagle remained an ensign of the elected King of the Romans and Emperor-to-be."

... .-) ... So one didn't need to throw away all the other expensive one-headed eagles. And likely it wasn't a big problem, when the Emperor was greeted usually with one-headed eagles. Becoming Emperor was a matter of great festivity, then peu a peu, likely the double eagle was produced and could be shown.

Re: The Emperor

Hi friends! :)

1. Sorry, Mike, we are sure this card is the emperor (Kaplan hypotesis) or maybe is the pope (Dummett hypotesis)? (With one hand he blesses, whit the other the key to san pedro. And it has a papal tiara).
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Filippo in 1433 refused even to meet Sigismund when he came for the traditional crowning in S. Ambrose
Lol! Its funny. Filippo argued he had diarrhea. I think it was a way to "send to shit" (a very Italian expression) the emperor.
«Quando Sigismund arrivò a Milano, ad accoglierlo trovò un imbarazzato Niccolò Piccinino, latore di un messaggio ducale alquanto sconveniente: Filippo comunicava di essere affetto da diarrea e giustificava la sua assenza affermando di non voler turbare la solennità della cerimonia con spiacevoli incidenti provocati dalla sua indisposizione».

3. I dont know if the detail of the beard is important. Andrea Vitali talking about the beard of pope:
Molto si è discusso sulla presenza nei tarocchi di immagini di Pontefici con o senza barba, cercando di individuare quali personaggi reali fossero stati rappresentati nelle carte. Seppur tale opera appaia meritoria, la barba, lungi da essere intesa come un preciso riferimento realistico di un ritratto, deve essere interpretata come un aspetto di saggezza in quanto le persone sagge venivano sempre raffigurate con questo ornamento naturale dovuto all’età avanzata alla quale veniva attribuito tale dote intellettiva.
4. Filippo Maria hate Sigismundo (he dont send soldiers when he need). Bianca and Francesco hate Friedrich III... Well, maybe we can ask who is represented in Brera, CY and PMB?

Some problems:

a) Why not have the crown? It only appears in CY, in the hand of a page. In codice lancilotto we can see how Bembo paint the crowns, and in this cards the emperor DONT have the crown but a knight hat:
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b) Why the emperor has no armor in PMB and Brera, but a long nightshirt ... as liked Filippo Maria.
«Si diede invece ad accordare un’assoluta preferenza, al punto di giudicarla la più dignitosa, a una veste lunga fin sotto il ginocchio, dalle maniche chiuse, fornita su ambedue i fianchi di fodere dello stesso tessuto che permettevano di cavare la spada attraverso i tagli della veste, e chiusa sul dietro da una cintura».

c) Why are four young people looking effeminate in CY? And Filippo like this youngs:
«Amò circondarsi di giovinetti di bell’aspetto e che facessero spicco per la loro avvenenza. Per essi il palazzo non aveva segreti. Filippo Marial i voleva partecipi delle conversazioni familiari, dei colloqui riservati, dei suoi impegni, dei suoi svaghi, e perfino dei suoi spostamenti. Sempre loro, avvicendandosi in turni, gli stavano continuamente a fianco: sia a tavola, sia a letto, in qualsiasi altro posto dove Filippo Maria venisse a trovarsi, li erano con lui. A loro aveva affidato non solo la guardia, ma –cio che a nessun altro era concesso- anche la cura del suo corpo [...].

»Parecchi divennero famosi per acume e prudenza. Tra essi Raniero Vancalve, tedesco di nascita, giovinetto che di gran lunga s’imponeva e per nobiltà d’animo e per fisica, armoniosa festrezza. Tra i nostri, Andrea Biraghi, un po’ pi’u mite di temperamento, ma per propio per questo di molto superiore per compostezza spirituale; e Giovanni Antonio da Brescia all’apparire del quale, per lo straordinario favore e l’autorevolezza di cui godeva, non solo i familiari, ma perfino i senatori s’alzavano in piedi, soliti ormai rispettarlo e onorarlo come il sostituto del duca».

d) Filippo also had a long beard by the end of his life... (Decembrio)...

e) Why emperor of PMB and Brera is similar at the fourth man in the wheel of fortune? It's just an iconographic convention?

4. Eagle with one head was an emblem of the Visconti family...

I am confused with all this :-? .
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: The Emperor

Very helpful information and ideas, Huck and Marcos. Marcos, I was saying that I thought the Charles VI card was the Pope. I was disagreeing with Kaplan. Also, I suggested that the reason the 4th man on the Wheel of Fortune looks like the Emperor might be that both designs had originally been for an Imperator deck.

My continuation of the discussion, now applied to the Empress, is at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=386&p=8598#p8598.

Re: The Emperor

An interesting picture:
Giovanni di Ser Giovanni, Lo Scheggia (1406–1486), Frederick III and Leonora of Portugal in Rome, 1452, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts. This panel depicts events of 1452: Frederick III’s journey to Rome, marriage to Leonora of Portugal, and coronation as Holy Roman Emperor. We see the newly married couple kneeling in front of the basilica of St. Peter’s. At the right, Frederick knights his brother Albrecht on the bridge of St. Angelo. No strangers to “spin,” Renaissance viewers may have recalled that the same bridge had collapsed under the weight of pilgrims in 1450 and had just been rebuilt. Eventually Frederick and Albrecht would go to battle over Vienna. Despite such conflicts, the cassone panel presents an image of order and dignity, appropriate to the lofty occasion. The patron of this chest must have been a member of the political elite involved in hosting Frederick’s sojourn in Florence.
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Very big in: ... derick.jpg
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

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