(something written in 2008, with new material - Antiqua Ducum Mediolani Decreta
(1654) is now online - appended; I have not amplified or corrected anything in the 2008 material, it's late and I'm going to bed, but some of you might be on a different schedule and might like to read it)
Even though the meaning of the card as “punishment” was never really lost (Court de Gébelin knew it was a form of punishment), it is Gertrude Moakley who made tarot writers aware of its association with treason, and in particular with the practice of “shame painting”.
Focusing in on explicit examples of the practice around the time and in the place where the trumps were created, Moakley noted a particularly close one – Francesco Sforza’s father, Muzio Attendolo (nicknamed Sforza
, “the Strong”), had been a subject of shame painting in Rome in 1412, during the pontificate (soon thereafter considered an anti-pontificate) of John XXIII (Pope 1410-1419):
The Pope had given him (Muzio) the title of Count of Cotignola in gratitude for his services as a condottiero. When Muzio later offered the services of his army to one of the Pope’s enemies [Ladislas “the Magnanimous”, King of Naples], the Pope ordered him depicted on all the bridges and gates of Rome, hung by the right foot to a gallows, with his heraldic mattock in his right hand. In the other hand was a scroll with this inscription: “I am the peasant Sforza of Cotignola, traitor, who have committed XII treasons against my honor; promises, agreements, pacts I have broken.” (p. 95)
Thus Moakely was able to associate the card with an event in the past directly related to the Sforza family, for whom Bembo painted the cards (and also, without explicitly noting it, to the traditional number of the card, XII).
The “shame painting” idea persisted among historians as the “literal” meaning of the image. It is attractive because it was so widely practiced in Italy, especially northern Italy and Tuscany, and thus appears a natural source for the tarot image. Gherardo Ortalli published a historical study of the practice in 1979, “pingatur in Palatio": La Pittura infamante nei secoli XIII-XVI
(Società Editoriale Jouvence, 1979), with a revised version in French in 1994, La Peinture infamante du XIIIe au XVIe siècle
(trans. Fabienne Pasquet and Daniel Arasse; Paris, Gérard Monfort, 1994). From Ortalli, we learn that the two places where it was most often used were Bologna and Florence, while there are no records of it in Ferrara (perhaps notable as far as tarot is concerned). The case of Milan is more subtle, since Ortalli quotes a law from the 1390s expressly banning the practice of shame painting in Milan.
Altogether, for what concerns the picture of infamy proper, understood as a genre characterized by precise connotations and whose diffusion was made in a manner neither sporadic nor occasional, it can be said that its use tends to stay within the limits of the 14th century. Afterwards it suffered an inexorable decline, very marked in the course of the century by legislation which took hold in places like Lodi and Milan under the domination of the Visconti. Between 1390 and 1396, at the time of Gian Galeazzo, when the legislation of the two towns was reorganized and updated with the promulgation of new collections of statutes, there appeared, in both places, a chapter intitled: “Concerning the pictures on the walls of the palaces being removed, and the names of the defamed being registered.” These clauses were inserted at almost the same date. The text from Lodi, dated to 1390, is contemporary with that of Milan, of which the redaction, finished in 1396, had been started in 1389. In reality, the common source of these texts is found in an earlier redaction of the Milanese statutes, which was begun in 1348 by Luchino Visconti and was finished in 1351 by his brother and successor, Archbishop Giovanni. Thus at Lodi and Milan, in practically identical terms it was thereafter forbidden to paint the images of those condemned to infamy on the walls of the communal palaces, and it was ordained at the same time to erase any existing images because they in fact dishonored the cities themselves. This last precision is interesting (and we will come back to it later) but, more than for this particular reason, above all, the decision in itself should be noted here. In fact it marks with certitude a general degradation of the practice, equally seen elsewhere and independent of specific interdictions – these last being thus symptoms more than causes of the crisis unfolding. (p. 26)
This ban seems to contradict something that Timothy Betts presented in his study of the tarot, in 1998 (the first time it made its way into tarot historiography as far as I know, but unfortunately Betts did not provide the source) -
Evidence for the true meaning of hanging upside down comes from a 1393 decree for Milan and Lombardy:
”Let him be drug on a [wooden] plank at a horse’s tail to the place of execution, and there be suspended by one foot to the gallows, and be left there until he is dead. As long as he lives let him be given food and drink.” (Straxinetur ad caudam equi cum aside ad locum iustitie et ibidem per pedem furcis suspendatur, et ibi tantum teneatur quod a se ipsa moriatur; detur tamen ei de cibo et de cibo et potu donec vivit) (the dittography of “et de cibo” is in Betts’ text)
Timothy Betts, Tarot and the Millennium
(1998), pp. 278, 299.
It seems what we have then is a continuation of the practice that originated the shame painting, and continued to inform it, but a ban in Milan on the painting itself. This ban and the punishments for breaking it were not lifted by any subsequent Visconti or Sforza that I can find. But the practice of hanging by the foot for high crimes like treason continued under Gian Galeazzo’s successors, like his son Filippo Maria -
From a ruling of Filippo Maria of September 1, 1422 we read how those guilty of crimes against the state were punished according to the decrees of his forefathers and the statutes of the city of Milan. The criminal would be dragged behind a horse to the place of execution, and there hanged on the scaffold by one foot; or attached to a turning wheel, or quartered; his dismembered body parts were attached to the gates of the city, and his head on a metal pole, which stood at the top of the tower of the town hall.
We have a terrible decree of the Count of Virtù (Gian Galeazzo Visconti), dated September 13, 1393. He prescribes that he who conspires against the state, should be dragged behind a horse cum asside, along the most frequented way, to the place of justice, hanged by a foot to the scaffold, and to remain there until he dies; however while he is still alive he should be given food and drink: detur tamen eidem de cibo, et potu interim donec vivet.
(from Carlo Morbio, Storie dei municipi italiani, vol. III, pp. 27-29)
We could add under Filippo Maria Visconti that he demanded the Florentines remove their shame painting of Nicolo Piccinino in 1426 (which they found a difficult demand).
Added 2013 -
See Antonio Pertile, "Storia del diritto Italiano" vol. 5, p. 263 note 13.
http://www.archive.org/details/storiade ... 00pertgoog
" Proditorie tractans contra statum vel signoriam nostram straxinetur ad caudam equi cum aside ad locum iustitie et ibidem per pedem furcis suspendatur, et ibi tantum teneatur quod a se ipsa moriatur; detur tamen ei de cibo et potu donec vivit.
"For plotting treason against the state or our rule, let him be dragged on a plank at a horse’s behind, as with an ass, to the place of execution, and there be suspended by one foot to the gallows, and be left there until he is dead. As long as he lives let him be given food and drink. Otherwise (he could be) tortured with red-hot pincers and attached alive to a wheel until he dies”. The statute (Landgerichtsordnung) of Aargau [canton of northern Switzerland] ordains for Jews to be attached to the gallows by a foot, between two vicious or biting dogs.
The Statute of Anghiari 112. No person shald be hanged by the arms, or by the feet, or by the middle in any way unless he should be a murderer.
"Renes" are the kidneys literally, and Pertile paraphrases this quote in the main text above with the Italian phrase "la vita", meaning vital organs in this context.
From Antiqua Ducum Mediolani Decreta
(Milan, 1654), p. 187, decree of September 23, 1393 (Pertile mistakenly says page 189; see the last item on the page):
http://www.rosscaldwell.com/images/trad ... ump187.jpg
http://books.google.fr/books?id=rTAudeU ... &q&f=false