1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

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1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby marco on 01 Oct 2009, 19:37

Following a suggestion by Ross, I have translated the "Discorso sopra l'ordine delle figure dei Tarocchi" (Discourse about the order of the images of Tarot), written by Francesco Piscina. Having been published in 1565, I think it is the first tarot book to have been printed. I like this text. It sheds some light on how the 22 trumps were actually seen in the XVI century. The book was reprinted in Bologna in 1995, with an introduction by Giordano Berti.

The translation is available on Tarotpedia.
It has been revised by Ross who has corrected a number of errors.

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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby EnriqueEnriquez on 01 Oct 2009, 20:36

Thank you very much, Marco.

(Edited to add:)


I find very interesting how the meaning he assigns to the pips is basically experiential. We understand each one of these elements by situating the object within the realm of our interaction with it.


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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby SteveM on 01 Oct 2009, 21:29

Great stuff Marco, thank you.
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.
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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby prudence on 02 Oct 2009, 07:36

Wow!!! That is a treasure, thank you for doing this and posting it. :-bd I will have to set aside some time to read all of it, it's really beautifully written, and seems like it may hold a lot of answers or at least some clear directions to pursue.


btw, I have found my new signature thanks to this! (it's so eerily relevant to now)

"...he wanted to illustrate with his figures many Moral teachings, and under some difficulty, to bite into bad and dangerous customs, & show how today many Actions are done without goodness and honesty, and are accomplished in ways that are contrary to duty and rightfulness."
"...he wanted to illustrate with his figures many Moral teachings, and under some difficulty, to bite into bad and dangerous customs, & show how today many Actions are done without goodness and honesty, and are accomplished in ways that are contrary to duty and rightfulness."
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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby EnriqueEnriquez on 04 Oct 2009, 13:58

There are several things I like about this text. Perhaps the most important -and the one I am less apt to put into words- is its playfulness. The tarot Piscina describes feels as a playful way of addressing serious matters. I am convinced such playfulness is what, centuries later, would bridge the transition from card-game to fortunetelling. (Fortunetelling is a fun parlor game too!). While I was reading it I was taken by the similarity between this text and Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies. I am not just talking about direct similarities, as is the allusion to inns and innkeepers (which opens a whole space for thinking on roads and meting points), but about the whole narrative flavor of the text, in which the order of the cards is treated as a play or a story, in which each image is given a more or less literal value.

Thanks again Marco.


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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby Huck on 05 Oct 2009, 17:46

Good work, Marco and Ross.

"Innkeeper" is something, that appears in La Sphaera (the Sforza illuminated manuscipt around 1470), in the short passage of Meister Ingold 1432) and his two decks (in one of them), in the chess iconography since Cessolis (ca. 1300; as profession of one of the pawns).
A combination of two (mostly intrigues and always funny) servants is given as a repeating prototype of 15th century comedy - say other people, who have studied the context.

The Fool "in the Brezicole it can take the place of the King and the Queen" - ... but American card researchers resist, that the Joker was invented in America ... :-) ... Brezicole seems to be a specific game, but it also seems to be a new word for the search engine.

6. Love
7. Justice
8. Strength
9. Chariot
10. Fortune
11. Hermit and the rest as in Marseille order

0. Fool
1. Pagat
no Empress, no Papessa, but Emperors and Popes ... and Emperors can occasionally beat Popes, so these 4 cards are of same ranking.

Which is last trump, World or Angel? I think it is world, or are there others opinions?

"Since the Inventor wanted to conclude his figures, with which he has taught and illustrated many civil lessons, with an honoured and Christian end, he placed as last the image of Celestial Paradise, where blessed souls triumph. There he depicted an Angel that, singing and playing, rejoices of those blessed Spirits that were made worthy of that most happy eternal rest firstly by the grace of God, and by their own good deeds. He considered that, although the mercy of our Good and Great God is immense, infinite & incomparable, nevertheless it is necessary to act well in order to gain the glory of Paradise, as taught by the Holy Evangelists. So, before the image of Paradise, he made a portrait of these four Evangelists, intended and signified by the four symbols, Angel, Ox, [22] Eagle and Lion, who represent those four most Famous and Holy Pillars of the sweet and infallible faith in Jesus Christ. As I have already said, the Inventor wanted to show that, who wants to be chosen by God, must first observe his holy Commandments described by the Blessed Writers I named above: in this way we will be free from the greedy hands of the rapacious Devil, whose only desire is to devour us. Now, the Author has placed the image of the world in the middle of these four Holy Evangelists, in order to teach us that the world cannot be without religion, whose precept has been written by these Holy Evangelists. Religion is the main foundation of the peace and conservation of the nations and of the happiness of the peoples: without it (as we have already said in many places) we could not save our soul, which was born only to serve the Greatest Lord Our God.
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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby marco on 06 Oct 2009, 07:58

Huck wrote:
Which is last trump, World or Angel? I think it is world, or are there others opinions?


Hello Huck. I am glad you appreciate the translation :)
The last card is the Angel (that Piscina interprets as Paradise). The text says that the Angel is put in the last place, and that "the four evangelists" (i.e. the World) come before the Angel, meaning that before reaching Paradise (the Angel) one must follow the commandments of the four evangelists (the World).

These are the relevant fragments from the passage you quoted:
Since the Inventor wanted to conclude his figures ... with an honoured and Christian end, he placed as last the image of Celestial Paradise, where blessed souls triumph. There he depicted an Angel ... before the image of Paradise, he made a portrait of these four Evangelists, intended and signified by the four symbols, Angel, Ox, Eagle and Lion ... Now, the Author has placed the image of the world in the middle of these four Holy Evangelists

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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby Ross G. R. Caldwell on 06 Oct 2009, 07:59

Hi Huck,

Chariot is actually the eighth - so the ordering is exactly like Vieville.

6 - Love
7 - Justice
8 - Chariot
9 - Fortitude
10 - Fortune
11 - Old Man

He is following the Piedmontese rules, so although his cards are numbered, he plays with the equal-Papi rule (Popes and Emperors are unordered, if two or more are played to a trick (and no higher trump is), then last played of these four cards wins), and the "High Angel" rule (that is, although the cards are numbered XX - Angel, XXI - World, the Angel beats the World in play). These features of the Piedmontese game, persisting despite the Tarot de Marseille (or Vieville) numbering of the cards, are what convinced Dummett that Bolognese practice had deeply influenced Piedmont/Savoy.

So for the last two cards, it seems that Piscina regards them as a unit (Bologna counts both in scoring, but I don't know that this is attested in Piedmont/Savoy), since he knows the numbering, but he also knows the rules. By "before the image of Paradise", since he is generally counting upward, I think "before" indicates that symbolically (by the rules, not the numbering) the World comes before the Angel.

Versicola (plural Versicole) is probably the origin of "brezicole". Try also "verzigola" (and verzigole) and versigola (this latter shows up in a Piemontese-Italiano dictionary of the 19th century as the name of a card game).

This term also made it into the French game briefly, where it is mentioned in the 1637 rules as "brizigole". There it refers to combinations of cards in sequence (versicolo = "verset" in English (a short verse), so it should be that versicola (feminine gender) is a verset of carte (feminine gender) - i.e. a sequence in order) of the four, five and six highest or lowest trumps. The Piedmontese game obviously extends this term to include sequences of court cards as well.

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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby Huck on 06 Oct 2009, 08:56

hi Marco, hi Ross,

it's clear about Chariot and Strength, I misread there something, however the passage about "World" and "Angel or paradize" is not simple. In the translation the author says "last", when he introduces "Angel", but in the row of his descriptions he offers "World" as the last item. He behaves, as if "World" is not part of the row (as one could say also about the fool, who is only the sign of an inn), so perhaps indicating that "World" is "everything". Which would lead to the conclusion, that "Angel" is 20th and the "last of the row of the single features", but the real last picture is world, as it is the representation of the complete series.

Considering, that Boiardo also presented 20 pairs for the trumps 1-20 and had 0 and 21 somehow excluded, this wouldn't be a new pattern.

At least I would say, it's a matter of doubt. How did Berti interprete the text?

Well, I see only the translation ... perhaps at this passage it would be good to see the Italian text.
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Re: 1565 Discourse about the Images of Tarot

Postby robert on 06 Oct 2009, 16:01

Marco and Ross,

How can we thank you for this effort? A fantastic contribution for which we are very indebted indeed.

Many thanks!!!!!
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