Thanks for the information on Aluette (Goose?), Bertrand. I suspect de Mellet is not a reliable observer. Yet he might still have been commenting on something different. Since I don't know either way, I withdraw my citation of him.
mmfelesi: if the common people knew astrology, perhaps they also knew a little Greco-Roman mythology; and some of them, the literate city-dwellers, Egyptian mythology as well. Paris was in the throes of Egyptomania by the 17th century, according to the historians of Egyptomania.
I don't disagree that the later decks were made for the common people--if by that you mean 17th century Parisians with a little money and some leisure, and 18th century Marseillaise (Marseillards?) of various classes--as opposed to the erudites and members of secret societies (which in those days included lots of people). It is certainly a worthwhile endeavor to discuss what the details in the cards might have meant to such people, based on what they would have known.
However that is no reason to exclude other meanings; the card-makers might have had various audiences in mind, and a few might have fancied themselves mystical visionaries whose work would be talked about for centuries. In high art, everyone could admire a Botticelli, a Bosch, or a Michelangelo, for its sensuous qualities and overt meaning. A few could appreciate the subtleties as well, or simply enjoy the feeling of mysteriousness (as I think is still what attracts us to the Mona Lisa). People could also find there things that the designer might never have thought about. The understanding of a work of art is not limited to its creator. I think all of it, including esoteric readings, in terms of the esotericisms of the time, is a part of tarot history.
Or the designer may have intentionally wanted to foster an air of mystery, to emulate the great artists and the emblemists.
So what about the naked lady on the Tarot de Marseille World card? The Virgin Mary wasn't portrayed nude. I can't think of any saints that fit. Do you know of any representations of "Mercy" that were portrayed that way? And conceptually, I associate the concept of mercy with the Judgment card rather than the World.
Could it be that the designer was a fan of Durer, the greatest engraver/woodblocker ever? Could it be that he admired Durer's "Urania" (meaning "heaven") and was inspired to put something like her on the card, regardless of whether the masses knew what he was doing?
That still doesn't account for the wisp of fabric around her, or what she is holding in her hands. The designer could have taken these things from other obscure images floating around in his milieu: for the objects, Cartari's Isis (Cartari was a popular source for artists then). For the fabric, perhaps he was inspired by the snake winding around the body of Phanes in the well-known (at that time) Orphic medallion (http://www.theoi.com/Protogenos/Phanes.html
The result is suitably mysterious for the masses, yet also appropriate, to one who knows, and more appealing than the beefy guy with prominent tits on the Tarot de Marseille I, or the disturbingly androgynous "Sforza Castle." Why do the masses have to be able to understand where the image comes from? They are just playing a card game, or (this is not excluded) having their fortune told by someone who they surmise knows what the card means. It is enough that they see a sexy figure welcoming those who follow the four evangelists. There is always the chance that someone will see the Durer sometime and draw a connection. Or perhaps the inspiration was something entirely different, lost to history forever.
And now I want to go further: even if we knew the image's inspiration, and its aesthetic motivation, we might still not have its meaning, as shaped by its details. That is something else, of only vague and approximate interest to most viewers of the card in these years, and perhaps even to the designers themselves. Getting a more precise meaning, then as now, was something of concern to the few, the intellectuals and the fortune-tellers, working in the various traditions of scholarship, art appreciation, exoteric religion, or esoteric teachings. Some of these traditions would have been quiet alien to the card's designers, yet still contribute to the meaning of the card.