Why is the form of the CY “World” the only arch?

All of the other 15th century hand-painted or engraved “worlds” are a tondo/mirror shape featuring an urban or urban-dotted landscape view (veduta), typical of representations of the earth at the center of concentric cosmological diagrams. Why then does the oldest known example, the CY, not conform to a model that was readily adopted almost universally once it was created (the PMB being the oldest example of the tondo version)? Was the arch especially meaningful in the context of the creation of the ur-tarot? I will not only argue that, but link the hypothetical ur-tarot “world” to a later painting, commissioned by someone who must have known exactly what the ur-tarot was meant to portray, that arguably may be an elaboration of the ur-tarot model. And of course I continue to tie the ur-tarot to the events surrounding Anghiari, but the specifics of how Florence celebrated that victory would have been germane to how the city would have celebrated any victory in that era (i.e., there couldn’t have been anything especially unique for a victory whose outcome nor timing could have been anticipated).

The capture of Visconti’s standard, the centerpiece of da Vinci’s later (and lost) Battle of Anghiari for the Palazzo Vecchio, is well-known. The eye witness, Neri Capponi, has this event painted on a cassone commissioned later in life on the occasion of a child’s marriage (the temporal events may be read from left to right: Visconti/Albizzi armies arranged before Borgo San Sepolcro [not shown below], the central mounted knight action over a bridge where the angled Visconti flag is taken before Attendolo/Papal/Florence standards (the also-allied Orsini banner stands apart), and then thirdly the taking of the captured Visconti and their allied flags into Florentine controlled Anghiari, through one its gates:

What gets little attention in regard to the Florentine victory after Anghiari are the specific prizes meted out. The following excerpt from the biography on Castagno provides the basic details of the prize awaiting the Florentine commissioners, Benardo (aka Bernardetto) de Medici and Neri Capponi, who were with the army as official commissioners and alerted the commune of the great victory:
"The citizens of Florence recognized the importance of the victory as well [as the commissioners]. The dome of the cathedral and the campanile were illuminated as they were for the feast day of John the Baptist. Litta reports that upon their return to Florence the commissioners were honored with a pennon, a caparisoned horse, a shield with the arms of Florence, and a helmet."
(John Richard Spencer, Andrea Del Castagno and His Patrons, 1991: 19).
Source for illumination of dome: Howard Saalman, Filippo Brunescelli: the Cupola of Santa Maria del Fiore, 1980: 279, doc. 303 (misdates illumination as June 11, 1440. Which must be July 1, per Spenser).
Source for prize of horse: Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebre d’Italia (Milan 1819), s.v. Medici (no page given).

The CY World oddly features a single horse but with an “uncaptured” standard proudly carried by a knight, whose details have worn away, but a white background with traces of twisted blue could only be Visconti’s viper - biscione - banner.

Assuming the CY was meant to promote the stealing away of Francesco Sforza from the Florentine/Venetian/Papal “holy alliance”, by means of marriage to his daughter Bianca, it would date to around October 1441, some 16 months after the battle of Anghiari – less than year and a half after the ur-tarot would have been produced. The latest for tarot’s production is Giusti’s entry in September 1440, so perhaps August is the most likely month of production, allowing ~2 months for a design, then painting and wood-block engravings (painting for luxury decks and wood-block printings for non-luxury decks for the masses). By the time one of these decks make it to Milan let’s say Visconti was presented with one for a full year before the marriage. As the owner of luxury card decks himself he might have found the Florentine deck celebrating his defeat infuriating, but the condotte and marriage with Sforza was not finalized until closer to the wedding date, so even if he had the Florentine ur-tarot that whole year the design for a deck featuring his and Sforza’s stemi, as well as modified trumps that would indicate the marriage (the Love, Chariot and World trumps, where Bianca is certainly depicted) likely only had a couple of months to design and paint as well. My point being some minor modifications were inevitable but an entire redesign unlikely, thus the assumption is the “World’s” essential format is unchanged, only modified to show the fama of virtuous Bianca at the top of the arch in place of a Florentine symbol, with the Florentine prizes and spoils from Anghiari (likely entering Florence from the right, just as the CY’s knight enters the scene), replaced by the knight – the condottiero F. Sforza – whose role in the Florentine alliance made the victory possible (now snatched away by Visconti). The Florentine Signoria’s herald, Anselmo Calderoni, also charged with celebrating the victory praised not Attendolo but the name of Sforza, so overshadowed was Sforza’s uncle:
“O Lord, we praise you, all of us singing, / together with your Mother the glorious Virgin…And all honor to the men of Sforza,/who enforced the triumph of the Holy League,/pursuing and driving out the mend of the duke” (translation in Dale V. Kent, Cosimo de' Medici and the Florentine Renaissance: the patron's oeuvre, 2000: 280).

So if we know Anghiari was celebrated by the victors “with a pennon [pennant], a caparisoned horse, a shield with the arms of Florence” we can make an informed guess at what would have been featured in the “world’s” landscape: that bedecked horse, perhaps being lead by a Florentine page in commune livery, perhaps followed by the St. John’s carro trionfale (celebrated just a week before the victory), loaded with the captured standards and other spoils (armor, etc.), as depicted on numerous Florentine cassoni showing Roman triumphators with such wagons loaded with spolia and prisoners.

And perhaps there is our answer to the arch form – simply a triumphal arch used in Roman victory celebrations. But even in the classicizing medal Cardinal Trevisan, the papal general at Anghiari, used to celebrate the victory – the papal contingent passing in front of a temple with classical pediment, there is no arch:


Before we can abandon the triumphal arch idea it should noted that Eugene IV was resident in Santa Maria Novella whose most famous fresco features a triumphal arch, through which the Church Militant is being transformed into the Church Triumphant as it passes through an arch standing in for St. Peter’s gate, in the moment of redemption:
SMN Church Triumphant detail.jpg
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One sees Peter with his keys – crossed keys also being the standard of the papal armies as depicted in the cassone above – stands in the arch while just above it and on the heavenly “inside” of the arch, Mary with a bunch of lilies and a book, in white and surrounded by angels. Below, if not originally thought of as the completion of Mary’s church, surely was thought of as such in 1436 when the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore was completed and the cathedral officially consecrated by this same pope, with Sigismondo Malatesta at his side (the same recipient of an ur-tarot deck). It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to perform a sort of shorthand of this complex fresco and place Mary on the arch, as we find with Biana-fama in the CY, perhaps conflated in her guise of “del Fiore” with the historical symbol of Florentia. The lilies held by Mary are in fact the same motif that would have been depicted on the pennant and caparisoned horse’s shield “with the arms of Florence”: the comune's Giglio.


And yet this fresco’s arch is imaginary, unless tied to a Florentine gate, through which the victors and spoils of war would have passed. But the gates are not noted anywhere as part of the celebration (I would note redemption-via-triumphal arch as a motif is recycled with the added novelty of geometrical perspective in Masaccio's Trinity, c.1425-1427, also in Santa Maria Novella). Instead we read that the dome of the cathedral was “illuminated”, presumably with torches affixed in some manner as found on palazzi throughout the city.

The dome itself had taken on mythical dimensions for the Florentines, an arch civic symbol in which she was thought of as imposing herself over the rest of Tuscany, indeed described as such in the dedicatory letter of Alberti’s Della Pictura to the dome’s creator: “…an enormous construction towering above the skies, vast enough to cover the entire Tuscan population with its shadow.”

The “arch” then of the Florentine ur-tarot can be seen as the outline of the dome – illuminated on the occasion of the victory at Anghiari – that “shadows” the Florentine ever-expanding contado. An “arch” through which Florence imagines her victories over all of Tuscany. Of pivotal relevance here is that the lantern, which Brunelleschi had to win in yet another design competition, that capped the cupola was not begun until 1446 (completed in 1461, with the gilt copper ball and cross added by Verrocchio in 1469). Without such a lantern in 1440, this dome outline-cum-triumphal arch was free to be capped with any allegorical figure one could imagine…but the imagination stops short of anything outside of a hybrid Florentia-cum-Maria, perhaps holding a bunch of lilies in one hand and a winged trumpet in the other, proclaiming the fama of her city over the dominion of Tuscany (a large section of which was just conquered – the Casentino). Below, again, the carro trionfale, returning to the city with captured standards and pennant/shield/caparisoned horse for the victors. It’s a very small and logical step to see a Milanese iteration changing out the lily with the snake on the pennant, the horse mounted by the condottiero being celebrated by the CY, and Mary replaced by the virtuous Bianca, whose fame would enfold the dowry city of Cremona depicted below, behind her non-allegorical self, kneeling beside the Po River that connects the ducal palace in Pavia to Cremona - the Adriatic Sea into which it flows on the horizon.

So we finally come to what I will posit as an echo of this reconstructed 1440 ur-tarot motif - Francesco Botticini’s The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1475-6 (now in the National Gallery, London). It was painted as the altarpiece for the burial chapel in S. Pier Maggiore, Florence, of Matteo Palmieri. Palmieri was a committed Medici partisan (part of the 1434 balia that recalled Cosimo from exile) and one of Chancellor Bruni’s most ardent humanist followers. Both Cosimo and Bruni crucially served on the Dieci di Balia that managed the victory at Anghiari in 1440, as well as Neri Capponi (one of the two army commissioners in the field at Anghiari). Palmieri also recorded his own account of Anghiari (Annales, Re. it scrip., vol 26, p. 149), and was intimately involved with writing civic-oriented literary productions that followed the interests of Bruni; e.g., Bruni wrote his Vite di Dante e del Petrarca in 1436 (a main theme being Dante lacked the prudence of Petrarch) while Palmieri wrote his best-known work Della vita civile ("On Civic Life"), right before Anghiari in 1439 (in it Dante has a Scipio’s Dream experience on the battlefield of Campaldino from which he ascends the various celestial spheres and is given the idea for his Comedia).

The painting in question is almost always viewed from the lens of Palmieri’s later work, La città di vita ("The City of Life") written in 1465, in imitation of Dante Divine Comedy, unpublished in his lifetime but upon its appearance in print was condemned by the Church as heretical. The National Gallery describes the painting as follows, pointing out that connection:
….Matteo Palmieri, a civil servant, depicted kneeling on the left. Opposite him is his widow, Niccolosa, in the habit of a Benedictine nun (the Order which owned the church). The view behind Matteo includes both Florence and Fiesole and also a farm belonging to him; behind Niccolosa there are farms in the hills of Val d'Elsa which were part of her dowry [Arezzo is due east and Anghiari another 70 kms E/NE from Arezzo, so picture shows same north-facing view of Florentine contado and approach from the right that knight would come from in CY]. The painting was probably made around 1475, the date of Palmieri's death.

In the centre the Apostles marvel at the tomb of the Virgin filled with lilies while above Christ receives her into the highest circle of Heaven. Angels are ranged in nine choirs, divided into three hierarchies. The highest of these represent Councillors (Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones), the middle represent Governors (Dominions, Virtues and Powers); then follow the Ministers (Principalities, Archangels and Angels). Unusually, saints have been incorporated into the ranks of angels. This may reflect Palmieri's theological speculations. These were embodied in a poem, the 'Città di Vita', which came to be regarded as heretical.

Heretical considerations aside, what is most obvious is that Virgin’s centrally placed and opened tomb is filled with the shared symbol of both her and the commune, lilies, and her assumption is some ways a joint apotheosis of herself and her city…or rather, her city’s caretakers, such as Palmieri (this was for his burial chapel after all). Lording over the Florentine contado is the enormous structure obviously based on the angelic hierarchies of Dionysius. But the shape of that hierarchy is in the form of the inside of a painted cupola, the whole essentially shadowing the contado – redolent of Alberti’s line about Brunellschi’s dome, “towering above the skies, vast enough to cover the entire Tuscan population with its shadow.” Not only is the contado covered with a circular shadow (as if from a hovering UFO), but sure enough, in the distance, between Palmieri’s upturned gaze and the vision of Mary’s ascent through the cupola-like hierarchy of angels, is the actual dome of Florence itself.
Palmieri, dome and Mary's Assumption.JPG
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Its an odd painting and one that must have been infused with the influence of its learned commissioner, a Medici partisan all too-familiar with the symbolic trappings of the penultimate victory over internal and external foes alike back in 1440.


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