Biblical virtues and lights in the sky

This is a reply to this, by mikeh, here : viewtopic.php?t=365&start=50
Since the Star, Moon, and Sun reflect the iconography of Hope, Faith, and Charity, I am wondering if maybe I was wrong in thinking that the theological virtues were not present in the original PMB. Maybe they were there, and that's why the iconography of the Star, Moon, and Sun reflects these cards: the designer knew them because he (Galeazzo) had played with them. In that case the original PMB would have had at least 17 cards, with 3 more added by the original artist soon after and 6 replacements by the second artist (the 3 luminaries replacing the 3 theological virtues).
See also viewtopic.php?t=365&start=50

I am posting a new topic, as the above quote from mikeh is in the middle of a long thread covering many topics. I hope that is in accord with protocol. I had come to the sky lights = Biblical virtues notion from another route, and also the idea that all seven virtues are present, in some sort of disguised form, in the standard 21 trumps, and in each of the Visconti decks. My reasons for thinking so were not as good as mikeh's iconographical reasons. Mikeh aligns Hope=Star, Faith=Moon, Charity=Sun; I had aligned Hope=Star, Charity=Moon, Faith=Sun. Quite likely he is right.

Taking at least for now the alignment of Hope, Charity, and Faith with Star, Moon, Sun (in some order), we turn next to the six replacement cards of the VS deck. These are Strength, Temperence, Star, Moon, Sun, and World. If Sforza's deck, like his father-in-law's, had the Biblical virtues, and there was later a decision to replace them to bring the deck in line with the rest of Italy's trionfi decks, that explains why of six replacements, three are Star, Moon, and Sun, and this adds a little weight to the notion that the Biblical virtues did in fact align with Star, Moon, Sun. But more, of the six replacements, five of them are either virtues, or aligned with virtues. Five of six can hardly be due to chance. So that is a pretty strong statistical argument that there was a replacement of virtues.

Could it be that all the virtues of the original VS deck were replaced? Fortitude and Temperence are replacements. Justice is missing. Thus, a Justice may have been painted by the replacement painter, and then the replacement card, like so many of the Brera-Brambilla cards, got lost later. In some fortune-telling tarot site, I forget where, I once saw the “High Priestess” card associated with Wisdom (that is, with Prudencia). This card to me is Popess, and clearly shows the (then) historical figure, Pope Joan. This pope, during a religious procession, had a baby; she had concealed her sex to get elected, which hardly suggests virtue. Nevertheless, if Popess aligns with the virtue Wisdom, and if the VS Wisdom card needed to be replaced like the other six virtues, we can't say it wasn't, because Popess is missing. So the original VS could have had all seven virtues, and all seven were replaced: Wisdom, Hope, Faith, and Charity were replaced with Popess, Star, Moon, and Sun, to bring the Duke's precious painted cards in line with the printed decks used by the wool carders and metal workers of Milan. Fortitude and Temperence were also replaced, with new cards that were still Fortitude and Temperence. This may have been done because the original cards had something odd about them, as do the CYV Biblical virtue cards. Justice may have been replaced, since it is missing.

When I thought that all seven virtues might be present, three in the guise of sky cards, the question was, where can Prudencia be hidden?. I had two candidates: Popess was one, and Chariot was the other, since Prudencia is called the charioteer of the virtues. I was recently led, by a post on this forum, to the virtues and vices by Giotto, in Padua, dated 1306. Here is Prudencia giving a lecture or sermon:
giotto prudence.png
giotto prudence.png (292.04 KiB) Viewed 105 times
Here is another Prudencia as a scholar, from about the same date:
prudencia.png (160.6 KiB) Viewed 105 times
From, La Somme le Roi, ou Livre, des vices et des vertus, by Frère Laurent d'Orléans, dominicain, 1295. (The B.N.F. library card mentions Isabelle Stuart as a subject heading, but I don't know who she is. Isabella of Mar, of Scotland, is a possibility.)

And here is Popess from the Cary Sheet:
popess cary sheet.png
popess cary sheet.png (284.15 KiB) Viewed 105 times
I knew that “Prudencia” did not mean the same thing as the English word “prudence,” but I hadn't realized it could mean wisdom in the form of brilliance in scholarship. Pope Joan was a brilliant scholar. Although it still seems odd to use as a symbol for any virtue, a person mainly famous for having a baby in the alleyway behind the Colosseum, Pope Joan (who is one of Boccaccio's 106 women) was at least easy to depict, since a woman in a triple crown could be no one but her.
Pope_Joan_Nuremberg_Chronicle_Hartman_Schedel.png (88.19 KiB) Viewed 105 times
I do not see even one image of Prudencia as the charioteer of the virtues. So I am led a little more toward Popess and a little away from Chariot, as the hidden Prudencia, if there is one. But I found no image of Prudencia as a scholar closer in time to 1440; in later works she is more likely to be strangling the serpent of ignorance, looking in a mirror, and she has a bearded face on the back of her head: This is Italian XVI cent:
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To put in Pope Joan at all, whether she is Prudencia or not, is to poke fun at the college of cardinals for being fooled by her, and to also make the point that even a brilliant scholar of the church can be defeated by desire. Depictions of Death such as Danse Macabre woodcuts, and Wheel of Fortune woodcuts, like to make the point that even popes, cardinals, and emperors are defeated by death. The fairgrounds conjurer is also a woodcut subject, tricking the rich in their fine gowns. So saying, by putting in Pope Joan, that even cardinals can be fooled, matches a certain “how are the mighty fallen” tone of the other cards.

If Popess is Prudencia, (but not if Chariot is), then the four cardinal virtues are found in the correct order in Dummett's C order, but not correct in any of the A or B orders. Among C orders they are correct in both the Marseille order and the Paris order, which equals the Susio poem Pavia order. The correct order per Thomas Aquinas is: Prudencia, Justice, Fortitude, Temperence. It is correct to have the Biblical virtues after the cardinal ones, but neither mikeh's order nor mine agrees with the Bible's order: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” KJV.

In early tarocchi we have four anomalies connected with the virtues. Could they all have a common explanation? The four anomalies are:

1) The three regional trump orders found by Dummett differ pretty much only in the placement of the virtues.

2) The standard 21 trumps have virtues, but not all seven virtues, and not even all four of the cardinal virtues, but only three of them. This is odd.

3) The CYV deck uniquely has cards for the Biblical virtues. It may have had all seven virtues.

4) Five of six of the replacements in VS, were either virtues or aligned with virtues, which can hardly be chance. This is consistent with the deck having originally had all seven virtues like CYV, and all seven needing to be replaced.

What theory could explain all four anomalies? Here is one:

The first printing of a large edition of trionfi decks was in Milan, and the court was involved in some way. Perhaps they invented the game and bankrolled the printer, or perhaps the printer invented it, and the court knew about it early. The first printed naibi di trionfi had all seven virtues (says this theory). The trumps were neither numbered nor labeled. The printed version had to show the virtues, and all of its concepts, without labels. It is not so easy to show abstract concepts without using labels. The Charity card of the Tarocchi di Mantegna, for example, shows a woman salting a live swan (I don't know why). I wouldn't have known it was the Charity card if it didn't say “caritas” on it. The printer of the trionfi cards did not succeed in making his virtues obvious in every case (says this theory), and it happened that his Hope card had a star of hope, and his Charity and Faith had a moon and a sun (or vice versa). Users, especially in other cities, saw a woman under a star and called that card Star, since they did not understand the anchor or whatever it was, that the printer had put in to indicate Hope. Likewise for Faith and Charity. The intended Prudencia got called High Priestess or Pope Joan. Justice with her scales, and Temperance with her two jugs, were recognized, as was Strength (whether fighting a lion, or breaking a stone column with her bare hands, or both), but Wisdom, Faith, Charity, and Hope, were not recognized. Once the meanings Popess, Star, Moon, and Sun were established, later printers making copies of the deck did not always include the details which had originally signaled the intended virtue meanings. This explains why the 21 trumps have, oddly, only three of the four cardinal virtues, and no Biblical virtues. Meanwhile the Viscontis had all seven virtues correct, for all the good it did them.

The printer (this theory says) had thought up a “memory scaffold,” a scheme so the players could memorize the trump order. That was essential to his business plan, since the cards were neither labeled nor numbered. He could count on only a word or two passing from the retailers to the buyers, to convey the order of 21 trumps in the new game he hoped to sell. But with the buyers not even able to recognize four of the virtues for what they were, the printer's memory scaffold scheme partially failed, and especially it failed in the placement of virtues. Thus in different cities the virtues ended up in different places in the trump order.

The Viscontis eventually got tired of being right when everyone else was wrong, and hired someone to replace their virtue cards, and while he was at it they had him replace the world card.

Thus all four anomalies are explained.

All the replacements done were virtues or the sky lights which may have replaced virtues, except World. CYV World card shows a ruler with orb, crown, and scepter, presiding over the entire world, which is shown enjoying the benefits of peace. A ruler who in the future presides over the whole world at peace, is quite orthodox, except that the ruler on this card is a woman, instead of Jesus Christ. This card is not orthodox at all. If Sforza's card also showed a woman as the ruler of the whole world at peace, that would be reason enough to replace it. Thus, none of the replacements may have been because cards were randomly lost in play.

Re: Biblical virtues and lights in the sky

Yes, something like that. Dummett once speculated (I forget where) that the Popess substituted for Prudence, and I agree, at least in Milan (see for example my blog-essay at One reason for "wisdom" is that the Sophia of the Old Testament is sometimes depicted in very Popess-like attire, as at right below (Bibbia Mugellana 2, f. 189, Laurentian Library, Florence). Labeled Sapientia, Latin for “Wisdom,” the illumination is of the first letter of “Omnis Sapientia a Domino Deo,” i.e. “All wisdom is from the Lord God.”.
But Prudence is simply Wisdom in the practical sphere. Here is Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, chapter 6:
Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.
And Aquinas (, translated 1920 by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, online at
... sicut supra dictum est, sapientia considerat causam altissimam simpliciter. Unde consideratio causae altissimae in quolibet genere pertinet ad sapientiam in illo genere. In genere autem humanorum actuum causa altissima est finis communis toti vitae humanae.Et hunc finem intendit prudentia, .. Unde manifestum est quod prudentia est sapientia in rebus humanis, non autem sapientia simpliciter, quia non est circa causam altissimam simpliciter; est enim circa bonum humanum, homo autem non est optimum eorum quae sunt.

(As stated above (II-II:45:1 and II-II:45:3), wisdom considers the absolutely highest cause: so that the consideration of the highest cause in any particular genus belongs to wisdom in that genus. Now in the genus of human acts the highest cause is the common end of all human life, and it is this end that prudence intends ...Wherefore it is clear that prudence is wisdom about human affairs: but not wisdom absolutely, because it is not about the absolutely highest cause, for it is about human good, and this is not the best thing of all.)
In the Middle Ages both virtues have as attributes the cross-staff and book (e.g. the illumination at left, Autun, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 19 bis, fol. 173v, 8th century), which the PMB Popess also has (at left above) For cross-staff and book in medieval manuscripts, see Adolf Katzenellenbogen, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Mediaeval Art: from Early Christian Times to the Thirteenth Century, trans. Alan J. P. Crick (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), index entries for “book,” “staff,” and “cross-staff.” The virtue of Faith was also so represented, as for example in Giotto's version. So once "Faith" was replaced by a celestial, the Popess could be interpreted as representing Faith. But Faith also had other attributes, as we see in the CY Faith card.

The virtues could be in different orders in part because actually they were in different orders in different authorities. So different cities could pick and choose, or use one of their own liking. Wisdom of Solomon 8:7 says, "She [Wisdom] teaches temperance, and prudence, and justice, and fortitude, which are such things as men can have nothing more profitable in life." But Cicero and Aquinas had them in the order prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Plato in the Republic listed them in the order temperance, fortitude, wisdom, justice. But wisdom was clearly primary, and made so by Augustine (De moribus eccl., Chap. xv, cited at, so a Platonic ordering would probably put Wisdom or Prudence high, perhaps in their World card. So we get the Charles VI A order (of virtues). In Ferrara, justice was considered primary (see Borso's statue of himself as Justice), so we have the B order. And it seems to me that some Church Father, I forget which, put fortitude first.

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