The Tarot and its Place of Origin

I would like to thank Ross Caldwell for the recommendation to join this forum. I've been studying the Tarot and its contextual history for around three years now. I have a great deal of that history sorted out; however, one area in which I could really use some additional insight and opinions regards the Tarot's place of origin.

Ferrara seems to have been more or less ruled out by consensus, leaving Milan, Florence, and Bologna as potential options. At the present moment, I find myself leaning heavily towards Florence as the birthplace of the Tarot for several reasons. The Humanist movement, which created the intellectual and cultural space for the esoteric efflorescence of the Renaissance, was strongest in Florence. Petrarch and Giovanni Bocaccio largely initiated that movement and Coluccio Salutati helped make it a part of the cultural fabric of Florence. Of course, we also have the patronage of the Medici and Marsilio Ficino translating the Corpus Hermeticum in Florence.

Florence was also one of the dominantly Guelf areas in contrast to Milan. I sometimes surmise that if the Tarot had originated in Milan, then order C2 would likely have placed the Emperor after the Pope in keeping with its stance as a Ghibelline duchy; however, if it had inherited a game in which the Pope was already positioned above the Emperor, it would not reflect negatively on Milan either politically or socially.

There is also the sequence associated with reach region to consider. Placing the World card, which I believe to be an allegory for the attainment of gnosis, prior to the Judgment card is indicative of a mystical approach grounded in the apostolic tradition of a transformative vision of God that we find with Ezekiel and the apostle Paul. Such a mystical reading would not have been out of place in Florence.

It seems more likely that the Bolognese and Florentine orders were the earlier orders. As the game of Tarocchi spread to outlying regions, the mystical interpretation of that allegory was either lost or ignored in favor of a more orthodox reading that placed the World card after Judgment. It seems less likely to me that the game traveled from Milan to Florence and Bologna where it was reinterpreted from a mystical standpoint and then rearranged in concert with that idea.

I would be curious to know what region others think gave birth to the Tarot and why.

Re: The Tarot and its Place of Origin

Your assumption is that the tarot always had the same 22 cards that show up in the lists, which are no earlier than the late 15th century. That it was the same 22 cards everywhere by then, or even by 1450, says nothing about the earlier period, especially outside of the leading crafts producing city, Florence. Another assumption is that the original order was more or less that of one or more later lists. The lists for Milan are especially late, 1543 or 1544 (now I forget which) for the first documented date (Alciato). In Milan, there may have been no Pope card originally, and the Angel of Judgment (corresponding to Petrarch's Eternity) may have followed World (Worldly Fame, in the Visconti di Modrone), as in Petrarch's "Trionfi" poem series, much beloved in Milan, where Petrarch had spent his working life. There is also the question of how to define "tarot", i.e. "triumphs" as it was called originally. The 18th century saw numerous decks with animals, etc. for trumps. The same game can be played no matter what is on the cards, as long as the order is agreed upon by the players. In that sense the first recorded tarot deck is the Marziano, before 1425 (when he died) in Milan. As far as the first record of a game called "trionfi" being in Florence, all that shows is that Florence did a better job of keeping and recopying documents (the 1440 is a later copy; but there is also a 1443 record) than Milan, where the records went up in smoke in 1447. We only have Marziano's account because it was probably kept by a private individual who was able to sell it, after which (1449) it went immediately to France, accompanied by a letter calling it "a kind of triumphs". Bologna also had palace-burning (1506-7), less extensive than Milan's.

Re: The Tarot and its Place of Origin

Is Tarot humanist at all? How many Greek and Roman gods does it have? Two. And these two, Fortuna and Cupid, are pretty much the two that anyone would have recognized, even someone without any education at all. How many stories from Greek or Roman mythology? None. Not even the very common ones such as Actaeon and Dianna. These are not the 22 concepts that a Boccaccio or a Petrarch could conceivably have chosen, let alone a XV century humanist. These are Medieval concepts, through and through.

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