The "Charles VI" Tarot

Sometimes while skimming through the collection of images on my computer, my eye will fall on one of the cards from the so-called "Charles VI" Tarot, and I'm always just astounded by the beauty.

Tonight, what struck me was the way the characters break out of their frames. It seems such a modern design element; I don't know why it surprises me so much to find in this old deck, but it does.

I love the colors too. They're rich, and elegant, and well balanced.

Ross wrote a little about these cards a few years ago, here:

When I first read of these cards, I think the consensus was that they were from Venice. That changed over time, and until recently, I considered these cards "Bolognese". Now it seems that there is growing evidence that they are likely from Florence. Hopefully, Ross or Michael will address why the ideas about the origin of these cards is changing.

I'd like to spend a little time just appreciating the beauty of these images.

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

The Fool


Here we can see what I mean by "breaking" he frame. The artist has the feet of the fool inside the frame, but even his toes are creeping outside. His arms and hat "reach" out from inside adding a sense of depth to the image. This technique is used throughout the deck, and it's really very effective.

Isn't this image great? Look at the hat on him! I love the hat with donkey ears and a bell or bauble on the tip. I don't know of any other image of the Fool holding a string of bells like this. I wonder if he shakes them? Or does he spin them?

He's wearing a blue overgarment which, although giving a tattered appearance, is actually fairly elegantly detailed with gold. He seems to have lost his pants, and doesn't seem to mind. This "nakedness" seems to be an ongoing theme with the Fool's iconography.

There are four figures surrounding him. I've heard them referred to as "children" before, but I'm not sure if that is actually what is intended, rather than just lesser importance to the subject.

It's easy to think of this scene as rather playful, the Fool seems to be having a good enough time; but surely what is being depicted here isn't really such a good time after all. The figures are teasing and threatening the Fool. The one on the upper left is reaching up with one hand, and seems to have a stone in the other. The figure on the bottom left has broken out of the frame entirely, and is picking up stones. The figure in front of the fool has a collection of stones held in his shirt, ready to be thrown; and has one hand upraised with a stone in it. The last figure looks like he is trying to trip the Fool. The theme of torment, like "exposure" and "nakedness," is a common theme with early depictions of the Fool. Even the Tarot de Marseille Fool, especially in Noblet for instance, is exposed; and the animal about to leap at him is not the same friendly dog later portrayed in modern tarot.

Isn't this just a really remarkable piece of art?

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

The Emperor and The Pope


It's interesting to compare these two cards to see just how similarly they are treated. Both Emperor and Pope sit on very similar thrones. I love the detail of the circular area at the front.

The Emperor is a more domineering presence. His attendants are more diminutive than the cardinals depicted with the Pope. The Emperor wears, I think, armor, but has a beautiful blue robe with gold trim; and just look at those red socks (shoes?)!

It's interesting that there is no Eagle displayed in this card, a typical symbol for the Emperor. I wondered if there was any chance it might be the King of Coins, but that seems doubtful. Although there is no cross on the top of his orb, it does seem to be divided into three sections, which is typical for showing "the earth". In his other hand he holds a staff with a "fleur de lys" symbol on top. Does that mean anything I wonder?

The Emperor seems an older gentleman, his long grey beard and flowing grey hair indicating his advanced age.

The Pope, like the Emperor, looks a rather stern man. He holds the "Keys of St. Peter" and the "Book of Canon Law", both symbols of his authority. He wears an incredibly elegant blue robe, with gold crosses (that remind me of the pattern seen on the back of the Jean Noblet and several other later decks).

It's striking that he wears a more modest crown than is usually depicted. It reminds me of this image (on the left) of Pope Innocentius III from a 13th century fresco from the "Sacro Speco", Subiaco, Italy.


The page I found this on has an interesting note:
The portrait on the left (Pope Innocentius III 1198-1216) may not immediately attract the attention of a foreign visitor, but it surely attracts that of the Italians as they saw this portrait in their history books at school (a Briton would have the same reaction when seeing the portait of Henry VIII by Holbein). The painting is interesting also because it shows the papal crown as it was in the XIIIth century.
The portrait on the right shows a pope of the VIIth century, but the XVth century painter did not care about historical accuracy and Agatho I, who died in 681, is crowned with a very nice triregno, the triple crown introduced by Bonifatius VIII (1294-1303).
I'm not sure how accurate that is, but if true, it's an interesting feature that the Charles VI Pope is depicted with a similar crown. Perhaps the artist had a particular, earlier pope in mind, or used an earlier model?

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

The Lovers


Isn't this lovely?

This is one of my favorite cards of any deck. I love the two cupids floating in the clouds above the lovers. Bright red wings, curly golden hair; their only clothing is the harness of their quivers.

The couple in the front are oblivious to what is occurring around them. They seem occupied in a conversation. The gentleman (is that a Valet?) has his hands crossed over his chest. His companion has really broken through the boarders, not only the main border, but even beyond that. They seem to be stepping right out of the card.

Behind them a couple is embraced in a passionate kiss. Look at the posture of the gentleman! He has his lady cut off, she is surrounded by him. And look at the lady's headdress! Wow! Does that suggest a time and place when such a fashion was popular?

The gentleman in the last couple holds a book, I imagine of his love poems. His hand is over his heart. His lady seems to be the only character aware of those surrounding her. I'm not sure she is as inspired by cupid's arrow as the others; but if not, surely she will be struck soon enough.

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

I find amazing how the artifice of having the figures surpassing the card’s frame suck us into the image, or perhaps, such artifice have both the card’s characters and us meeting at an intermediate plane that is neither the card’s two-dimensional format, nor our tridimensional reality anymore. Would this be the dimension of symbol, perhaps? In any case, that is a great place to be, since it has a qualitative time frame, not a quantitative one.

In all the other tarots the frame is there to set the image’s limits. In this case, the frame is there to stress the image’s freedom.

Thanks for pointing that out Robert!


What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

Hi, Robert,
le pendu wrote:Tonight, what struck me was the way the characters break out of their frames. It seems such a modern design element; I don't know why it surprises me so much to find in this old deck, but it does.
Self-referential art, drawing attention to itself as art, naturally appears modern. Whether playing with the content or playing with the frame, (or playing with the title, as in Magritte's This is Not a Pipe), even today it seems like an avant garde thing to do -- literally pushing the boundaries or thinking outside the box. One of the more striking examples in 15th-century art, breaking out of the entire picture, appears in the Bern Dance of Death by Niklaus Manuel. We seen the dance itself, the artist creating it, and one of the Dance's skeletons toying with the artist. Not quite M.C. Escher, but still pretty cool.


Of course, from the time of Giotto's realistic paintings of sculpture and the later development of linear perspective, such visual illusions rather naturally called attention to themselves. One of the most breathtaking is Correggio's Assumption of the Virgin.


Correggio's Assumption of the Virgin

Today's version of this takes the form of 3-D street painting.


Best regards,
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

Oh how I love these cards!
There have been other threads, but the most recent was this one on AT ... ge=1&pp=10
(as an aside, you guys are wonderful allowing links to other forums!)
I can remember when I first joined a forum- I was so persnickety about the correct liturgical garb- and forgot completely about the Artist :oops: and what they were trying to portray. I did not understand why an Artist would paint a Pope and stick a Bishop's Mitre on his head for example; or why wrong time for the clothes and symbols. Tarot has made me less pedantic (I hope).
I still see the Charles V1 cards as not Tarot- but I cannot explain why apart from the fact that only 16 Atouts remain (plus Valet of Swords). It seems strange- for such lovely works of Art to be missing some?
The stages that the Pope and Emperor are on are very similar to the Visconti 12 stages. There would seem to be some common denominator.
The D'Este cards have 8 Trumps and 8 Honours (cary collection)
The Figdor D'Este cards are 6 Trumps and 6 Honours.
Makes you think they were used when playing with another side who had their own set. (Like Chess as Huck says)
All these handpainted cards use that wonderful technique of 3D. Thats the trouble to my eye- it makes the Tarot de Marseille look flat and cartoonish.
The Universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
Eden Phillpotts

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot

Just by chance, today I found this paragraph on a text by Rosalind Krauss I am currently reading:

“The frame-within-a-frame is a way of entering the figure into the pictorial field and simultaneously negating it, since it is inside the space only as an image of its outside, its limits, its frame. The figure loses its logical status as that object in a continuous field which perception happens to pick out and thereby to frame; and the frame is no longer conceived as something like the boundary of the natural or empirical limits of the perceptual field. As figures of one another, outside and inside take on a deductive relation to each other, the figure of the frame turning the painting into a map of the logic of relations and the topology of self containment. Whatever is in the field is there because it is already contained by the field, forecast, as it were, by its limits. It is thus the picture of pure immediacy and of complete self-enclosure.”

She is here talking about Piet Mondrian’s Plus and Minus paintings (1919) but this could perfectly be applied to the Charles VI tarot.


What’s honeymoon salad? Lettuce alone
Don’t look now, mayonnaise is dressing!

Re: The "Charles VI" Tarot


A version of this deck was published as Golden Tarot of the Renaissance by Lo Scarabeo with the missing cards added by the artist, and 'interpretive' pips. It is very lovely, though the artist's interpretations of the pips are somewhat at odds with how I'd interpret them. It has shimmering gold foil too!! It's historic, yet not, all at the same time!! :D


When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.