The Marseille Emperor and its antecedents


Vitali has given an explanation of why the Emperor's legs are crossed ( ... :[quote]In the card in the Mantegna Tarots deck (figure 5) and in the one in which Emperor Theodosius is represented together with Pope Paul II (Constitutions of the Bolognese study, cod. ms. 40, Bologna, Public Archives), borrowed from the same card, the figure of the Imperator has crossed feet. It doesn’t deal with a particularly usual attitude, but appears as an external mark of safety and of correct evaluation, adopted by judges as they are passing sentence, as we find in the Sachsenspiegel in Dresden (figure 6), which Van Rijnberk amply examined (Tarot. Histoire, Iconography, Esoterism, 1947, pp.108-113). [/quote]
His figure 6 is actually of the Bolognese illumination, 1467, which some of us discussed on the "Mantegna" thread. The relevant detail is below.


It is odd to me that Vitali identifies the Emperor as Theodosius, presumably referring to the last emperor of both East and West (, died 395 c.e. I am unclear why Vitali makes this identification. I see no resemblance between his picture on Wikipedia and the emperor in the illumination, or for that matter, the "Mantegna" Emperor, who is again just the typical bearded emperor, probably modeled on Sigismund.

Paul II was Pope in 1467; the Pope in the illumination does resemble him.


As for the crossed legs, Panofsky gives a similar explanation to Vitali's:
This attitude, denoting a calm and superior state of mind, was actually prescribed to judges in ancient German law-books

(Life and Art of Albrecht Durer, p. 78). His comment is in reference to an engraving Durer did (below) of Christ as the "sun of righteousness" holding the sword and scales of Justice; his lower legs are crossed n a manner similar to that of the Cary-Visconti Emperor (Panofsky's figure 101d).


Similarly the PMB Kings of Coins and Swords have their legs crossed. There is also this illumination of Galeazzo Maria Sforza. The book is dated 1464, but the illumination is more likely from after he became Duke in 1468.


Having one's leggings of different colors was apparently common. I am not ready to attach specific symbolism to the colors of the Marseille Emperor's leggings.

In an ATF thread on the Greek gods ( ... ostcount=4), Beanu posted an image of Jupiter that, in an earlier version, I too am inclined to think is one source for the Marseille-style Emperor, perhaps even the Cary Sheet's. The source is Pausanias (Description of Greece 5.11, at The earliest pictorial version of this Jupiter that I have found is an engraving of 1572 (


As in the card, he has his legs crossed and has an eagle below--not, of course, the stylized one--while holding a vertical shaft with the other (a lightning rod, in the illustration). The people below the statue give perspective; they are also symbolic "children of Zeus," That the Emperor is in a rural setting on the card corresponds to the rural setting of Olympia, seat of the Olympic Games.

The significance of Jupiter in the tarot sequence, besides as the ruler of Olympus and the cosmos, is that he is the father of Dionysus. He was also his surrogate-mother, in that when the original mother, Semele, burned to a crisp, Hermes took the foetal Dionysus and inserted him in Zeus's thigh. Zeus kept the embryo of Dionysus in his thigh until birth.

One of Dionysus's epithets, Enorches, might refer to this birth. "Orches" means "testicle." So Enorches, as some translate it, means "betesticled." If so, that is not a very distinctive epithet; all men, save eunuchs, are betesticled. But one ancient commentator, referring to a temple named for its builder, a man called Enorches, says that it was "so-called because he was born of an egg” (William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology 1876, p. 20; in Google Books). Perhaps it is like the Spanish word "huevos," which applies to both eggs and testicles. Or perhaps "thigh" is a euphemism for "testicle," and "Enorches" means, "be-testicled" in the sense of being inserted in the testicle. Or perhaps Dionysus was called Enorches because he, in his first incarnation as Phanes, was born of an egg, in the mythology of the famous Orphic Hymns (Orphic Hymn to Protogonos, Or all of these.

This egg also hints of another mystery, the notorious egg that Daimonax, echoing Camoin and Jodorowsky (their card is left middle below), claims to find on the emperor's shield. Well, it might be there. The Conver versions show what might be part of an outline of an egg. But I cannot say definitely.


If so, we have another reference to Dionysus, there in the egg, reinforcing the other reference, as the eagle on the shield, which, as I have argued in connection with the Empress, stands for the Emperor's heir. Camoin and Jodorowsky also found an egg in the Conver Popess card. Conceivably it could relate to Dodal's "Pances" title, as "womb," and thus to the embryonic savior (Jesus, Horus, Zeus) ; but I cannot see even the slightest trace of that egg.

Daimonax ( holds that the Emperor is Dionysus himself. The gondolier's hat suggests to him the flowing hair of Dionysus; the shield, the panther at Dionysus's feet; and the scepter, Dionysus's thyrsis.


To me the analogy is stretched. And Daimonax doesn't say when that relief was discovered. However, the head and thyrsis do fit the Cary Sheet a little better.

It is also possible that the Marseille-style Emperor is Osiris, because of the water flowing by him. That could be the Nile--or the Aegean Sea, if the card-makers weren't too picky about the geography at Olympia. The Greeks identified Osiris with Dionysus. But if so, Dionysus couldn't be the eagle on the shield. Conveniently, the Greeks also identified Osiris's son Horus with Dionysus's son Priapus, as Cartari, Imagini delli Dei de gl’Antichi (Images of the gods of the ancients), among others, relates ( ... 000718.xml). Priapus, however, is a minor character in Greek myth, even a ridiculous one; true, he symbolizes fertility (his imposing image was used on Roman scarecrows); but so does Dionysus. The card tells a more interesting Greco-Roman story if the Emperor is Jupiter rather than Dionysus.

In the Neopythagorean Theology of Arithmetic, 4 is the number of the three-dimensional material cosmos, the whole, but not including any of the various levels of soul (viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530&start=10#p7981). That corresponds to the Emperor's temporal authority. The most he can do is provide the material conditions for the growth of soul, similar to setting the boundaries that define the space out of which, from the center, a plant grows in some of the Marseille Fours. The tending of the soul itself goes to those higher than him.


In the Christian Kabbalah of the 16th century, the 4th sefira, Chesed, was called by Reuchlin (1518) Loving-Kindness" (clementiae) or "Goodness" (bonitatati); also kindness (gra), mercy (misericordia), right arm (brachium dextura, innocent (inocens) , the third day (dies tercium), bright fire (ignis candid), the face of a lion (faces leonis) , the first foot (pes prima), and the old man Abraham (Abraham senex), among other things.

Most of this applies easily to the Emperor. Abraham was the patriarch who had great love for his son but was willing to kill him anyway, if God willed it. Such is the benevolent ruler who will do what is necessary, including massacring his subjects, to serve God and his faith. Moses, at the Golden Calf, did not flinch. So likewise was Imperial and French policy several times between the Diet of Worms, 1521, and the time of the Noblet, 1650. Then Louis XIV instituted another pogrom against his Huguenot subjects, killing some and driving the rest out of France. That, of course, was nothing compared to the de facto emperors, mostly atheists, of the 20th century.

Re: The Emperor

Pen started this thread out by posting an emperor-like figure surrounded by eight eagles.

Researching these eagles, I came across an article called "Religious Symbolism in Medieval Islamic and Christian Alchemy," by Italo Ronca, pp. 95-116 of Western Esotericism and the Science of Religion, ed. by Antoine Faivre & Wouter J. Hanegraaff, 1995. It is an attempt to explicate a well known alchemical emblem that appeared as the frontispiece to editions of the works of the Arabic alchemist Ibn Umayl, known in the West as Senior, i.e. "the Elder."


According to Ronca, the picture represents the Arabic text's account of what the alchemist reported seeing in a temple known as the "Prison of Joseph." It is a temple near Memphis identified by modern archeologists as that of the legendary physician and healer Imhotep, later re-interpreted by the Greeks as Aesclepius. On the temple ceilings were
pictures of nine eagles, their wings outspread, as if they were flying,
and on the walls
pictures of standing people, dressed in colourful clothes, their hands outstretched towards the interior and pointing to a statue (of a man) sitting inside the temple, besides the door pillar of the hall, facing the visitors, and sitting on a chair similar to that used by the physicians and extractable from the statue.
These words are apparently translations from the Arabic. Ronca observes that statues of Imhotep usually had him seated on a four-legged wooden stool, holding an open papyrus scroll in his lap, his feet resting on a pedestal. He holds a sacred tablet; it is also described in the text, identifying ten things that correspond to the nine eagles plus the earth.

The nine eagles hold in their claws "something similar to the wide mustaufi that is seen in the hands of soldiers." The Latin translator rendered the word "mustaufi" as "bow" and changed "soldiers" to "archers." The word "mustaufi," Ronca says, means literally, "instrument demanding fulfillment"; it could apply equally to bows fully drawn, or to swords, or to rings found on depictions of the Egyptian vulture goddess Neckh(e)bet, on which was inscribed something similar to an Omega, symbolizing eternity. So the eagles might have originally been vultures.

Ronca shows a similar illustration in the Aurora Consurgens of c. 1400.


I have found a similar illustration in the Dresden copy of the Heilege Dreifaltigheit, c. 1420 (I get this from, a link that Huck provided me on another thread.) In both of these illustrations, there are nine eagles. But illustrators like even numbers, for balance, Ronca says. Hence ten eagles in the engraved version. And eight in the Ridewall manuscript, I would add.


The nine eagles in the Arabic text--ten in the frontispiece--signify, Ronca says, "the cyclical operations of sublimation and distillation ending in fixation" (p. 107). This is precisely what de Rola says, in Alchemy: the Secret Art, in his comments to the figure surrounded by 8 eagles: "The eight eagles symbolize repeated sublimations." It is not merely Jupiter, with the imperial eagle put 8 times for emphasis (or to help people remember the virtue of benevolence, as Gombrich theorizes).

Ridewall (or Ridevall, as Gombrich calls him--but he is English, not German) says,
The third part of the picture concerns the way Jupiter is served. For the poets pretend that the eagle is the squire (armiger) of Jove, and therefore he is pictured by the poets as surrounded from all sides by eagles, as a great Lord used to be surrounded by his squires. (GombrichSymbolic Images p. 136).
What poets describe Jove in that way? I don't know of any. I suspect that what Ridewall had was a copy of the Arabic alchemical text and/or Latin translation, perhaps even with a picture similar to what we see in the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit.

I wondered what real statues of Imhotep looked like. Here are a couple from the internet, along with the man in the center of the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit drawing.



Surprisingly to me, they look similar.

This example shows how the c. 1420 manuscript known as apost. vat. palat. 1066 provides a possible link between the Michelino deck and the Cary-Yale. It shows Jupiter re-imagined as the Emperor, as part of a series of spiritual meditations (the alchemical sequence embedded there) leading the meditator closer to God.

If so, we may have a link between the tarot and ancient Egypt, via an alchemical illustration in a manuscript about the Greco-Roman gods, one that is similar to illustrations in alchemical manuscripts known then (the Heilege Dreifaltigkeit and probably works containing writings attributed to Senior). A medieval Arabic illustration of an ancient Egyptian statue of Imhotep and repetitions of the Egyptian vulture goddess become the Emperor and his eagle.

Re: The Emperor

Found on tumblr:

caption reads "Triumphal Coat of Arms of Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire, Albrecht Altdorfer, c. 1513."

A bit confusing, is it Maximilian being coronated? Or Maximilian in the centre? I assume the first? Who is coronating?