THE ALLEGORIES OF THE TAROTS

The allegories which appear on the trump cards belong to the iconographical tradition common to most of Europe from the 13th century. They may be found in the decorations of the Gothic cathedrals, in the frescoes of public buildings, and in encyclopaedic and astrological manuscripts. In practice, the figures represented on the cards of the Triumphs are a real Biblia Pauperum, that means a "the Poor men's Bible". Playing the cards, people directly drew from these a knowledge of the Christian mysticism and its contents, concepts that were continually recalled in their minds, according to the method of the Ars Memoriae of the time.
They may be readily interpreted by reference to the cultural context of the courts of northern Italy, and their taste for moralizing images derived both from religious tradition and classical mythology. For the ancient gods continued to play a role in medieval Christian culture, even though their characters were different from those of the original divinities.
On the one hand, they were held to be civilizing heroes who taught men many arts, like Minerva, the first weaver, or Apollo, the medical god. On the other hand, they were interpreted as allegories of virtue and vice, and it is in this sense that they appear on some of theTarot cards. Obvious examples include Strength, represented by the mythical Hercules as he destroys the Nemean Lion - the symbol of animal instinct; Love, represented as Cupid ready to launch his darts against incautious lovers; Prudence, represented by Saturn; and the Modesty of Diana, the Immodesty of Venus, the Truth of Apollo illuminating Earth with the disc of the sun.
Many Tarot figures clearly employ Christian iconography. For example, the World is sometimes represented by the Celestial Jerusalem placed inside a sphere supported by angels or dominated by Celestial Glory. The card bearing the Popess, identical to that in Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, derives from the image of Faith. Amongst many other possible examples, representations of virtues such as Temperance, Justice and Fortitude echo the classical iconography to be found in the sculpture of Gothic cathedrals or the minatures of the sacred books.
Other sources of inspiration include ancient astrological treatises. The figure of the Bagatto, or Juggler, appears among the Children of the Moon - that is to say, the trades which are influenced by the moon. The Misero, or Fool, is found among the Children of Saturn, the Lovers among the Children of Venus, the Pope among the Children of Jupiter, and the Emperor among the Children of the Sun. Moreover, astrologers appear in several packs of trumps as representations of the Moon or the Stars.
Lastly, there are images drawn from everyday life. An extremely interesting example is the figure of the Hanged Man, which refers to the punishment inflicted upon traitors.
In the Bolognini Chapel of the church of San Petronio in Bologna an identical figure is represented in a fresco by Giovanni da Modena as the retaliation punishment for idolaters, since idolatry was considered the most awful kind of betrayal because addressed to the disownment of the Creator. Although the punishment of hanging by a leg has been represented in other works, the San Petronio fresco is the only known example which concides perfectly with the Tarot card.


2 ALLEGORICAL ICONOGRAPHY (15th - 19th centuries)
The following works illustrate the relationship between the allegorical iconography of the twenty-two Triumph cards and of their following transformation and mixture with the religious and profane art. They are ancient prints and illustrated printed books.

Prints

Anonymous (15th C.)
Samson and the lion
Wood-engraving

Michael Wolgemuth (Nurnberg 1434 - 1519)
Popess Joan
Wood-engraving

Michael Wolgemuth (Nurnberg 1434 - 1519)
Pope sitting on the throne
Wood-engraving

Albrecht Dürer (Nurnberg 1471 - 1528)
Wheel of fortune
Wood-engraving

Albrecht Dürer (Nurnberg 1471 - 1528)
The fool on the crayfish
Wood-engraving

Sebastian Munster (Hessen 1489 - Basel 1552)
The astronomer
Wood-engraving, 1530

Hieronimus Cok (Heemskerk 1498 - 1574)
The last judgement
Wood-engraving

Master of Virgil of Grüninger (16th C.)
The destruction of Troy
Wood-engraving, 1502

Master of Virgil of Grüninger (16th C.)
Fame
Wood-engraving, 1502

Anonymous (16th C.)
Emperor sitting on the throne
Wood-engraving

Heinrich Steiner (active in Augsburg 1510 - 1540)
St Christopher
Wood-engraving

Virgil Solis (Nurnberg 1514 - 1562)
Allegory of Good and Evil
Wood-engraving

Virgil Solis (Nurnberg 1514 - 1562)
Samson and the lion
Wood-engraving

Adriaen Collaert (Antwerp 1520 - approx. 1570)
The celestial Jerusalem
Etching

Hendrick Goltzius (Mühlbrecht 1558 - Haarlem 1617)
The fall of Phaeton
Etching

Anonymous (16th C.)
The hanged man
Wood-engraving

Anonymous (16th C.)
Fortune Pantea
Etching

Francesco Villamena (Assisi 1566 - Rome 1624)
The holy Graal
Etching, 1598

Giuseppe Cesari called "Il Cavalier d'Arpino" (1568 - 1640)
Temperance
Wood-engraving

Giuseppe Cesari called "Il Cavalier d'Arpino" (Antwerp approx.1510 - Rome 1570)
Inconstancy
Wood-engraving

Anonymous (16th C.)
The vision of Ezekiel
Etching

Jakob Matham (Haarlem 1571 - 1631)
Fortitude
Etching

Heinrick Ulrick (Nurnberg approx. 1572 - 1621)
The Jester
Etching

Anonymous (16th C.)
The Fortune with cornucopia
Etching

Daniel Van den Bremden (Antwerp 1587 - approx. 1650)
The fool fighting against the dung
Etching

Daniel Van den Bremden (Antwerp 1587 - approx. 1650)
Fire and Love
Etching

Frederich Heindrick. van den Hove (Den Haag approx. 1628 - London after 1715)
Job upon the Dunghill
Etching

Frederich Heindrick. van den Hove (Den Haag approx. 1628 - London after 1715)
St. Lucke
Etching

Burnford (England 17th C)
St. Mathew
Etching

M. Vander Gueat (Flanders 17th C.)
Building the Tower of Babel
Etching

Giovan Battista Bonacina (active in Milan 1631 - Rome 1659)
Games of fortune
Etching

Frederick de Widt (Amsterdam 1610 - 1698)
Judas traitor
Etching

Sébastien Le Clerc (Metz 1637 - Paris 1714) / Jean Audran (Lion 1667 - Paris 1756)
Scriptura Sacra (Sacred Scripture)
Sacra Teologia (Sacred Theology)
Lex Canonica (Canon Law)
Lex Civilis (Civil Law)
Etchings, 1719

Anonymous (17th C.)
Prudence
Etching

Jan Van Somer (Amsterdam 1641 - approx.1724)
The seven signets of the book
Etching

Jan Van Somer (Amsterdam 1641 - approx.1724)
The chained dragon
Etching

Peter Paul Bouchè (Antwerp 1646 - ?)
The recovery of the possessed ones
Etching

John Kip (Amsterdam 1653 - London 1722)
Sodom burnt
Etching

Bernard Lense (London 1659 - 1725)
The last judgment
Etching

Anonymous (17th C)
In manibus sortes
(The Fates in the own hands)
Etching, 1685

Jacob Andreas Friderich (Germany 1683 - 1751)
Justice
Etching

Jacob Andreas Friderich (Germany 1683 - 1751)
Cherubs
Etching

Georg Daniel Heüman (Nurberg 1691 - 1759) )
The three Kings
Etching

Johann Georg Pintz (Augsburg 1697 - 1772)
Jesus tempted by the Devil
Etching

Johann Georg Pintz (Augsbourg 1697 - 1772)
The possessed ones
Etching

Masson (England 18th C.)
The Beast of the Apocalips
Etching

Masson (England 18th C.)
The Dragon of the Apocalyps
Etching

Jacques - Philippe Le Bas (Paris 1707 - 1783)
La tentation de St. Antoine
(The temptation of St. Antony)
Etching

Philipp Gottfred Harder (Bavaria 1710 - 1749)
The Suicide of Judas
Etching

Ignaz Frey (Iglau 1727 –Brünn 1790)
Jove and Callisto
Etching

M. Turoff (18th C)
Tempestas fulminea
(Rapid storm with lightnings)
Etching

Jacob Cats (Altona 1741 - Amsterdam 1799)
Mors ultima linea rerum
(Death is the boundary line of the things)
Acquaforte

Antoine Jean Duclos (Paris 1742 - 1795)
Joseph De Longueil (Lille 1733 - Paris 1792)
Diana and Atteon
Etching

Robert Delaunay (Paris 1754 - 1814)
Diana's bath
Etching

Catharina Klauber (Augsbourg 18th C.)
Spes Jobi
(Job’s hope)
Etching

Carlo Lasinio (Treviso 1759 - Pisa 1838)
The Last Judgement and Hell
Etching

Molien (France - England 18th. C.)
Momo
Etching

Antonio Morghen (Florence 1788 - 1853)
Cupid, Venus and Saturn
Etching

I. Smith (England 18th C.)
Disce mori mundo vivere disce Deo
(Learn to die in the world, learn to live in God)
Black manner

Anonymous (18th C.)
Saturn devours his own children
Etching

R.V.A. Gandensis (19th C.)
Caesar aureo curru insignis ad Capitolium triumphans incedit
(Cesar entering the Capitol in triumph over a golden cart)
Etching
Anonymous (Bologna 1877)
La giostra della fortuna: gioco della andata in alto e calata in basso
(The Fortune roundabout: play of going up and down)
Colour Lithography from the Magazine “ Papagallo”

Illustrated Books

Jean de Meun
Le plaisant jeu du dodechedron de Fortune
(The agreeable game of Fortune)
Lyon, 1574

Vincenzo Cartari
Imagines Deorum qui ab Antiquis colebantur
(Images of the Gods of the Ancient ones)
Lion, 1581

Biblia Sacra Vulgatae Editionis Sixti Quinti Pont.Max.
(Sacred Bible, “Vulgata” Edition of Sistus the Fifth Pontifex Maximum)
Venice, 1603

Natale Conte
Mythologiae libres decem
(Mythology in ten books)
Parma, 1616

Andrea Alciati
Emblemata
(Emblems)
Parma, 1621

Jacob Cats
Spiegel Van den Ouden ende Nieuwen Tijdt
(Mirror of the 8th and 9th hour)
Hague, 1632

Paolo Aresi
Delle sacre imprese
(About the Sacred Undertakings)
Tortona, 1635

Platina
Vita de' Pontefici
(Life of the Popes)
Venice, 1666

Cesare Ripa
Iconologia
(Iconology)
Venice, 1669

Paolo Alessandro Maffei
Gemme antiche figurate (Vol. I°)
(Old figured gems)
Rome, 1707

Paolo Alessandro Maffei
Gemme antiche figurate (Vol. II°)
(Old figured gems)
Rome, 1708

Biblia Sacra Vulgatae Editionis Sixti V. Pontificis Max.
(Sacred Bible, “Vulgata” Edition of Sistus the Fifth Pontifex Maximum)
Venice, 1710

Abate Pluche
Istoria del Cielo
(History of the Heaven)
Venice, 1741

Michael Angelus Causeus
Romanum Museum sive Thesaurus Eruditae Antiquitatis (Book I°)
(Roman Museum or Treasure of the Erudite Antiquity)
Rome, 1746

J. B. Boudard
Iconologie
(Iconology)
Parma, 1759

Petri Busenelli
De Joanna Papissa dissertatio
(Dissertation about Pope Joan)
Parma, 1767

Petro Joshepo Cantelio
De romana Repubblica
(About the Roman Republic)
Venice, 1768

Reproductions

Giotto
Stultizia
(Foolishness)
Fresco.
Padua, Cappella degli Scrovegni

Anonymous (16th C.)
I Figli della Luna
(The Moon’s Sons)
Miniature from the code “De Sphaera”
Modena, Biblioteca Estense

Giotto
Fides
(Faith)
Fresco
Padua, Cappella degli Scrovegni

Bartolo di Fredi (1367)
Distruzione della Casa di Giobbe
(Destruction of Job’s House)
Fresco
San Gimignano, Collegiata.

Giovanni da Modena (1410)
L’Inferno (particolare)
(The Hell, detail)
Fresco
Bologna, San Petronio, Cappella Bolognini.