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GALLERY INDEX
~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards

· page XIII ·

MANTEGNA'S TAROT

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GALLERY INDEX


other pages

page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viéville's
Tarot
page XI
the
Minchiate
page XII
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XIV
the
Hofjagdspiel
page XV
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck


~ NOTE ~
Except where differently stated, the cards shown in this page belong
to the replica of Mantegna's Tarot issued by Il Meneghello (Italy).


A very interesting set of etchings is the one known as "tarot of Mantegna", whose approximate dating is 1460-70, which the famous Italian artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1503) had been traditionally credited for. Although its illustrations are very accurate, most scholars reject this attribution. In fact, the subjects of this set are not mentioned by any record, except one important source, Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters and Sculptors... (1550), in which a passage about Mantegna reads as follows:
"He fancied making copper prints, as Pollaiolo did, and among other works he made his trionfi, and they were then kept into account, because no better ones had been seen".

E - Beggar · I - 1
In spite of Vasari's report, though, the real author of these illustrations is likely to remain obscure; names such as Michele Parrasio (from the School of Ferrara), Baccio Baldini, or a number of artists who were taught by Mantegna have been suggested, but no evidence can be found.
Not even the purpose of this set is clear; the only surviving specimens are uncut sheets, known as "series E" and "series S" (the former is the best preserved of the two, and replicas are usually made from this one). It might have been drawn for a card game, or used for educational purposes, or maybe both.

What makes Mantegna's Tarot interesting for playing card collectors and historians is the resemblance of some of its subjects with traditional tarot trumps; in particular, this deck suggests a connection with the so-called eastern tarot pattern, i.e. the one used in the areas of Ferrara and Venice (see relevant page for details).


STRUCTURE OF THE SET
Mantegna's Tarot consists of 50 different illustrations; all of them look very much like tarot trumps. The deck has no suit cards. Each illustration is surrounded by a frame, whose bottom side features the name of the subject and its progressive number in roman numerals; the same number, though in western numerals, is repeated in the right corner, while in the left corner is a letter, ranging from "E" (lowest) to "A" (highest).

The cards are arranged in five groups of ten subjects each; the group is indicated by the letter in the left corner. Within each group, cards are sorted in a progressive order, according to their number, which likely expresses their value.

The structure of the deck can be summarized as follows:

E - Gentleman · V - 5

group Enumbers 1 to 10
group Dnumbers 11 to 20
group Cnumbers 21 to 30
group Bnumbers 31 to 40
group Anumbers 41 to 50

Each group is inspired by a theme, which the relevant subjects reflect. The ranking is based on the moral and philosophical importance of such themes (groups) and single subjects: it runs from E to A, and from the first card of each group to the last one.

This is the ordered list of subjects:
E
I · 1
MISERO
(Beggar)
VI · 6
CHAVALIER
(Knight)
II · 2
FAMEIO
(Servant)
VII · 7
DOXE
(Doge) [1]
III · 3
ARTIXAN
(Artisan)
VIII · 8
RE
(King)
IIII · 4
MERCHADANTE
(Merchant)
VIIII · 9
IMPERATOR
(Emperor)
V · 5
ZINTILOMO
(Gentleman)
X · 10
PAPA
(Pope)
D
XI · 11
CALIOPE
(Calliope)
XVI · 16
TALIA
(Thelia)
XII · 12
URANIA


XVII · 17
MELPOMENE

XIII · 13
TERPSICORE
(Terpsichore)
XVIII · 18
EUTERPE

XIIII · 14
ERATO


XVIIII · 19
CLIO

XV · 15
POLIMNIA
(Polihymnia)
XX · 20
APOLLO


C
XXI · 21
GRAMMATICA
(Grammar)
XXVI · 26
MUSICHA
(Music)
XXII · 22
LOICA
(Logic)
XXVII · 27
POESIA
(Poetry)
XXIII · 23
RHETORICA
(Rhetoric)
XXVIII · 28
PHILOSOFIA
(Philosophy)
XXIIII · 24
GEOMETRIA
(Geometry)
XXVIIIII · 29
ASTROLOGIA
(Astrology)
XXV · 25
ARITMETRICHA
(Arithmethic)
XXX · 30
THEOLOGIA
(Theology)
B
XXXI · 31
ILIACO
(Iliac)
XXXVI · 36
FORTEZA
(Fortitude)
XXXII · 32
CHRONICO
(Chronic)
XXXVII · 37
IUSTICIA
(Justice)
XXXIII · 33
COSMICO
(Cosmic)
XXXVIII · 38
CHARITA
(Charity)
XXXIIII · 34
TEMPERANCIA
(Temperance)
XXXVIIII · 39
SPERANZA
(Hope)
XXXV · 35
PRUDENCIA
(Prudence)
XXXX · 40
FEDE
(Faith)
A
XXXXI · 41
LUNA
(Moon)
XXXXVI · 46
IUPITER
(Jupiter)
XXXXII · 42
MERCURIO
(Mercury)
XXXXVII · 47
SATURNO
(Saturn)
XXXXIII · 43
VENUS


XXXXVIII · 48
OCTAVA SPHERA
(Eighth Sphere)
XXXXIIII · 44
SOL
(Sun)
XXXXVIIII · 49
PRIMO MOBILE
(Prime Mover)
XXXXV · 45
MARTE
(Mars)
XXXXX · 50
PRIMA CAUSA
(First Cause)
NOTE
[1] - the doge was the highest officer of the Venetian Republic, until 1797

group E
Subjects feature social levels, i.e. an entirely human condition, from the least position (Beggar) to the Pope, considered the highest moral authority among humans, as in classic tarots.

group D
This group features the nine Muses, and god Apollo as the highest card. There is no reason for one Muse to be worth more or less any of the others, so their ranking is likely to be random.

group C
The group of knowledge, featuring the seven liberal arts, the Trivium and the Quadrivium, taught in late mediaeval universities, plus Astronomy, Philosophy and (the highest) Theology, a choice still showing a strong religious influence.


D - Melpomene · XVII - 17
group B
The first three subjects are geniuses representing Sun, Time and Cosmos (the universe). The following ones are four Cardinal Virtues and three Theological Virtues, whose highest subject is Faith.

group A
This is the highest group, featuring the Heavenly Spheres: the seven planets believed to revolve around the Earth (according to the Ptolemaic astronomical theory), and two further spheres leading to the First Cause, the uppermost level representing God himself who, according to ancient Greek philosophy, is the original source (cause) of all existing things. Therefore, the last card allegorically shows the structure of the cosmos, in the shape of the known planets.

A - First Cause · XXXXX - 50



A - Sun · XXXXIIII - 44
This arrangement reflects the 15th century beliefs which acted as a basis for all levels of instruction. On these grounds, and considering the absence of suits among these subjects, Mantegna's set supports the hypothesis of cards used as an educational instrument even more than standard tarots do.

All illustrations are strongly allegorical: the several meanings conceiled by symbols account for a number of apparently curious details, besides the main subject. Many of them are borrowed from classic mythology, following the ancient Greek texts rediscovered by scholars in the 14th and 15th centuries. A typical example is the Sun card, featuring Apollo (Greek Helios), the god who was believed to drive his blazing chariot across the sky. One day his son Phaeton tried to drive the chariot himself, but lost control; since Earth was endangered by the great heat of the sun, Jupiter struck Phaeton with a thunderbolt, making him fall down into the Eridanus river: this can be seen in Mantegna's card, as an additional or decorative element.


As for the geographic origin of this set, due to the unknown identity of its real author, it might have been difficult to tell where the cards come from, had the subjects not featured a text. In fact, most of the spellings of the 50 names reflect a very strong venetian influence (an example is the typical use of letter "X", only found in the dialect spoken in Venice and its surroundings); also the presence of the Doge seems to confirm this origin.


COMPARISON WITH TAROT TRUMPS
Despite the numerical mismatch with standard tarots, several subjects of Mantegna's deck seem to feature enough elements, both graphical and conceptual, to suggest a relation with trump cards from different tarot patterns, both classic and regional.


However, we should not forget that in early tarots the Hermit card was known as Time, thus suggesting another evident relation with this subject, and in the famous Visconti-Sforza deck this personage is featured as an old man whose attitude is similar to that of Saturn, although the children are missing and a stick replaces the scythe.

Instead, subjects such as the previously described Sun, and the Moon - very similar, as it shows Artemis driving a chariot across the sky, though from right to left (in opposite direction) - are quite different from the usual allegories used in standard tarot trumps.

It is difficult to tell whether the relation between these similarities should be considered direct (i.e. the author of these pictures took inspiration from local tarot decks he already knew or happened to see) or if, by the time this deck was made, allegorical illustrations similar to these ones had become almost a stereotype, borrowed for paintings, book illustrations, cards, etc.


Although Mantegna's Tarot adds one more mistery to the many unsolved questions in the history of tarots, it still remains one of the oldest decks known, and one of the best preserved ones, having survived as a whole for over five centuries.


further reference to tarot decks can be found in Trionfi and in The Hermitage



page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viéville's
Tarot
page XI
the
Minchiate
page XII
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XIV
the
Hofjagdspiel
page XV
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



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