hist-games: Tarot origins

Bob O'Neill eoneill at ibm.net
Wed Sep 3 18:48:12 PDT 1997

At 04:50 PM 9/3/97 -0700, you wrote:
>I was reading the playing card newsgroup, and ran across a post.  I mailed a
>letter to the author, but thought I'd drop a line here too.
>From Maikeru Long <mlong at u.arizona.edu>:
>>the Tarot deck was introduced in 1449 by Jacopo Marcello.
>I have not heard of him.  I need to go home and re-check "The Game of Tarot"
>(but don't remember seeing him mentioned in any detail).  Meanwhile, can
>anybody add more information?

Dummett, Game of Tarot p 33 note 2.  We have a letter 1449 from a wealthy
Venetian to Queen Isabelle, wife of the Duke of Lorraine.  Accompanying the
letter was a deck of 16 cards and the letter indicates that some kind of
game was played with them.  We don't have the deck, only the letter.  It is
not a Tarot deck - the cards represented various classic gods (Kaplan
Encylcopedia of the Tarot, Volume II, p138).  It represents simply another
of a number of 15th C hand-painted games that were probably stimulated by
the Tarot - a set of symbolic images used for playing a game.

The date is also late.  The earliest documentary evidence is from the
account-books of the d'Este court of Ferrara in 1442 (see Decker, Depaulis,
Dummett 1996. A Wicked Pack of Cards: The origin of the Occult Tarot.St.
Martin Press, NY - p.27 and footnote).  We really don't have a firm date of
invention - Decker, Depaulis and Dummett (op cit p 27) estimate about 1425
- some argue back to 1410 (but that is stretching it).

The oldest surviving deck is most likely the hand-painted deck made about
1441 for the Duke of Milan.  And it has some unique variations - so it may
also be based on an earlier "standard" deck, we don't know (Decker et al.
op. cit. p 25).

>> I also recommend Alfred Douglas's _The Tarot: The Origins, Meanings, and
>> of the Cards_, and Colin Wilson's _The Occult:  A History_.
>I have not read either of these books.  In the past I've been disappointed
>most "occult" tarot books as a source of history.  But perhaps these are
>exceptions.  Has anyone else read these books?  Are they worth reading?
>Michael McKay  (known in the SCA as Seaan McAy)
>mckay_michael at tandem.com  or  seaanmcay at aol.com

Douglas and Wilson are a cut above the normal occult books.
But the standard remains Dummett - The Game of Tarot
Kaplan's Encyclopedia of the Tarot 3 Vols. is a wealth of photographs of
decks and early documentary evidence.
Decker et al. op. cit.  is now THE authority on the French occulists'
writings on the Tarot.
There are two scholarly attempts to explain/decipher the 15th C symbolism
on the cards:
Moakley 1966 The Tarot Cards and O'Neill 1986 Tarot Symbolism.


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