Friday, December 20, 2019

From Marziano to the Ludus Triumphorum - Exploring Tarot Origins

Note: This is the written text, with some additions made Oct.. 2019-March 2020, of an oral presentation made by the author on Sept. 22, 2019, at the annual convention of the International Playing Card Society (IPCS), held in Catania, Sicily.  As of March 16 it is still being revised.

General Summary: This essay, in two parts, attempts to investigate the origins of the tarot by examining patterns in the earliest orders among the three regions of the ludus triumphorum (game of triumphs) in relation to what is known to have come before them.


Part One identifies four early contributors to the later orders: (1) Marziano da Tortona’s game of “deified heroes”, which provides a matrix in which the trump cards attach to suits by rows and also form a hierarchy of their own by columns; (2) the four cardinal virtues, arranged in a hierarchy and correlated  with the four suits; (3) the six triumphs of Petrarch's Trionfi poems, all but one in Petrarch’s order, correlated with the virtues; and (4) four leaders in society, or two high and two low, in some combination, following the example of pre-existing card games using trumps. The result is 14 cards in a 4x3 matrix, with a virtue and Petrarchan in each row plus two Petrarchans above.

Part Two will show how such a matrix would naturally develop into the later orders and partial decks known to us. The structure with which Part One ends fits the orders of Florence and Bologna best. In Lombardy and Ferrara, it is proposed, the horizontal associations in rows of the original matrix became vertical ones by columns. The three theological virtues are also incorporated, as in the Cary-Yale deck and Minchiate. Then celestials take the place of theologicals, and Devil and Tower complete the sequence. Horizontal associations having become vertical ones, a matrix is not needed to associate virtues with Petrarchans, and it has also become too cumbersome. Marziano’s association of suits with groups of trumps is abandoned and the game we know is born.

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