Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In early Tarot decks, the figure of the Hermit was variously known as Il Gobbo, the Hunchback, Il Vecchio, the Old Man, or simply Tempo, Time. Ideas regarding the passage of time, infirmity, old age, and even a hint of death were all present in this image. The Old Man is someone who has reached a stage in his life where he recognizes that, in the words of Ecclesiastes, all is vanity, and his awareness of the transitory nature of human events has given him a certain detachment from the affairs of the world along with a measure of wisdom.

The engraving by Johann Woelfle, shown above, of a work by 17th century artist Gerard Dou contains many of the elements one associates with the Hermit card: the lamp, which represents illumination, along with solitude and contemplation. The book and crucifix underscore the Hermit's religious devotion and search for truth and wisdom, while the skull is a memento mori, reminding us all of our mortality. This Hermit is not wandering, however, as is often the case with this card.

In another engraving by Woelfle, this time of a work by Thomas de Keyser, we have a mendicant monk. He represents the more classical aspect of the Hermit who wanders alone, though here we see him taking a rest. He appears to be in a meditative state, completely unto himself, apart from society and its concerns.

1 comment:

Eccentric Scholar said...

Lovely discussion, and beautiful illustrations!