Thursday, April 30, 2009

This is a Mughal painting, attributed to Manohar, of Lovers. Though the setting is outdoors, perhaps in a garden, the blissful couple are upon a bed which itself rests upon a beautiful carpet. An element of culture is introduced into what otherwise appears to be a natural setting. The bed acts a both a focal point and a container for the Lovers' passion, enabling as well as ennobling their ardor.

A 16th century "Three of Ink Pots," by Swiss woodcut artist Jost Amman. (Full image here.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A beautiful image of the Empress Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror and mother of King Henry II. Needless to say, this would make a wonderful Empress card.

It's a cliché in mystery novels and true-crime investigations that a killer leaves a Tarot Death card at the scene, as an ominous sort of calling card. It's as if people have forgotten that death isn't the opposite of life but rather the opposite of birth. A far "spookier" calling card would be the Wheel of Fortune, signifying the swift and unpredictable hand of fate.

The image depicted here is an early medieval Wheel of Fortune, from the illuminated manuscript Hortus Deliciarum (Garden of Delights) by Herrad of Hohenbourg. We shared this image with Tarot expert Adam McLean, who added, "This image was created around 1180, nearly 300 years before the first painted tarot cards were produced."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This is a 17th century engraving by Gérard de Lairesse, from an anatomical atlas by the Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo. As if the skeleton were not a stark enough reminder of mortality, it is shown standing by a tomb and holding an hourglass. I think it would make a beautiful Death card.
I came across this nice photo, taken by Paul, of magician Jeffrey Jene performing at Riverfest 2006 in Troy, New York. I immediately thought of the older versions of the Magician card, or Le Bateleur. Mr. Jene is truly a 21st century incarnation of this enduring archetype. [Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]
This elegant and severe depiction of Justice, or Iusticia, by Giotto is in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The formal composition and framing of this allegorical figure beautifully prefigures the Justice card.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Tarot archetypes have so spread throughout popular culture that even people with no interest in the cards might identify a favorite. Could such a favorite card be emblematic of a person's life?

Let's consider the recording artist Nico, renowned for her work with The Velvet Underground. She professed a virtual abhorrence for Tarot cards. When asked if she ever used the cards, she answered:

"No, that is one thing I cannot stand. I just don't like tarot cards. I mean, I like the four of swords. That's about all." (interview from The Velvet Underground Companion by Albin Zak)

The Four of Swords traditionally symbolizes a period of rest, with a connotation of isolation/exile and an undertone of entombment. Does this card represent Nico's life? Her final fifteen years were characterized by heroin addiction. She died prematurely from a heart attack and head trauma while bicycling.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

This is a reproduction of a mosaic, from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, depicting Dionysus' sacred companion Acratus astride a lion. I think it makes an interesting, classical variation of the Strength card.
Detail of a Byzantine 13th century silk damask, from Charlemagne's reliquary.

"Twirling in the sky in their thousands were what looked like tarot cards."

—Karl Schroeder, Lady of Mazes, 2005

(Photo by adoseofshipboy.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

" I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the masters. I seek what they sought."

-- Basho

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Ancient Italian Tarot.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The May issue of La Cucina Italiana features a nice article about the Umbrian town of Orvieto. The San Brizio Chapel in Orvieto's celebrated Duomo features stunning frescoes by Renaissance painter Luca Signorelli (who was paid for his work partly in that town's famous white wine). While not as well known as some of his contemporaries, his work exhibits a power and vigor which still captivate the viewer. Above is a detail from The Damned Cast Into Hell.

This is The Resurrection of the Dead. It is a majestic depiction of Judgment, and features on a grander scale all the themes frequently present in the Tarot card.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Fool, as seen illustrating Psalm 52 in a 15th century Psalm book.