Saturday, March 12, 2016

Considering the long history of the Tarot of Marseilles tradition, it results very clear that the decks following this pattern have many similarities among them, as well as many differences. One can guess that cardmakers transmitted their knowledge in their workshops and the disciples basically followed the designs of their masters. Some others just copied the patterns from available decks that were continuously modified in the process. Of course, each artist made his own contribution and imprinted a personal mark in his production.

Before the establishment of the pattern known today as the Tarot of Marseilles, some important facts took place and they must be mentioned in any review of the development of this tradition.

The Cary-Yale Sheet (Milan, Circa 1500)

The discovery of what is now known as the Cary-Yale Sheet (hosted in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University) shed much light in the earlier history of Tarot and helps to explain the processes that ended in the Tarot of Marseilles.

The Cary-Yale Sheet is an uncut piece of printed paper where the lines of some of the Tarot cards can be seen. These images have striking similarities with some of the French decks, such as the Vieville and the Anonymous from Paris, but also with the Marseilles Pattern.

The Moon card is of special interest because it contains all of the elements that conform Trump XVIII in the Tarot of Marseilles Tradition, except for the dogs. Other cards also have impressive connections with the Marseilles Pattern, calling for further research on the subject.

The importance of the Cary-Yale Sheet is determined by its antiquity, which bears witness to the early history of Tarot decks and also of the early origin of the designs in the Marseilles Pattern. This could mean that there was a broad agreement on the figures conforming a pack of Tarot cards at a very early period, even though the design itself was open to artistic creativity.

Cary-Yale Sheet

The Tarot of Jean Noblet (Paris, circa 1650)

As very early sample of the French Tradition, the Tarot of Jean Noblet is an important antecedent of the Tarot of Marseilles with particular features and almost all the elements in the pattern to come. The only surviving deck is preserved in the National Library in Paris and it is not complete, lacking five cards in the suit of swords. Jean Claude Flornoy, who published a modern edition of this deck, wrote a very accurate description:

Its design, while conforming to the “Marseille style”, is original. Specialists, and all who enjoy significant details, will find numerous fueatures worth examining (Flornoy, 2014).

The Tarot of Jean Noblet is much smaller than what we are used to see in a regular Tarot deck. But it has a nobility in its colors that allows the modern reader to connect with a historical pack in a familiar way. As a landmark in the history of the Tarot of Marseilles Tradition, the Noblet has its place as an earlier sample of a French Tradition which, eventually, produced the Marseilles Pattern in its fullness.

Tarot de Marseilles Type I & II

In observing some of the features present in the composition of different decks pertaining to the Tarot de Marseilles Tradition, Thierry Depaulis elaborated a classification which has been widely adopted among those dedicated to the study of this pattern. He published this classification for the first time in 1986.

Depaulis classified the decks pertaining to the Tarot of Marseilles Tradition in two kinds: Type I and II. Regardless of some posterior tendency to think that these categories have a relationship with how early a deck is; truth is that by comparing the dates this affirmation appears as hardly possible. Notwithstanding, Depaulis has written that "Type I is represented by earlier packs than Type II".

Tradition of the Tarot of Marseilles
Type I
Type II
Nicholas Rolichon (Lyon, XVII Century)
Jean Dodal (Lyon, circa 1705)
Jean-Pierre Payen (Aviñón, 1713)
Jean Tissot (Besançon, circa 1725)
Cosmo Antonio Toso (Génova, circa 1730-40)
Jean Payen (Aviñón, 1743)
Joseph Chaffard (Marseilles, 1747)
Jean-François Tourcaty, Jr. (Marseilles, circa 1750)
Joseph-Noël Icarden (Marseilles, circa 1755)
Pierre Madenié (Dijon, 1709)
François Chosson (Marseilles, 1736)
Jean-Baptiste Madenié (Dijon, 1739)
Claude Burdel (Friburgo, 1751)
François Bourlion (Marseilles, 1760)
Nicolas Conver (Marseilles, 1760)
Joseph Feautrier (Marseilles, 1762)
Antoine Bourlion (Marsella, 1768)
Jean-François Tourcaty, Jr. (Marseilles, circa 1785)
Amphoux & Arnoux (circa 1802-1803)
André Arnoux, (after 1808)
Bernardine Suzanne (Marseilles, 1839)
Source: Thierry Depaulis: “The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies II”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 2, pp. 101-20.

The real pertinence of this classification is the existence of some important symbolic differences among both types. For example, in decks of Type I, we can see a number 4 in Trump IIII, a blindfold cupid in Trump VI, and the full face of the Moon in Trump XVIII. There are many other differences between the two types, including the name of The Fool, which in Type I is Le Fol and in Type II Le Mat.

Here a comparison follows between the Tarot of Jean-Pierre Payen (Type I) and the Tarot of Nicolas Conver (Type II), depicting some of the cards between which some major differences can be seen:


Depaulis, Thierry
“The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies I”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 1, 2013-14, pp. 21-41.
“The Tarot de Marseille – Facts and Fallacies II”. En: The Playing-Card, Vol. 42/ N° 2, 2013-14, pp. 101-20.

Flornoy, Jean Claude
The Tarot of Marseilles of Jean Noblet. (Éditions 2014.


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