The Renaissance Origins Of Tarot
Author: Giovanni Pelosini
English Translation: Arnell Ando
“The Renaissance Origins Of Tarot” is a well written, 78 page book on the origins of the Tarot. In his introduction, Pelosini differentiates between playing cards (with their origins in Asia), and Tarot cards, which he defines as being an Italian innovation from the Middle Ages. Pelosini sees the Tarot as a Renaissance codification of cultural models of various origins, and as being an adaptation on an eastern matrix card game, which arrived in Europe most likely through Arabic contacts.
This was also a period when card making technology was becoming more advanced, especially in the areas of Fabriano (1276) and Bologna. The Minor Arcana were developed from early playing cards, which resulted in the suits of Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. (It is interesting to note that the French suits were developed from the Italian suits.) The Major Arcana were developed from the original Triumphi.
Pelosini covers the people and texts that were in evidence in these early days, such as Court de Gebelin ( Mondi Primitif), with his belief that the Tarot had been brought to Europe by nomadic Gypsies, Eliphas Levi (Alphonse-Louis Constant), and Papus. Pelosini talks about the oral tradition of Tarot, about initiatory traditions, spreading these traditions through the use of Tarot as a card game. The game could be seen as a game, but to s select few it would also carry symbolic meanings and sacred teachings.
The background of the Trumps (Triumphs) is discussed, as reflecting the moral virtues and classical mythology of the parades/processions of the middle ages, including the Triumphs of Petrarch. The cards were played by royalty in the courts as a game, and in the taverns as a gambling device.
Another part of the cultural background of the Tarot that Pelosini discusses is Greek- Alexandria Hermeticism and Gnosticism. Included in this discussion is the Corpus Hermeticum (by Hermes Trismegistus).
The philosophy and theories of this time, and the individuals who espoused them, are well presented in this book. Solid research has been done, and footnoted abound, allowing the reader to follow the trail to wherever it might lead them.
Throughout this work we see color photos of Tarot cards, of the individuals being discussed, and the material being discussed. We are literally taking a step back in time, so that while we read the text we are simultaneously presented with a color visual of what was and what is.
Part of this “stepping back in time” for me was reading about the game of Tarot as it was played in the Courts. The Triumphs (Trumps) were used to make statements in quite an interesting manner!
This is a book that can be considered a resource – much more than something that we read once, then set aside. It is well written, well documented, and filled with bright visual imagery. It is an education, and well worth the reading.
© February 2016 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without the written permission of the author.