The individual Trump cards


A standard Tarot deck as we know it today has 22 trumps. As we have seen on the previous pages, this has now always been the case. The Cary Yale Visconti deck had probably 16 trumps, the original Visconti-Sforza deck contained 14 trumps and the Minchiate deck counted 41 trumps. The Mantegna engravings, that were no playing cards but prints, and contained 50 illustrations with a structure and images that were strongly related to the Tarot trumps.

On these pages, I will limit myself to the 22 standard trumps.  The order I will use is based on the Ferrara order. I use this order because I believe that the 22 trump structure was born In Ferrara. The oldest reference we have to the order of the Tarot trumps is written down in the Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis, a series of preaches, written down by a monk, living in the late 15th Century in the Duchy of Ferrara. According to different sources, the monk might have been Franciscan or Dominican. The Ferrara order was not certainly not the oldest order, and most of the Trumps existed earlier. All the trump cards of the 14 trump structure were re-used in the 22 trump structure. Some trump cards in the 22 trump structure that did not appear in the 14 trump structure, were present in other early decks, like the virtue Strength that we'll find in the  Cary Yale Visconti deck. On the following pages, I describe first the 18 base cards, describing the journey of the Human Soul through life and afterlife, following the order of the Sermones cum Aliis. Next I describe the three Virtues representing the moral values a human being has to acquire  during his life. To end with, I present the World card, that is a symbol for God and Eternity.

Of every trump card, we will see how this particular trump card changed over the years. For some trumps, like the Sun, the name never changed. Other cards had many names over the ages like the Magician, who is also known as the Trivial Performer, the Juggler or the Conjurer. The card images were different for every version of the Tarot, and the interpretation of the card depends largely on this image. Originally, the trump cards had name nor number. The card players had to recognize the images and to memorize the order of the trumps. In the modern Tarot game as it is played in France, the traditional images have disappeared and only the numbers are important. Lucky enough for the card players, in a specific place, there are  few variations over time. As a result, every deck in a certain town or region had the same images, independent of the card maker. A card player, who used the Marseille Tarot in the 17th Century, would have no problem to play with a deck made in the 19th Century. The style slightly changed, but the images and their names are virtually the same.

Our journey through the trump cards will start with the oldest-known trumps. Trumps of atypical decks, like the Mantegna engravings, the Sola Busca deck and the Etteilla deck, will be included, if they can be related to the standard trumps. The period covered here goes from the earliest hand-painted decks to the dawn of the 20th Century. The latest deck that will be shown is the Rider Waite deck, that can be considered as the first modern deck. Modern decks come in so many variations and flavors that it is impossible to include them all in this comparison. So be my guest in the history of every single trump card.

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