by Robert Mealing
Years ago, when I first started exploring tarot history, I came to the conclusion that Petrarch’s Triumphs were probably a key element in the creation of tarot. Petrarch was a major influence on his time, and tarot was born not too long afterward. To see this connection wasn’t a new or original idea, I think most historians certainly see a relationship between tarot and some sort of triumphs, in fact, it’s been a standard foundation of research for at least several decades. The original name 22 cards that distinquish tarot from a regular deck were called "trumps", a shortend version of the word "triumphs", and the general idea of the game of tarot was that the higher numbered trump would triumph over the lower numbered trump; so for instance the Pope would triumph over the Emperor or the Sun would triumph over the Moon. The question really is whether Petrarch’s triumphs match cards from the tarot, and specifically Petrach’s most famous series (see this excellent site for more information, http://petrarch.petersadlon.com/trionfi.html). The traditional series of triumphs is Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Eternity, here are early prints illustrating each triumph:
The Triumph of Love
The Triumph of Chastity
The Triumph of Death
The Triumph of Fame
The Triumph of Time
The Triumph of Eternity
I think three are easy to match, (here with the “Charles VI Tarot” from the 15th century).
The Triumph of Love with “Love” (or sometimes called “The Lovers”).
The Triumph of Death with “Death” from the Tarot.
The Triumph of Time with “Time” (or sometimes called “The Hermit”) from the Tarot.
By the way, I’m not necessarily trying to match these two sets of images graphically (although by nature there would be some similarity) as much as generally associating the iconography and concept.
Let’s consider matching The Triumph of Eternity with “Judgement”:
Generally, I think this is a pretty good match. It’s easy enough for me to see how “Eternity” would be expressed with the image of the dead rising from the graves on Judgement Day. If we go with this, then I would suggest that The Triumph of Fame would probably be a good match for “The World”:
In this case, the iconography does strike me as somewhat similar, certainly there is something about the posture of the main characters that feels related.
Overall, matching Eternity with Judgement and Fame with The World feels pretty good to me, and I generally feel comfortable suggesting this. Recently, when I was looking at the image of The Triumph of Eternity shown here (there are many, many other versions, just google “Triumph of Eternity”), I realised that this image actually reminded me a little of The World as seen on the Marselle Tarot. This time, I’ll set the image next to the Jean Noblet Tarot from 1650:
The most striking similarity is the inclusion of "the four evangelists" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Evangelists): the Eagle representing St. John, the Bull representing St. Luke, the Lion representing St. Mark, and the Angel representing St. Matthew. There is also some conjecture if the figure on the Marselle Tarot World card, in some early decks (like the Jean Noblet, Jean Dodal and Jean Payen), might be a representation of Jesus Christ. In the Jacques Vieville tarot from Paris, 1650, the figure is even more masculine and most notably has a halo, as far as I know an attribute unique to this deck:
So, maybe the Triumph of Eternity is better matched with The World? I think many people would agree. The Triumph of Eternity is the last in the series Triumphs, just as The World is the last in the series of Tarot trumps.
What can we make of Fame then? The most obvious card to assign to The Triumph of Fame would most likely be “The Chariot”, which was also sometimes called “The Triumphal Chariot” in early references to the card. Let’s look at this pair:
This image of The Chariot from “Charles VI Tarot” shows what appears to be a war hero dresssed in armor, carrying a battle with sword at side. It’s not much of a match visually to the triumph of Fame, I think substantially less so than the match between Fame and The World card. Yet, conceptually it is a pretty good match with the war hero returning home triumphant and we can assume, famous.
My dissatisfaction with this arrangement is that I want to “use” The Chariot elsewhere… I want to match it to the Triumph of Chastity. For this, I’m going to use The Chariot from the “Cary-Yale Visconti” Tarot dated to the mid-1400s.
Several other early decks feature a woman in the Chariot, but the person is quite changable, through time portrayed as Venus, Mars, Mercury and others. One reason to like this arrangement is that The Chariot almost always follows Love, just as Chastity triumphs Love. To be honest though, when comparing this image with the Triumph of Fame, I’m back to thinking that they might make a better match after all:
No matter how I arrange the cards, I never get a completely satisfactory match. If I were going to suggest a combination, for me the most successful one would be:
The Triumph of Love with The Lovers
The Triumph of Chastity with The Chariot
The Triumph of Death with Death
The Triumph of Fame with The World
The Triumph of Time with Time
The Triumph of Eternity with Judgement
… but that’s just a guess based on what feels right, to me, right now. Probably, the simple answer is that there is not a direct relationship between the tarot and Petrarch’s Triumphs. Like so many other facets of the inconography of tarot, the Triumphs of Petrarch was probably just one of many influences. Still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the relationship was somewhat more intimate, so I’ll continue to explore, rearrange the matches, then rearrange them again. I’m always open to a new theory, so if you see an arrangement that make more sense, please drop by the Tarot History Forum and share it with us.
Robert Mealing hosts the Tarot History Forum at forum.tarothistory.com.