3 Generations of TdM decks



In 17th Century France, the Tarot cards may have been more then simple playing cards. The Trionfi deck with 22 trumps, a structure maybe conceived by Ercole I of Este, represented a model for our Universe. And as we will see on the following page about the development of the Trump structure, this structure survives in a different form in the French tarot. In the Marseille Tarot, the cards are likely not considered as simple images. They might have been representations of some aspects of your inner self, of your Soul. To emphasize this self meditational use of Tarot cards, starting with the deck of Jean Noblet, the cards where printed mirrored with respect to the well known older models. Many Tarot experts ask the question why the deck of Jaques Vievil is mirrored with respect to the Marseille Tarot. Personally I think you have to ask the opposit question, why is the Marseille deck mirrored with respect to the deck of Jaques Vievil? To find an answer on this question, we have to look at the images on the oldest known Marseille type decks. Later decks only copied the older ones and knowledge of the message behind the cards might have been faded away well before the beginning of the 18th Century..

In the Marseille Tarot we can clearly distinguish three different styles. Michael Dummett and other Tarot researchers distinguish only two, that they call type I and type II. I consider that in reality there are at least three types. The different types are the following, for every style I give the main card makers:

  • Type 0, produced around 1650/1660, the only known representative is the deck made by Jean Noblet
  • Type I, produced in the last part of the 17th Century by Nicolas Rolichon and during the 18th Century by Jean Dodal, Jean Payen, Jean-Pierre Payen and their heirs. The cards found in the Sforza castle are apparently also of this type.
  • Type II, produced in the 18th Century by many other card makers. Their names include Pierre Madenie and his son Jean-Baptiste Madenie, François Chosson, François Tourcaty, Nicolas Conver, Arnoux Amphoux (altough he also made a type I deck) and Suzanne Bernardin. Many Swiss cartmakers produced almost identical decks. Some names are François Heri, Jaques Rochias, Claude Burdel and Rochus Schaer.

In later decks the style is often difficult to distinguish, because some card makers mixed elements of both the type I and II styles.

In the following figure I will give an example of all three types. First type 0, represented by the only known deck, the 1659 Tarot of Jean Noblet. Then type I, with as example the export deck of Jean Dodal, made in 1701, the same year that King Louis XIV instaured taxes on playing cards. Here are shown images of a deck conserved in the Britisch Museum. And last but not least the oldest surviving example of a type II deck, the 1709 Tarot of Pierre Madenie:

The first remark we can make is that the liberty of the 15th and 16th Century card makers has gone. The card makers reproduce older decks, they have very limited liberty in the deck design. This is a very important indicator that these deck were mainly used for game playing. Like in modern card decks, card players want easy recognizable card images. So they wanted identical images to the known decks. Still, iIf we compare only these four cards, we remark numerous differences between the three types. They are certainly no simple copies of each other, they are different interpretations of the same theme. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to outline all small differences between the three types, what is interesting for us is how they developped. Jaques Vievil, Jean Noblet and Nicolas Rolichon all based themselves on older Italian models. In view of the different scenery in the higher trump cards, Vievil has based himself probably on a deck from Ferrara. Noblet and Rolichon had Milanese decks as models. Jean Dodal and Jean Pierre Payen, who were from the same city as Nicolas Rolichon (Lyon) and members of the same printers guild (see the page of Jean-Michel David about the Jean Dodal deck: http://newsletter.tarotstudies.org/2005/08/jean-dodal-1701-tarot/), copied the older Rolichon deck, with slight changes in the Dodal deck because of export requirements. The so called Marseille Tarot decks have in common their pure Milanese origins.

Based on the different names for the Fool, and instead of speaking of Type O, I and II TdM decks, I could also indicate them as the Fou type TdM (Noblet), the Fol type TdM (Rolichon, Dodal/Payen and his heirs) and the Mat type TdM (Madenie, Conver and many others). Fou and Fol are two different spelling versions of the same word. The word Mat is derived from the Italian word for a Fool, Matto. Some of the main correspondences and differences are as follows:

  • The Fool represents infinity liberty. On the deck of Jean Noblet (Type O), his naked buttocks and genitals are openly shown. Jean Noblet had maybe still the liberty to design his trump cards. This detail disappears on all type I and II decks.
  • Continuing this liberty, the Conjuror, who is also called the Juggler or on modern Tarot decks the Magician, has on the Noblet deck a phallus symbol in his hands.
  • On the deck of Jean Noblet, the Emperor is mirrored with respect to the deck of Vievil, and oriented to the future, on type I and type II decks the Emperor is oriented to the past.
  • On the Death card we see just the opposit. On the deck of Jean Noblet, Death is like in the Vievil deck facing the past, on most of the other TdM decks he is facing the future. However note that there are some exceptions. like Nicolas Rolichon (Type I) and Jacques Rochias (Type II), where Death is facing the past.
  • Cupido is surrounded on the deck of Jean Noblet by a halo, this is less clear on the type I decks and on later decks he is clearly flying in front of the Sun.
  • The Hanged Man is numbered XII, mirrored with respect to Vievil, where he is numbered IIX. For one Century, all later type I en type II decks number this card IIX again, because this corresponded better to the message behind the card
  • The Tower is exploding on Type O and Type I decks. On Type II decks the Tower is struck by lightning
  • There is no bird on the Star on the Type O deck of Jean Noblet. All later Type I en II decks show a bird on the tree at the left side.
  • The Moon is facing us on the Type O and Type I decks. On Type II decks the Sun faces to the left.
  • The Sun has wavy yellow and straight red radians on Type O and Type II decks. On Type I decks all radians are straight.
  • And as a main difference, the drawing styles of the three types are very different. Only based on this feature, the three types can clearly be distinguished. All Type I cards are copies of the same deck. And in the same way, all type II decks copied the same ancestor. Differences begin to appear when the a deck is copied from a copy who is copied on his turn. Details fade away or change, never to reappear again. One good example is the wings that Pierre Madenie gave to the Lion and the Ox on the World card, on later decks this changed in leaves.

These are not the only ones, there are many more differences. The differences enumerated here are just to show that we have effectively three different types, and not two as stated by most Tarot experts. Next to the pure Marseille Tarots, there developped many regional Tarots, that followed in many details the Marseille Tarot, but that changed for religious or political reasons some of the cards. This will be dealed with in a seperate page still to develop.

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