3 Generations of TdM decks


In 17th Century France, the Tarot cards may have been more than 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 meditation use of Tarot cards, starting with the  deck of Jean Noblet, the cards were printed in mirror compared to the well known older models. Many Tarot experts asked, why the deck of Jaques Vievil is mirrored compared to the Marseille Tarot. Personally, I think you have to reverse the question, why is the Marseille deck mirrored compared to the deck of Jaques Vievil? To find an answer to this question, we have to look at the images of 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 card makers 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 its only known deck, the 1659 Tarot of Jean Noblet. Thereafter, type I, with for example the export deck of Jean Dodal, made in 1701. And finally, 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 an important indicator that these decks were mainly used for game playing. Like in modern card decks, card players wanted easily recognizable card images. So, they expected identical images to the known decks. Still, if we compare only these four cards, we remark numerous differences in detail 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 developed. Jaques Vievil, Jean Noblet and Nicolas Rolichon all based themselves on older Italian models. Considering the different scenery in the higher trump cards, Vievil has based himself probably on a deck from Ferrara. Noblet and Rolichon may have 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 French decks of the Rolichon type, with slight changes in the Dodal deck because of export requirements. The so-called Marseille Tarot decks have in common their Milanese origins.

Based on the different names for the Fool, and instead of speaking of Type O, I and II TdM decks, we could also indicate them as the Fou type TdM (Noblet), the Fol type TdM (Rolichon, Dodal/Payen and others) 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 significant correspondences and differences are as follows:

  • The Fool represents infinite 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 does not appear on any other type I or II deck.
  • 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 when compared to the deck of Vievil, and oriented to the future (the right side of the card), on type I and type II decks the Emperor is oriented to the past (the left side of the card).
  • On the Death card, we see just the opposite. When looking at 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.
  • Cupid is surrounded on the deck of Jean Noblet by a halo, this is less clear on the type I decks. On type II decks, he is clearly flying in front of the Sun.
  • The Hanged Man is numbered XII,  and mirrored when compared to Vievil, where he is numbered IIX. For at least one Century, almost all type I and type II decks number this card IIX 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 on 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, probably from Italian origin. The deck of Jean Noblet in contrary, is probably not a copy of an older deck, but inspired by the same original Milanese cards. In the same way as for the type I decks, all later type II decks copied the same ancestor, maybe the deck of Pierre Madenié. Differences begin to appear when 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 so-called Marseille Tarots, there developed many regional Tarots, that copied in many details the Marseille Tarot, but that changed for religious, political or other reasons some (or all) cards.

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