Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ivory Cassone

Gertrude Moakley wrote the earliest scholarly account of the iconography of Tarot, and her book remains the most substantial analysis yet published. She argued that the Tarot trump cards, originally known as trionfi, were one of many examples of pop culture derived from Petrarch's I Trionfi. Tarot's trumps show both individual parallels with the subjects of the poem and a similarity to the overall design. Petrarch's Triumphs spawned an iconographic tradition in the 15th century well beyond illustrated manuscripts and printed editions of the poem.

Petrarch's Triumphs were depicted in various media, the most spectacular being giant tapestries, nearly twenty feet long.

A more common form for the Triumphs was as decoration for wedding chests, cassoni. Some had a single triumph, usually the Triumph of Love, but most of them had the triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Death painted on one side, with Fame, Time, and Eternity on the other. One surviving example, however, stands apart from the rest. It was an ivory wedding chest.

Cassone nuziale con i Trionfi del Petrarca, 1477

Here is the Triumph of Death panel from that cassone, in honor of tomorrow's macabre holiday.

Triumph of Death from Ivory Cassone
Circle of Andrea Mantegna, 1477