Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Tripartite Ranks of Man

One of the most common features of art and literature is novelty within convention, creations which are not wholly new but which are represented in a new way. The phrase non nova sed nove captures this succinctly. The six lowest trumps of the standard Tarot cycle are a great example of this. I gave a number of pictorial examples in this post to the Tarot History forum:

A Tripartite Ranks of Man

The analytically didactic Florentine fresco by Andrea di Bonaiuto, in the Guidalotti Chapel of Santa Maria Novella, may be the greatest early example. The two sides of Christendom, clerical and secular, as well as those who reject the Church, are dramatically presented. Yesterday I uploaded a pretty good (1800 x 1256) picture of the wall.

The Way of Salvation fresco is in the Spanish Chapel (Cappella Spagnuolo, or Guidalotti Chapel, after the patron) of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Created by Andrea di Bonaiuto (Andrea da Firenze), it is also known as the Triumph of the Church, the Church Militant and Triumphant, Allegory of the Active and Triumphant Church and the Dominican Order, among other titles. The black-cloaked figures are Dominican priests (the Blackfriars, the Order of Preachers, O.P.), and the black-and-white dogs are their symbol. (Founded by St. Dominic to preach against heresies, they were referred to as "domini canes", hounds of God.)

In the left foreground there is a group of about five dozen figures representing Christendom, and illustrating the religious and secular hierarchies. At the center are pope and emperor, and at their feet are black-and-white dogs protecting the sheep. The secular figures range from the emperor down to beggars and cripples. Behind them is the great Florentine Duomo, representing the Church. In the right foreground are three Dominican saints. (Their identification varies among sources.) St. Peter Martyr sends the dogs to round up lost sheep and fight off wolves. St. Dominic preaches to the people while St. Thomas debates heretics.

Behind the preachers, in the right middleground, there is a group of worldly pleasure-seekers (above Thomas and the heretics) and two more Dominican figures (above St. Peter and St. Dominic). The faithful are being blessed and ushered to the gate of Heaven, where St. Peter welcomes them. Above all is a scene of Christ in Majesty, with the emblems of the Evangelists. The overall composition, with the heretics on the right and faithful on the left, echoes many more conventional Judgment scenes.

As illustrated and explained in the THF post, in Tarot the Pope and Emperor are shown directly as the leaders (sponsus) of their respective households, as they are in the present composition. Their subordinates are shown as Popess and Empress (sponsa). Those outside the fold are allegorically represented by a professional deceiver (Bagatto as sponsus) with his subordinates shown via the Fool (Matto as sponsa).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Earliest Depiction of Playing Cards

This is about as pre-Gébelin as possible for a post on playing cards. It is an image that may date to the earliest decade or two of playing cards in Europe.

Playing Cards in Meliadus
Playing Cards in Meliadus - detail

This is the earliest known depiction of card play, a miniature in a 14th-century manuscript of Meliadus or Guiron le Courtois (part of the romance also known as Palamedes; also known as Le Roman du Roy Meliadus de Lennoys), by Hélie de Boron. The manuscript was written with areas left blank for bas-de-page miniatures, like this one, to be added. Hundreds were added to this manuscript, at various times and by various artists. The present image shows King Meliadus and his followers amusing themselves while in captivity. They are playing a 4-handed trick-taking game, following suit, and piling tricks cross-wise for ease of counting. The deck uses the Latin suit-signs, (coins and staves are shown), and the game is being played for money, shown on the table. Card playing is not mentioned in the text, but there is mention of the imprisoned men entertaining themselves. Apparently the artist simply imagined the scene as involving the newly introduced and highly portable game of cards.

The artist was obviously quite familiar with cardplay. He might not have been as familiar with the deference typically shown to monarchs, as the king is shown losing. A thread discussed this illustration in 2008 on Aeclectic Tarot's "Historical Research" forum. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to date the image. Nonetheless, it is good to finally see a high-res version of it.

Thanks to Ross for his observations on the picture, several of which were incorporated into the descriptions included with the images. Naturally, any stupidity remains my own damned fault.