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Exploring the Cary Sheet

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Exploring the Cary Sheet


I was looking at the "Cary Sheet" again today, and pondering its many mysteries. Just some thoughts and questions...

The Cary Sheet (from the Cary Collection of Playing Cards at The Beineche Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University): http://highway55.library.yale.edu/PH...1/z3613378.jpg
It's good to open it in another window to compare it to the following posts.

The first thing I notice when looking at the sheet is that the cards have no number or title. Compared to other early decks this isn't too unusual, but when you consider how similar many of these images are to the TdM (Tarot de Marseille) it is notable. With the exception of a few cards found in the Sforza Castle, all other TdM cards have the title and number as far I know of.

What is also striking is that there are a number of cards very similar to the TdM, but there are also several that are distinctly different. Is this a hybrid? Is it a "one off" custom version of a deck? Is it a deck "in transition" between a TdM and a different deck? Even some of the TdM style cards have noticable differences.

We are unsure of the actual date of this sheet, and we are also uncertain of the origin. Historians tend to put it between 1500-1550, and probably from Milan. But neither of these, as far as I know, is confirmed.

Let's take a look at each piece of the sheet.
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The Hanged Man
In the upper left corner the first fragment seems to be The Hanged Man. You can make out the post of the gallows on the far right, and you can see the side of his head. The most interesting detail is the object hanging down at the upper part of the frament. It looks very similar to the the "hands" or "wings" that are found on some TdM cards like the Jean Noblet, Jean Dodal, as well as the Jacques Vieville. Here's an example from Jean-Claude Flornoy's site www.tarot-history.com:


What is odd is that the shoulder itself seems to be missing. Based on this size of the card, you would expect to see part of his body in this third of the picture.. and it looks less like a hand than it does on the TdM decks. Whatever it is, I can't make it out from the Cary Sheet.
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The Wheel of Fortune
Here we find the wheel at an angle with two posts, and a hand crank at the side, very similar to a TdM card, but there is only a single plank to support the posts rather than two. We also find a bottom figure on the wheel, unlike the TdM, but similar to the common symbolism of four figures on the wheel. The figures are clearly "human", not being part/completely animal like they are in the TdM decks. I tend to think of this as an indication of age as well. Even though the wheel is similar in style to the TdM, it retains the features of other early tarot decks and common iconography. Here's a comparison between the Cary Sheet, Visconti Sforza, Jacques Vieville, and Nicolas Conver.

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The Chariot
At first glance, the Chariot looks like it might be a typical TdM Chariot. It has the two horses pulling in different directions, and the "plaque" in the center where many TdM artists often places their initials. If we did not have the tiny fraction of information above the top of the chariot itself, we might leave it at that. But we are lucky enough to be able to discern that where the "body" of the charioteer "should" be, what probably are feet appear instead. The posts of the canopy can be seen on the side. I suspect that this Chariot is probably displaying a figure standing on a platform rather than "within" the chariot itself. Both "standing" and "within" depictions occur quite early, but I can't think of any other with the square style chariot being used as a platform, or a standing figure with a canopy, (except perhaps in the Cary-Yale Visconti, but she is almost certainly sitting. http://highway55.library.yale.edu/PA...93/1011941.jpg ). Here's an example of the "standing" charioteer from the "Charles VI" deck:

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The Lovers
The next fragment is certainly The Lovers. We're missing the top of the card but it would have almost certainly had a cupid in it. Of note is that there are two main figures, not three as in the TdM.

Justice
The next fragment is identified as Justice by Stuart Kaplan, and it seems reasonable enough to think so.

Strength
The next row starts with Strength. The pose might seem typical of the TdM, but it looks like the lion's head may be turned facing towards Strength rather than away. Strength seems to have long flowing hair and no hat. Strength from the Jean-Pierre Payen Tarot:

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The Pope and The Popess

Note: I'm completely rewriting this post. Originally I had assumed that the next figure in the series was the Popess, based on a discussion later in this thread with Ross, now I think it is much more likely that it is the Pope shown first and the Popess as the fragment at the end of the row.

Kaplan says "The Popess or possibly The Pope", so there is obvious some possibility that they could be either way.

Assuming that the first figure is The Pope..
When compared to the TdM, several things are immediately apparent. The Pope does not wear the typical triple tiara, but instead seems to have a single or double crown. In one hand he holds a crosier, as shown on the Noblet, Dodal and Vieville decks, but not the Conver style decks that show a triple cross. His right hand is raised in blessing. Beside him is one cardinal, rather than the two which are shown on TdM decks. Before him on a stand is an open book, often associated instead with the Papess.

Very little can be identified about The Popess.She seems to wear a hood or veil and sits upon a very high throne (or possibly a column).

Here is an image showing the Pope with a crosier from the Jean Noblet tarot:

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The Emperor
The Emperor is one of the cards that changed very little of the centuries. On the Cary Sheet, he is shown in a very similar position as the typical TdM model. However, closer inspection shows at least one striking difference... instead of showing the shield beside the Emperor, here the Emperor holds the shield in his hand. Also, in the TdM he holds his staff with the orb and cross in his left hand, here he holds it in his right. You can also clearly make out the throne that he sits on, whereas in the TdM the throne is much less clearly defined. Here is the Emperor from the Jean Dodal Tarot:


This brings me to one of the details that I find most interesting on the Cary Sheet. Hopefully someone with knowledge in the area will contribute some information about it. On the Cary Sheet the Emperor, Empress, and Temperance all seem to be wearing a type of clothing where the sleeve has a large gapping hole to allow the free movement of the arm. While the arm of the clothing dangles to their sides, they lift and move their arms freely through the hole. I assume this type of clothing actually existed.. does anyone know where and when???? Perhaps that might give us a clue to the time and place that the Cary Sheet originated?
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The Empress
The most striking thing about the Empress is that she is turned in semi-profile rather than looking directly at the viewer as is typical in the TdM. Like in the TdM, she holds her shield on her lap and has a very similarly styled drapery behind her. Like her Emperor, she holds the staff and shield in the opposite hands then is typically seen in the TdM. From the Jean-Pierre Payen Tarot:

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Quote:
Originally Posted by le pendu
This brings me to one of the details that I find most interesting on the Cary Sheet. Hopefully someone with knowledge in the area will contribute some information about it. On the Cary Sheet the Emperor, Empress, and Temperance all seem to be wearing a type of clothing where the sleeve has a large gapping hole to allow the free movement of the arm. While the arm of the clothing dangles to their sides, they lift and move their arms freely through the hole. I assume this type of clothing actually existed.. does anyone know where and when???? Perhaps that might give us a clue to the time and place that the Cary Sheet originated?
That's a good observation... I've never read any arguments for the date of the sheet except Dummett's (I don't know if there are any others), and he doesn't mention the clothing (or any particular detail) as a reason for his dating c. 1500.

I don't know clothing well enough to know if it's helpful here. To me, it looks like it could be anywhere between 1450 and 1500; but I don't know if certain styles went into the 16th century (the tight headpiece on some women is typical of late 15th century; perhaps we can even say c. 1480. That would be a shocker for dating this sheet! - but I could be wrong.)
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The Sun
On the next row we come to a fragment of The Sun. This depiction seems exceptionally odd because The Moon and The Star seem so very similar to the TdM model. Yet here the creator of the Cary Sheet used a very different model.

The Sun itself seems similar to the Sun found on the Jean Dodal Tarot and the card found in Sforza Castle, in that the rays are all straight as compared to the rays on the Jean Noblet or Nicolas Conver Tarots where the rays alternate between straight and curvy. Sforza Castle and Nicolas Conver:


Where the card is wildly different is the representation under the sun. The TdM style decks show two figures with a wall behind them. Here it seems that only one figure is presented.

Andy Pollet has a wonderful page about the Cary Sheet on his site showing a possible reconstruction of what the card may have originally looked like:
http://it.geocities.com/a_pollett/cards69.htm

It seems probably that the figure is holding a banner, as is similarly shown in the Jacques Vieville Tarot:

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