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MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
Posts: 443
no. 10: visual associations

For card 10, here are the 1910 Etteilla I from; Sumada's Etteilla II, pre-1890,; and his De La Rue Etteilla III, 1890-1917,

Here the Etteilla II is quite different from the Etteilla I. Instead of the Marseille-inspired image of an angel pouring liquid from one jar to another, we have her holding up a bridle in front of an elephant. The Etteila III removes the elephant but retains the bridle.

The symbolism here is all of a conventional nature. The only thing that the Etteilla I adds to the Marseille image is that she stands with one foot on a block and the other on a sphere. This is a convention that the Mantengna school used in 16th century Mantua, as seen below. I do not know its history after that.

In the Mantua drawing. As Edgar Wind analyzes the image (Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance p. 101 and fig. 53), the blockand sphere illustrate the well-known motto "Festina Lente," i.e. "Hasten slowly." The saying came from Aristotle, who explained that before any momentous action, such as defeating one’s enemies, one should deliberate carefully, and then move quickly. Standing on a block hinders from moving; standing on a sphere, one cannot help but be in constant motion. It is Wisdom restraining a youth from chasing Opportunity.

In the Etteilla I image, the same figure stands on both solids. Possibly, it is again "Festina lente,"-do both, one with each foot, as in the motto. But more likely, in the context of the card, the combination is to suggest that the angel is neither fast nor slow, but in between: in other words, it is an image of moderation.

Along the bottom border of the Etteilla I card is a dark area suggestive of either rocks or a cliff. Such dark areas were commonly used in Renaissance art in scenes of mortal danger, as for example crucifixion scenes. It was also sometimes just decoration. Several of the PMB cards for the Sforzas mid-15th century Milan, show such lines, including Death and Temperance.

In the original Etteilla engraving, for the 1883-84 Cahiers (at left below, from Kaplan vol. 2 p. 399), the line looks more like one of vegetation: the jagged line parallels a similar line above which clearly is trees. In 1789 (center, from Decker et al plate 2-3), the lines have been smoothed out. It looks more like rocks. By 1826 (lower right. Kaplan vol. 2), the card has the name “Angel of the Apocalypse” written on the card and still looks like rocks. In the Etteilla II, it looks more like a cliff face, more apparent in the engraving (middle right, from the c. 1838 book) than in the colored-in version (top right). If the intention was to show a cliff face, that would be another symbol of the Apocalypse, against which Christian chastity and the sacrament of Holy Communion would be effective antidotes.

Regarding Etteilla’s imagery in general, Decker et al say the following:
Etteilla’s cards are really disconcerting. They offer pictures which do not conform to any known system of artistic standard. Their iconography has no equivalent in any of the widespread books of emblemata or symbols... Even the virtues are not classical at all, in spite of a rich range of representations. (Wicked Pack of Cards p. 94)
Etteilla does have a few obscure symbols, such as the ball in Justice’s scales. I presume that these obscurities derive from French Freemasonry or some other secret society whose members he wished to cultivate. But on the whole his imagery is fairly conventional.

The Etteilla II, instead of the two jugs, has a bridle and an elephant. The bridle is a standard symbol of temperance, i.e. restraint of the animal passions. In Corregio's "Allegory of Virtue," done for Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua, the bridle being held by Virtue is the symbol of Temperance. The serpent on her head stands for Prudence, the lionskin for Fortitude, and the sword for Justice. These last three attributes are used in the Etteilla I’s representations of those virtues.

The elephant was another conventional Christian symbol of chastity, in the sense of not overindulging. (For Roman Catholics, any sex not for procreation was overindulgence.) Here is St. Francis of Sales, in Introduction to the Devout Life, originally published 1609 in French it was extremely popular and still is very much in print:
The elephant is not only a huge beast, but the most dignified and most intelligent animal which lives on earth. I wish to tell you an instance of its excellence. It never changes its mate and loves tenderly the one it has chosen. However, it does not mate with it except every third year, and that for five days only, and so secretly that it is not seen doing the act. Nevertheless, it is seen on the sixth day on which, before anything else, it goes straight to the river. There it washes completely its whole body without any wish to return to the flock before it is purified. Are not these beautiful and chaste characteristics of such an animal an invitation to the married?” (Introduction to the Devout Life, ch. 39 par. 7), quoted at
The reason for “every third year” is that it was thought that the elephant had a gestation period of two years, and she always conceived; hence there would be no point in having sex until after then. The point, of course, is not accurate elephant biology but moral instruction to humans.

Long before this book, the elephant was already a symbol of chastity; there would have been many other sources from which Etteilla could have derived the symbol (see Some sources held that the elephant engaged in sex with its mate only once in its life. Also, the elephant was believed to have only one mortal enemy, the dragon, which would entangle its feet in its coils. In the medieval bestiaries, it was thus likened to Adam, and humanity in general; and when it succeeded in tramping the dragon to death, it was a symbol of Christ.

In the Etteilla III, the elephant has been replaced by a cup. I suspect that this is meant to evoke the communion cup and so is another symbol of Christ, our inspiration to the chaste life.
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