Researching this deck


Some months ago, I developed a curiosity about the Marseilles style cards (and particularly any connections between the cards and occult groups active back then) and I wanted to learn a great deal more. There has been some research, but I think most of it has been written up in French. Je nas parle pa une Francais. Merde! And when I wasn't getting anywhere, I got frustrated and roamed elsewhere.

My interest is renewed.

There are a few hardcore Marseilles researchers in this group and I'm wondering if I could pick your brains a bit and see if I can develop my own strategy to learn more the cards.

I suspect besides the cards themselves, a good background in French history during this period (1600 - 1800 or so?) would be good. And an understanding of the printing processes of the cards themselves. And what technology in particular was used back then.

During my initial enthusiasms, JMD listed a few titles I might read, and as I recall, they were in French.

I have a few decks and the complete Kaplan Encyclopedias, plus a few other books with passing mention of the cards.

How dependable is Kaplan's material? It was written some time ago, though Kaplan was certainly in a perfect spot to learn about the cards, with his reputation and level of involvement with Tarot. a strategy for finding out about these cards?


In the thread How were the earliest decks used?, books by Kaplan, Dummett and O'Neill were listed which may be useful for the purposes - though each, it seems to me, is incomplete and undoubtedly contains some errors (some probably due to the way in which esoteric history is perceived by at least Dummett - for whom I have, nonetheless, very high respect).

The only French book I know of which may be of additional direct interest (but which I do not have), is A-J Bougearel's Origines et histoire do Tarot, published in 1997 (I think I listed it before).

With the broadened membership interested in this history, our combined efforts may result in some important contributions. Personally, I do think that this often best results when less obvious and sensible possibilities are also seriously discussed and actually considered. For example, and though I do not think that the Tarot existed in ancient Egypt, what results from making such considerations? - in my view, a realisation (or discovery) that ancient Egyptian myth, iconography and considerations existed in metamorphosised form in Mediaeval Europe.


Not all French topics, maybe related...
1. Michael Dummett and Ron Decker's book of A History of the Occult Tarot, 1870 - 1970 is quite thorough, but the focus might be later than your interest. I was curious if they made commentary of Gareth Knight's summary of Marseilles trumps and also his esoteric leanings...among their agreement on the brief and accurate summary of history, they suggest his books be taken with seriousness, subdued lighting and a pinch of incense.

2. I'm more interested in certain historical Italian decks and found Encyclopedia of the Tarot, volume II very strong on the history of the Milanese family of Visconti-Sforza. Visconti spans the 1400s through the 1500s. Kaplan's work seems to gel in timing and facts, at least from my humanities teacher, who seems still in close touch with his Italian friends and contacts
Kaplan's regional histories on the D'Estes family and some of the mentions of Mantegna or Fererra variants are adequate for general research, but I have more detailed sources based on my interests...I am still researching the culture. That period varies from the 1400s through the late 1500s.

3. In some cases, I'm also also going back to the culture spanning Dante's time...certain Italian city emergence, influences and civil wars do span some 300 years, around 1270 onward for humanities I'm gaining better pictures of the time.
If you are curious about pivotal Western European events, time periods, etc., the humanities courses in Making of the Western Mind might help put a framework to your studies. The teacher doesn't mind people checking out the ideas:

Best wishes,

Mari H.


I've already offered elsewhere to do any (within reason) research from Prague that might be useful, but also just to say that my partner Alex knows a huge amount about printing techniques (courtesy of a Russian art and design education, which was quite heavily technically and historically based) so if we can be of any help at any point on woodblock printing techniques (as mentioned in the first posting here) then please ask.

Just to say - I do think that some of the interpretations I've read may be based on a misunderstanding of how much control of detail there was (and wasn't) in the old drawing and printing techniques. Some things may be deliberate, but I think others are just the result of poor workmanship. You have to remember that woodblock was pretty cheap and quick. I'm sure in some cases that things like lack of perspective (or hair that looks like rope, thrones that look like wings or, fo that matter, horses that look like people) may just have been the result of poor drawing and messy printing?



Perhaps a new thread on artistry and design of engraved and printed old-style tarots---I finally was able to get three di Gumppenberg tarots (1810-1820) together in reproduction format, by Sollone. Maybe my notes on them might prove useful.

Although they are in pattern the old-style tarocchi playing card variants, I can offer to perhaps replicate a timeline or bits and pieces of di Gumppenberg's reproduction information. Next year I hope to complete the collection with the Soprafino that is not by Lo Scarabeo---although I use my Lo Scarabeo variations for regular experiments and study.

I also initially was fascinated by historic press and engraving arts...just only have got as far as Japanese woodblock prints, so I'm way way behind.