THE MYSTERIES OF THE
TAROT OF MARSEILLE

Follow the investigation on the 
most enigmatic of all card games

3×7

 

Who created the tarot of Marseille? For what purpose? What is the meaning of its figures?

The Florentine Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was one of the most famous savants of his time. We owe this friend of Lorenzo de’ Medici the first translation of Plato’s complete Dialogues. His thought, in which converge Platonism, Hermeticism, Christianity, Astrology and Magic, is the direct source of inspiration for the figures of the tarot of Marseille. In all probability, Ficino conceived this deck to teach his philosophy and supervised its production by a team of Florentine artists, engravers and printers, circa 1470.

This thesis, resulting from a long inquiry, is exposed on this site as episodes published regularly.

Christophe Poncet

 

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THE TAROT OF MARSEILLE

What is it?
The Tarot of Marseille

The Tarot of Marseille

In the 18th century, a very special type of tarot deck spread widely in France. Having gained popularity, it was...

EPISODE 1

A first step towards dating the deck
1 – A CHILD OF MERCURY

1 – A CHILD OF MERCURY

The small parcel arrived on Aug. 31, 2000. Inside it, I found a blue cardboard box stamped with gilt armorial...

EPISODE 2

Where does the Chariot come from?
2 – THE CHARIOT’S JOURNEY

2 – THE CHARIOT’S JOURNEY

If the first prints of the Tarot of Marseille cards have all disappeared, some of their ancestors nevertheless have survived....

EPISODE 3

Plato's images in the tarot
3 – PLATO

3 – PLATO

In the beginning of the 2000s, I became passionate about Plato, whose works I read with great fascination. Progressing through...

EPISODE 4

The missing link between Plato and the Tarot
4 – THE GAMES OF THE ACADEMY

4 – THE GAMES OF THE ACADEMY

  How are we to explain the similarities between Plato’s chariot of the soul, as interpreted by Ficino, and the...

EPISODE 5

What the Chariot means
5 – THE CHARIOT DECIPHERED – PART 2

5 – THE CHARIOT DECIPHERED – PART 2

Continued from part one.   7) The Chariot. In the Phaedrus, just before he described the chariot, Plato defined the...

5 – THE CHARIOT DECIPHERED – PART 1

5 – THE CHARIOT DECIPHERED – PART 1

    If the Tarot of Marseille cards really are pedagogic enigmas meant to teach Marsilio Ficino’s Christian Platonism, then...

EPISODE 6

A Temperance by Botticelli?
6 – BOTTICELLI

6 – BOTTICELLI

On my computer screen, the image was hardly bigger than a business card, but it was large enough for me...

EPISODE 7

Some reasons not to reject the Botticelli attribution
7 – THE ART OF BOTTICELLI AND THE LAWS OF PHYSICS

7 – THE ART OF BOTTICELLI AND THE LAWS OF PHYSICS

The bold rebuttal of the attribution of the Esztergom Cardinal Virtues fresco to Botticelli had disconcerted me. Should I resolve...

EPISODE 8

Another tarot of Marseille figure discovered in Esztergom
8 – A SURPRISE IN ESZTERGOM

8 – A SURPRISE IN ESZTERGOM

Unconvinced by Waldman’s refutation, I decided to go to Esztergom and see the fresco with my own eyes. I wrote...

EPISODE 9

New clues on the Florentine trail
9 – WHEN JUSTICE RENDERS HER VERDICT

9 – WHEN JUSTICE RENDERS HER VERDICT

Upon examination of the Esztergom Justice, I was all the more puzzled that, in 2008 already, I had identified another...

EPISODE 10

Dante's Inferno, Botticelli's Lucifer and the Devil of the tarot of Marseille
10 – AT THE INTERSECTION OF THE DIAGONALS

10 – AT THE INTERSECTION OF THE DIAGONALS

If Botticelli played a role in the creation of the Tarot of Marseille, chances are other cards besides Justice and...

EPISODE 11

The Devil at the heart of the Florentine culture of the 15th century
11 – WOE BETIDE THE DEFEATED

11 – WOE BETIDE THE DEFEATED

Florence’s most famous painter illustrating Florence’s most famous poet: Botticelli’s Lucifer is unquestionably deeply rooted in Florentine culture. Inheriting some...

EPISODE 12

The devil card as an illustration of Plato's allegory of the cave
12 – INSIDE PLATO’S CAVE – PART 2

12 – INSIDE PLATO’S CAVE – PART 2

Continued from part one. 2) The columns. Why did Ficino add columns to the allegory of the cave? As there...

12 – INSIDE PLATO’S CAVE – PART 1

12 – INSIDE PLATO’S CAVE – PART 1

In 2003, I started reading the 18 books of Marsilio Ficino’s treatise on the immortality of the soul, the Platonic...

EPISODE 13

The Expert from Verona
13 – FELICE FELICIANO

13 – FELICE FELICIANO

  The miniature of Jerome of Prague at the stake has intrigued me greatly (see Episode 11). There was something...

EPISODE 14

How Saint Georges became the Cavalier of Swords
14 – A TREASURE IN THE VATICAN LIBRARY

14 – A TREASURE IN THE VATICAN LIBRARY

On July 13, 2011, a great friend of mine, a specialist in Renaissance philosophy, introduced me to the Vatican Library....

EPISODE 15

At the Crossroads
15 – THE JUDGMENT OF PHILEBUS – PART 2

15 – THE JUDGMENT OF PHILEBUS – PART 2

Continued from part one. Feliciano’s manuscript, although composed of apparently heterogeneous text and images, was, in fact, conceived in a...

15 – THE JUDGMENT OF PHILEBUS – PART 1

15 – THE JUDGMENT OF PHILEBUS – PART 1

With the figure of Mars Victor, the manuscript Reg. Lat. 1388 of the Vatican Library had given me an additional...

EPISODE 16

A wink of the artist's eye
16 – THE YOUNG MAN AND THE ANGEL – PART 2

16 – THE YOUNG MAN AND THE ANGEL – PART 2

Continued from part one. In 2012, referring in a book to the Lovers card in the Tarot of Marseille, I...

16 – THE YOUNG MAN AND THE ANGEL – PART 1

16 – THE YOUNG MAN AND THE ANGEL – PART 1

In all likelihood, the creator of the Tarot of Marseille’s Lovers card used Feliciano’s miniature representing Hercules at the Crossroads...

EPISODE 17

The Spouse and the Courtesan
17 – TWO VENUSES – PART 2

17 – TWO VENUSES – PART 2

Continued from part one On the divine nature of love, Ficino did not content himself, in his commentary on the...

17 – TWO VENUSES – PART 1

17 – TWO VENUSES – PART 1

The study of the graphical sources of the Lovers card showed me that this card, as for its theme, resulted...

EPISODE 18

Strength undressed
18 – ANATOMY OF A CHIMERA – PART 2

18 – ANATOMY OF A CHIMERA – PART 2

Continued from part one. That’s not all. Let’s carefully observe the lion’s head. In profile, its right ear should be...

18 – ANATOMY OF A CHIMERA – PART 1

18 – ANATOMY OF A CHIMERA – PART 1

During the first phase of my research, when I focused on the costumes of the figures in the Tarot of...

EPISODE 19

Defeating the hidden beast
19 – THE BEASTS WITHIN – PART 2

19 – THE BEASTS WITHIN – PART 2

Continued from part one. For what reason does Ficino complicate the image of Plato’s chimera, adding to it some features...

19 – THE BEASTS WITHIN – PART 1

19 – THE BEASTS WITHIN – PART 1

The figure of Strength in the Tarot of Marseille thus seemed to be full of allusions to the image of...

EPISODE 20

In the attire of the Cynics
20 – THE MAN WITH THE LAMP – PART 2

20 – THE MAN WITH THE LAMP – PART 2

Continued from part one. Let’s see what the old man’s main features are in the Hermit card: 1) beard; 2)...

20 – THE MAN WITH THE LAMP – PART 1

20 – THE MAN WITH THE LAMP – PART 1

I decided to make a day trip to London on January 12, 2002. It was my last chance to see...

EPISODE 21

Why use a lamp in broad daylight?
21 – IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD EYE – PART 2

21 – IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD EYE – PART 2

Continued from part one.   So what was the meaning of the lamp for Ficino? He knew Pythagoras’ « symbols », as...

21 – IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD EYE – PART 1

21 – IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD EYE – PART 1

“He lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, ‘I am looking for a man.’”[1] When...

Coming up soon:

21 – IN SEARCH OF THE THIRD EYE – PART 3

The worries of a philosopher