Sunday, 8 March 2009

Tarot and Minchiate in Spain, 16th Century

Having been under the impression that the only references to Tarot in Spain were late and uninformative (for example see Dummett Game of Tarot p. xxiv), I was pleased to recently find some earlier and more substantial references in a work published over 20 years ago.

Jean-Pierre Etienvre, in Figures du jeu: études Lexico-Semantiques Sur Le Jeu De Cartes En Espagne (XVIe-XVIII siècle) (Casa de Velazquez, 1987), found several references to Tarot being used in southern and central Spain in the 16th century. Here are some excerpts from pages 293-294. I can’t do a very good job at translating the Spanish, but I’ll summarize my best understanding.

1528, Diego del Castillo, Tratado muy util y provechoso en reprobacion de los juegos, mentions a shortened pack of 67 cards, and apparently the Minchiate, of 96 cards.

E donde pensé diminuyr los naypes en solo copas y espadas, mostrome vn cauallero vn juego de naypes de ytalia de sesenta i siete cartas, entre los quales esta figurado vn angel y el cielo, el sol i la luna, ciertas estrellas, el mundo i fortuna, el padre sancto con las llaues del cielo, la muerte y la vida, el infierno i demonio, y dende los emperadores, reyes i reynas y grandes señores con mas numero de puntos que jeugan con ellos.

Yo ando por quitar el juego, otros por augmentarlo ; de quarenta y ocho cartas las hizieron sesenta y siete ; mas valiera hazerlas noventa y seys y dobarlas, porque se doblara la pena a quien las hizo.

(Ross’ note – interesting to note that in the first game, of 67 cards, the moralist didn’t notice a Popess, but he does note “Emperors”. Perhaps the pack did have two Emperors and Pope. He also recognizes “Death and Life”, and “Hell and the Devil” – “Hell" may well be “Fire” or the Tower, but what is “Life”? In any case, it represents an otherwise unknown kind of Tarot pack.)

Forty years later, in July 1568, some suspicious cards were seized by the Inquisition in Cuenca (a town and region south-east of Madrid). Here is what is said about them, in the first report to the Supreme Council:

A este Sancto Offiçio se an traido unos naypes hecho en aquellas partes de marca grande en q ay figuras del papa y otra de una mujer con las mesmas ynsignias del papa y una figura de un angel con una trompeta como forma de llamar al juiçio y otras figuras. Paresçe manera de yrrision de las cosas de ntra Religion christiana. La persona q los truxo dize q los hubo en Alicante, q se los dieron unos marineros de la nao llamada Rehusera y q en valencia ha visto dellos e jugar con naypes semejantes a algs ginoveses. En esta çiudad no entendemos q se vendan ni se an visto otros.

(Here the description includes a “Pope and another figure of a woman with the same insignia as the Pope and a figure of an angel with a trumpet in the style of the call to judgment and other figures.” I think he goes on to say that this derides the entire Christian religion. He says there are reports from Alicante that some mariners play them and in Valencia they play with cards similar to “some Genovese” game (or "those of some Genovese"). I think the last line means that "In this city we have not heard who sells them nor have we seen others.”

For the Inquisition, these images were sacreligious. The power of the Inquisition in Spain may help account for the fact that Tarot never became naturalized in that country.)

One month later they report the public sale of these cards in Valencia, and they are called in Italian “Tarroqui” and in Spanish “Taroques”:

[…] annos auisado q en Valençia se venden publicamente y que en esa corte los ay entre los estrangeros y que juegan con ellos. Llamanse en ytaliano tarroqui y en español taroques

(Bold added)

In 1588, the Inquisitor of Mallorca denounced the introduction of cards “printed in France”, in which were represented a Pope with a tiara, a Popess, the Angel of the Last Judgment, Death, Cupid, the four Evangelists, the Moon, the stars, etc.

(Ross’ note – from a purely chronological point of view, what is striking about this description is “the four Evangelists.” This must refer to the typical design of the World card in the “Tarot de Marseille”, which therefore already existed by the 1580s in France. This is not really surprising, since the Castello Sforzesco “World” probably dates to circa 1600, but a dated attestation of the style is a comforting find.)

There are other interesting things in Etienvre which deserve another post.


Michael J. Hurst said...

Hi, Ross,

la muerte y la vida...
Death and the Angel of Resurrection?

In any case, it is interesting, and not really unexpected, that there are such references in Spain (and England), despite the failure of Tarot to become popular. Nice finds.

Best regards,

Ross G.R. Caldwell said...

The Angel, good suggestion. I would have thought Fortuna, but he already named it.

Etienvre's work is very interesting - he introduced me to a Spanish origin myth for naipes I hadn't known about (Vilhan or Bilhan, a damned gambler from Madrid - Cervantes mentions him), and reminded me of the importance of Francisco de Luque Faxardo, whom kwaw found a while back concerning his use of the term "hieroglyphs" for the images on the cards.

He mentions Plato's story of Theuth explicitly, as an opinion some hold for the inventor of cards. In the sections on the moralizing of cards, the "hieroglyphs" sections, he also calls such hieroglyphs "pinturas de egipcios". Naturally he is not making an argument for the Egyptian invention of cards here - he is just saying how the images on naipes can be considered hieroglyphs.

He doesn't mention Tarot anywhere though - even if the Inquisition noted it as late as 1588, it never got widely known, much less mythologized, in Spain.

Maybe the Inquisition did destroy Tarot's chances in Spain, because they were "sacreligious". I wonder if the opposite reason might be true in England - it was too blatantly (pro-)Catholic?

cometa said...

Hi Ross, nice site you've got. Spanish is my mother tongue, so I wanted to comment on Diego del Castillo's words. The translation of the second paragraph is more or less "My wish towards the game is to ban it, others feel like augmenting it. Of forty eight cards they made sixty seven, ninety six would've been better, doubling them (48x2), because the punishment for he who did it will be doubled."
I hope this helps to clarify the message. It came up to my attention because I have a copy of Il Meneghello's Minchiate, which is made of 97 cards. And of course, because of the twisted sense of humor of the moralist!