Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Goldschmidt Sun

This card is one from a set of nine in the Deutsches Spielkarten Museum in Leinfelden, Germany. It is anybody's guess whether these cards are even Tarot cards, although some of them are suggestive of standard Tarot subjects. This card in particular could be the Sun.

There has not been much research, nor even speculation, about this card. The most recent author to discuss it is Giordano Berti, in his "Storia dei Tarocchi" (2007):
The Sun is represented differently than normal, that is, above three hills on a black and white checkerboard pavement. These mountains are probably an emblem of the Christian faith, given for a reminder of the three crosses of Golgotha. On these latter it is possible to read the letters MAC, for which no explanation has yet been offered. We can suggest a possible reference to the principles of the beatitudes given by Jesus to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, that is to say M(ites) (meekness), A(gritudo) (sic. should be "aegritudo"(?) affliction), C(haritats), or C(astitas),...

Berti draws attention to two remarkable features of the card - the objects that look like mountains, and the letters on the mountains. But there is a more obvious interpretation than his rather fantastic analysis, which is that the card represents a heraldic device. Both Michael Dummett and Detlef Hoffmann made this observation:

Another [card] shows a sun, with rays and a face, very like that of the Guildhall Ace of Swords, above a chequered floor on which stand three metallic objects bearing respectively the letters a, m, c (perhaps heraldically conventionalised mountains, or perhaps something quite different).

The Game of Tarot (London, 1980), p. 73.

As for the sun above three stylized hills, this might be able to identify it as a Tarot (but perhaps it is also an example of heraldry.)

D. Hoffmann, in T. Depaulis, ed. Tarot: jeu et magie (Paris, 1984, cat. number 6, pp. 39-40)

Beyond these offhand suggestions, nobody to my knowledge has seriously looked for heraldic insignia corresponding to the card. So, when I first visited Rome and Siena, I was happy to see some heraldry that at least resembled the card.

From the Piccolomini library, Duomo of Siena Despite the poor quality of my photograph, the name Savini can be seen, and the mountains are definitely the same stylized mountains of the card. This Savini appears to have been Choirmaster at the Duomo in the mid-15th century, and looking on the web for further images of the arms brings up a few, like this one.

It's obvious, however, that this is not identical to the Goldschmidt Sun card - first of all, there's no sun - the shining object is a star, not the Sun. Secondly, there's no cross, and lastly, there are no letters on the mountains.

Continuing the search with terms like "tre monti", I found this one from the Bertoldi or Bertoldo family, prominent in Venice and Padua. The description of the arms reads "Arma: d’azzurro a tre monti accostati di verde; ad un sole nel punto dal capo figurato d’oro."
(on blue with three verdant mountains; a sun at the top point in gold)
From: the "Sustinenza" webpage.

Finally, there was a Sun - but still no letters or cross. Nevertheless, it began to look like heraldry would provide the answer. In the meantime, Michael Hurst also found a device from the family of Sonnenberg (appropriately), which had three mountains surmounted by a blazing sun.

We seemed to be getting warm. I also managed to find two shields that had three mountains surmounted by a cross.

However, at the end of the day, neither of us could find one that matched exactly the Goldschmidt card. But the hunch of a heraldically inspired design seems to be the best way to interpret it, rather than obscure allegory.

The stylized mountains are common in heraldry. One very prominent example is the Chigi-Saracini family's arms, in Siena, with six mountains surmounted by a shining star.

In this case, a motto is given as well - "Micat in vertice", which means "It shines at the summit". This example made me wonder whether the letters on the Goldschmidt card could be an abbreviation for a motto.

The letters can be read "a.m.c." or "m.a.c.", and so far I have not been able to find a corresponding Latin motto that convinces me. One possibility is the Latin term "ad medium caeli" (or "celi" or "coeli"), which is an astronomical-astrological term meaning "at the center of the heavens". It is abbreviated MC in astrological charts. It seems appropriate for a blazing - noonday like - sun, and that the letter "m" for "medium" would be on the middle hill, but so far I have not found anybody who has taken it as their motto.


Marco said...

Great post! I love the Sonnenberg image!
I'll see if I can find any other relevant image. I would say the three letters read MAC, not AMC. Not sure, of course :)

Marco said...

I also think that the three letters identify the owner of the device, more likely than the intials of a motto. For instance, the PA example stands for Paulus Apostolus.

In the card, the cross does not touch the three mountains (which can also be defined as "tre colli",in Italian). I think this rules out the interpretation by Berti, while the reference to Golgotha seems reasonable for the PA device.

The particular shape of our cross should also be relevant:

Ross G.R. Caldwell said...

I'm glad you find the heraldry aspect intriguing Marco!

There's no guarantee it's Italian of course... Hoffmann thought it might be Provence, someone else suggests kinship with German hunting packs...

But I'm looking at Italian stemme right now - at sites like this -

and with terms like "croce patente", and "crocetta patente", and separately of course.

Marco said...

I have seen that Berti says that the card is a painted (and gold-leaf covered?) xylography. Is that true?
He also says that Sola Busca cards are xylography, while they are copper engravings, so I am not sure he is right about the Sun Card :)
If the card is based on an engraving, it would be interesting to know if all of the card is based on the engraving, or some of the details are added by the painter (as in Sola Busca). I would say that small the details as the MAC letters were not in the engraving. But what about the three hills and the "croce patente"?

Marco said...

I made a search for "stemmi" and I found something interesting :)
Alberti: "conti marchesi asciano"

Ross G.R. Caldwell said...

Hi Marco,

does Berti say that the Goldschmidt cards are xylography in the "Storia dei tarocchi"?

Hoffmann ("The Playing Card: An Illustrated History" (Edition Leipzig, 1972), p. 80 n. 19) describes them as "Provence (?), middle of the 15th c.: So-called "Goldschmidt Cards". Handpainted, gilded, and punched background on parchment
... An expert opinion by the Doerner Institute of 21.6.1955 confirms the age of the pigments."

I don't imagine Berti has better knowledge than Hoffmann.

Ross G.R. Caldwell said...

>>I made a search for "stemmi" and I found something interesting :)
Alberti: "conti marchesi asciano"

Thanks for that. The page does not seem to be working at the moment (for me), but I saw it yesterday. I remember there was an eagle at the top?

I wonder if we will have to submit the card to one of these heraldry experts.

Ross G.R. Caldwell said...

I learned something about gilding from my stone-carving list -

"Oil gilding — especially if using schlag metal (dutch gold/imitation gold
leaf) — rarely would need the undercoat unless you were trying to suggest
the finish was water-gilded. When water gilding with the much-thinner
sheet 18K or 22K leaf you will find the real gold leaf is slightly
translucent (where the imitation leaf is opaque). The red bole below the
real leaf makes it warmer/richer in appearance than simply placed directly
on the white gesso. For effect there are also other bole colors (most
common: yellow and gray) that might be used with water-gilding using

This must be why the cards have that layer of red "bole" underneath the paint and gilt. Not being a gilder, I didn't know that real gold leaf is somewhat translucent.

The list is here -

Marco said...

"does Berti say that the Goldschmidt cards are xylography in the "Storia dei tarocchi?"

Yes, in the description of the image (not in the body of the text). I agree that what he writes cannot be relied upon.

The eagle in the Alberti emblem is in an important position. I doubt this is the device we are looking for, but it shows that all the elements can be found in heraldry. It would indeed be interesting to see what an heraldry expert thinks of the card :)

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