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by author


The Boiardo 15th c Poem
Tarot history in brief

quotations from various people

Functions of Readings
What is Tarot?


Med. on XVIIII

Emily E. Auger

Tarot and Other Meditation Decks

L. Atkinson

Orphalese Software review

S. Arwen

Memory & Instinct

Kathy Berkowitz

Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 1)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 2)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 3)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 4)

Nina L. Braden

Tarot in Literature

David Brice

Birth of Tarot

Colin Browne

Square & Compasses Tarot

Lee A. Bursten

Journeys in Tarot Creation
Vachetta review


Review: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Ross G. Caldwell

Tarot History

Bonnie Cehovet

Tarology - Poetics of Tarot
Review: Secret of Tarot
The Mystereum Tarot

N. Chishty-Mujahid

Concerning Ghisi’s Laberinto

Craig Conley

A House of Tarot Cards

A.B. Crowther

Rachel Pollack interview

Jean-Michel David

On Paneurythmy and Tarot
Tarot's expression of the numinous
Yarker, Tarot & Arcane Schools
Waite-Smith Sun card
The Fool as Wandering Jew
Tarot as Christian Art
Education through Tarot
Tarot: the vatical & the sacral
Fortuna, Ass & Monkey
Steiner and Tarot
1701 Dodal restored!
Enc. Tarot vol I-IV: review
Christ, World & Sin
Caveat Emptor:
       Visual Tarot

Tarot & AlefBeit
Review: Jean Payen Tarot
Tarot and Freemasonry
I-Ching and Pip Cards
Whither directing your course?
Tarot & the Tree of Life
Ovid, Egypt and Tarot
When the Devil isn't the Devil
Four elements and the suits
Court Cards & MBTI
Certification & Codes
Jean Dodal Marseille
Conference FAQs
Golden Dawn
Kabalah & Tarot
Golden Tarot review
Annual spread
Iraqi Museum
Two Brief TdM reviews
Meditations on the Tarot

Enrique Enriquez

The Joy of Wordplay
J-C. Flornoy interview
Embodied Tarot
Indirect Suggestions
Whispering to the Eye

Mark Filipas

History of Egyptian Decks
Lexicon Theory

Jean-Claude Flornoy

in memorium
from Oral Tradition

Roxanne Flornoy

Children and Tarot
from Oral Tradition

Mary Greer

Killing the Thoth Deck
On the Tarot of the Four Worlds
Egypt, Tarot and Mystery School Initiations

William Haigwood

The Sixties: Counterculture Tarot

Alissa Hall

Parlour Tricks

Kris Hadar

The Tarot

Claas Hoffmann

Crowley-Harris 'Thoth' deck

Michael J. Hurst

Tarot Symbolism review

K. Frank Jensen

Century with the Waite-Smith

Shane Kendal

A Poetry of Tarot

Ken J. Killeen

The Metaphysical Bible

Barbara Klaser

Language of Tarot

E. Koretaka

Cardinal Virtues

Dovid Krafchow

Kabbalistic Tarot

Lisa Larson

Perceptions of Spirituality

Suzan E. Lemont

Therapeutic Tarot Work

Eric K. Lerner

Diloggun and Tarot

N. Levine

Tarot of Prague review

C. Liknaitzky

Journey in Ceramics

Joep van Loon

Tarot Wheel

Karen Mahony


S.J. Mangan

Fool, Alef & Orion

Robert Mealing

Petrarch’s Triumphs
Jean Noblet Tarot
Hunting the "true" Marseille Tarot
Cary Sheet

Fern Mercier

Playing the Fool

C. de Mellet

Inquiries into Tarot

Sophie Nusslé

Fantastic Menagerie

Robert V. O'Neill

Tarot Symbolism
Tower Iconology

Michael Owen

Xultun Tarot

Dan Pelletier

Magic Manga Tarot
the Blank Spot

Robert M. Place

The Fool's Journey

Debra Rosenthal

Looking at the Jacques Vieville

Mjr Tom Schick

Tarot Lovers Calendar

Inna Semetsky

Counseling Reading for Spouses
Learning the language of images
Re-Symbolization of Self
Tarot (dis)contents

Diana Sobolewska

'Bateleur's tale'

Russell Sturgess

Jesus's New Testament

N. Swift

Sufism & Tarot

Arthur E. Waite

Symbols of Tarot

From an oral tradition to the Tarot as history…

French original and translation by Jean-Claude and Roxanne Flornoy

A History of the Game of Tarot

A game of cards known as “naïbbi” appeared in Florence, Italy around 1375 and by the end of the 14th century had diffused throughout Western Europe. Were the naïbbi an ancestor of the tarot, or were the trumps and face cards added later?

We have no idea.

The 1377 archives of the town of Viterbe, between Rome and Florence, furnish the first edict seeking to regulate or even forbid games of chance and money. These records cite the naG¸bbi as having been brought to Italy by the “sarrasin” Hayl. This marks the beginning of a long list of interdictions.

The first nearly complete tarot (74 of 78 cards) to come down to us is the early 15th century (c.1420-1425) Visconti-Sforza princely Tarot. It is known as the “Pierpont Morgan Bergame”, and was probably painted by Bonifacio Bembo. Of these princely tarots, there remain 239 cards from 11 different decks. They are large, hand-painted on thick cardboard and could not have been used as a game.


The Emperor
Visconti-Sforza (Pierpont-Morgan)


The Emperor
Cary-Yale Visconti

To the basic game are added 21 + 1 cards which the Italians called TRIOMPHES and the French ATOUTS or “trumps”. Numbered from 1 to 21, with an unnumbered 22nd called the Excuse, Fool or Mat, these trumps dominate all the others and guarantee victory.

The Tarot’s success among the popular classes was stunning. Played for money, the game spread like wildfire.

It also seduced the ruling classes: numerous Princely Tarots, illuminated by the finest artists of the day, have come down to us: Visconti-Sforza Tarot (Milan, c. 1425), “Charles VI” Tarot (Northern Italy, late 15th century), etc. These tarots were probably used only for divination.

The Emperor
"Charles VI" Tarot

We also possess a few 16th (tarot of Catelin Geofroy) and 17th (tarots of Jacques Viéville, Jean Noblet and “anonymous parisian”) century popular versions, stencil-coloured woodblock prints.

…moving along

The archetypical Tarot of Marseille, made by Nicolas Conver in his Marseille workshop in the middle of the 18th century, served as a model for the editors Lequart and Grimaud when they proposed a playing tarot in about 1890. Paul Marteau later based his 1930 symbolic tarot on their work.

Paul Marteau presented himself as a simple restorer, but in aligning himself with the esotericism of his time he in fact produced an original version. A comparison with Conver’s 1760 Tarot, which Marteau claimed to reproduce, provides unequivocal proof of this. Edited in several languages, Marteau’s tarot owed its global success as much to the huge distribution effort of his editor as to the skill of the “restorer”.

Today the Marteau remains the best-selling Tarot of Marseille, the one most employed in divination. This is largely due to its availability and to the fact that few tarot enthusiasts in our time recognize the importance of traditional iconography. Marteau has produced a “copy” of Convers line, but doesn’t go so far as to depict the figure in XVII the Star as pregnant. In reality she is bearing, being well situated in a creative here and now, the future of traditional knowledge and its transmission. Marteau does conscientiously reproduce the vague roll of fabric below her left knee, but surely had no idea that this (leaving the left knee “unveiled”) was one of the traditional signs of a master.

The Star
Nicolas Conver

It is with respect to colours, however, that Marteau most demonstrates his ignorance of image content: light blue (the colour evoking oceanisation: the possibility of entering into the fetal mode of perception, in which we are directly connected to the world surrounding us) no longer exists, and the position and volume of the remaining shades is considerably altered. Conver, one of the last to suspect there was something to be directly apprehended through these images, depicts the young woman kneeling in the water while pouring more water into it. Arcanum XVII belongs to the stage of Mastery, and this figure can now contribute to the collective pool without disturbing it. The large amount of light blue testifies to the strong presence of inspiration. Dark blue is limited to a small area, expressing the long-acquired ability to come to terms with accumulated sufferings. When we take these nuances into account, we can see to what extent Marteau’s version is non-sense. This deformed “traditional” tarot was destined to pollute most of the Marseilles versions which followed it.

Times change. Now, at the end of the 20th century, a great need for authenticity is becoming manifest. Before the incredible multiplicity of novelty or “adapted” tarots, a return to the source has become necessary.

I have re-edited the major arcana of both the Noblet and Dodal tarots. Respect for the tradition guided this realization: fidelity to the original line is paramount, as is the restitution of colors which have been degraded over time and reduced in number by the cost-cutting efforts of successive editors.

At the end of the 18th century, Court de Gébelin, in line with the views of a burgeoning Freemasonry, claimed that the Tarot expressed the hidden knowledge of the ancients, a wisdom originating in pharonic Egypt.

The 19th century would accept this version of the Tarot wholeheartedly, drawing it increasingly away from a pub game and conferring on it an ever more esoteric and divinatory character.

In the 20th century, these two versions have come to coexist. On the one hand is the game called Federation, devoid of all esotericism, with images issued from the popular press at Epinal. It contains the habitual four suits: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs. On the other hand, innumerable artistic or divinatory Tarots proliferated. These were not destined to be played as a game.

The Tarot “of Marseille”

The Tarot’s major arcana (the 22 added trumps) are a coded description of an individual’s journey through life, from incarnation to liberation. The scene has always been shared by two pictorial traditions.

The “Milanese” tradition, that of the image-makers, is represented by the Tarot “of Marseille”, the city-name referring to a style rather than to its place of origin. In any case, the oldest extant printed deck comes not from Marseille, but from the mid-17th century Paris atelier of Jean Noblet.


The Emperor
Jean Noblet – 1650


The Emperor
Jean-Claude Flornoy’s restoration

Issued from this tradition are also the tarot of Jean Dodal (Lyon, c. 1701/1715), that of Jean-Pierre Payen (Avignon, 1713), and the famous tarot of Nicolas Conver (Marseille, 1760).


The Emperor
Jean Dodal – c. 1701/1715


The Emperor
Jean-Claude Flornoy’s restoration

The Piedmontese pictorial tradition, that of foremen and stonecutters, is known also as the Tarot of Bologna (itself issued from a Rouen-Brussels tradition) and is principally expressed in the Tarot of Jacques Viéville (Paris, 1650).

The Marseille Tarot presents significant graphic differences with that of Bologna. In arcanum XV, The Devil is seen full-face rather than in profile. In arcanum XVI, The House of God, a tower erupting in flames is replaced by a shepherd with his flock at the foot of a tree. The Star, arcanum XVII, substitutes a pregnant woman for an architect, while in The Moon, arcanum XVIII, a pool sheltering a crayfish becomes a spinner with a spindle.

One can cite a third tradition, one that appears at the beginning of the 15th century: artistic tarots. This tradition originates with the princely decks (probably used for divination) already mentioned, and continues to this day. Even Salvadore Dali painted his own Tarot!

It is useless to try and draw any inner meaning from these often beautiful works. The aesthetic process takes complete precedence over the veritable traditional science.

Visit Jean-Claude Flornoy’s Website for more information about The Tarot of Marseille and the French Tradition, and to obtain copies of the Jean Noblet and Jean Dodal restorations.

Jean-Claude Flornoy has recreated, in the highest quality, the 22 Majors of the Jean Noblet and Jean Dodal decks.

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From an oral tradition to the Tarot as history…

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