I suppose I should perhaps first begin with a more general view as to what is a ‘Marseille-style’ deck, especially as this one, as so many others, do not originate from Marseille itself. The term ‘Marseille’ seems to have been applied to the style of deck by Paul Marteau, who in the early parts of the 20th century owned one of the most successful card-making businesses in Europe, and hence, at the time, the world. Since then, of course, it should perhaps be mentioned that the style has become, and remains, the most important and foundational style of Tarot in the world.
There certainly were card-makers in Marseille itself producing decks in this style. Basically, however, the style tends to apply to decks that were originally made from woodcut blocks, generally between the 17th and 18th century, and mostly in the regions of Paris, Lyon, Avignon, and Marseille regions.
There were, of course, other decks that had immense similarities. For example the Besanzon style decks (except that they substituted the Papess and Pope for Junon and Jupiter), and other similar decks some more nothernly (around the lowland countries) and more easternly and southernly (Switzerland and Italy, for example).
If one looks at the earliest extant Marseille-style decks, three stand out as designs that have come to form the foundation of the style: the Noblet from Paris circa 1650, the Dodal from Lyon circa 1701, and the Conver from Marseille circa 1760. Other decks between these dates also abound, and I will shortly also mention another that is of significance. Suffice it to say, at this stage, that I will focus on neither the earlier nor the last of these three, but focus exclusively on the Dodal and its cognates.
The Dodal is strange, in that with the sheer volume of written information thereon, one would expect to find a date in one of the usual places: either on the two of Coins, or the two Cups. Yet neither has the detail. It is only by other researchers having looked through records and registers that Dodal appears to have been active in Lyons between 1701 and 1715. From this, the deck has variously been dated.
Another feature of the deck is that it was intended and made for, clearly, an export market. One even wonders if any of the decks were to be in any manner used locally, and personally suspect that this is not the case – perhaps from an agreement with another card-maker who was in some relation with Jean Dodal, as I shall mention again a little later.
Some have argued that the Marseille was designed solely for card play. With this I cannot personally agree. Apart from this being against the normal way of thinking and reflecting on or about imagery at the time, it also seems counter to the rich symbolic significance of many of the cards. Also, and importantly, there are clues left in the Dodal and in the Payen decks that suggest otherwise.
The Fool – Jean Dodal Tarot
The Fool – Jean Payen Tarot
Since I have mentioned the Payen, allow me a few paragraphs to also talk of this deck – or, rather, those decks. The Payen and the Dodal decks are so similar that a number amongst those interested have suggested that they were carved by the same hand, or at least in the same workshop. As far as I am aware, Jean-Claude Flornoy was the first to put this in print in quite precise terms. When Robert Mealing and I looked at the decks, however, what became apparent is that even more precise information could be suggested: Jean Payen was very likely, I would claim, the person whose workshop designed the Jean Dodal.
There are a number of clues left. Obviously, the similarity of construction of each of the cards: the images are so similar that one is left with the impression that one was the model for the other. Also, whereas Jean Payen was in Avignon in the late 1600s, Dodal was in Lyon in the early 1700s, with Jean-Pierre Payen (possibly the descendent of the elder Payen) again in Avignon in the early to mid 1700s (one of his decks is dated 1713).
But two striking features bring the possibility to mind. The first is that the Dodal is ‘smothered’ with inclusions which state that is is ‘made for export’ (‘Fait pour L’Etrange’). Not only does this appear in initials on the two Cups (F.P.E.), but it is on the Valet of Batons, XI Strength, and XXI the World… as well as, perhaps significantly, on each and every of the knights!
The second feature is one I have announced before: upon the Moon card, below the right-hand dog’s tail, on the dark green background above the waters, are clearly the initials of Jean Payen (I.P.).
The Moon – Jean Dodal Tarot
The Moon – Jean Dodal Tarot – Detail
Between the close similarity of the decks, and this ‘hidden’ inscription, perhaps placed there for simple protection equivalent to modern copyright, there is little doubt to my mind that Jean Payen is creator of the Dodal deck, specifically made for the export market.
The Dodal, however, has other interesting details worth further reflection. One of these is the unexpected naming of card II (called clearly ‘La Papesse’ in the Payen decks): on the Dodal retitled ‘La Pances’. Why, this still remains a mystery. A few years ago, I playfully suggested that perhaps (though unlikely in a deck made for export) this was a play by homophony on the French for ‘reflection’ or ‘thought’ (‘Pensée’). The word actually used (i.e., ‘pances’) is not a common word in even early 18th century France, though still appearing on occasions: it simply refers to the ‘belly’, meaning both ‘womb’, and ‘stomach’ in the more everyday use of the word. A kangaroo’s pouch, by the way, would also have been referred to as ‘pances’.
Symbolically, it could refer from anything from announcing that this card depicts Mariam imagery to Pope Joan – and certainly avoiding the term ‘Papess’ on a deck destined, perhaps, for northern Italian regions by wisely altering a title that by that stage may cause more trade difficulties than need be.
Let’s also go back to the Knights for another brief investigation. It may be worth noting that in French the title is not ‘Knight’, which by default implies a particular status, but rather ‘Cavalier’. This term has both the connotation and meaning of ‘knight’, but also simply ‘horseman’, and would suggest that the images be looked at with the latter meaning in mind. Here, then, are travellers bringing their ware to distant lands (whether these be merely five or five hundred kilometres!) by means of the most common mode of transport available to those who could afford such: the horse.
What absolutely clear card to accurately have thereon ‘made for export’ or, more correctly, ‘made for the foreign land’. But let me expand on this a little to make more sense of it in a direction that may be unexpected.
For this, it may also be worth having a look at the earlier court, that of the ‘Valet’. As I mentioned in a recent post on Aeclectic’s tarotforum, I was recently doing some research for a paper I am preparing for a Masonic conference, and came across, without any mention of cards, of course, that there were three ‘classes’ of craftsmen in the thirteenth century: that of apprentice, that of VALET, and that of master. The Valet was effectively the craftsman who had completed his apprenticeship (and I am using the male pronoun, even though I should specifically mention that cases of women were also noted in some professions, and in some others – though not cardmaking – there was a predominance of women). Having completed an apprenticeship, in many professions the option was still to continue to work for the same Master… unless one was able to establish oneself elsewhere – and here is where the horseman comes in: an accomplished craftsman going out to the ‘etranger’ to establish his own workshop.
Later, and certainly by the time we are considering, the term ‘Valet’ was only more rarely used, being replaced by that on ‘compagnon’, a further intermediary position that required that the person who had completed an apprenticeship make a ‘tour de France’ and visit sufficient other worksites in order to gain sufficient further knowledge from a variety of masters prior to establishing himself as one. Again, a good description of the ‘horseman’.
In the building arts, whether carpenter or mason, there were many sites and a masonic network which has since, of course, also been well researched due principally to its Freemasonic connection. In the world of the cardmaker, however, there simply has not been the equivalent research undertaken. Yet snippets of suggestive and important information is there.
For example, and of high significance, is an association formed, according to Amberlain in Le Martinisme (1946) (and others before him, by the way), during the early Renaissance, ‘bringing together apprentices, compagnons and masters from guilds connected with books, which included librarians, engravers, stationers, book-binders, illustrators, and card makers’. Even more interestingly, the association, though spanning from Paris to Venice and Toulouse, had its centre in Lyon.
Further, and here we shall come back to our Payen/Dodal cards, the masters within this association incorporated within their glyph or sigil the symbol ‘4’ – usually incorporated with other pertinent detail.
In terms of our deck, it suddenly gives light to the consistent usage of such a ‘4’ otherwise remaining inexplicable: both the Payen and the Dodal decks have it, showing, to my eyes, further evidence that not only was the master carver part of this important society, but further made it evident for those who could recognise the symbol for what it was.
A deck, indeed, full of hidden mysteries, well worth further and meticulous studies!