Mind & Spirit | 13 August 2015History of the Tarot de Marseille Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Tarot decks date back as far as 1557, but they didn’t really start to gain traction until later in the eighteenth century. Tarot de Marseilles tells the history of the deck that was created for the purpose of divination. Interior of an Inn with Card Players, seventeenth century, by Willem van Herp the Elder The year 1709 is known chiefly for its record-setting winter. In early January, the thermometer plummeted, ushering in Le Grand Hiver, three months of the coldest weather Europe had seen in 500 years. As it happens, 1709 was also the year that Pierre Madenié, master card maker for the Lord Duke of Burgundy, created a Tarot deck that would one day be called Tarot de Marseille, a deck that is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful examples of its genre. Although there is evidence that Tarot cards were being used for divination very early on, Pierre Madenié’s Tarot deck was created chiefly for gaming purposes. Gaming was then, and had been for some time, one of the most popular pastimes in southern France. Centuries before the advent of radio and television, it was the custom for aristocrats to gather in salons and while away the hours discussing the important issues of the day. On cold winter nights, they would often find themselves camped out at the card table playing a game of Tarot before a roaring fire. Card playing was popular not only with the gentry but with people of all ages from all levels of society. Given the great demand, card-making companies were springing up all over Europe, especially in southern France. It was during this time that Pierre Madenié was plying his trade in his Dijon printing shop. Known throughout the city for the quality of his work, Madenié was eventually singled out by the Lord Duke, Governor of the Province of Burgundy, who commissioned him to become the exclusive card maker for his family. A seventeenth-century design for a lady’s fan shows how playing cards were manufactured in Paris circa 1680. Pierre Madenié used a method known as block printing to create his playing cards—one that it took no fewer than four master craftsmen to complete: paper maker, designer, form cutter, and printer. To begin, the designer drew the images in black line on a block of fine-grained wood (pear, apple, or pine). For Tarot cards, the blocks are quite large, with many rows of cards carved into a single piece of wood. Next, the form cutter whittled away the background, leaving raised images that were then covered with ink. Afterward, paper was laid on top of those raised images and rubbed with a wooden implement to transfer the ink. When the ink was dry, the images were colored in by hand or with stencils. When stencils were used, the color was applied with a stippling brush. Once dry, the cards were cut apart and glued onto heavy paper. It is interesting to note that although Madenié’s Tarot cards were manufactured in Dijon, they would eventually be called Tarot de Marseille. This is because, decades later, European occultists would focus their efforts on the study of Tarot decks that had been produced in Marseille. In the fullness of time, the term Tarot de Marseille was applied to all decks that shared the same structure, style, and imagery rather than to any one deck. A replica of the Lover card printed by Pierre Madenié. Shared Tarot de Marseille features include: trump cards with French titles printed in stylized Latin fonts at the bottom of each card (except for number XIII, a skeletal figure that is unnamed); a fixed order, designated with Roman numerals that appear at the top of every card (except for the Fool, which is unnumbered); and subjects derived from biblical teachings, cosmic images, and cultural figures that would have been well known at the time the cards were created. There are a number of elements that distinguish a Madenié deck from other versions of the Tarot de Marseille. Set against a soft creamy background, the jewel-like colors of the images—deep ruby, emerald green, sapphire, and antique gold—are richer and more vibrant than in subsequent decks. Faces on the trump and court cards wear happier, more amiable expressions than those of other decks, which can appear a touch severe, even grim. The same card printed by Nicolas Conver. Pierre Madenié’s cards are identifiable by several other features as well. The delicate, fluid line attests to the light, confident touch of the engraver. The male in the Lover card wears a tunic bordered at the bottom with a zigzag design instead of the stripes depicted in other Tarot de Marseille decks, and the maiden’s hair consists of well-defined curls instead of crude intertwining circles. In fact, the clothing of many of the court figures features more well-defined patterns on the fabric, showing the advanced skill and extra care that went into the carving of the blocks. The original Madenié deck can be seen in the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, Switzerland. Buy from an Online Retailer In North America: In The UK: A beautiful tarot card set containing everything needed for to gain insights into life’s mysteries. The Tarot de Marseille combines 78 beautifully replicated tarot cards with a book describing the history of the deck, the meanings associated with the different cards, and explanations of the different ways the cards can be used for divination. While tarot decks older than the Tarot de Marseilles exist (such as the Visconti-Sforza deck dating back to the fifteenth century), this was the first deck created for the purpose of divination—occultists adapted tarot cards for this purpose in the eighteenth century. The earliest manuscripts that describe divinatory meanings for the cards with a system for laying them out in specific configurations date to 1735 and 1790. The Madenie version, included in this kit, is considered to be the standard model when referring to the Tarot de Marseilles. It is also commonly thought to be the most beautiful. The original deck is preserved in the Swiss National Museum of Zurich and is the only complete copy known to exist. The woodcut-style of the images on the cards have been faithfully re-created and the borders of these elegant cards are adorned with gold metallic ink. The cards and the book are housed in a beautiful gift box. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.