History of the Marseilles decks


In the thread in Tarot Decks titled 'Lo Scarabeo decks', RiccardoLS (from Lo Scarabeo) commented upon a remark I made which questioned the Marseille's ancestry to the Noblet thus:
Early Marseilles deck:
I'm not a Tarot historian, so I may only quote sources, and I'm not sure If I'm adding anything to what you already know.
The development of Tarot had been Italy ---> Paris ---> Marseille.
The Paris Tarot decks were considered the missing link between the Italian tradition and the well documented Marseille one. Of those deck we have only three surviving, of what should have been tens or hundreads. Of those one is anonymous, and the other two were the "Noblet" and the "Vieville". The Vieville presents many elements directly linked to the Italian Tarot. It seem to have descendants as a deck with a similar iconography was created in Rouen between 1723 and 1748.
The Noblet on the other side was almost "marseille" like. The final adjustement to the marseille template arrived with the deck by Francois Chosson in 1672. Actually I don't have any idea of what were the differences between the "Noblet" and the "Chosson".
Maybe, if you could explain the question better I could try to find something (or ask someone, because I'm no expert at all).
As such an important summary, I thought it would be worthwhile posting separately as an item of discussion.

For me, this is certainly a plausible simplified line of thought based on available evidence - and certainly the Encyclopedias corroborate much of this. I wonder, however, if again the type of conclusion made transcends the evidence at hand. That the Vieville has some similar elements to some early Italian designs could be because of the chain mentioned - or not.

With the 1672 Chosson, is it (again) from there that Marseille standardisation occurs, or did he produce from an earlier tradition of which earlier publications remain lost or unknown.

I suppose that on the one hand, one may draw plausible conclusions from the extant evidence, on the other, to make these as definitive statements (which I am not claiming that, unlike others, RiccardoLS is doing) goes beyond the evidence.

All we seem to be able to say with certainty is that some decks, of which we have records, go back to various dates from various specific locations. Whether the chain of development is as the remnant cards indicates, or whether a reverse of this order was actually the case, remains historically unknown at this stage.

Looking forward to various varied variagated and volatile views.


I'm never sure which Parisian deck I have, but mine is the anonymous early seventeenth century one from the Bibliothèque Nationale. That deck seems to have more in common with the early painted card tradition, on the one hand, and the Belgian and Swiss decks, on the other, than it does directly to the Marseilles.

For instance, the Moon is free from shellfish, and shows a serenade scene, like the much later Swiss deck. The Devil also resembles the 1JJ Devil, being freestanding and lacking his chained supporters. The Tower here becomes La Fouldre, the Lightning, as in Belgium; the scene depicted on it seems to be of a demon drummer drumming damned souls into the Hellmouth. The Star does not have a woman on it; there is an astrologer instead, as in the painted deck tradition. The World shows a naked woman dancing on the orb of the world, surrounded by the four winds, which again resembles some painted deck traditions.

One thing that has struck me as curious is that the Marseilles titles are in standard French, rather than in Provençal, which was the ordinary language spoken in the area. I realise that the literary prestige of Provençal declined after the late Middle Ages, but still remained locally strong until the railroads brought standard French within reach of ordinary people in the nineteenth century.


Now I may be wrong, but from some of the Renaissance studies that for instance deal with certain cities such as Florence and Fererra in Italy, the documentation of many minute details was incredible. Everything from a yearly census to traveling envoys with letters to and from the republics/dukedoms of Italy---how huge or strong the waves of the Black Death was in 1348, what successive waves of sickness, earthquakes or wars crumbled areas of certain cities---the casual reader may think that there might be much lost, but I'm less likely to believe this in the Italian cities... perhaps the answer lies in looking at countries outside of Italy.
To some historians, I am likely to believe they look at tarocchi influences as part of a scene where the cultural arts and trade patterns suggested Italian dominance or certainly strong influences. I tend to read Encyclopedia of the Tarot and certain Lo Scarabeo publications with the agreement there was certaom golden ages of Italian influence of the late 1200s, 1300s prior to the Black Death and periodic intervals between 1350 through 1500 of certain Italian Republics, (depending on the local family leaderships/political and economic or if they were involved in civil wars or French occupation.)
Now in terms of Parisian influence on the Italians and Italian cultural arts, that is an interesting curiousity. I believe after the first invasion of Italy, where the King of France went to claim Naples as part of his kingdom (he was of Naples' royal family through his mother's line)in 1474 or thereabouts, the cracks in the idea of Italian dominance took awhile, perhaps a few decades and generations, to actually happen. So if you found artists and poets or people of printing presses or engravers of French origins in Italian cities, there's a likely place to start looking for your undiscovered or less well-known tarocchis...
I have found suggestions that Pontarmo in the 1530s was influenced by Durer, that Pontarmo was an influential Florentine painter...and that Durer had a Mantegna-influenced tarocchi deck in a Sloane Gallery (?) in London...but that may seem a far reach from the ideas that you are suggesting
There are times when great libraries were sacked/destroyed in sieges and all that was left was Roman copies of Grecian documents in certain monestaries of Ireland, I've heard...sorry if I'm wandering.

Mari H.


I have to agree with Jmd.

All I have written about the history of the Marseille Tarot can be considered speculation.
It is currently the most probable theory about their derivation and it's in accordance with all of the historical documents (therefore it is often accepted as truth, until it is possible to find a better truth). :)

But I agree with him that there is no proof it went CERTAINLY that way, and that there may had been different inspirations.



Threads of certain tarot symbols, Siena

I'm following a small link that suggests the astrological and other symbols crafted in the 1200s included major archana in the Dome of Siena (Sienna), Italy. I'm still researching the Cathedral notes from my class and the net about the correct names, architects, etc...Brian Williams took some people on tour a few years ago also where Siena was one of the sites.
I'll post links. Right now, only vague references (one line in a Spanish site posts the Cathedral dome as a pivotal tarot archana symbol source back in the 1200s and the other is the reference in Niki di ???'s tarocchi garden site).
If all goes well, I'll also have one of those historical-based art theme tarots that derive art from Siena as well. The source was Alidastore.com, and Argeo said it was the last one.
Maybe this will be a just another snipe hunt...or a soft footfall on the interesting path of walking backwards to trace an intriguing history.
Mari H.


In terms of Cathedral representations of Major Arcana cards, see some of my comments and attachment in the thread on XVI - the Tower.

Please do post your findings.... this is fascinating research well worth bringing together.