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Reading the Marseille Tarot (book cover)
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2016 philosophy course with Jean-Michel David

Marseille-style Tarot

«To find suitable images for great spiritual truths ...

RM Marseille-style Pope V

...deck in progress

... is a process known as 'Imaginative Perception'.»

R. Steiner 19/01/1907 GA97

Variety of Marseille-style decks

Not all decks in the 'Marseille' style originate from Marseille. In fact, many, if not most, do not. I even use the term 'Marseille' with some reluctance, as my own preferred pattern is a mix between the Parisian Noblet, the Bologna, and the Dodal originating in Lyon, though undoubtedly at the hands of the Payen master-craftsman working from Avignon. Admittedly, Payen (senior) had moved to Avignon from Marseille. These all, in turn, likely derive from the Milanese region (or at least the Piedmontese and Lombardy regions, with Milan as its capital).

Given that both the taro river region and Parma itself fell to Milan under its Sforza rulership, it may also be likely that the name the card game acquired (in French, and henceforth English) was named after the region: "Jeu de tarau" - "game from taro". In that case, Parma may have a more important part to play in its development than has so far been able to be historically determined.

Of early decks in the style, both the Dodal and the Noblet have more recently been made available. The Dodal first as a photographic copy (by Dussere, and now quite difficult to obtain) of the version kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and then as an trump-only handmade reproduction by Jean-Claude and Roxanne Flornoy (see their The Noblet was also at first made as an trump-only handmade reproduction by the Flornoys, which more recently was expanded and finally printed as a full 78-card deck, the missing cards from the suit of Swords being re-created by Jean-Claude Flornoy. These are the decks to obtain as far as I'm concerned.

Of other noteworthy mention are decks that have been produced in the past fifteen years. The Marseille-style tradition of decks is quite an active and living one, and, as some who first come to Tarot may assume, not something that harkens solely to 17th and 18th century decks. If in many of my writings I focus on the above mentioned and other early decks, it is more that these enable a focus on the impulse of the deck, in the same manner, to use an analogy, that certain texts will form more canonical foundations in certain traditions, without thereby diminishing its living waters.

Other popular Marseille-style decks

Four common recent Marseille-type tarot seem to include: the Grimaud-Marteau; Camoin-Jorodowsky; Hadar; and Rodes-Sanchez. From my perspective, each has important contributions to make in terms of tarot studies, but should not replace the more important ones mentioned above.

There are also other Marseille-style decks that are reproductions of 18th century decks apart from those already mentioned. Of especial note here are Héron's photographic reprint of the Conver, other imprints of the same deck also made available by LoScarabeo and other publishers. Both the Conver and the Dodal exist in multiple copies, these mentioned imprints being from the decks held by the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In case some are interested, my preferred Conver original (from a number I have seen images of) is currently in a private collection in Japan (beat me on e.bay, he did!) and my preferred Dodal in the British Museum, neither of which have been republished.

Important elements in Marseille-type decks

There is not so much I will include in this section at the moment - though please do also check my TdM-Cards page, on which I make further comments.

Perhaps a small number of past Newsletters from the Association for Tarot Studies will give an inkling, and suggest reading them on that site. A sampling includes my own issue #32 "A closer look at one of the Marseille decks: the Jean Dodal c. 1701, Lyon"; and Robert Mealing's issues #44 "Hunting the 'true' Marseille Tarot" and #53 "The Jean Noblet Tarot, restored by Jean-Claude Flornoy".

On Aecletic's Tarotforum, in the Marseille section, a number of threads had also been started by 'le pendu' and I that in essence contrasts, and as a consequence bring to light, the two main Marseille-type decks (at times referred to as TdMI and TdMII) to which are often added additional decks that adds to the understanding of the development of tarot. This study was never completed, and we have since created a new area for historical tarot studies at, from which such comparisons may be extended during the latter part of 2008. To give merely a flavour (and that is all it is) of the type of discussion included, I include below a part of my opening post for the XXI the World card:

Contrasting the Dodal and the Conver

Dodal Marseille XXI Le Monde Chafard Marseille XXI Le Monde Conver Marseille XXI Le Monde
Dodal (approx. 1701) Chafard (approx. 1747) Conver (approx. 1760)

In this case I have inserted an additional card from a third deck - very much a 'transition' card between the two main decks that are being contrasted, simply because it shows so well the move from one type of imagery to another, without in any manner wishing to imply that the Chafard somehow 'caused' the woodcut of the Conver.

Let us look at a number of apparent details.

The first is that the woodblock of the Chafard takes after the Dodal in terms of the depicted cape, though the colour-artist has used the Conver-style in placing a red 'band' across the body. I would suggest that the colouration of the Chafard 'body-band' is in part a consequence of the Conver mold (likely from the antecedent Chosson, upon which the Conver seems based, a deck with which the Chafard colorer may have been familiar).

Another is the clear 'transformation' of the figure from a more androgenous or masculine figure to a feminine one. The Chafard here seems to have the Dodal more 'masculine' lines, with, however, clearly additional breasts.

In the Conver, the image is more clearly feminine.

Of course, there is the ongoing claim that the depiction is in any case androgenous, with feminine breasts and masculine genitals. If that is the case, then, with modern genetic understanding, the figure could be a depiction of someone with the classic body of those having XXY chromosones. Of course, it is here also elevated to the status of a divine aspiration, rather then the perverse manner in which it is often seen as a human diminishment in many modern societies.

Another fascinating distinction and move is the depiction of the hair. If one takes the sequence presented above, it is as if the hair on the Dodal has been 'merged' with the cape on the Chafard to present what is similar to numerous representations of Mary Magdelene in religious art, her hair reaching to her feet and itself used to partly veil her naked body - though here the usage of tressed 'leaves' is used, as on the Dodal.

Whereas the Dodal has the legs of the figure roughly together (though in apparent motion), the Conver mimics, in reverse, the position of the Hanged Man (the reversed 'mimicking' is also implied, of course, in the numbering, from XII or IIX to XXI).

The arms of the Dodal seem to fall towards the legs, whereas the Conver has the arms are partially extended outwards.

As for the Chafard, what is that wand-like item s/he holds in her hand pointing up!?


Recommended Marseille deck resources

Please also check the Association for Tarot Studies's site for broader resources.

Marseille-deck specific sites

Jean-Claude & Roxanne Flornoy's site

for other tarot pages on this site

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