Tarocchi di Mantegna (1465) Instructional Engravings

My current tarot obsession is the 50-card Tarocchi di Mantegna (or Mantegna Tarot) from 15th century Italy. These are 50 instructional cards subdivided into five “suits” or groupings:

  1. The Human Condition,
  2. The Muses & Apollo,
  3. The Classical Liberal Arts,
  4. The Cardinal Virtues, and
  5. The Heavenly Spheres.

From 1 to 5 we see the ascent of the human soul. Grouping 1 represents the social hierarchy from the Wretched (Impoverished), Servant, and Artisan to Magistrate, King, and Pope. This is the Earthly realm.

The Nine Muses led by Apollo in Grouping 2 corresponds with the Aristotelian element Fire. The Classical Liberal Arts are the intellections that arise from the element Air. The Cardinal Virtues correspond with Water. And finally, Grouping 5, the Heavenly Spheres, corresponds with Spirit.

Below I’ve arranged the cards in sequential order by their card numbers, and by the five groupings, with 10 cards in each set.

You can click on any of these image files for an enlarged view of the cards.

The Human Condition

1. Impoverished 6. Knight
2. Servant 7. Magistrate
3. Craftsman 8. King
4. Merchant 9. Emperor
5. Nobleman 10. Pope

The card numbered 1, Misero, represents the impoverished. Next in the human social hierarchy is the Servant, then the Artisan or Craftsman, Merchant, and so on to Magistrate, King, Emperor, and Pope.

The Nine Muses & Apollo

11. Caliope (The Epic) 16. Thalia (The Comedy)
12. Urania (Astronomy) 17. Melpomene (The Tragedy)
13. Terpischore (Dance) 18. Euterpe (Music)
14. Erato (The Romance) 19. Clio (History)
15. Polyhmnia (The Hymn) 20. Apollo
Apollo and the Nine Muses (1674) by Claude Lorrain

The nine muses, patrons of the arts, personify states of consciousness that facilitate homonoia, an ideal state of collective mind and heart. The tenth state is that of the invocation of Apollo, who presides over the muses and is the god of truth and prophecy, among other attributes.

The Liberal Arts

21. Grammar 26. Music
22. Logic 27. Poetry
23. Rhetoric 28. Philosophy
24. Geometry 29. Astrology
25. Arithmetic 30. Theology

Classically you have the quadrivium plus the trivium that together, make up the basic curriculum of the well-rounded scholar.

Allegory of the Seven Liberal Arts (1590) by Maerten de Vos

The quadrivium being geometry (element Fire) expressed on Card 24, music (element Water) – Card 26, astronomy (element Air) as astrology in Card 29, and numerology (element Earth) as arithmetic in Card 25. The trivium was the trinity of humanities: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. You see that trivium in Cards 21, 22, and 23. Three more round out the ten: poetry, philosophy, and theology (religion).

The Cosmic Principles (Cardinal Virtues)

31. Genius of the Sun 36. Fortitude
32. Genius of Time 37. Justice
33. Genius of the World 38. Charity
34. Temperance 39. Hope
35. Prudence 40. Faith

Cards 31, 32, and 33 represent the universal principles: Iliaco, Chronico, and Cosmico sequentially. Iliaco, the Genius of the Sun, is that of the four seasons and calendrical cycle. Chronico is the Genius of Time while Cosmico is Space, or Genius of the World, genius used here to express the spirit of these concepts, or guiding spirits.

The four Platonian and Biblical virtues are depicted in Cards 34, 35, 36, and 37: Temperance (Temperantia), Prudence (Prudentia or Sophia), Fortitude (Fortitudo), and Justice (Iustitia). Cards 38, 39, and 40 are the trinity of theological virtues: Charity, Hope, and Faith.

The Heavenly Spheres

41. The Moon 46. Jupiter
42. Mercury 47. Saturn
43. Venus 48. Angel of the Eighth Sphere
44. The Sun 49. Primum Mobile
45. Mars 50. Prima Causa

Finally, ascent beyond the Firmament into the heavenly spheres. Here you have the Sacred Seven arranged in descending order of the planetary hours.

Card 48 is Octava Spera, the enigmatic Angel of the Eighth Sphere, representative of the fixed stars that in medieval times were believed to be the sphere beyond Saturn’s orbit, Saturn being the seventh sacred planet.

Top, Left to Right: Oswald Wirth Tarot, Soprafino, RWS. Bottom: Convers TdM, Thoth, Spirit Keeper’s Tarot

The Angel of the Eighth Sphere, governess of the four fixed signs beyond Saturn, kind of reminds me of the iconic depiction of The World card.

Card 49, Primum Mobile in Renaissance astronomy and astrology represents that which initiates movement in our universe. And Card 50, Prima Causa, or First Principle, is the theological argument for why God exists: ex nihilo nihil fit, or nothing comes from nothing.

Psst… that was a little something-something I tucked into the first stair leading into The Mason card, the Three of Orbs (Pentacles) in my tarot deck. There’s a numerological relationship between The Mason and The World card through the Trinity.

Scheme of the Division of Spheres (1539)

Prima Causa is the Empyrean Heaven, the dwelling of God (and the realm where the Empyrean Courts in my tarot deck reside).

Per medieval cosmology, you had earth at the center, then the first sphere was Luna, the Moon, then Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The eighth sphere was the sphere of the fixed stars and the Firmanent. Beyond that you have the crystalline Ninth Heaven, and then Prima Causa is the tenth sphere.

A cool synchronicity in the arrangement of the five groupings of ten is how it can be reconciled with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life with the ten sefirot, moving from lower material to higher spiritual.

I’m sure you can catch how much my personal style of art vibes with this pack of cards. It’s an obvious sibling to the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot.

So during this time that I’ve been sheltering in place through the pandemic, I’ve been planning out how I want to approach creating and drawing by hand my own interpretation of this 50-card tarot deck (and also write a companion guidebook on this fascinating deck structure).

If you’re on the e-mail list for my newsletter, then you’ll be receiving a link to download the printable tarot card size image files for this 50-card deck, so if that’s of interest to you, then keep an eye on your inbox for that. These are public domain images, so do what thou wilt. =)

If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet and you’d like to be on the list for receiving cool free resources, downloads, etc., then join here.

9 thoughts on “Tarocchi di Mantegna (1465) Instructional Engravings

  1. sally

    Another gem. Thank you again! We always benefit from your musings and research. I want to know where the muse for painting is?? We’re encouraged to invoke Dionysus and then step back and ask Apollo to critique. My bet is still on Ganesha because he’s so damned cute!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous

    This inspires me to to pull out the (I think US Games) version of this that was published twenty or so years ago. I’ve never used it much.

    Like

  3. Starlight

    Thank you so much! It’s a very cool structure, five groups of ten cards – I’m going to do some more reading up on it now and see how best to work with it. 🙂

    Like

  4. Pingback: Lot of guardian spirits – Khambalia

  5. Parzival

    Thank you for the appreciative overview. This deck shows clearly the effort to survey the universe and man, which you well explored. The set of Heavenly Spheres in its ordering is amazing!

    Like

  6. Dave

    This deck structure is fascinating, a different way to view the Fools journey to being one with the universe. So exciting to hear about your latest plan on producing (hopefully for the masses) the Benebell Mantegna. [dream on] And I would not be surprised at all if this somehow lead to reconciling the Mantegna with the Minchiate tarot, and if it goes that far might as well integrate that into the TDM/RWS/Thoth to make SKT2 and the worlds of the tarot will be unified. [dream off]

    Like

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