Petrarch’s Triumphs

One long poetic work that has been connected to Tarot is Petrarch’s Trionfi, or Triumphs. Gertrude Moakley argued that Tarot images were derived from the illustrations that accompany Petrarch’s triumphs of Love, Chastity, Death, Time, and Eternity. The images are from Roman processionals that featured triumphal cars carrying allegorical figures, and were found all over Renaissance Italy (in tapestries, pottery, engravings, etc).

However, Helen Farley argues against the direct lineage of Tarot images from this particular poetic work. One piece of evidence is that most allegorical figures in Tarot do not sit in cars. And while Petrarch was a friend of the Visconti family (for whom the first standardized Tarot deck was created), some of the iconography varies, such as Cupid being depicted with or without a blindfold.

One could add the Chariot card to other cards to create the illusion of a processional. Furthermore, images of Time (in the poem and in the accompanying illustrations) are very similar to the Hermit card. I certainly wouldn’t argue that Petrarch’s poem is the one and only source for the Visconti-Sforza deck, but I do think it was one of many influences.

Below is an image from the end of Anna Hume’s translation of Petrarch’s Triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Death, published in 1644 (from the British Library, via Early English Books Online). The accompanying lines are not part of the translated Triumphs and are included in other texts, such as Midnights Meditations of Death (1646).

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The trumpet and coffin are similar to images found on Judgment (XX) in the Visconti-Sforza deck, and the Hermit (Time) carries an hourglass like the trumpet-blower above. The Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum explicitly mentions that the arm on the right of the picture “issues from clouds”–a familiar Tarot image for those who use the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

In this English translation published after Petrarch’s death and after the Visconti-Sforza cards were in circulation, but long before Rider, Waite, and Smith were born, there are connections to both the earlier Italian deck and the English deck that would be created many years later.

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