What Is Tarot de Marseille?

Though I am not a tarot historian (and I must confess to skipping through the seemingly mandatory sections in commentaries concerning the “origins” of the tarot), I do believe it is appropriate at this juncture to say a few words about the Tarot de Marseille.

Literally, Tarot de Marseille ought to refer to those tarot decks which originated along the southern coast of France, in or near the Mediterranean port-city of Marseille.  However, of the dozens of historical decks designated as TdM, very few actually came from this region, and they are, in chronological order, the tarots of Nicolas Conver (1760), François Bourlion (1760), Joseph Feautrier (1762), François Tourcaty (1745), Arnoux and Amphoux (which, created in 1801 is really a stylized version of the Tourcaty deck) and Suzanne Bernardin (1839).  It is particularly interesting that the earliest deck on this list, the Conver, came into being one hundred years after other “Tarot de Marseille” decks had already established the distinctive style that ultimately became known as Tarot de Marseille.  (One tarot that I did not include on the list but which many historians believe to be the earliest Tarot de Marseille from Marseille is that of François Chosson, created in 1672, though other historians continue to maintain that there is insufficient evidence to make an absolute determination.  Regardless, it makes no difference to my overriding point, for the Jean Noblet, Jean Dodal, Pierre Madenié, Jean-Pierre Payen, and François Héri all preceded the Chosson by decades.)

So where did the other TdMs come from?  Jean Noblet, who created his deck a century before Conver (1650), came from Paris; Jean Dodal (1701) was from Lyons; Pierre Madenié (1709) and his son, Jean-Baptiste Madenié (1739) were from Dijon; Jean Pierre Payen (1713) was from Avignon.   Additionally several decks of Swiss origin are classified as TdMs, including those of Francois Héri (1718) from Solothurn, Rochus Schär (1750) from Mümlisvil, Claude Burdel (1751) from Fribourg, and Jacques Rochias (1782) from Neuchâtel.

Thus Tarot de Marseille came to refer to a style rather than a place of origin, but even here, the lines of distinction are sometimes blurry, for there are decks that are quite similar to those designated TdMs but are considered to be something separate, such as the Tarot de Besançon (TdB), which, as the name implies, comes from the French city Besançon, near the Swiss border. 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.