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Historical notes on the Tarot of Marseilles

Cards  of the Tarots that take their name from the city of Marseille (in the south of France) are the best known  in the world: they represent the most popular and ancient style among the many varieties of decks that spread from the fifteenth century, to the point of being considered the main version  of the Tarot deck.

The Tarot of Marseille had a huge spread in the seventeenth century thanks to the printers. However, if the Tarot drawings were originally drawn by hand, the method of coloring with the mold, typical of typographies, did not allow great precision and above all required the use of a limited number of colors. It was a  game made for a king, of course, was more colorful than a game made for the vulgar.


TO  according to the printers, at the time,  the features were more or less faithfully reproduced. However, numerous copies of the Marseille deck which were printed by different printers and also in different eras feature many  similarities that suggest the existence of an older Tarot used as the original model.


The Tarot of Marseille appears to be deeply anchored in tradition: both the 22 arcana and the 56 suit cards retain over time, and regardless of geographical origin, details that are repeated, such as the knight of Coins, which in spite of the his suit, holds a stick or the name of the knave of Coins, the only one to be written vertically instead of horizontally.

Nowadays, apart from the re-edition of older decks, the Tarot of Marseille is reproduced based on 18th century decks,  however, the Tarot in the style of Marseille would not have been so widespread up to the present day if it had never been used for cartomancy, a practice widespread since the 18th century.


The name "Tarot de Marseille" dates back, however, to the twentieth century when the French manufacturer Grimaud  so he called the reissue of a traditional tarot deck printed by his firm, located in Marseille. Marseille is the city where, especially in the 18th century, numerous printing presses specialized in the production of Tarot developed, some of which still survive, including "Camoin".

This explains why the name "Tarot of Marseille" was chosen, while previously it was referred to as "Italian Tarot",  this style probably originated in northern Italy around the sixteenth century, as a result of the work of an unknown Lombard artist. An ancient lithographic print, the so-called "Cary sheet", dating back to the early 1500s, depicts representations of the Arcana with a style similar to that of the Tarot of Marseille.



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