“Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth: and he that seeketh, findeth: and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8.) In the previous post I mentioned three striking examples of Roman Catholic allegory which included a female figure with papal attributes. Below is a fourth spectacular allegory, a fresco depicting the Lord's Mercy personified. It pre-dates Tarot by roughly a century. At more than 700 years old, Giotto's 1306 depiction of Faith (right) may be the oldest representation of an allegorical personification wearing the papal tiara, although that identification of her headwear has been questioned. (As an aside, a similar funnel-shaped crown is used in some depictions of the Coronation of the Virgin, including the c.1380 Agnolo Gaddi and the c.1440 Fra Angelico.) The conical tiara and the small key, along with the processional cross, are at least reminiscent of papal attributes. Moreover, Giotto's Fides is also a close cognate for the image in Tarot, a Roman Catholic allegory with processional cross and text in hand, sometimes with St. Peter's keys as well. The Florentine fresco of Mercy (below) is only 36 years younger than Giotto's putative popess, and there is little doubt about the nature and meaning of her hat, “the old-fashioned papal tiara that she wears”.
In general terms this appears to be an example of the well-known subject, the Madonna Misericordia. Common to that topos, the central figure is appealed to by a multitude of supplicants, and appears to be the protector of those below, including the city of Florence. Unlike those many related figures, the Allegory of Mercy is shown with hands folded in prayer, (a gesture symbolic of Hope), rather than with outstretched arms shielding her devotees. This is an allegory of Mercy rather than a particular aspect of the Virgin. As such, Mercy is shown as a female figure with papal attributes rather than as the Virgin per se. To make this identification perfectly clear, the figure's tiara is explicitly labeled Misericordia Dom[ini], identifying her as a personification of the Lord's Mercy. Nonetheless, given the pervasive popularity of the similar Madonna of Mercy paintings, and given the typological identification of the Virgin with the Church, the Florentine allegory of Mercy with the papal tiara is instantly recognizable as a direct cognate. Many art historians therefore mistakenly refer to this allegory as another example of Madonna Misericordia.
Mercy's papal tiara may appear odd, but when this allegory was painted in 1342 the beehive triple-tiara was a novelty. A single tiara, like that shown in Giotto's c.1297 depiction of Pope Innocent III (right), or his pupil Maso di Banco's c.1340 depiction of Pope Sylvester (left), was still typical at the time. The triple tiara or triregno may have been introduced as early as 1315, but artists continued to use the traditional form, even occasionally into the 15th century. An example from the late 15th Century is the Pope card in the so-called Charles VI Tarot deck. The artist may have used it to suggest a generic pope rather than the current one or, alternatively, perhaps to suggest Pope Innocent III who was such a forceful proponent of papal authority. A final late example is from Hans Memling, c.1485. It is the center panel of the two-sided Vanity/Redemption triptych.
The red "T" on Mercy's tiara is the letter Tau:
... another emblem for Christ's sacrifice, specifically as a type of cross. This symbol traces its origins to pagan Antiquity, appears in the Old Testament, and attracted the attention of early Christian exegetes commenting on how frequently members of their communities employed it. The "T" remained in use during the trecento, associated with the performance of works of mercy.
William R. Levin describes describes the figure and the scene before her:
Within a decorative border containing a number of significant details, each individually framed, the central portion of the Allegory of Mercy appears beneath an archway resting on spiral colonettes. Dominating the image is the fresco's main figure representing Misericordia, the virtue Mercy, rendered frontally and about life size. She hovers above the schematized topographical view of the city, identified as "Civitas Florentiae" on its crenelated front wall. Within the city are visible a number of recognizable landmarks of mid-trecento Florence seen from an aerial point of view.
In this detail one can read the legend and appreciate some of the landmarks of Florence.
Levin cannot identify the 36 subordinate figures with any certainty. They may "represent the broad-based membership of the Misericordia Company, or perhaps the diverse group of individuals who endowed the confraternity, or those who benefited from it, or possibly some combination of these interwoven constituencies." However, their function is parallel to that of the cityscape:
...these small figures flanking Misericordia do embody the Civitas Florentiae in all its diversity; for their varied facial features, dress, age, and sex, they are the city in human rather than architectural form. To Misericordia's right (the viewer's left), the side of honor, are six orderly registers of male figures, three in each row, while female counterparts are similarly arranged to her left.
The text above Mercy's shoulders is from Matthew 25:34: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The roundel that appears to be held in Mercy's hands is from Psalms 32:5 (34:5): “the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.” The roundels to the left and right are from Proverbs 3:3 and Matthew 5:7 (the 5th Beatitude): “Let not mercy and truth leave thee, put them about thy neck”, and “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” The four words on the left and three on the right refer to the seven Works of Mercy: VISITO, POTO, CIBO, REDIMO, TEGRO, COLLIGO, and CONDO. “Together, these words constitute a mnemonic formula written by the Franciscan Conrad of Saxony well over a half-century before the Allegory of Mercy was painted. Mantra-like, by 1342 it must have been a commonplace.”
The eight illustrated roundels show Works of Mercy. Border figures include the Lamb (Jesus) and the Dove (Holy Spirit), and also allegorical animals representing virtues, such as the stork fighting a snake (Justice) and pelican feeding its young (Charity) in the diamonds shown below. Personified virtues with polygonal halos and the emblems of the Evangelists are also included in the border. The quotes above (excepting biblical quotes) are from a 2004 book book about this work: The Allegory of Mercy at the Misericordia in Florence: Historiography, Context, Iconography, and the Documentation of Confraternal Charity in the Trecento, by William R. Levin.
In the previous post I identified three types of female figures with papal attributes: Catholic allegories, Pope Joan, and anti-Catholic allegories. While searching for allegories with papal tiara today, Ross and I came across a fourth category, aspects of the Virgin wearing the triple tiara. The two examples of the Coronation of the Virgin, mentioned at the top of this post, seem to be wearing the older form of the tiara, while at least two types of the Virgin wearing the triple tiara are depicted online: 1) the Virgin of the Rosary and 2) the Virgin of Loreto. Most depictions of these two subjects do not include the papal tiara, but it is nonetheless a recurrent variation. They are very similar and sometimes conflated. Here is an example from each sub-category.
I began the previous post by noting how negligent and biased many traditional writers have been regarding the Popess, and how useful the Internet can be in searching out period art works. In only a few hours of searching, not only can previously cited cognates be found online, most notably those linked in the previous post, but also additional examples in some abundance, and earlier examples. And although these may represent new findings (in terms of being introduced to the Tarot community), they suggest no new conclusions. Since the time of Moakley (1966) and Kaplan (1986), the two salient categories of cognate figures, (and the example of Sister Manfreda), have been known to everyone interested in Tarot iconography. What remained was to explain the specific allegory within the Tarot trump cycle, and no additional external cognates are going to change that.
June 18, 2009 Postscript:
Yesterday, Jean-Michel David posted a note to the Tarot History Forum. Apparently he has long mistaken the Popess in Tarot for the Virgin. (The idea that the Virgin would be one of the lowest trumps is an obvious absurdity. However, this is a traditional error among modern occultists who lack the faintest conception of the meaning of the trump cycle and therefore imagine any figure in any position. The mistake goes back at least to Robert V. O'Neill.) Jean-Michel discovered an illuminated document with yet another image of the Virgin wearing the triple tiara (surmounted by a cross). This attribute suggests that she is being depicted in her capacity as an allegory of the Church, in addition to her role as a patron saint of the College. The document is an illuminated Founder's Charter upon Act of Parliament for King's College, Cambridge, dated March 16, 1446. It shows the Lords and Commons petitioning Henry VI, who prays for his College, while the Virgin and St Nicholas, patron saints of the College, are shown above. Mary is attended by the Trinity overhead. Here is a detail from the image.
July 3, 2009 Postscript:
Ad hoc Catholic allegories, rather like the Lex Canonica personification in the previous post, were probably more prevalent than any Tarot writers have imagined. Jehan Cousin's 1883 The Book of Fortune, which is online at both Google Books and the Internet Archive, includes a number of interesting drawings from an unpublished 1568 manuscript, Emblemata Fortunae. Some are well known, others are perhaps unique. The following emblem is titled Fortunae Imperatrix Providentia. It illustrates an idea common from the time of Boethius, that Fortune is ultimately the (blind) agent of Divine Providence. (This idea has been suggested as being relevant to Tarot's World card, rather than the Popess. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi is a more direct, but closely related reading.) In this unusual emblem, which apparently survives only in Cousin's drawing, Divine Providence wears the triple tiara. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that Providence appears Janus-faced, with a light face and a dark one, a convention common to Fortuna.
November 14, 2010 Postscript:
This appears to be the book cover and Popess cognate image which Ross referred to in his comments. Better late than never?
September 2, 2013 Postscript:
I should have posted this about a year ago, when I found it. However, since Marco just linked to this post, it seems again -- better late than never. There's a Flickr image of it online, and also another pic of the whole page.