Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Close-up Magic

Close-up magic” is what the Bagatto does. However, the title of this post also refers to these images being a bit larger than the ones I posted in The Bagatto in Context. The larger images provide a better look at what he's doing—we see his magic up close.

Up close, it is not entirely clear whether the fool in the Baldini images is himself the magician or part of a team of confederates. In the first example (which matches the BMFA print) another figure is showing his empty hands, a traditional magician's gesture, while the fool is manipulating props on the table. The fool is in front; he wears the traditional prop bag; and he is holding a cup with his left hand and waiving a wand with his raised right hand. The two figures may be a team, but the magician's usual sidekick, the monkey, attends the fool. The figure with upturned palms may simply be saying, “how did he do that?” In the second Baldini image there is a similar team effort suggested. The fool handles the cup and wand, and has the monkey, while a second figure (whose pants match the fool's bag) manipulates another prop.

Whether the fool is the magician, which seems almost certain, or is part of a team, the underlying subject matter and its contextual significance is the same. Magicians deal with illusion and mutability, things that pertain to the sub-lunar world. As such, they are natural “Children of the Moon”. Moreover, the obvious is made explicit in this image, as it is from Porro's print (The Bagatto in Context Redux), that fools and magicians are similar characters. Of course, those blinded by the smoke, deceived by the mirrors, or simply distracted by the misdirection of 230 years of occult bullshit will still look for imagined secrets and thereby miss what is actually there. That's why magicians love fools.

Matto and Bagatto
Children of Luna, Florentine, c.1464, Baccio Baldini?

Children of Luna, German, 1530-50, Georg Pencz

Matto and Bagatto
Children of Luna, Florentine, c.1465, Baccio Baldini?

P.S. As Ross points out, the Rosenwald Bagatto, presumably Florentine, looks remarkably similar to the magician in the Florentine Children of Luna prints attributed to Baldini. Some common influence was certainly at work, whether an artistic exchange or perhaps a Florentine custom for magicians to wear the fool's cap.

Rosenwald Matto/Bagatto


  1. Hi Michael, you mentioned the "god-like" status of the Magician in occult tradition, but it occurred to me that neither De Gébelin nor Etteilla raised him to that position. They both regarded him as a common juggler or deceiver.

    I was trying to think who first elevated him - and the Fool - to the level of Thoth, but I found I don't know the literature well enough. The back cover of WPC shows an mock-Egyptian Tarot of Papus (so-called, no doubt), with the Magician clearly elevated to some high status, with the infinity symbol above his head. I guess I'd start with Papus then, and the context of occult neo-masonic orders using through-going Egyptian symbolism. Thus they get passed on to the English orders, particularly Golden Dawn, and become traditional in English.

    So it is not a very old idea at all - at most, 150 years.

  2. Note also how the two Baldinis, Florentine, match the Rosenwald Sheet's - also Florentine, at least everybody thinks so - Bagatto.

  3. Rosenwald -- THAT's what I forgot!

    Thanks. I'll add him in.

  4. Great post. Thanks Michael ...

    Its interesting remember the Fool is not as separate triumph in Rosenwald Sheet's. (Not exists).

  5. Hi, Marcos,

    The JPEG of Rosenwald that I had previously posted had straight-cut edges which reflected it being "cut" from a sheet. However, it is important to remember that they were intended as playing cards, so I've replaced it with an image manipulated to look like a worn card from a used deck.

  6. Hi, Michael

    Yes, yes... Sorry I cant write well in English and made confusion.

    I want said in Rosenwald Sheet only are 21 trionfi. Not 22. Is not the 0. fool... or maybe yes at 1. fool.

    We dont know if the trionfi exist or not. The sheet is incomplete. We need work this.

    - Its an atypical structure of 21 trionfi? The card marker delete 0 Fool as redundant?

    If exist the trionfi 0, what allegory have? another fool?

  7. Hi, Marcos,

    Hypothetical decks with odd numbers of trumps, perhaps without a Fool card, have become a fad among some online Tarot enthusiasts. These folks also imagine themselves to be historians, and believe that their crackpot theories have rewritten the study of early Tarot. Meh.

    There is absolutely no historical justification for this fantasy. There are no facts that are explained by it, no question answered. It is just one more gurgle in an endless stream of "what if" speculation by people who don't really like Tarot history very much. They feel the need to make up a more "interesting" history of their own, and they are welcome to it -- it is worthless.

  8. Hi Michael

    "have become a fad among some online Tarot enthusiasts"

    I dont know these theories, sorry.


    Well, there's something strange. We know many decks with strange numbers, more or less related with the standard tarot.

    Michelino: 16
    14 triumphs: Ferrara notes
    41 minchiate
    14 + 6? or 8?: Pierpont Morgan
    Cary Yale Deck with 16 trionfi as the hypothesis of chess
    "Tarot" of Mantegna, 50...

    And then all the local variants of normal playing cards, where cards are removed and inserted.

    Well, I think, at present day, we dont have sufficient documentation to know how many triumphs exists before c.1490. Its safe to say they were 22. I prefer to be cautious until we discover more documents.

    Sorry for my prehistoric English : )

  9. Hi, Marcos,

    That's the kind of stupidity I was referring to, and a big reason why the so-called Tarot "history" forums are misleading. I would argue that they are worse than worthless, promoting crackpot theories instead of historical facts. There is no justification for inventing mythical decks. That's self-indulgent fantasy posing as historical speculation.

    Look at the six handfuls of crap you cited as evidence:

    1. Michelino's deck was not Tarot. It had a very different deck and suit structure. Trumps were integrated into the suits. It had no Fool. The subject matter of the cards was different. The game itself was very different.

    A different type of deck, used to play a different type of game, is a different game.

    The Michelino deck does tell us something useful: Milan was a place where new card games were being invented, a decade or so before Tarot. This makes Milan a strong candidate for the invention of Tarot. But the reasonable assumption is that the Ur Tarot probably looked a lot like later decks, which are our only evidence about the original deck. Ockham rules.

    2. The 14 images were probably not even cards, but we have no way of knowing. The only reason for assuming that they were cards is to provide support for the 5x14 Theory, so it is circular reasoning.

    3. The Minchiate is a LATER Tarot deck, an addition to the standard design. That means it is BASED ON the existence of the standard deck! As such, how stupid is it to claim it supports the 5x14 Theory?!

    4. The Visconti-Sforza deck is a nearly complete deck which appears to have had some replacement cards made at some point, and cards lost. Replacement cards are a natural (and documented) practice for hand painted decks, well before Tarot was invented, and all the surviving early decks have lost cards. There is nothing to be explained.

    That kind of repaired deck with missing cards is precisely what would be expected in a gilded luxury deck. The facts are better explained without inventing any theories about phantom decks and their supposed evolution at some unknown time and place into another phantom deck, etc.

    My role is not to peddle bunk, but to de-bunk.

    5. The Cary-Yale deck probably had more trumps than normal, just as it certainly had more suit cards than normal and used more lavish materials than any other deck known. It is a unique and extravagant luxury deck. So what?

    6. The E-Series prints were not Tarot. They were not EVER playing cards, and they were not even a game. They constituted a pattern book for artists, which was used a great many times over more than a century. This has been known and documented since the 1930s.

    The 5x14 Theory has been promoted for decades now. It has been promoted online since 2003, and it is apparently gaining followers. It was and remains crap. I would suggest reading some of Ross' posts on the subject. He provides detailed analyses of almost every point.


    I posted some comments on TarotL back in 2004 and 2005.


    Best regards,

  10. A postscript on the imbecilic idea of Tarot -- Cary-Yale or any other Tarot deck -- being somehow derived from or otherwise based on Chess:

    This is not merely stupid, but Really Fucking Stupid™.

    Don't you people ever look at the cards?


  11. Sorry Michael,

    My English is not enough to maintain a reasoned discussion. I'm in linguistic disadvantage. I must be telegraphic.

    1) I write "We know many decks with strange numbers, more or less related with the standard tarot". Related is equal as tarot? Sorry, I dont know well the English language. I want said similar, not equal.

    2. I speaking about facts. Between c.1424 and 1490 there are documents and decks of many types. If you dont want see that, I cant do anything. There are not opinions, they are facts. The intelligent question we can ask is, therefore, when tarot is standardized. This is the cuestion. We only have:

    CY - 11
    Pierpont - 14 + 6
    Ercole - 8
    A. Sforza - 4
    etc. ...

    Thats mind, we dont have any reference of 22 triumphs previous to the Steele sermon. These are not opinions. These are facts. We cant say the tarot was born with 22 trionfi. Without documents, we not made history, but science fiction.

    3. Of course, I yet read all the post of Ross in tarot history. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes not.

    4. "That means it is BASED ON the existence of the standard deck!"

    In Italy in the fifteenth century, the word "standard" NOT exists." Only if we understand this, we understand the rich iconographic and symbolic of the old tarot. Each deck is different. We can not compare the mentality of the Medici, with the Este, with the Visconti-Sforza. That is simplify the problem.

    5. I posted some comments on TarotL back in 2004 and 2005.

    Sorry, I cant read it. Im not registered in Yahoo.

    6. and a big reason why the so-called Tarot "history" forums are misleading.

    : )

    That is an opinion. Not a fact. The ancient Greeks believed in the dialectic method as system for intellectual development. But to work it, we need enjoy the diferent views. I find the difference of opinions stimulating, you, maybe, irritating... Well, it's a matter of personal taste ... I love the forum of tarot history ; ).


  12. Hi, Marcos,

    You say you "can't" read posts on TarotL. The truth is that you choose not to even look at arguments you which don't support your preferred viewpoint.

    Given the speed of your reply, you have also, quite obviously, ignored Ross' posts, and probably not even reviewed them.

    You seem to think yourself a philosopher, and speak of dialectic, but you have not bothered to consider the opposing arguments regarding your preferred conclusions.

    If you were honestly interested in the subject, then you would be responding, in detail, to those posts of Ross', on Aeclectic and the Tarot History Forum. Instead you ignore those many hours of research and analysis posted by Ross and myself over a period of years, and continue to repeat the bullshit you copied from Huck.

    Because you are clearly not interested in the subject, not sufficiently interested to even consider Ross' posts, you will no longer post here.

    Thanks for the visit.

    Best regards,