Essays of Andrea Vitali:

Card 21: The World


The World card in Visconti Sforza Tarot (figure 1 ) shows Celestial Jerusalem put inside a circle held on by two angels. This representation is conformed to the explanation about this Triumph given by the author of "Sermones de Ludo", or "The World that is God Father". In Christian mysticism the square corresponds to earthly world and to what is material, and the circle symbolizes divinity since it has not beginning nor end. In medieval Aristotelic cosmologic vision the image of a circle with concentric progressive circles inside represents the divine creation. There are many examples about that. We can see the "Prima Causa" in so said Mantegna Tarot (figure 2) . In the Romanesque church of Saint Clement at Tahull, in Catalonia, a fresco shows the Creator's hand that, starting from the centre of the circle, passes through the external circles in a transcendental way and so creating the tangible universe.
In Ercole I d'Este Tarot (figure 3) as in Dick Tarot card (figure 4) and Rosewald Tarot card an angel hangs over a circle where it is represented a landscape as a symbol of the tangible world that God holds inside.
In Charles VI (figure 5) and Alessandro Sforza Tarot (figure 6) a woman holding in her hand the sceptre and the golden globe, symbols of command, hangs over the world image contained in a circle. It is the illustration if Glory or Fame shown in accordance with iconographic canons of that age.
To represent a personage over a circle symbolizing earth, as an attribute of authority or protection was a recurring methodology during the Renaissance. We can sees about it the Florentine school image of Saint Augustine as he appears in a xylography dated 1460/1470 that is now in the Classense Library in Ravenna (figure 7) .
In the anonymous Parisian Tarot card dated XVII century there is the Goddess Fortune in her dominating position (Imperatrix Mundi) and she's standing naked on the globe of deciding its destiny (figure 8) . A sword hammered in the Earth symbolizes the negative side of the goddess, who brings misfortune as well.
The object represents the same symbol of the sword we can see in Final Judgement Christ images. In these images nude Christ under a large cloak sits on a rainbow with his feet on the earthly globe in the same way as Glory was represented as we saw before. The sword he holds in his mouth symbolize the negative aspect in connected to His Judgment.
About this we can see the Final Judgement represented in the 485 -IV code, c. 32r, at the Classense Library in Ravenna ant the Judgment image in the "Liber Chronicarum" of 1493 in which Christ is represented with lilies spreading out ho right ear (that means Grace and Acceptance) while the sword appears in his left ear (figure 9) .
In an Italian Tarot of the XVI century, whose cards are few and they're now at the Castello Sforzesco Museum in Milan (figure 10), the World card we can see the iconographic variation that then will become stable in Marseille Tarot (figure 11) : a young girl is portrayed inside a almond, surrounded by animal figures symbols of the four Evangelists (Tetramorfo). It is the "Anima Mundi" (Soul of the World), yet represented in the image of a woman in the Latin manuscript "Clavis Physicae" compounded by Onorio of Autun in the XII century, which is now at the BibliotŔque Nationale in Paris. This complex of drawings and plans represents "one of the most perfect expression of the imaginative activity of men during the XII century and at the same time the most faithful translation of the representation of the world connected to the Platonic system, or in Platonic way, as interpreted by Greeks and their apostle of the IX century, Giovanni Scoto" (M. Ch. D'Alverny "Le Cosmos symbolique du XII siecle", in "Archives d'histoire doctrinale et litteraire du Moyen Age", XX, 1953).
Anima Mundi, in this manuscript, is represented by a young girl with two medals on the two sides of her head and these medals have the images of the Sun and the Moon portrayed as a man and a woman holding a torch. The girl hold in her arms a little flag on which it is written: "Vegetabilis in arboribus, sensibilis in pecoribus, rationabilis in homibus" (Vegetable in trees, sensible in animals, rational in human beings).
At four sides there are medals, each of them supported by three hands, representing the four elements. Qualities of each element are written on each medal. At the woman's feet an inscription reminds the three faculties that Plato gives to men: "Rationabilitas, Concupiscibilitas et Irascibilitas" (Reasoning, desire and rage).
Abelardo will see in Holy Ghost the World Soul, the Anima Mundi which the monks of Chartres talk about as well. Guglielmo of Conches, annotating Timeo (34 c-35 c) affirms that the soul of the world is a spirit or a natural force concerning with things, giving them movement and life. It is totally and integrally in everything, but its power acts in many different ways. It is in the middle of the Universe and gives movement to Stars, vegetation to trees and plants, sensibility to animals, reason to men. Anima Mundi as it is represented in the World card now at the Sforzesco Museum, is in the middle of a almond, ad it appears in many representations of the Virgin in Glory (figure 12) - Pinturicchio "The Virgin in Glory between Saint Gregory and Saint Benendetto", San Gimignano, Civic Museum) and of the Pantokrator Christ (figure 13) - Master from Siena, XIII century "Cristo Pantokrator", Picture Gallery of Siena).
The almond is the symbol of interiority hidden by outward appearance, therefore containing the mystery of interior lightening. The image of the Christ inside the almond means that His divine nature was hidden inside His human nature.
In the World card we talked about before, there are the four Evangelists portrayed as animals (Tetramorfo), on the four sides of the almond and they are in the same way as John described them in the Apocalypse and as they are in Pantokrator Christ's visions.
Francesco Piscina wrote in 1565 a famous essay called "Discorso sopra l'ordine delle figure de Tarocchi" (Speech about images order in Tarot cards). About this card he writes "Hora la figura del mondo in mezo questi quattro Santi Evangelisti l'Autore ha posto, per insegnarci che il mondo non pu˛ star senza religione, i precetti della quale hanno scritto questi Santissimi Evangelisti, essendo ella il principal fondamento della quiete e conservatione de stati e della felicitÓ de popoli, e senza la quale - si come gia habbiamo in molti luoghi accennato - noi non potremmo salvar l'anima nostra, nata solo per servir al Grandissimo Signore Dio Nostro" (Therefore the author has put the world image between these four Saint Evangelists to teach us that the world can't live without religion of which these Saint Evangelists have written the precepts, for the religion is the most important basis of peace and keeping happiness in people, and without it we couldn't save our soul, who's borne just to serve our Lord and God) (p. 22).
Anima Mundi image came to Christianity from ancient religions. Isis was believed to be the World Soul by Macrobio (Saturnali, I, c. 20 -21), while Apuleio makes Isis talk in these terms: "I am nature everything mother, owner of the elements, beginning of ages, queen of Mani Gods, the first of celestial creatures, uniform face of Gods and Goddesses" (Metamorfosi 11, 4).
Also Venus was sometimes portrayed as World Soul, as love Goddess. Van Rijmberg in his 1947 work called "Le Tarot. Histoire, Iconographie, Esoterisme" quotes a Florentine motherhood dish of the XV century which is now at the Louvre Museum, representing the Triumph of Venus ( page. 186, 1981 ed.).
The Goddess is represented completely bare in a sky inside an almond and under her on earth there are men. The artist has outlined the men look all towards the goddess sex (figure 14). In this sense an image quoted by Cartari shows us nude Apollo, as a representation of Anima Mundi, in the same way we talked about the Sun card.
In the alchemic text "Quinta Essentia" of 1574 by Leonhard Turneyesser Zum Thum, a bare woman stays in the middle of numerous progressive bigger almonds totally surrounded by rays she emanates. It is "Anima Mercurij", alchemic representation of "Quinta Essentia" o "Anima Mundi" for the alchemists symbol of the Done Work (figure 15) .