A Major Arcana at Barga

A fascinating exhibition of paintings by ever-innovative artist, photographer and Barga News supremo Keane, celebrating his thirty-first year as an essential component of the Barga social landscape, opened last Saturday. Based on the Marseilles Tarot the paintings grace the new bistro at the Locanda restaurant in Barga Vecchia.

The opening was enhanced by a rinfresco and a jazz trio

Tarot cards may mean for most of us some form of divination, like the I-Ching or the ancient Roman manner of examining sacrificial entrails. In Italy, however, tarocchi (tarot cards) have meant a card game popular since early renaissance times. It was only at the end of the eighteenth century that tarot cards became associated with foresight.

Specifically, the Tarot is a deck of playing cards, usually consisting of seventy eight cards used for trick-like games (bridge and whist are included in this type of card game) dating back to the mid-fifteenth century and perhaps originating in Ferrara, Bologna or Milan. This type of pack spread to various parts of Europe reaching the height of popularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The standard fifty-two card pack then overtook them in general use, although today Tarot-pack based games have returned with some popularity.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Tarot -pack became associated with the Kabbalah and other mystical traditions. The development of these theories was initiated by the French freemason Antoine Court de Gébelin. In the mid-nineteenth century the occultist Eliphas Levi developed the cards’ mystical aspect. By the early twentieth century the esoteric significance of tarot were pursued by the French occultist Papus (pseudonym of Gérard Encausse) and Oswald Wirth in a series of important publications. Later the French Tarot School began to be ousted by the English School born within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

A typical tarot deck consists of a pack of cards plus an additional twenty-one, which in Italian are called ‘trionfi’ (triumphs), and a single card known as the Fool, making a total of seventy-eight cards. The traditional card deck is divided into four suits (Italian or French) of fourteen cards each from Ace to Ten plus four figure cards also known as “honour” or “court” cards. These are the King, Queen, Knight and Knave. The trumps are usually illustrated with human figures and mythological animals and numbered from 1 to 21, usually in Roman numerals. The Triumphs and the Fool are known as the Major Arcana and the other cards are called the Minor Arcana.

There are many differently designed tarot card packs. Some years ago Sandra and I started to collect them but we never got to the end! Here is some of our collection:

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Originally, tarot cards were hand-painted and there is an exquisite set from the Estensi court of which we have reproductions and also one from Milan’s Visconti court.

With the invention of printing, however, the cards were able to be mass-produced and their popularity spread well beyond the aristocratic courts to taverns and inns.

The most usual Tarot card design is the one from Marseilles. Here the triumphs are as follows:

. Le Bateleur (The Mountebank, The Juggler, The Magician)

II. La Papesse (The Papess, or The Female Pope)
III. L’Impératrice (The Empress)
IV. L’Empereur (The Emperor)
V. Le Pape (The Pope, or The Hierophant)
VI. L’Amoureux (The Lovers)
VII. Le Chariot (The Chariot)
VIII. La Justice (Justice)
IX. L’Hermite (The Hermit)
X. La Roue de Fortune (The Wheel of Fortune)
XI. La Force (Strength, or Fortitude)

XII. Le Pendu (The Hanged Man)
XIII. [usually left unnamed, but “called” L’Arcane sans nom, La Mort, or Death]
XIV. Tempérance (Temperance)
XV. Le Diable (The Devil)
XVI. La Maison Dieu (The House of God, or The Tower)
XVII. L’Étoile (The Star)
XVIII. La Lune (The Moon)
XIX. Le Soleil (The Sun)
XX. Le Jugement (Judgement)
XXI. Le Monde (The World)
no number. Le Mat (The Fool)

Two forces have combined in the creation of the Barga Locanda exhibition. The male force is represented by Keane who has taken the Marseilles pack, as restored by Camoin and Jodorowsky. The female power is that of Paola Marchi, already well-known for her ‘brut’ paintings.

Paola has brilliantly interpreted the pack at http://www.barganews.com/2016/01/25/paola-marchi-reads-the-keane-tarot-paintings/ and her interpretations add resonance to Keane’s paintings and truly embellish Barga’s tarot bistro. Keane has not slavishly copied the Marseilles tarot in large format but has cropped some of the cards to produce startling effects.

The narrow corridor leading to the intimacy of the bistro is already influenced by aspects of the Major Arcana and the bistro itself is permeated by the subtle power of the Tarot.

One wonders whether the divinatory power of these cards will guide further dual forces to find themselves and whether the right choices will be made by them. Only time and this marvellous recreation of the Tarot by Keane and Marchi will tell…


PS The trick card origin of the Tarot is evidenced in the Italian word ‘taroccato’ which derives from ’tarocco’. Beware of taroccati goods sold to you because they are false! Similarly, life is full of tricky situations which a reading of the Tarot cards by a qualified diviner can help avoid.

2 thoughts on “A Major Arcana at Barga

  1. From Keane: great article Francis – thank you. You absolutely nailed the fact that it was a joint venture coming in from two different sides — one male the other female

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