Powers and Patterns

Powers and Patterns: poems from the Tarocchi de Mantegna is a volume from Stewart Warren linking poetry with tarot history. The book has full-colour illustrations of the 50 cards in the 15th century Mantegna deck accompanying the poems.

By Stewart S. Warren · Book - 128 pages · Published by Mercury HeartLink

Review by Simon Wintle

“A Humanist World View” by Simon Wintle

The so-called “Tarocchi di Mantegna” is a set of 50 copper-engraved emblematical images (c.1465) which were probably a social pastime, or an instructional or educational series designed to awaken spiritual enquiry. It is not clear whether they were produced by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1503), however, the subjects of the set are mentioned by Giorgio Vasari who writes in his Lives about Mantegna that he created copper prints of trionfi—another name for the tarot Trumps.

There are no suits and the images are numbered consecutively from 1 to 50, divided into the following groups: Society; Apollo and the Nine Muses; the Arts and the Sciences; the Seven Virtues and Sun, Time and the World; the Planets and the Spheres. Thus we have a system of divine activities and functions reflecting an ideological structure and a social hierarchy within it.

Different versions and copies of the engravings by different artists reveal some differences of detail, suggesting that the ideas were open to interpretation. Stewart Warren’s poems included in this volume open the mind to the unseen realms.

Of the known examples none were made into a pack of playing cards, but were printed onto thin paper as black and white outlines. However, woodcut copies of these engraved images occur in later educational or didactic books.

Undoubtedly they represent a humanist world view of the day; the outward design and hierarchical structure, beginning with the fool and leading up via craftsmen to the aristocracy, the king and the pope, through the muses, virtues and planets to the Cosmic Principles, reflects an androcratic, neo-platonic ideology. Each figure is classified by name and a number.

Maybe the tarot trumps were merely an alternative or condensed version of these images, which most educated people would recognise, added to a pack of cards for the purpose of making a new card game? But on the other hand, perhaps the mystery is in the silence behind the thoughts.

© Simon Wintle, The World of Playing Cards.

Through his insightful and masterfully crafted poetry, Stewart S. Warren has truly brought to life the Tarocchi de Mantegna, an Italian 15th century set of cards depicting the archetypal aspects of the human psychological condition. The beautiful engravings portray their general meaning but Stewart’s words touch our hearts and imbue each archetype, from the Fool to the King and the Beggar to the nine Goddess Muses, with unique voices. Truly an awakening and meaningful journey through the heart of a wisdom poet’s muse.

© Ariadne Green, author of Divine Complement and Jesus Mary Joseph

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