Charlemagne, crowned emperor in 800, is often depicted as a powerful and majestic sovereign. In medieval illustrations, he is frequently clad in armor or a royal cloak, wearing a crown and holding a scepter, symbolizing his power and authority over the kingdom of the Franks and the Carolingian Empire. These attributes reinforce his image as protector of Christianity and defender of order. The representation of a seated sovereign is a universal symbol of stability, power and control over his territory. When his legs are crossed, this can evoke a relaxed position of authority, showing that he is both in control and comfortable in his role.
The Emperor card in the Tarot de Marseille shows a mature man, seated on a throne, holding a scepter. He is dressed in armor, suggesting that he is ready to defend what he owns. His throne is often adorned with ram's head symbols, representing energy and initiative. The Emperor's upright, imposing posture evokes stability, structure and foundation. His crown and scepter are symbols of power and authority.
Both Charlemagne and the Tarot de Marseille Emperor card embody authority, leadership and protection. Charlemagne, as a historic ruler, played a crucial role in the consolidation of Western Europe and the defense of Christianity. In a similar way, the Emperor card in the Tarot symbolizes structure, discipline and foundation. Both figures are pillars of stability and strength. However, while Charlemagne is a historical figure with concrete achievements, the Tarot Emperor is an archetype, representing universal qualities and ideals of leadership and authority.
Like the Empress, the Emperor has been present from the earliest versions of the tarot, in a very classical representation and in his definitive position #4.
Only the master craftsman of the Tarot de Paris allows himself a variation by depicting the Emperor standing (as he did for the Empress). Above all, it's a question of representing the figure in a classical manner, as was done in antiquity. That said, he is depicted here in full armor, even if it appears to be ceremonial. The engraver seems to have wanted to portray a conquering warrior rather than a managerial politician. It's true that empire-building has always involved multiple conquests and annexations.
Jean Noblet shows the Emperor with a shield (like the Empress), prompting the same question as for the Empress : is Jean Noblet the first engraver to have depicted the Empress and Emperor with this attribute ? With his worn coat of arms and the hand holding his belt, the Emperor of the Tarot de Marseille emphasizes the accumulation of experience and the lessons and skills we draw from it to consolidate our power..
The Emperor of the Tarot de Marseille, with his coat of arms resting at his feet and not clad in armor, is more associated with a father or father figure, emphasizing his protective, benevolent aspect.
The emperor is also wearing a helmet rather than a hat, even though he is not wearing armor. The headgear extends exaggeratedly down the back, suggesting a particular intention on the part of the engraver. It is quite possible that Jean Noblet wanted to signify the emperor's fragility or weakness, unable to see the blows coming from behind. This vision can be likened to the expression "Achilles' heel" from Greek mythology.
Finally, of all the Tarots de Marseille, Jean Noblet's is the only one in which the Emperor is turned to the right. Thereafter, they will all be turned to the left.
Jeand Dodal's version features two atypical details. The first is the number 4 engraved in front of the Emperor's face. This symbol, which may evoke the shape of a square (that of the builder), could simply be a reminder that Jean Dodal was initiated by a master. Jean Noblet did the same, writing "LL BATELEUR" instead of "LE BATELEUR". This desire on the part of Dodal and Noblet to show their membership of the master craftsman guild illustrates the importance of companionship at the time. Much more than a relationship between master and apprentice, compagnonnage had its own traditions, codes and rituals, and formed a true community. More than just passing on know-how, masters also passed on a philosophy, a way of being. The Tarot de Marseille represents the quintessence of this.
The second detail is undoubtedly the Emperor's goose-head necklace. Its interpretation is not so obvious. The goose head could have several symbolic interpretations. In some cultures, the goose is considered a symbol of vigilance and protection. It could also represent loyalty or travel, as geese migrate over long distances, remaining loyal to their flock. However, it is quite possible that Dodal wanted to make a link with the game of goose. It is considered the prototype of many commercial racing board games of later centuries in Europe. It became very popular in the 16th century. The game is mainly played in Europe and is considered family entertainment. The game is an allegory of the path of life, with its achievements and successes. It is possible that Dodal wanted to tell card players that the series of 22 triumphs was to be viewed as a true spiritual journey.
The card places greater emphasis on leadership, authority and mastery of the material elements. In this version, the Emperor also sits on a throne, but the throne is adorned with rams' heads, symbolizing energy and initiative. The Emperor himself wears a crown and armor, and holds a scepter and globe, symbolizing his power over the material world. Behind him are mountains, representing stability and permanence. The predominantly red color of his attire symbolizes energy, passion and power.
Bruno De Nys presents an interesting emperor, towering over what could be the Chinese Wall. Naturally, this imposing construction is a reminder of the character's capacity for enterprise and material success. This immense enclosure can also be seen as a limit for the character, a framework that he cannot exceed. This is a convincing representation of one of the paradoxical aspects of this card.
I don't like the throne with the dog-headed armrest, probably inspired by the ram heads on the same Rider-Waite-Smith tarot card. I imagine that Bruno de Nys wanted to emphasize the dog's symbol of loyalty and fidelity, rather than the ram's energy and initiative. But is an emperor or even a sovereign really faithful and loyal ? His vassals, no doubt, but the suzerain himself ? A curious point of view for the cardmaker. Similarly, the coat of arms is shown here intact, whereas the worn, holed appearance of historical tarots is so meaningful, it's a shame to have abandoned this idea.
I like the roots that go deep into the ground, a sign of the Emperor's anchorage in materiality. I like less the bare branches, as if identical to the roots, rising in the same way into the sky. The Emperor is not a celestial man; he pursues no spiritual ideals, only material expansion.
I also like the shoots emerging from the ground. They illustrate how the Emperor spreads his vitality, provides providence and protects his people. This symbol is ambiguous, however, as it could also perfectly evoke the emergence of the Empress's abundant life.
The tiny owl in its hole is interesting, because it could be the Emperor who sits in his tree, his world. He's so small in the card, he could be a reminder that however great the Emperor's glory, he's still a man, fragile and mortal.
The presence of the sun on the horizon behind the tree is strange. Is it rising or setting ? In any case, the Emperor represents a man at the height of his glory, and it would have been better if the sun were in the sky. Other tarot cards may better evoke birth or death.
The cat's collar is highly evocative of the Emperor's limits, as he is restrained and cannot step outside the boundaries he has set for himself or society.
I don't know if Napoleon is really perceived as a positive figure abroad. Even in France, the man isn't that glorified. If you ask a Frenchman to name a battle from Napoleon's reign, or even a famous battle, chances are he'll cite the Battle of Waterloo, which was Napoleon Bonaparte's final defeat. And yet the fine strategist won many battles and pulled off many brilliant blows to conquer Europe. In France, we even have the expression "c'est la Bérézina" ("it's the Berezina"), used to signify a total rout, a disaster or a catastrophic situation. It derives from the Battle of Berezina, which took place during the Russian campaign.
In this card, I especially like the light bulb shining on the man who appears to be marble. The figure is partly frozen, sclerotic, even cracked. Beneath the glory of the suit, and the aura of the medal worn proudly, lies a man immobilized by a straitjacket. His convictions, his self-esteem, his vanity crack his being and prevent him from evolving and transcending himself.
I love this cube that the man raises at arm's length, as a sign of his victory, and which at the same time seems to be a prison for him.
Now, it's true that an emperor is an imposing figure who normally reflects not only social success, but also an accumulation of power and wealth. However, in the context of the Fool's Journey, the Emperor is only in 4th position, with a long way to go to reach the 22nd position on the World card. The Emperor remains a solitary figure, and has yet to experience "The Lovers" stage. The monarch is still in survival mode, he hasn't opened up to the world. Even if he has finally made his mark, he remains in his own bubble. Prosperity, even material prosperity, only comes with the Chariot card, where the prince sets out to conquer the world after discovering it with "The Lovers". And he'll finally harvest what he's sown, just after, with the Justice card.
The Emperor has mastered his craft, but all he does is reproduce what works, without evolving or progressing. All he does is succeed and flourish in the place he's been given, no more, no less. The Emperor is not a visionary, has no greatness, just masters and applies standards. In my opinion, true prosperity comes when you go beyond your limits, when you go further than others, further than the norm. So full abundance will begin with the Chariot and materialize with Justice.
|Right direction (Positive)
|Solidity, realism, organization, concentration, protection, tradition, habit, command, law, rule, framework, security, control
|Reverse direction (Negative)
|authority, slowness, routine, maladjustment, paternalism, abuse of power, stagnation, conformism
|Right direction (Positive)
|Organized, Producer, Pragmatic, Voluntary, Responsible, Mature
|Reverse direction (Negative)
|Disorganized, Rigid, Intransigent, Intolerant, Touchy, Proud
|Trust yourself. Be logical. Apply the rules. Results come with hard work. Order sparingly. Follow the adage: an iron hand in a velvet glove.
|Solid, lasting relationship. A feeling that develops over the long term. Reassuring and protective agreement (too much?). Possessive partner
|Job search success. Project success. Position of responsibility. Paternalistic atmosphere. Rigid hierarchy
|Significant long-term benefits. Results that match the investment. Guarantee or surety from family and friends. Investment blocked or not matured
|Family / Friendships
|Growing relationship. Strong atmosphere or (excessive?) paternal authority. Factual or standardized exchanges. Routine family life. Family straitjacket
|Stable, balanced life. Good living. Overeating. Need to return to reality. Desire to procreate. Weary daily life
|Divination / Prediction
|A father. A mature man. A Cartesian and competent man. A man of power. A boss
|A company. An association. The army. A public or state establishment. A place of power
|A business meeting. A political rally. An election. During a project or mission
|By doing what you've learned. Applying the rules. Taking the lead. Motivating and leading the team
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