|Name :||Jean Noblet Tarot|
|Author :||Jean Noblet / Jean Claude Flornoy|
|Publisher :||letarot.com Editions|
|Tradition :||Tarot of Marseille type I|
|Packaging :||Soft cardboard box / 10 x 6.4 x 4 cm|
|Deck :||78 cards / matte, satin cards / 9.8 cm x 6.1 cm|
|Handbook :||Leaftlet of 68 pages in B&W|
|Reverse side :||Yes, the backs of the cards are reversible.|
|Switch of 8/11 :||No|
|Universe :||Medieval / Renaissance|
|Use :||Prediction , Personal development|
The game box is made of soft cardboard, in which the 78 cards and the booklet are stored. RWS readers, who are used to solid boxes and large packaging, may be surprised with this tarot deck and consider it a rather low-end product. But it should be noted that Anglo-Saxon publishing companies and even the big French publishers have their products printed in China. Personally, I don't support it because of the carbon impact. Then, even if the packaging of Anglo-Saxon games is successful and beautiful, it happens that the quality of the cards themselves is bad. In short, the publishers take care of the packaging but not the cards, it is a questionable practice.
Here, the game is "made in France" with letarot.com editions. Although the packaging is flexible, the cards have a matte coating on a thick cardboard. This printing quality is not the norm for Anglo-Saxon "mass-market" tarot cards. The delicacy and fragility of the cards are even usual at the big publishers Lo Scarabeo and US Games.
The cards of the deck are small, even for the standard size of a Tarot de Marseille which is 12x6 cm. Usually we love this size of cards or on the contrary not at all. I really like it, because its size reminds us that the tarot is originally a deck of playing cards and therefore it fits in the hand. The deck fits in a small satchel and is easily transportable.
Jean Noblet is the master cardmaker who printed and sold this tarot, it is even possible that he himself is the engraver. Indeed no name of the engraver appears on the cards. In the past, the engraver making the molds used to leave his name on the Ace of Cups.
Jean Noblet's Tarot was engraved in 1650. Only one original copy remains in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (link to the gallery). This copy is not complete because pipe cards 6 to 10 of Swords are missing. Jean-Claude Flornoy has reconstructed these cards to produce a complete tarot of 78 cards.
Jean-Claude Flornoy (1950 - 2011) was passionate about the historical Tarot de Marseille, he is known for his work as a cardmaker and reconstitution of old decks. After studying philosophy and psychology, he became a potter-ceramist for 15 years. Then he devotes about twenty years to the study and restoration of the tarots of the French tradition (known as tarots de Marseille). Using the original decks preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris or at the British Museum in London (for the Dodal), he restored the tarots of Jean Noblet (Paris, circa 1650) - the subject of this review -, of Jean Dodal (Lyon, 1701) and the Major Arcana of Jacques Viéville (Paris, circa 1650). You can buy these tarot cards on the official website of the publishing house letarot.com.
I salute his work because it allows you to practice divination with historical games that look new and neat (digitally printed) much more enjoyable than the original version (stencilled cards). Of course, I like the charm, texture and imperfection of the handmade, stencil-painted cards. But for tarot reading, it's easier to focus on clean, crisp images.
The booklet has a summary content, written entirely in French. A short introduction summarizes the history of the Tarot de Marseille as well as the specificities of the Tarot de Noblet. This deck is the oldest Tarot de Marseille deck that has been found and preserved. This story allows us to understand how lucky we are that this tarot has come down to us. This original work, through Flornoy's restoration, greatly deserves a thorough study.
This is followed by a brief interpretation of the colors. The meanings are unusual but interesting because they are taken from the tradition of the Compagnons du Devoir (ancient guild of craftsmen). After the 22 cards of the Major Arcana are explained on an initiatory level, which is not or not very useful for divination. The Minor Arcana is explained in only two small pages. All the texts are taken from the book by the same author : The Pilgrimage of the Bateleurs. This book is not intended for learning the divinatory tarot. The book speaks more about the author's philosophical reflections about tarot and how it accompanied and nourished his life. Finally, it presents in a few paragraphs the French cross spread (5 cards) with the 22 cards of the Major Arcana.
The author has a very personal opinion of the practice. Indeed, he formally advises against drawings for oneself and for parents, because the emotions disturb the interpretation. For my part, I think that nothing is impossible. Any tarologist can learn to put his emotions into perspective and not to switch to the emotional and attachment during a consultation for himself, his loved ones, or others. And if the tarologist feels too emotionally involved, he can of course decide to turn to a colleague.
Obviously, Jean Claude Flornoy followed the ancient traditions of fortune-telling. He used only the 22 cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot de Marseille, for a practice that was probably predictive and divinatory. But he cannot be blamed for that. At the time of his death, "psychological tarot" was just beginning to emerge in the practice of fortune-telling.
When you first take a historical French tarot in your hands, you may be surprised by the incorrect spelling of the card names. At the time, illiteracy was widespread, and even the standardization of French spelling was still in its infancy. The Académie française, the institution responsible for defining the French language, was founded in 1635.
However with the Noblet, there are few mistakes, if any, because I think that the spellings used were probably accepted at the time. Besides, the tarot of Jean Dodal (from 1701, 51 years later) contains many errors.
Personally, I find no error in the Major Arcana, we have L EMPERATRISE (instead of L'IMPERATRICE) and L ESTOILLE (instead of L'ETOILE) and a use of V instead of U and I instead of J, with for example THE FOV or THE IVGEMENT. Only one real fault is to be noted with the KING OF COVPPES with 2 "p" in the Minor Arcana. Moreover, there is only one numbering error in the whole game, on the 6 of Cups (where the VI and IV appear). Again, next to this, the Dodal tarot has many more errors on the numbers. I'm talking about the spelling to make it clear that a tarot so well written for the time is a real achievement and shows that Jean Noblet (or his engraver !?) was really a scholar, a wise man. And so we have interest to study closely the specificities of his tarot.
A remarkable aspect in the names of the cards is the frequent use of the letter L, probably in reference to the master's square. Thus we read LL BATELEVR (L instead of E), LA ROUE DE EORTUNE (E instead of F), LEMPERANCE (L instead of T). I think that these errors are voluntary, and denote a message like "Let those who have ears hear me! That is to say: "if you see and recognize my voluntary errors, then you will understand that I have a message to give you".
On the Major Arcana, we can observe some very interesting details that make this game unique :
The tarot of Jean Noblet is the oldest Tarot de Marseille. Even if his Major Arcana does not yet respect the whole canonical form, all the trumps are present and in the right order. The differences with the standard are mentioned above. We do not know if Noblet (or its engraver) was inspired by other tarots, that is to say if there have been predecessors that respect the Marseilles standard. It is possible but unlikely. We know the Tarot Anonyme de Paris of 1615 and the Tarot de Jacques Vieiville of 1650, these 2 tarots have very different forms.
I personally think that this Tarot is indeed the first Tarot de Marseille to have seen the light of day. The engraving technique is fine and perfectly mastered compared to the other Tarots of the same period (Anonyme de Paris and Vieiville) where the lines of the drawings are coarser. The spelling and the numbering have very few errors. Finally, the tarot is subversive and demonstrates the intelligence and wisdom of the engraver in the message he conveys to us. In this, the Tarot de Noblet is extremely valuable to us for study.
LE FOU has clearly the buttocks in the air (pink color) and shows us his genitals. This is the only historical tarot where LE FOU is seen like this. The author wanted to let us know that the character leads an unbridled life, without barriers, where we take the pleasure and time to live right now. In addition, the creature chasing him seems to have webbed legs (it is debatable, it is true) to evoke an aquatic creature. One can wonder if it is indeed the intention of the engraver or only an engraving technique. What is certain, however, is the blue color of the creature. The message seems quite clear and coherent, and then it means that the FOU is running away from all emotion and affect.
The head on the pommel can send us back to the very head of the FOU which seems disconnected from the rest of the body because of the stick that bars the card. The figure does not seem to have his head on his shoulders, as he is driven by his primary instincts (visible genitals). His head would rather be on the pommel of his pilgrim's staff, indicating that LE FOU is looking for his way, his path.
LE BATELEUR obviously holds an acorn (and not a coin as we will see in later tarot cards) between his fingers, which means that he has strength and wisdom in his hands (the oak tree is a symbol of strength, longevity, but also of wisdom and authority). The dice on the table speak of course of the chance of fate, the hazards of life. At the time of departure and beginning, no one can know what will really happen on the way. Finally, the most emblematic aspect is obviously the finger of honor transformed into a penis. Specialists thought that Noblet was giving the French authorities a finger of honor here. Indeed, the activity of the master cardmakers has been shaken by numerous tax laws, from the tax exemption of certain cities such as Avignon (a city that was the seat of Christianity before Rome) to the destruction of all the old molds within the corporation during a tax reform introducing a new tax. For my part, I think that this is not the case. I think Noblet (or his engraver) meant that the path the character is about to take is a game. That these cards, although they carry a pedagogical or spiritual teaching, remain only a game. The penis shows well the dimension of pleasure (not only sexual) which must motivate the individual. Life is made of joy and pleasure, and should not be taken seriously. This is the message of LE BATELEUR at the very beginning of the path, which must remain in us, even during the most obscure trials.
In the Marseille standard, the angel in the sky of L'AMOUREUX is not blindfolded. However this angel is a representation of Cupid, son of the goddess Venus and the god Mars. He is himself the god of Love, assimilated to the god Eros (his Greek equivalent). Cupid is armed with a bow, a quiver filled with arrows. Sometimes he is blind or blindfolded, these are classic representations of the angel. Indeed we often say that Love makes blind or that Love sees no defect in what is loved ? In the Middle Ages, Cupid could be seen as a deceptive, fickle god, manipulating lovers.
And it is probably in this sense that in the first representations of the Tarot de Marseille, Cupid is blindfolded to show his facetious and changing personality. It is only from the 18th century, that a less negative meaning was given to the card of L'AMOUREUX by sanitizing the figure of Cupid by removing his blindfold.
For my part, I prefer Cupid with his blindfold on. It reminds us that the heart has its reasons that reason ignores, but above all that the heart can be blind too. Armed with this warning message, the reader must consciously decide his path.
JUSTICE that cheats by pressing one of the arms of the scales to make it tip is rich in lessons. We can naturally think that Justice is impartial, balanced, just and fair. But we all know that Life is unjust, that chance (or in other words fate) favors one over the other. Each individual speaks and acts according to his personal interests. The JUSTICE of the first Tarot cards of Marseilles almost admits to us that Justice does not exist because it is not fair ! However, as for L'AMOUREUX, at the beginning of the 18th century the card will be made less subversive, and since the plates of the scales are perfectly balanced in the canonical form. Only the sword remained very slightly tilted.
As for L'AMOUREUX, I like the version of the first tarot cards. JUSTICE by its simple presence in the 22 trumps of the Major Arcana reminds us that it is a necessary virtue to learn and apply on the initiatory path; and what is more, we always harvest what we sow. But because its balance is unbalanced, it brings us back to the reality of our existences: the justice of men is imperfect.
What is this animal that the woman is restraining ? Doubt is permitted. The FORCE has had two appearances during the long evolution of the tarot. The older representation shows a woman breaking a column, and the other representation shows a woman holding a lion. Note that the Visconti-Sforza tarot shows a variation with a man beating a lion with his stick.
Here we could see a lion naturally. But we can also see a bear. The animal has a thick fur and its coat is yellow like that of the lion. However, its mouth is quite round as well as its ears. Its possible mane is not really marked. Moreover, the lion on LE MONDE card is represented with shaggy hair on its head as mane, which is not the case here.
If the animal were a bear, the meaning would remain the same, because the bear is a wild animal that stands little or no. It is a real danger to humans. However, the bear is an animal from our region and is more familiar to us than the lion. The bear hibernates in caves, it is an "earthy" animal and in this way its symbolism differs from the lion which is undoubtedly associated with the element Fire. If this animal is indeed a bear, Noblet wished to tell us that we should master more the EARTH in us rather than the FIRE, that is to say master more our vitality, our sexuality or libido, our instinct (the Earth) rather than our desires, our ambitions (the Fire). This interpretation being relative to the vision that we have each of the 4 elements.
In the early tarot cards, LE PENDU was provided with attributes that later disappeared. Historically LE PENDU had a tongue and curious hands. Since the Madenié tarot in 1709, LE PENDU holds his mouth closed and his hands are invisible in his back.
I prefer the version where LE PENDU is sticking his tongue out. Indeed, this flippancy shows that he assumes his situation, that he is even voluntary and does not suffer anything that happens to him. His strange hands on his shoulders could be wings, as if he were floating in the air, thus conferring a lightness to the character, or even a celestial or divine nature. Noblet no doubt meant that despite the coercion, the limits that are imposed on us (voluntarily or not), they are opportunities to look at our situation with another look (upside down), to recognize the nature and cause of these bonds that constrain us.
The card still has the name LA MORT for the very last time in the evolution of the Tarot of Marseille. Usually the skeleton is turned to the right. One can conclude that the character is turned towards his future, that this card does not speak of a regression, a failure, but of a transcendental step forward. Noblet has rightly turned LA MORT to the left, telling us that it is the past that must be mowed down, that the old bonds must be cut. A true subtlety: the two severed heads on the ground look to the right (which was not retained in the Marseilles standard) meaning that when the links have finally been cut, we can turn to the right, to our future.
In the Marseille canon, the jet of flames descends from the sun and hits the top of the tower. In the Noblet tarot, the jet of flames rises towards the sky to reach the sun. This is a fundamental difference.
Again, I prefer the Noblet version, with the flames rising. LA MAISON DIEU is the card of revelation, of awareness. The individual is represented by the tower. The crenellations drawing a royal crown, represents the ego. This card therefore tells us about a person whose ego (his vision, his ambition) suddenly tilts and falls to the ground. A brief and sudden event happens, striking like thunder strikes powerfully on the ground, destabilizing the individual who questions his beliefs and prejudices. The jet of flames rising from the tower does not refer to a fatality, a destiny, a divine manifestation (which tends to mean a descending lightning bolt). Noblet tells us that it is the perception of the individual, the understanding he has of the event, that strikes him down, making him break, and forcing him to abandon his ego. Forgetting his prejudices, the individual puts a new look and an unexpected lucidity on his life and the situation of the moment. It is thus this light which finally springs from his mind that this ascending jet evokes. It is indeed his feeling and his reaction to the event that brings the questioning. The crisis comes from the inside, not the outside.
The theme of love is very present at Noblet. Certainly it is revealed in all aspects, including sexual (LE FOU, LE BATELEUR), but also in deeper aspects in L'ETOILE et LE SOLEIL. Here on this card, it is remarkable that the woman has a very particular corpulence. Indeed, she has a flat belly, giving her a rather thin silhouette. And at the same time, the size of her back is imposing and gives her more the corpulence of a man. It is true that in the canonized form, the woman is pregnant or in the flesh. But here the technique of the engraver is such that his intention to endow the woman with two sizes is to be seriously considered. I think that the author wanted to say through this card, that humanism and human progress (main theme of L'ETOILE) take all their meaning when the feminine and the masculine meet and become one. The woman pours the contents of two jars (and not one) that come together and merge into a single source. There are therefore two aspects to be married. Noblet seems to specify which by the hermaphroditic nature of the woman.
The Noblet tarot is the only historical tarot showing a man and a woman. The woman is naked while the man appears partially clothed. At the time the representation of this card was far from being fixed, because the Tarot Anonyme de Paris shows a woman in front of a hairy humanoid (a man?) presenting her with a mirror. Vieiville prefers a naked man riding a horse, brandishing a banner. Afterwards, Dodal and the following ones will adopt the classic image of the two naked children.
I like Noblet's version because it tells us that the imminent self-realization (because follows LE JUGEMENT and LE MONDE) passes by the union and harmony of the masculine and feminine. This meaning takes all its importance thanks to the caring gestures of the two characters. This deep meaning will be lost later on with THE SUN displaying the two children. This ultimate version with the two children still offers an interesting interpretation of the innocence and freshness to be deployed to achieve the realization. The two children tell us that we must stand naked in front of the other to find ourselves. But personally the union of the feminine and the masculine seems even more important to me.
I appreciate in this version, to see a bull and not a horse representing the Earth element. The symbolism of this animal corresponds better to the aspects of the Earth. Moreover the bull is also the zodiac sign of the Earth element as a fixed sign. I also like that the bull is also haloed in all its glory. In the canonical form the horse (instead of the bull) is usually not haloed unlike the lion, the bird and the angel, without in my opinion there is a valid reason, however esoteric it may be.
The Tarot of Noblet is a precious deck in the history of the Tarot de Marseille, because it is the oldest tarot that has been preserved, moreover it has originalities that make it a game to be studied absolutely. Its subversive aspect (the genitals of LE FOU, the finger of honor of LE BATELEUR, etc.) can please or not, in any case, this game does not leave indifferent.
I particularly like this tarot (and the one from Dodal which I make the review here). When I draw cards with a Tarot de Marseille, I prefer to read with this one rather than with a modern tarot like the Camoin-Jodorowsky (my review ici) or the Fournier (my review ici). I use this game because it describes a path of the soul that comes from an understanding of Life filled with wisdom and humanism.
The reader accustomed to the Tarot of Marseille will find the first origins of the tarot thanks to this deck. He will realize that the Tarot of Marseille in its canonical form is the result of a long evolution of which the Noblet is a major step. The form of the Noblet is incomplete compared to the standard, but it integrates particularities that deserve our attention. I strongly advise the study of this game allowing a real questioning on the meanings of the cards of the Major Arcana. This deck is an unavoidable reference concerning the Tarot of Marseille.
The beginner practitioner (in the Marseille tradition) will have to get used to the very medieval imagery of the game, especially if he first learned Rider-Waite-Smith. But he has everything to gain by spending time with the Noblet to the detriment of other more modern Marseille decks. The effort will be rewarded by a thorough understanding of the initiatory message of the tarot.
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