Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Fool and Giotto's "Folly"

     In the 14th century, Renaissance artists were painting religious scenes influenced by the dogma of the church. It seems that vestiges of their visual images began to appear in early Tarot decks, at least in underlying meaning if not in exact replication. The power of the intended meaning may be hidden in the early Tarot Major Arcana cards such as the Visconti-Sforza deck of the 1400's. In turn, these original paintings may have been the source for later illustrations in early decks, including the Rider-Waite deck of 1910, by A.E. Waite, and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith.
     Italian artist, Giotto ((1267-1337) painted monochromatic frescoes of "The Seven Virtues and The Seven Vices" along the lower walls of the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy, which are still there today. The Fool is seen here described as "Folly."  It's apparent some of Giotto's figures may include thinly disguised stories of the martyrdom of the saints. Fools, foolishness and folly are mentioned many times in various biblical verses, making depicting this kind of character an easy target for humorous portrayal. It is quite likely that Giotto's paintings of the Seven Virtues and Vices, and paintings like these by other artists of the period, were the basis for the designs of early Tarot cards. .
     Giotto's fool, "stultitia" has feathers attached to his head (making fun of a crown) and he has ragged clothes with bells tied around his waist. He may be wearing a peacock's tail and there appears to be a kind of forked stick placed around his mouth, which may represent a type of divination, or of speaking with a forked tongue.