In 2002 I had the great pleasure of visiting the Camera di San Paolo in Parma,
I also had the good fortune to be armed with a copy, albeit it Xeroxed, of Erwin Panofsky’s work on the Camera. of Corregio.
Structure of Camera.
Now we know, that the methodology that Panofsky follows in his analysis and treatment of the iconology of the Camera, is in essence, that of the greater technique developed by the various scholars of the Warburg Institute in London, and published in their learned Journal, from the first volume in 1931 up to the present.
We could also include in this survey, the work on the Palazzo Schifanoia by Abby Warburg, and more recently, Kristen Lippencourt, also ongoing. From this point we could include all the great astrological frescoes of the Renaissance, and ask ourselves, if an interrogation of their iconological programmes would have any bearing on the emergence of the Tarot.
Firstly, we have to be clear, that though there is some dispute as to the exact date of the emergence of the Tarot, no one is in doubt as to its full blown externalisation, some time during the 1400’s. I am being purposefully vague, because the fine tuning is available in the excellent research being conducted at present, in various online Forums, and over the past decades, such as the work of Michael Dummett. What I am saying, is that there was not a fully externalised Tarot in the 13th century, or the 12th or the 11th etc.
Now to return to Panofsky, and the Camera de San Paolo, as my chosen example, we find that Panofsky rigorously explores the possible sources of the 16 emblematic pictures of the Camera. His conclusions are very interesting, to say the least. For example, some of the images we find in the Renaissance, are inherited from classical mythology, usually Greek, reformulated by Rome. Renaissance Humanists, were as we know, deeply interested in antiquarian studies, and there was a growth industry in collecting classical artefacts, be they coins, sculptures, and so on.
One such area of renewed interested in classical culture comes to us in the unexpected form of the grotesques, which we have inherited in a decorative transmission. During the 1490’s artists lowered themselves in wicker baskets, into the then subterranean vaults of the Domus Aurea of Nero. We know who they were from the graffiti they left behind. Very rapidly, the style of the grotesque, spread like wildfire. But, it was not only the decorative qualities of this florid Roman style that caught the attention of artists and connoisseurs of the antique. If we look at the Francesco di Hollania paintings made from the Domus Aurea, now in the Escorial, we find certain esoteric content as well. There are Dionysian themes, and at least one image of an initiation of some form.
87. Mystery scene.
From the House of Nero.
87. Painting from the Neronian Domus Aurea, from a copy by Francisco de Hollanda, in the Escurial codex 28, I, 20 fol. I3V and fol. 14. See Fr. Weege: Das goldene Haus des Nero, Jahrb. deutsch. Archaol. Instit. 28, 1913, p. 179 et seq., plate 9b; Rizzo: Dionysos Mystes fig. 10. Nilsson: Dion. Myster., p. 85, fig. 16.
— A young initiate, veiled, below a cradle with the phallus; a female figure rising from the earth, with a basket. This detail (for which cf. no. 86) suggests a mixture of Demetriac and Dionysiac ritual.