- 1 History and Iconography
- 2 Suggested Divinatory Meanings
- 3 Attributions
- 4 In other languages
History and Iconography
The World trump presents a great variety of iconographical solutions.
In many of the World cards, some kind of sphere (or circle) is present. Such object can obviously be thought to represent Earth, but in some cases (e.g. Bodet) the sphere represents the sky: in this case, the World seems to identify the whole Universe. In Italian, the word "Mondo" can actually mean "the Universe" as well as "the World."
In most of the World cards, a single human character dominates the card. When a sphere is present, the character usually stands on the sphere, as to signify triumph over the World. The triumphing character can be interpreted as an allegory of an abstract principle ruling over the world. Allegorical characters standing over the world, or keeping a foot over the world, are common in ancient collections of emblems, such as Cesare Ripa Iconologia or Minerva Britanna. In world cards, the variety of the characters triumphing over the world is great: there are both male and female characters, naked or dressed in harmour. Identifying them is often very difficult or impossible.
There also are exceptions to the presence of a single human character. E.g. in Cary-Yale_Visconti_Tarot there is a woman in the upper part of the card and a landscape with a knight below her (no sphere is present in this case). The Visconti-Sforza_Tarot deck features two angels holding the sphere of the World.
This pattern in which a human figure is associated to a depiction of the world is similar to the idea of Microcosmus, i.e. the correspondence of the inner structure of the human being to the outer structure of the Universe. This concept is explained by some verses in the Minerva Britanna, a collection of emblems published in 1612:
Hear what's the reason why a man we call
A little world and what the wiser meant
By this new name: two lights Celestial
Are in his head, as in the Element.
Just as the wearied Sun at night is spent,
So seems but the life of man a day,
At morn he's born, at night he flies away.
Of heat and cold as is the Air composed,
So likewise man we see breath's wet and cold,
His body's earthy: in his lungs enclosed,
Remains the Air: his brain does moisture hold,
His heart and liver, to the heat enfold:
Of Earth, Fire, Water, Man thus framed is,
Of Elements the threefold Qualities.
When the sphere of the world is not represented
We also have World cards with no circle at all, such as the Rider Waite Smith World card. This has been the most common pattern for many centuries, for instance it is present in Grimaud Ancien Tarot de Marseille and Jacques Vieville Tarot. Actually, versions of this pattern appear quite early, e.g. in one of the engraved cards found in the Visconti Castle in Milan (Kaplan II, 293).
The figure in the middle of the card sometimes is haloed (Vieville) and can be identified as Jesus Christ. The Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis (c.1470) refers to the World as "El mondo (cioe Dio Padre)" (The world i.e. father God), so it seems that this card as always been related to God. Such figure is always naked or almost naked. On the other end, the sex of the character can be both male of female: in many cases the sex of the figure cannot be exactly defined because the quality of the wood engravings is exremely poor.
The single figure in the cards with no sphere is surrounded by an oval vegetal frame. This oval frame leaves some room in the corners. This space is filled by a Tetramorph: the symbols of the four evangelists. Kaplan suggests that this four symbols could correspond to the four elements. Interestingly, the four elements appear in the sphere of the Bologna World cards.
St Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century CE) may have been the first to link images from the four living creatures (of Revelation, harking back to Ezekiel, of course) to the four Evangelists (in Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. XI:8):
For, [as the Scripture] says, "The first living creature was like a lion," symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but "the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,"-an evident description of His advent as a human being; "the fourth was like a flying eagle," pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which Christ Jesus is seated.
Transition from the XV Century pattern to the TdM pattern
It seems that the human figure that originally was on top of the card moved to the center of the wreath that originally sourrounded the World. The symbols of the four elements that were inside the wreath were moved to the corners of the cards, in order to make room for the human figure. They were replaced with the common Tetramorph, usually associated to the symbols of the four Evangelists: a typical exegesis of the four living creatures connects the tetramorph to the four elements via their astrological correlations to the four fixed signs of the zodiac:
- Fire / Lion (Leo)
- Water / Eagle (Scorpio)
- Air / Man (Aquarius)
- Earth / Ox (Taurus)
Jean Seznec ("The Survival of the Ancient Gods") presents a table with correspodences between the four elements, the four fixed signs and the four seasons. The source is pagan (Antiochus of Athens, II Century AD), so the symbols of the four evangelists are not present in that list.
The image compares two World cards:
- Left: World from the deck at L'Ecole National supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (Bologna, XVI Century)
- Right: World from the Vieville deck (XVII Century, 1650 ca)
Blue indicates the position of the main figure. Green the wreath that originally was circular and in the Vieville becomes oval. Yellow the four symbols of the elements (that were replaced by the symbols of the evangelists).
Identification of the main character
The structure of the cards in which no sphere is present (i.e. the World cards in the TdM pattern) is ancient. The use of an oval frame to surround a standing human figure can already be found in Roman art. An early example (II Century CE?) is the [Phanes relief] in the Estense Museum, Modena, Italy. The oval frame leads to the problem of filling the corners of the rectangular area in which an image is normally inscribed. The four corners are filled with smaller, complementary images.
The oval frame may have points like an almond ("mandorla" in Italian) or be round as an egg. The frame can be made of leaves like a wreath, of two crossing rainbows, or of anything else such as angels (like in the Perugino painting) or the zodiac (like in the Phanes relief). In Christian art, the four figures in the corners usually are cherubs or the tetramorph representing the symbols of the four Evangelists.
Since this structure is very common in christian art, it is difficult not to identify the main subject with a christian subject (Christ, God or Mary). Still there never is a perferct matching between the image of the card and the christian theme. The best match is the "Jesus Christ" on the Vieville card, who however is beardless and completely naked (but at least has an halo).
Here is a list of possible interpretations for the main character of the World card in a few decks:
- Atlas: Tarocchino di Mitelli
- Angels: can be seen both standing / sitting on the sphere or under it sustaining it
- Mercury/Hermes: in the cards from Bologna, the figure as a winged helmet, winget boots and holds a caduceus
- Jesus Christ: Vieville
- Fame: in the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot card, the crowned figure seems to hold a trumpet
- Fortune: the Charles VI World card seems to fit with the Carmina Burana definition of "Fortuna Imperatix Mundi" (Fortune Empress of the World)
|Cary-Yale_Visconti_Tarot (15th Century)||
|Charles VI (15th Century)||
|Visconti-Sforza_Tarot (15th Century)||
| Uncut sheet Bibliothéque de L'Ecole National
supérieure des Beaux-Arts late 15th Century (Kaplan I, 128)
|Jacques Vieville Tarot (17th Century)||
|Tarocchino di Mitelli (1625)||
|Bodet (18th Century)||
|Waite-Smith Tarot (1910)||
[The Bible of Notger] An article by Eguchi Koretaka describing an ancient object which presents analogies to the World card.
Suggested Divinatory Meanings
These are not accepted outside of those who follow such attributions
Golden Dawn oriented (and derivatives)
Numeral : XXI; 21
In other languages
- Dutch: Wereld
- French: Le Monde
- German: Die Welt
- Hungarian: Világ
- Italian: Il Mondo
- Portuguese: O Mundo
- Spanish: El Mundo