Andrea Vitali's Essays

The Traitor

Hanging by one foot

 

Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012


THE IMAGE OF THE HANGED MAN ON A MAIOLICA XV CENTURY PLATE AT CIVIC MUSEUM OF FANO

(Figura 1 - Traditure, maiolica plate, XV Century - Civic Museum, Fano)

The majority of the documents about the order of Triumphs (Tarots) in the XVIth century refer to the Hanged Man card as "Traditore" (Traitor) or "Lo impichato" (Anonymous: Sermone de Ludo), "Appiccato" (Teofilo Folengo: Chaos del Triperuno) and l’ "Impiccato" (Francesco Piscina: Discorso perché fosse trovato il gioco; Tommaso Garzoni: La piazza universale).

The following authors use the words "Il Traditore" (The Traitor) or simply "Traditore" (Traitor).

Pietro Aretino, Pasquinata per l’elezione di Adriano VI, 1521 e “Le carte parlanti”, 1543
Troilo Pomeran, Triomphi composti sopra li Terrocchi in Laude delle famose Gentil donne di Vinegia, 1534
Anonimous,  Motti alla signore di Pavia sotto il titolo dei Tarocchi, 1525-1540
Flavio Alberto Lollio,  Invettiva contra il giuoco del tarocco, c.1550
Francesco Piscina da Carmagnola,  Discorso sopra l’ordine delle figure de tarocchi, 1565
Anonymous,  Triumphi de Tarocchi appropriati, c. 1530-1560
Anonymous, Discorso perché fosse trovato il gioco…, c. 1570

Paolo Giovio, in his Pasquinate Collection of 1550, reports a Gioco di Tarocchi fatto in Conclave (Game of Tarot in the Conclaves) where this figure is defined as Judas, obviously to indicate the traitor par excellence, as we can see from the Visconti Cards in the Yale University Library. Here the Hope card, apparently unusual in a pack of tarots (see below), is represented by a kneeling woman in the act of praying. Her hands grasp two ropes, one tied to an anchor, the other around the neck of an old man lying on the ground, whose white robe bears the words Juda traditor (Judas traitor).

In the Gioco de tarochi fatto in Conclavi, the pack of cards is shuffled by Cardinal Farnese who distributes a card to each of the cardinals attending. The Judas card falls to the cardinal of Pisa, considered a traitor.

The manuscript Diary of Iacopo Rainieri, which tells us about the events which took place in Bologna between 1535 and 1549, has this to say about the penalty for traitors: “Adi 21 detto fu atachati su li cantoni de la piaza uno foglio de carta nel quale li era depinto cesaro di dulcini e Vicenzo de fardin ditto il Vignola li quali erano apichati per uno piedo per tradittori de la patria li quali avevano portato în la città di Trento il mestiero del fillatoglio de lavorare la seda et aveano taglia drieto che li amazava guadagnava ducati 100 e chi li deva vivi ducati 200. Notta che il ditto Cesaro Dolsino feva l’arte dela seda et Vicenzo feva l’arte del ligname zioe faceva li filatogli” (On the 21st, a sheet of paper was put up on the corners of the square, with a drawing of Cesaro di Dulcini and of Vicenzo De Fardin, known as the Vignola. They were shown strung up by one foot, as traitors to their homeland, since they had brought the art of silk spinning to Trento, and a price of 100 ducats had been put on their head for killing them, and 200 for capturing them alive. It was mentioned that Cesaro Dolsino worked with silk, while Vicenzo was a carpenter who made the spinning frames)  (1).

In Sigismondo Fanti’s Triompho di Fortuna (Triumph of Fortune) we find another significant example. Question XLVII is an attempt to answer “Quel cha l’huomo, o alla donna per li loro ma pensieri averra” (What will happen to a man, or a woman, because of their evil thoughts), and is illustrated by three figures: the first shows a convict climbing the steps of a gallows, the second a man hung by one foot, while the third shows what is left of a man condemned to such a penalty. A head, an arm and a leg are hanging from the rope. Fanti explicates  the question thus: “Nella presente domanda, l’Auttore tratta di coloro che sono oppressi da molti e scelerati pensieri, e spetialmente di quelli che pensano operarli contra de loro maggiori, notificando, che ogni tristo lor disegno andera fallato, e che da cieli sarano ridotti a pessimo e disperato fine. Onde il Fanti essorta tutti i potentati a doversi da questi tali per ogni modo guardare”. (In this question, the Author deals with those who are oppressed by many evil thoughts, and especially those who think of using them against their superiors, and warns them that every wilful design of theirs will fail, and that they will be brought to a bad and desperate end. Therefore Fanti warns all powerful men to beware of such people in every way). On folio LXIIv. of the responses, the Cumean Sybil has this to say in the quatrain XVI, illustrated by the same figure of a man hung by one foot: “Se inhumano serai, o traditore / A Signori, o parenti in fatto o in detto / Senza cagion privo d’ogni rispetto / Te veggio in aer terminar tue ore” (If you be inhuman, or traitor / to Lords, or relatives who are such in fact or in word / if you be without justiification, deprived of all respect / I see you finishing your days n the air').

Muzio Sforza Attendolo seems to have been sentenced to the same torment by Antipope John XXIII who in 1412 denounced him as a traitor for his alliance with his enemy, the king of Naples Ladislao. In his Annali d’Italia (Annals of Italy), Muratori wrote that the Pope felt so offended that he had him painted hanged by the right foot, under a sign in which he was found guilty of twelve betrayals. We receive more detailed information from the chronicles of the time: “Per ordine del Signor nostro Papa fu dipinto su tutti i ponti e su tutte le porte di Roma, sospeso pel piede destro alla forca, quale traditore della Santa Madre Chiesa, Sforza Attendolo e teneva una zappa nella mano destra, e nella mano sinistra una scritta che diceva così: Io sono Sforza vilano de la Cotignola, traditore, che XII tradimenti ho facti alla Chiesa contro lo mio honore, promissioni, capitoli, pacti aio rocti” (By order of our Lord Pope is to be depicted on all the bridges and on all the gates of Rome, suspended by the right foot from a gallows, as a traitor to the Holy Mother Church, Sforza Attendolo, holding a hoe in his right hand (2) and in his left hand a sign saying: I am Sforza peasant of Cotignola, traitor, who twelve times have betrayed the Church against my honor: promises, compacts, agreements have I broken" [aio rocti = ho io rotti]) (3).

This case is important for the number of things he was blamed for, corresponding with the Traitor of tarot cards. Whoever initiated this action knew that people would immediately connect that number to something known, so we must ask whether the XII besides indicating the twelfth apostle, Judas, also reflected the image of the Hanged Man already present in the tarot cards. If this were the case, immediate recognition would have been much easier.

From these and other documents (4) we are aware that the penalty for traitors in the Middle Ages consisted precisely in being hung on one foot. “A man turned upside down, that is man who has lost his standing position, has lost everything which symbolises an upward thrust, a thrust towards the sky, towards the spiritual, he no longer rises up the axis mundi towards the celestial pole and towards God; on the contrary, he plunges into the animal world and the dark netherworld” (5).

It is now 21 years since 1987, when I drew attention to the Hell fresco (1410) by Giovanni da Modena at the Bolognini Chapel in Saint Petronius in Bologna, showing what idolaters (that is, traitors to the God) were sentenced to; it is the same figure as the Hanged Man found in the tarot card. 


(Figure 2 - Giovanni da Modena, Idolaters, detail of the fresco "Hell", 1410, Bolognini Chapel, Saint Petronius, Bologna)

Amidst sharp, cutting and massive rocky shards, the damned are shown as they undergo punishment, with their faults written on small flags, on the stones and above the line of the horizon. On this tar-coloured horizon, the only forms of vegetable life are skeleton-like trunks and branches, on which the damned are pierced or hanged. Among these, two men are strung from a foot to the branches of the same tree. We see one from the front, the other from the back. Their heads are above the other damned, two groups of three people steeped in water up to their chests, who are looking at the hanging figures above them.

The caption identifying their sin starts on the left of the hanging figure whose back we see, and ends on the right of the second hanging figure: ido/latria (ido/latry). Between the heads of these idolaters, above the people steeped in the water, are the words ninusrex (King Ninus). The reference is to the ultimate idolater, King Ninus, the founder of Niniveh, the town where idolatrous rites were performed more than anywhere else.

When painting this fresco, in order to invent and describe certain punishments, Giovanni da Modena certainly drew inspiration from previous models. The “Maestro Bolognese” of the Brussels initials, when depicting Hell in the Book of Hours of Charles the Noble, and in the Book of Hours currently in the Bodleian Library of Oxford, seems to have referred to the same models too. The Maestro in fact shows a similar scene: a hanged man above a cistern, which contains several people, including King Ninus with a crown on his head. The scene refers to the Biblical description of the destruction of Nineveh by God (Nahum 2,9): “But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee away”.

Giovanni da Modena did not explicitly represent King Ninus, and he used the stones as a natural cistern in which to place the idolaters. The term idolatry comes from the Greek eidôlatres, made up of eidôl-on = image and latrês = servant. The imagery is based on a law of retaliation: idolaters, who worship images of false gods, are forced to observe the image of their own fault through eternity, represented by the condition of the penalty. The two hanged men had to be represented, one from the back and the other from the front, so the vision of their fault, and hence of the suffering caused by the punishment, could be complete (6).


FANO PLATE


While the concept hanged man = traitor and its iconography is now consolidated, not only does the Fano plate provide further proof of what is  expressed here, but the inscription that identifies the crime of which he is guilty makes this the only existing example of profane art where guilt = torture is explicitly defined. And if the figure of this traitor in the Bolognini Chapel, refers to the iconographic Tarot of Marseilles, with the leg folded to form a perfect cross, the shape of the legs in the Hanged Man plate of Fano is exactly the same as that in the paper Tarot Visconti Sforza (fifteenth century).

(Figura 3 -The Hanged Man, Visconti-Sforza Tarot, XV century)

INDEX CARD ON THE PLATE

FROM MAIOLIKA – Kèramus
Ceramic restored by the Civic Museum
from  the XIV to  the XVII  century

I Quaderni del Museo (Notes of the Museum)
No 01 - 2008
Rivista del Museo Civico di Fano (Magazine of the Civic Museum of Fano)

Plate
h  cm.4,3
Ø cm. 25,8
Pesaro / Fano [ ? ]
End of  XVth century

The plate, fragmented and partly incomplete, has a wide setting decorated with a flowered branch achieved in monochrome blue. At regular intervals, between the sinewy spirals there are small flowers with a central button in orange. At the centre of the plate, stands the figure of a  hanging man, his foot held by a rope and a scroll with an inscription that runs along the top of the cable. The few remaining legible words on the scroll are “TRADITURE (?) NO TE C[...]”. It has only been thanks to the latest survey conducted on the materials stored in warehouses, that it has been possible to reconstruct the fragment at the centre of the dish that is characterized by having a curvilinear fracture line. It is likely, as suggested by the restorer, that the central part is detached due to the fact that the bottom of the plate is irregular and protruding by a few millimetres beyond the line of support of the foot ring, In fact the object was designed to be hung and not to be placed flat, as can be seen from the crude suspension at the base. So the misuse of the plate is responsible for the rupture, causing a fracture to the circular pattern along the outer perimeter of the cable.
Restored: Andrea Pierleoni, Urbino 2007

Associazione Le Tarot wishes to express special thanks to Dr. Raffaella Pozzi, Director of the Museum and Art Gallery of Fano Malatestian Palace for authorization to publish the photo of the plate and to Dr. Patrizia Mignani Giovanelli, Art Historian at the Museum and Art Gallery for her exquisite courtesy and availability.

Notes


1 - f. 40 recto - March 12, 1532.
-  For information on the significance of "peasant" and the hoe, see the essay Ruzante the Peasant.
3 - Diario Romano by Antonio di Pietro, Anno Domini 1412, in Ludovico Antonio Muratori “Rerum Italicarum Scriptores”, Tomo XXIV, Milano, Ex Tip. Societatis Palatinae,  1738, col. 1031-1032.Also, but not complete, in  Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Annali d’Italia [Annals of Italy], Milano, 1744, Anno, 1412, p. 62. [The translation here of the sign is that of Mandell Creighton in A History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation (London, 1882), pp. 243-244, as cited by Ross Caldwell at:
http://forum.tarothistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=605#p8812].
4 - See the essay A Gang of Traitors
- G. de Champeaux - S. Stercks, Simboli del Medioevo - Symbols of Middle Age - Milan, 1981.
6 - For a more complete analysis read the iconological essay The Hanged Man


 Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  - © All rights reserved 2009