Tarocchino Arlecchino: The Popes

The two popes are removed from the Etteilla trumps (replaced with the Significators). Likewise, they do not appear in the modern Bolognese cards, transformed along with the Emperor and Empress into a quartet of Moors. But they were there once! And I am a completionist. So here, I made one of each of their costumes for Arlecchino.

Their originals are below. Despite my initial plans to skip them, I enjoyed them a lot. Their imagery is quite different than the typical (read: Marseille) tarot. The Female Pope has a hand raised in benediction and holds the keys of Saint Peter rather than her book. It is the Male Pope who hides a book beneath his cloak, his hands in his lap displaying the stigmata. Their hands appeared very large to me, which I exaggerated in my own versions because I liked the effect. I also like the upside-down heart shape of the Male Pope.

I’ve been kind of nominally retaining colors in my drawings. But the one thing I could not abide was blue shoes on the Pope! I gave him the traditional red papal shoes. I think Harlequin playing dress up would not miss a chance with such iconic garments.

The Pope's red papal shoes, with golden crosses on the top.

While this is not the first deck I’ve illustrated, it’s my first chance for really classic Popes. In Clown Town I replaced these cards with Mad Maudlin and Mad Tom, while in Anecdotes they were made over as a pearl diver and Astrology. They were right for the themes, but I missed the chance to draw the more traditional ornate papal garments so I’m going all out here.

In my version, I also gave the Male Pope a Petrine cross on his clasp. This is partly another instance of upping the pope content. But I also like it in this particular costume context. The story goes that Peter was crucified upside down so as to not rip off Jesus’ signature. A purposely imperfect imitation. And thus are these Popes.

The Pope's clasp, showing an upside down cross.

Speaking of imitation, this is the reversed meaning I chose for the Female Pope. While everyone is free to choose their own origin stories for the trumps, I’ve always been partial to the Female Pope as Pope Joan. From a patriarchal perspective, the apocryphal Joan is a nefarious criminal, and justly punished for such evil application of her feminine wiles. But from a more humane view, her story is thrilling and tragic at the end when her disguise is uncovered.

She wears conflicting patterns of diamonds and stripes, and hides beneath a more sober black and white cloak. Yet she still has a more outgoing demeanor than the other Pope, reaching out with her right hand.

The Female pope has two fingers on her right hand raised, the sign of benediction.

The keywords are adapted, with more “artistic license” than usual, from Julia Orsini. These are some of the keywords given to the Female Querent (No. 8) and the Male Querent (No. 1), with my own edits and additions.


Upright: rest, tranquility, retirement, private life, secret life, solitary life, life of a hermit, religious life, silence, taciturnity

Reversed: imitation, disguise, impersonation, veil, mask, pseudonym, camouflage, illusion


Upright: God, all-powerful, eternal, unique, the spirit of God, thought, meditation, contemplation, reflection

Reversed: philosopher, philosophical, philosophize, sage, wisdom, knowledge, tradition

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