Tarocchino Arlecchino: The Virtues

Evening falls and the Chariot pulls up to a moss-covered hall. Hop down from your seat, look back up and your driver has disappeared – how strange! Nothing to do but pass through the monumental blackened wood door, behind which lights flicker. Entering the hall, you see a gathering of charming virtuous ladies. That is, you suppose it’s a gathering, and that they are ladies. You can’t seem to see more than one at the same time.

Both the Bolognese tarot and Etteilla’s reunited the scattered Virtues in sequence, where they come to greet us. All the Sisters wear black and white. On a metaphorical level, you could say it symbolizes morality. On a practical level, it allowed me to blur parts of their bodies in keeping with the subtle weirdness of the printed-and-stenciled original.

First we approach demure Temperance where she sits mixing her jugs of… let’s say it’s wine. The etiquette of fairy feasts demands that we steer clear of such questions. See how lightly she holds each vase? I’m sure she learned that in finishing school.

Temperance from Tarocchino Arlecchino.

Temperance is especial friend to priests, the chaste, and those who lead rituals of sacrifice. But, she is also felt in music and in the air.


Upright: temperance, moderation, discretion, continence, abstinence, patience, calm, sobriety, frugality, chastity, softening, restraint, accommodation, regard, consideration, mending, reconciliation, mediation, musical tempering, air temperature, climate

Reversed: priest, minister, performer of sacrifices, priesthood, clergy, church, council, synod, religion, sect

Turn around and – oh! Sister Justice offers a more alarming aspect, with her gleaming sanguine sword. Her scales swing1 from the globe cupped in her heavy hand.

Justice from Tarocchino Arlecchino

Justice has an eye for jurists and lawyers, but her decisions can bind all, in peace and in war. She seems absorbed in her weighing, so let’s take this opportunity to slip away from her line of sight to another corner.


Upright: justice, equity, probity, uprightness, right, rectitude, reason, tribunal, execution

Reversed: jurist, legislation, legislator, law, decree, code, order, statutes, precepts, commandment, domination, institution, constitution, temperament, disposition, natural laws, moral laws, religious laws, civil laws, political laws, natural right, human rights, public right, civil rights, right of war

By this stocky pillar we find Fortitude (or Force), holding her blazing baton. A fabulous accessory – a lady after Arlecchino’s own heart! Her winged helmet and breastplate armor give her a martial aspect, belied by the dress that swallows her feet as she rests and waits.

Fortitude or Strength from Tarocchino Arlecchino

Fortitude takes an interest in the powerful and influential.


Upright: fortitude, advantage by strength, moral strength, greatness of soul, magnanimity, heroism, courage, perseverance, constancy, ability, power, empire, ascending, work of the spirit or moral, patience, resignation, domination

Reversed: sovereign, kingdom, empire, republic, state, government, administration, reign, despotism, sovereignty, authority, leadership, supreme power, absolute power, arbitrary power, people, nation, king, emperor, general, commander, captain, chief superior, governor, authoritarian, driving force, regulator, guardian, protector

Now we’ve met the lovely Patronesses of the Tarot. But, there in the fourth corner of the room, we turn to see another sister. She is not often invited out to these kinds of parties, you know. Is it her penchant for serpents that keeps her off the guest list?

Prudence rules over the People. Her advice is simple, for any walk of life – know yourself, and look out where you step.


Upright: prudence, wisdom, reserve, circumspection, restraint, discernment, foresight, forecast, intuition, prediction, prognosis, divination, prophecy, horoscope

Reversed: the people, nation, sovereign, body politic, population, generation

As with pretty much every other tarot, Prudence is absent from the Bolognese deck.2 But, encouraged by the Etteilla trumps, I could not resist adding her in to complete the set of Cardinal Virtues. I built her after elements of the existing three, with her classical attributes of mirror and snake. For better or worse I will not print her card,3 but I very much wanted her for this little soiree. I hope you have enjoyed it.

I was listening continually to Moonspell’s insane double-album Alpha Noir/Omega White while drawing the Virtues. This energy helped shape them: the maniacal bestial side of Arlecchino, the antediluvian scale of the colossal Virtues. I do usually have background music while drawing but this was different, almost foundational to their DNA.


*All keywords translated, as usual, from Julia Orsini, Le grand Etteilla, ou, l’art de tirer les cartes.

1In contrast to many Marseille type decks, there’s no whispering of foul play with this Justice’s scales – they hang freely in the air.

2Arguing about Prudence’s supposed presence seems to be a sore spot but also kind of a meme?

3With the two Significators appended to the Tarocchino we’re at the nice round number of 64 cards. Perhaps I will go crazy and come up with enough extra cards to add with Prudence into another good number for printing. Or maybe I will do something really terrible in the manner of Etteilla and replace the Hanged Man with Prudence. But I think either route would make this deck even more niche than it needs to be. We will see when we get there, won’t we?

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