The company of the Hanged Man

It is widely accepted that Tarot cards developed in Italy in the 15th century. They sprang out of the playing card tradition and the first engraved images, known as the Tarocci, were initially attributed to the Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna.

However, the artists of these first tarot are unknown, and following their first appearance, further artists quickly began to create new versions of this appealing game. Tarot imagery was a reflection of human experience, or a journey of the soul, and it is not until the 18th century that the cards became the tools for fortune-telling and occultism.

Included within the deck are the Major Arcana or trump cards, and these picture cards are the recognisable archetypes. After tarots became standardised, these 22 cards were numbered, so that number 12 becomes the Hanged Man. This is not an auspicious card to draw, for he represents betrayal and is a symbol for the traitor. He is depicted hanging by one foot from the gallows, as traitors in Renaissance Italy were likewise branded. This shady character, and his companion, have now infiltrated into the Baillieu Library Print Collection. More

Image: Pierre-Antoine Keusters, The Hanged Man (Le Pendu), c.1768. Baillieu Library Print Collection, University of Melbourne