The Dodal tarot: the mysteries of a mythical deck!

The Dodal tarot rarely leaves anyone indifferent. Its primitive design makes it one of the oldest tarot cards to be preserved in its entirety. The mention P. LETRANGE (Franc pour l'étranger) testifies that it was published after 1701. This year sees the appearance of a heavy tax on the sales of playing cards, except for the games intended for export. The publisher signs on the 2 of coin On the 2 of cut several mentions are mixed with the graphics:



the base of the cup is signed : IEAN DODAL

The research in the acts mentions Jean Dodal, active carter in Lyon from 1701 to 1715.

However, no birth, marriage, child sponsorship or death certificates confirm the existence of this character in the city.


Is Dodal an invention of any piece? A collective stratagem to avoid the tax?  A confidential association of one or two cartiers to really export this tarot?  Did the Dodal molds (the wood engraved with the cards' design) generally passed down from father to son already exist before the tax? Or what craftsman would have drawn images in an antique and medieval style in the early 18th century and what would have been his inspiration?


And if we approach these mysteries through iconography!


A look back at the history of art from the 10th to the 15th century


Au Xe et XIe l’enluminure des manuscrits religieux se développe. A partir du XIIIe de nouveaux ouvrages voient le jour, il s?agit d?essais et de traductions de textes issus de la mythologie de la Grèce Antique. Ainsi une nouvelle pensée se propage : l’Homme, son âme, son corps, et ses passions forment un “Tout” harmonieux et indissociable animé par une cause noble : la Vie.


The classical (ancient) vision is completely opposed to traditional morality.

The traditionnal middle age moral sets a separation of the impure body and the divine soul. Their coexistence reduces Life to a never ending conflict in onself between good and evil.

The two currents of thought collide. From their meeting, a renewed artistic current will be born: the art of the manuscript, still rigid and moralizing evolves towards an iconography rich of passion, movement and space: the art of the Renaissance.


During this period, the subjects of woodcuts also evolved towards classical thinking. It was then that playing cards became popular in Europe. Often banned by law, the card game medium was a perfect opportunity for artists and engravers to create a new motif. They subtly integrated humanist philosophy into the rigid iconography of the Middle Ages: they gave birth to the Tarot! Its traditional graphics won the trust of religious figures and monarchs, while the images conveyed modern thoughts to all populations, even the illiterate.


What a card trick!



Proposal on the dating of the iconographic style of the Dodal Tarot


The graphic style recalls the illustrations of the manuscripts of the eleventh century by the shape of the clothes, the layout and the level of detail.

On the other hand the tarot 'integrates classical elements (the chariot, Apollo, Cupid etc.) and 'emotional expressions on the faces of the characters. This shows that the author, even in a popular environment, was inspired by ancient thought.


Chronologically, we observe these facts:


– L”ouvrage Mythographus III est paru en 1217 : mythologie antique traduite dans son essence


– “les triomphes” poème de Pétrarque paru en 1374 : l’exemple d’un artiste qui s’approprient le nouveau courant de pensée

- First mention of playing cards 1377, in an edict mentioning their prohibition)


- First tarot cards found in Italy: 1462 made to order for families open to humanist classicism.


It seems consistent that the style of the engraving of the Dodal Tarot dates from the end of the fifteenth or sixteenth century, a period of artistic transition.

En Effet l’art au XVIIe a largement dépassé l’iconographie du Tarot. Les artistes se consacrent désormais a observer et restituer la nature, les proportions et les formes avec le plus de réalisme possible. IL est clair que tous les tarots au motif appelé “de marseille” produits dans le XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle s’inscrivent comme les copies d’une inspiration antérieure.