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Gertrude Moakley: Notes On 'Il Bagatino' (Juggler / The Magician)

Gertrude Moakley (1905-1998)

Gertrude Moakley was a researcher and a librarian, who worked in the New York City Public Library for 40 years. She is best known for her 1966 book 'The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family: An Iconographic and Historical Study'. This is a landmark work on the history of tarot (regardless of its errors), but unfortunately it failed to have an impact on the tarot community on its publication. It is only since Michael Dummett and other tarot historians have mentioned or quoted her, that she has been slowly gaining the recognition she deserves.

Here are Gertrude Moakley's notes on the Juggler / Magician:

“I Il Bagatino (Quarterpenny, The Juggler)

The lowest of the trumps, as we have said, is the Carnival King, Bagatino (Quarterpenny). The procession of triumphs which he leads is taking him to his own execution. The card shows Bagatino on the last day of the Carnival, when he is having his last meal. He is still dressed in holiday red and green, and has in his left hand the simple rod which is the sign of royal office. His right hand hovers uncertainly over a covered dish, which is white with touches of gray. We see by this how he became the Little Juggler of the later commedia dell’arte. That dish-cover offers many opportunities for cleverly “nervous” comic juggling. In the modern tarocchi Bagatino is often a juggler or conjurer, and his kingly rod becomes a magician’s wand.

Before the Carnival King is executed, he is first given a trial, and accused of keeping people up late and making them drunk. Often a personification of Lent accompanies the procession to be sure that King Carnival gets his just deserts.

Visconti-Sforza (Pierpont Morgan-Bergamo) 'Il Bagatto' or the Juggler (Magician)


For the theory that Bagatino is the Carnival King I have no direct authority. It is based on these facts: (1) Bagatino must be a proper name, since the modern form of it, Bagatto, has no meaning except “the first of the tarocchi trumps.” (2) The clowns of the commedia dell’arte were thought of as Carnival figures, and one of them was named Bagatino: cf Harlequin, by Thelma Niklaus (New York, Braziller 1956) p 42; The Italian Comedy, by P. L. Duchartre (New York, John Day Co 1929) p 160 and pl showing Bagatino as the Little Juggler, facing p 228; also Pulcinella, by A. G. Bragaglia (Roma, G. Casini 1953) p 49-50. The whole triumphal procession may have become a comedy troupe, but for this I have no authority, though Brueghel’s painting, “The Battle of Carnival & Lent,” strongly suggests it. (3) Playing cards were associated with Carnival, and often forbidden by law at other times: cf Arch stor ital, 4 ser, XVIII (1886) 28-29, for one instance. (4) As Il Matto is Lent accompanying the procession (see notes on that card), it seems likely that this is Carnival’s farewell procession. I was convinced of this long before I had any idea as to the character of Bagatino. When I found that his rod was a sign of royal office it struck me that he was, of course, the King of the Carnival. For the plain rod as sign of royalty see the Empress in our set, the King in the so-called “Tarot of Mantegna,” and a picture of “L’Imperatore Sigismondo in Trono” (detail of pavement in the cathedral at Siena, by Domenico di Bartolo d’Asciano (Assum (1), pl facing p 80.)

For the custom of personifying the Carnival and trying him for his sins see Sir James G. Frazer The Golden Bough, pt III “The Dying God” (London 1951) passim.

In the Milanese dialect (see Angiolini, Vocabolario) the word bàgàtt has come to mean “chatterbox,” “the first of the tarocchi,” “cobbler”; and “scàrtá bàgàtt” means “to make a long speech” and also “to speak one’s whole mind.” This throws a good deal of light on Bagatino’s character; he was evidently a juggler with a good line of patter. As to “cobbler,” in modern Italian tarocchi there is often a shoe on the table in this card. When I saw the Visconti-Sforza tarocchi in the Morgan Library, this card was in an envelope marked “Cobbler,” although in the library’s catalog it was titled “Castle of Plutus.”

Moakley, Gertrude: The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family – An Iconographic and Historical Study (1966), p 62-63.


Michael J. Hurst's (pre-Gébelin Tarot History) article on Gertrude Moakley is here

and Sherryl E. Smith's (Tarot Heritage) article is here.

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