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Dörflinger and the tarot

Johannes Dörflinger has dealt with the subject of tarot for a long time, focussing on it's original form as a source of old wisdom and human aspirations and desires.

At first, Dörflinger used the topic in a cycle of paintings ("Tarot 1975", granolithographs) where the figures/trumps seem to be nearly dissolved by the pointillist painting technique used, lending them a phantasmagoric, almost translunar status. Each of these paintings is like an expedition, because the figures and pairs of figures have been arranged in a context made of colours, and therefore can be "discovered" only by and by. The field frames, however, in which the paintings have been positioned - triangle, star, square, and circle - are stringent.

In the tarot of 1988 which Dörflinger has dedicated to Oscar Schlemmer, the paintings (hand serigraphs) - closely connected with the gestures of Schlemmer's "Triadic Ballet" - express the human shape more clearly. The reference to the trumps, largely treated in an abstract way, now mainly lies on the triangle, star, circle, and square which now no longer serve as a field frame as before in the paintings of 1975. Now they are made fruitful as coloured symbols in the otherwise white and grey paintings: The red circle stands for love, the blue square for the intellect, the black star for destiny and the yellow pyramid represents the soul and mind. All four of them can be found in every painting, in each case in a different size and in a different position, refering to the distinctive feature of each individual trump. On the one hand, the figures are subject to these powers, but on the other hand they also actively deal with them.


Then in 2002, the "Tarot models for large-scale sculptures" were the starting point for the sculpures which now represent the sculpture border. Having dealt with the motives of the tarot in a two-dimensional way so far, the artist was now facing the challenge to transform his idea and develop a concept for three-dimensional representation.

With the arrangement of his sculptures on the now imaginary frontier, Johannes Dörflinger pursues the basic idea of the tarot, which is the moving of figures within a procession. Historically, it was about triumphal marches that took place in the Italian towns of the Middle Ages - a mixture of festivities, ecclesiastical processions, theatre, and carnival, organised by patricians, princes, bishops, and rich merchants. These festive processions are redolent of the carnival of the cultures: carriages were allegorically arranged representing various sceneries, and generously decorated with pictures, symbols and flowers. In several sequels, the conceptions of the medieval world or scenes from the ancient world and from mythology were allegorised. The King of Fools from the ancient Roman Saturnalia was the leader of the whole procession. These figures, the events and objects have been handed down to us in the form of the tarot cards which were presumably painted between the years 1420 and 1450 by order of the Duke Visconti.

Against all myth-making about the origin of the tarot, it must be emphasised that tarot is the creation of a period in history on the threshold of modern times, and not an invention of the ancient world. It goes wothout saying that the medieval festive processions have their origin in the ancient world, and that's why the tarot incorporates elements of old myths. The tradition of the triumphal processions indeed originates from Ancient Greece and has been adopted by the  Etruscans. When the Romans started to rule Italy, they also took over this tradition along with the Etruscan pantheon of the gods. After each successful warlike operation, the Romans used to organise triumphal processions, not only to present the high-ranking prisoners of war but also the captured cult objects. This was to demonstrate that the conquered people had also been deprived of their religious centre. So the ancient elements of the tarot figures can be found first and foremost in Greece, in the Etruscan area and in Rome.

For his work, Dörflinger selected the 22 great trumps of the tarot, the so-called "Great Arkana". In the Italian festive processions, the figures were divided into three groups. The figures of Empress and Emperor, Popess and Pope, Temperance, Love, Chariot and Strength belong to the "Triumph of Love"; Wheel of Fortune, Hanging Man, Death, Devil, Lightning or House of God are part of the "Triumph of Death"; Star, Moon, Sun, Angel, Justice and World belong to the "Triumph of Eternity". Both Fool and Magician stand alone, not belonging to any of the three groups.


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