On a recent vacation in Italy I got to see many of the medieval and Renaissance paintings which inspired the creation of the tarot in northern Italy during the early 1400s. This trip inspired me to take out my Medieval Scapini Tarot deck and study it more carefully. Although I had owned this deck for some time, it had never particularly appealed to me and I had only given it cursory attention. After a visit to the museums of Italy, this deck took on more significance and I am quite impressed by the details in the cards and the skill of the artist in portraying the meanings handed down by Etteilla and the Golden Dawn.
Scapini uses the dramatic figure of Brighella to illustrate his Page of Swords. I must admit that I was not familiar with this character from Italian literature, so I looked him up.
Like Harlequin, Brighella is a native of 16th century Bergamo. In theatrical productions Brighella offered to open his “little box of cunning to better server those who pay me.” He was known for his traps, tricks and deceptions. Sometimes he was portrayed as a quack street vendor, claiming to have discovered the philosopher’s stone and selling amulets guaranteed to prolong one’s life. Other times he called himself the “patron saint of lovers” and offered his services as a matchmaker and mediator of broken love affairs (a precursor to the modern marriage counselor).
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Brighella as “a roguish, quick-witted, opportunistic, and sometimes lascivious and cruel figure. Originally one of the comic servants, or zanni, of the commedia, Brighella was a jack-of-all-trades whose loyalty as a soldier, hangman’s varlet, assassin, or gentleman’s valet could be easily bought. Because of his almost sentimental view of love, though, the young lovers could trust him.”
Brighella’s name probably derives from the Latin word briga, meaning contention or tumult. As a dramatic character, he was constantly getting involved in contentious and tumultuous situations.
Etteilla calls the Page of Swords a spy and views him as a curiosity seeker who, when reversed, indicates the unexpected and the need for impromptu speech to save the situation. The Golden Dawn calls this Page the subtle and dexterous “Princess of the Rushing Winds” who, when ill dignified, indicates frivolity and cunning. Waite regarded the Page of Swords as a card of vigilance, spying and indiscretion, signifying someone who will pry into the querent’s secret affairs. Brighella seems to fit the bill for all of these traits.
Wikipedia seeks to understand something about the origin of Brighella’s character traits:
“… he often was portrayed as a member of the middle class such as a tavern owner: his character could be adapted to whatever the needs to the scenario might be, just as Brighella himself is adaptable to any circumstance. … As in a stereotype of those who have risen from poverty, he is often most cruel to those beneath him on the social ladder; he even goes so far as to kill on occasion. … in France, the gentilified Brighella eventually culminated in the character of Figaro, known from the plays and operas.”
“He’s a masterful liar, and can make up a spur-of-the moment lie for any situation. He is an inveterate schemer, and he is good at what he does. If his plans failed, it was almost always out of luck on behalf of the other characters. When he’s a servant, he will either serve his master devotedly or look for every opportunity to ruin and take advantage of him as he happens to see fit—whatever will gain the greatest advantage for himself and himself alone. He is fond of money, but spends it rapidly, and tends to be especially fond of the drink. To quote Duchartre again: ‘Brighella believes in no one but the hangman, he respects nothing and loves nothing but his own pleasure.’ In fact, he has few good qualities save for his ability to entertain the audience.”
“His character is usually from uptown Milano or Bergamo, and in the original Italian would often speak with the local accent. He could be very witty and fond of wordplay. He is also an accomplished singer, dancer and musician, and sometimes would play the guitar on stage.”