The High Priestess
From Touchstone TarotTM by Kat Black

The High Priestess


A mysterious, insightful woman. A keeper of secrets and esoteric knowledge. Stillness and contemplation. The Divine Feminine.

Reversed (?)

Emotions run wild. Neuroses, destructive passion, illicit affairs, secrets exposed.


A mysterious, androgynous woman in a dark blue robe and double-peaked gold headdress stands between two pillars, one light, one dark. She holds a scroll, a pomegranate and a finely tooled red leather book. A crescent moon and waterfall can be seen behind her. She looks directly at the viewer with her large, dark eyes.

The face in this composition is by the female Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola. It's titled as a portrait of her sister Minerva, but looks strikingly similar to Sofonisba's many self-portraits of the same era. Sofonisba was from a remarkable family, where her father encouraged all of his children to reach their full potential. A number of her sisters also became painters, although none as well known as her.

In her late 40s she married a sea captain decades younger than herself, and they lived a happy married life until her death in her 90s. Seven years after her death, on what would have been her hundredth birthday, her husband had inscribed on her tomb: "To Sofonisba, my wife, who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man. Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love, in 1632, dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman."

I thought that the High Priestess was a perfect role for her, a woman who achieved greatness in her lifetime, despite the limitations placed on her by society. Forbidden to study nudes and therefore finding large multi-figure church commissions impossible, she revolutionized the art of portraiture. Those who were influenced by her work included Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Pieter Pauwel Rubens.


  • Water: GREBBER, Pieter de, Moses Striking the Rock, c.1630, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tourcoing.
  • Moon: RUBENS, Pieter Pauwel, Descent from the Cross, 1612-14, O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp.
  • Pillars: HOLBEIN, Hans the Younger, Erasmus of Rotterdam, 1523, National Gallery, London.
  • Nun body: BELLINI, Giovanni, Madonna and Child, 1485-90, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  • Face: ANGUISSOLA, Sofonisba, Portrait of Minerva Anguissola, c.1550, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
  • Pomegranate: HEEM, Jan Davidsz de, Festoon of Fruits and Flowers, 1660-70, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
  • Left hand: BOTTICELLI, Sandro, Madonna of the Pomegranate, c. 1487, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
  • Book: BELLINI, Giovanni, Portrait of Teodoro of Urbino,1515, National Gallery, London.
  • Scroll: GHIRLANDAIO, Domenico, Adoration of the Magi, 1488, Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence.
  • Headdress fabric: GEERTGEN, tot Sint Jans, The Holy Kinship, 1475-80, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
  • Peaked metallic hat: RIBERA, José de, Simeon with Christ Child, 1647, Marquis of Bristol Collection.
  • Brooch: BRONZINO, Agnolo, The Panciatichi Holy Family 1540, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.


78 Friends members who have chosen this card as their Significator...


~Joan. said Nov 26, 2008 (!)

The descriptions of the cards in the Touchstone Tarot deck, and the Artwork information are exquisitely done. I was so missing both of these, having been spoiled with The Golden Tarot!
Regarding this particular card, I LOVE the Minerva element and association with this card.

Alis said Mar 25, 2009 (!)

I like that she is not enthroned. With all of those things in her hands, it seems The High Priestess has just come out of her library and is on her way to teach a class. Approachable, yet still a woman of great insight and learning.

retrokat said Apr 24, 2009 (!)

People have asked about the changed face between the LE version and this final published version. I didn't mind the original face - she looked a bit haughty and cool though. While working on the final version, I discovered this portrait and I knew I just HAD to include her in the deck. This was the 'right' card for her. Most of the matching of cards to portraits in the deck was done the other way around - like casting a part and looking for the right actor. In this case, I had the actor and picked the perfect part for her to play. So the old actor just got fired :P

I find Sofonisba Anguissola's life so inspiring. Wouldn't it make a great film or novel?

retrokat said Apr 24, 2009 (!)

PS thanks so much for your comments about the artwork references. One review said something like it being a 'waste of space' in the LWB which I found so offensive because art is just as important to me as tarot. The fact that someone managed to capture these fleeting expressions of a real, living, breathing person with such subtlety that we feel we know them... even though they died hundreds of years ago... that still overwhelms me. And I feel that both the artists and models deserve recognition. I may have cast them in these tarot roles, but the performance they're giving is their own.

llvcota said May 7, 2009 (!)

I really agree. Even people who are not into "art" have seen these images countless times in their lives without even noticing and because they were incredible and memorable, they are now familiar as opposed to just acknowledged as archetypes.

Post a comment

Sign in or Join 78 Friends to comment on this card.

« Touchstone Tarot