Il Castello dei Tarocchi
An absolutely gorgeous book arrived in my mailbox the other day from Italy – Il Castello dei Tarocchi, a collection of nineteen essays by an international roster of tarot authors. Many of the contributors are familiar to those of us who lurk around the tarot history forums: Lothar Teikemeier, Alain Bougearel, Ross Sinclair Caldwell, Thierry Depaulis, and many others.
This hard-bound book measures 9 by 13 inches. Each two-page spread has anywhere from three to twenty pictures of historic tarot cards and related art. Even if you don’t read Italian, the book is worth getting just for the beautiful images printed on heavy, glossy paper.
Andrea Vitali edited the collection and contributed several essays. Vitali is the founder of Le Tarot Associazione Culturale which sponsors tarot-related exhibits and cultural events throughout Europe, as well as undertaking research into tarot history and symbolism. English translations of the book’s articles are posted on his website. So if you don’t read Italian, get the book for the illustrations, and read the text online.
The essays cover the range of tarot studies, so there’s something for everyone. For historians, there are articles on Tarot’s development in the 15th century, attitudes toward games of chance in the 15th and 16th centuries, a history of cartomancy, and the emergence of Tarock decks in the 18th century. Esoteric tarot is treated with a survey from de Gebelin to Crowley, as well as essays on Tarot and Pythagorean number theory, and the trumps as a Neoplatonic mystical ladder.
The longest article in the book contains Vitali’s description of each trump card, accompanied by related art of the 15th and 16th centuries. His short essays on each card examine how people in previous centuries understood the cards. For example, the Lovers card evolved from courting couples struck by Cupid’s arrow in the 15th century to depicting a man flanked by two women in 16th century decks. Paintings of Hercules torn between Virtue and Vice give us insight into the message conveyed by the later version of the card.
I was very happy to see Giovanni Vacchetta’s deck receive a thorough treatment in the book. Vacchetta was an industrial designer who enjoyed a long teaching career in Torino. His deck, created in 1893, brought together several of his interests: the Middle Ages and neo-Gothic romanticism, art nouveau, the Arts and Crafts movement, and traditional Italian crafts like tarot card production. Vacchetta printed a very small number of decks which are mostly in private collections and rarely come on the market. His deck was reproduced in color by Lo Scarabeo and published as the Tarot of the Master. (Lo Scarabeo has the annoying habit of renaming historic decks in a way that completely obscures their identity).
Lo Scarabeo published Il Castello dei Tarocchi in 2010. They’re also responsible for several notable reproductions of 15th century decks like the Ancient Italian Tarot (Sola Busca), the Golden Tarot of the Renaissance (The Estensi deck), and a gold foil version of the Visconti Sforza Tarot. Llewellyn distributes their decks in North America.