Tarocchi Orientali Foudraz
A collector recently discovered a trove of uncut sheets of tarot and playing cards that have been sitting in Turin’s archives of since the mid-19th century. Giordano Berti has given new life to one of these forgotten decks by transforming the black and white uncut sheets into the beautifully colored Tarocchi Orientali.
The deck was created by Claudio Foudraz, a lithographer working in Turin in the mid-19th century. As an all-purpose lithographer he printed business cards, invitations, ads and art prints. Foudraz’s tarot deck was useless for game playing because of mistakes in the numbering, which the current edition corrects, so it probably never reached the market.
The deck is from a time when Europe’s fascination with the exotic east was at its height. Chinoiserie was the rage among 18th century aristocrats. By the mid-19th century, it had trickled down to the middle class as a fad for Chinese decorative objects and textiles. Chinese-themed playing cards were popular, but this is the only chinoiserie Tarot deck we know of.
The imagery follows the Tarot de Marseille pattern fairly closely, but a few trumps stand out as unique:
- The Emperor wears a dragon robe and stands outside rather than sitting on a throne.
- The Pope and Papesse hold large fans rather than religious symbols
- The Lovers depict a woman standing between two men. What’s going on here? Is she deciding between two lovers? Husband and lover? Or between obeying her father or running off with a lover?
- The Hanged Man is an acrobat balancing on a large hoop.
- The two boys on the Sun card are standing in water up to their knees. A beach scene instead of a garden?
The 18-page illustrated booklet gives the story of Chinoiserie in Europe, how it manifested in Piedmont, and the fad for Chinese tarock decks. Berti has ferreted out the scant information available on Foudraz.
This edition of 700 is signed and numbered. The cards are smooth, pleasant to hold and shuffle, have rounded corners and a white border. They are the same size as the original, 4.5 x 2.5 inches. Traditionally, expensive decks were taken to an artist to be custom painted. Berti has replicated this experience for us by commissioning an artist to tint the black and white originals with delicate water colors.
Like Berti’s other productions, the deck is housed in a sturdy box designed by the artist Letizia Rivetti. It’s covered with handmade marbled paper flecked with metallic silver and opens like a book tied with a silver ribbon. The cards rest on a red velveteen lining. The deck and its box are a joy to look at and to handle.