Tarocchi Visconti Sforza by Il Meneghello
I already have three full-sized facsimiles of the Visconti-Sforza deck. So when I came across yet another version, published by Il Meneghello in 1996, I wrestled with temptation for a couple of weeks before succumbing. I’m very glad temptation won out because this deck is the best of the lot.
I compared this deck with my other three: Dal Negro, USGames 1984 and USGames 2015 (with portraits of Francesco and Bianca Sforza on extra cards).
The first thing I checked out was the gold background on the Trump cards. When I hold the Il Meneghello cards up to the light, the gold seems to glow from within. With the other three decks, the light bounces off the surface. The USGames 2015 actually has a brighter yellow-gold background. But the entire deck has a yellowish cast which mutes the foreground colors and makes the gray beards on the Hermit and Emperor a somewhat off-putting yellow. In the USGames 1984 deck all the gold is rendered as dark bronze. If you want glittering gold you’ll have to get Lo Scarabeo’s gold foil version. But no deck begins to approach the magical aura of the original cards.
The foreground colors on the Il Meneghello deck are deeper and richer than any of the other decks, making for more contrast and better detail. But some of the more delicate details, like the sunburst on the gold coins, are very sketchy on this deck and much more defined in the USGames 2015 deck.
The white background on the pip cards has been cleaned up and brightened slightly. Not to the extent that it looks artificial; just enough so the floral decoration pops out and comes alive. On other decks, especially the Dal Negro, the background can be a bit dingy.
The sword blades were done in silver leaf which has tarnished and darkened over the centuries. The swords in this deck are dark gray, with hilts that are a pleasant shiny gold. In both USGames decks the blades appear blue; while in the Dal Negro the blades are dark gray and the hilts are a deep antique gold.
The most important consideration for me is the state of the Tower and Devil replacement cards. How anachronistic and modeled on the Tarot de Marseille are they? Do they blend with the late Gothic style of the rest of the deck?
The Il Meneghello deck wins out on this score, with replacement cards designed by Giovanni Scarsato that establish a balance between historical correctness and giving consumers the cards they’re used to seeing. The closest models for these cards that I could find are the uncut sheets of trump cards in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City dating from about 1500.
In all four decks, the Tower is a straight brick building whose top is being blasted off by fire or lightning bolts coming from the upper right corner of the card. The other three decks have two falling figures in the style of Tarot de Marseille. The Il Meneghello has just one falling figure that looks very much like the Knight of Coins, which is also a replacement card. Bricks are falling from the tower, but, contrary to custom, the top is still in place.
The other three decks have anachronistic Devil cards with two people chained at his feet as in the Tarot de Marseille. Il Meneghello gives us a more medieval Devil. Both US Games decks have the same over-the-top, psychedelic replacement cards that pretty much ruin the deck artistically.
All the court cards of one suit have the same pattern on their robes. It should be a no-brainer to give the Knight of Coins the same clothing as the other three court figures, but only USGames managed to do it.
Il Meneghello did a smaller version of this deck in 2002 with identical replacement cards. But there’s nothing like seeing the deck in its full-size 7″x 3.5″ glory to really appreciate the presence these cards have. The cards are very thick and sturdy, making the deck stand one-third again higher than the others.
Tarocchi Visconti Sforza. Il Meneghello, Milano, 1996. Edition of 1000.