If you want to immerse yourself in the world that gave us the Visconti-Sforza and Sola Busca decks, this book, subtitled Arts, Culture and Politics 1395 to 1530, will deliver.
Nothing was ever the same in Italian politics and society after Gian Galeazzo Visconti purchased the title of Duke from the Holy Roman Emperor in 1395. Other rulers soon followed suit: the Gonzaga of Mantua, Montefeltro of Urbino, d’Este of Ferrara and the rulers of Savoy.
Unlike a French or German aristocrat who could trace his pedigree back to Charlemagne, a newly-minted Italian duke did not have a divine right to rule. These parvenus were acutely aware of their modest origins as merchants or condottieri who had usurped civic power. They felt tremendous pressure to over-compensate by amassing a trophy art collection and building ostentatious palaces that were stage settings for elaborate ceremonies and festivals. Read more
When I saw this print on the Hyperallergic art blog, I immediately thought it must have been the inspiration for the Soprafino Death card (see below). The artist’s palette caught my eye first. Then I noticed so many other items the two images have in common: gold chains, a medallion, bishop’s hat, armor, a spear point and crown. I think I see the spine of a book near the far right edge of the print. The book isn’t nearly as prominent as on the card, but the stone tablet on the print sits in nearly the same location and tilted at the same angle as the Soprafino book. Read more
Artist Ofri Cnaani turned a New York Chelsea gallery into a card reading emporium and used her readings to generate unique works of art for her clients. According to a review in the December 2015 issue of Art News, Cnaani used her own custom-made, over-sized cards.
The client picked a card at random, handed Ms. Cnaani a personal item, then selected two more items from a stash of odds and ends hanging on the wall. Cnaani then created a collage using the card and the selected items, plus fabric scraps and beads. A surveillance camera photographed the collage and projected it onto a screen in the shop window. Read more
According to a review in the November 2015 issue of Art News, a museum in Bordeaux, France has just wrapped up a 50-year retrospective of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s career. In the photo shown here, peeking out from under the screen, you can see the bottoms of the Tarot de Marseille that Jodorowsky designed with Philippe Camoin. But Jodorowsky is about a lot more than tarot. Read more
This two-volume book considers tarot from every possible angle: popular culture, occult theory, academic history, literary analysis and artistic commentary. I hope my brief summary of the articles will inspire you to purchase this major contribution to tarot studies.
Volume I offers a good foundation in tarot history.
The late Sir Michael Dummett surveys tarot from its 15th-century beginnings as a card game, to its appropriation by French occultists in the late 18th century.
Robert Place delves deeply into the iconography of the earliest hand-painted decks and discusses the trump sequence as a neoplatonic ascent of the soul. He also describes the first set of trump cards we know of, by the Duke of Milan’s astrologer Marziano de Tortona, which Place is currently re-creating. (Examples can be seen on his facebook page.) Read more
Lotería is a bingo-like game played in Mexico and the southwestern USA with a game board and a deck of 54 cards. Recently, I saw an exhibit of these cards at a local museum of Mexican folk art, and was surprised to learn that the deck began with a 15th-century Italian board game, and that several cards are very similar to tarot trumps.
The card images have a compelling, iconic quality thanks to more than 300 years of being distilled through European and Mexican folk culture. Several cards share names with tarot: Sun, Moon, Star, Angel, and Devil. Two cards resemble their counterparts in the 1664 Mitelli deck: World as Atlas holding up the globe, and Death as a standing skeleton with a scythe. Read more
I was going to give this book a glowing review (Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy in Art by Matilde Battistini). It’s chock full of gorgeous art on glossy paper (mostly medieval and Renaissance, but ranging from the Greeks to Surrealists) covering dozens of topics from Athanor to Zodiac. But when I got to the tarot section, my spirits sank to my toenails. I was going to revile the Getty Research Center for sloppy scholarship, but on closer inspection I see that the J. Paul Getty Museum merely printed an English translation of an Italian book originally published in Milan in 2004. It’s even more disheartening to realize that this material, coming from tarot’s birthplace, completely ignores the deck’s Italian origins in favor of half-baked French occultism passed off as historical fact. Read more
Cleo from 5 to 7, The French New Wave film directed by Agnes Varda in 1962, begins with a lengthy card reading scene that’s a lesson in what not to do when you see bad news in the cards.
The film follows a woman as she wanders around Paris for two hours trying to distract herself while waiting for the results of a biopsy. Cleo starts her sojourn by visiting a middle-aged woman to get her cards read. The reader spreads out nine cards from Le Grand Jeu de Mlle Lenormand, three each for past, present and future. It’s nothing but happy news until she gets to the last few cards. As the message gets darker, the reader gets more flustered and distressed and is obviously not saying everything she sees; which, of course, makes Cleo suspect the worst. Read more