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Posts from the ‘Tarot and Art’ Category

Tarotforum RIP

Waves of shock and grief are rolling through a large segment of the tarot community in reaction to the announcement that www.tarotforum.net will be shut down as of July 14, 2017.  Since 2002, Tarotforum has been one of the largest and best-moderated communities on the internet. When Tarot_L on Yahoo shut down over a decade ago, Tarotforum became my go-to place for tarot history. I’m greatly relieved to learn that the forum will still exist in read-only form, so we won’t be losing its huge storehouse of information. Read more

From My Bookshelf: Courts and Courtly Arts in Renaissance Italy

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

Soprafino Death Card

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

The World in Play: 15th Century Playing Cards at The Cloisters

Luxurious playing cards from the 15th and early 16th centuries, including two tarocchi decks, are on exhibit at the Cloisters in New York City until April 17, 2016. This is a unique opportunity to see Visconti Sforza and Visconti (Carey Yale) cards side-by-side.  If you can’t make it to New York, you have alternatives for seeing these cards. Read more

Ofri Cnaani: Card Reading as Performance Art

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

Jodorowsky Retrospecitve

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

From my Bookshelf: History of Woodcut by Arthur Hind

Before tarot was a gilded status symbol for Italian aristocrats; before it inspired parlor games and poetry; and before it was a repository of occult correspondences, tarot was a set of paper cards printed in ink with wood blocks.

If we want to understand tarot’s formative years, we must understand the printing industry in the first half of the fifteenth century. Hind’s book gives a comprehensive survey of printers and their output, starting in the mid-fourteenth century, with an emphasis on the fifteenth century. Read more

Tarot in Culture edited by Emily E. Auger

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 Cards

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

Tarot History Mangled in a Getty Publication

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