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Posts from the ‘Tarot Decks’ Category

Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: Odds and Ends

Winding down my website’s tenth anniversary summer celebration. Even here in sunny Santa Barbara, where weather rarely happens, I can feel a subtle shift in the air as we head toward autumn. To finish up the series, here’s a grab bag of articles that don’t fit into any category.

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Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: The Visconti-Sforza Tarot

Celebrating my website’s tenth anniversary: 174 blog articles and 42 website pages on tarot history, reading with non-scenic pips, and decks of historic significance. Throughout the summer, I’m going to group the most useful articles by topic and send out links in a series of blog posts.

If fifteenth-century aristocrats hadn’t tried to impress their friends with hand painted, golden tarot decks, and if those decks hadn’t been preserved in museums, our knowledge of tarot’s origins would be very limited. The most complete deck of this type, the Visconti-Sforza Tarot, is one of the most frequently published historic decks. We can’t overestimate its importance. Below are links to deck and book reviews as well as articles on historic background related to this deck.

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Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: The Soprafino Style

Celebrating my website’s tenth anniversary: 174 blog articles and 42 website pages on tarot history, reading with non-scenic pips, and decks of historic significance. Throughout the summer, I’m going to group the most useful articles by topic and send out links in a series of blog posts.

Today I’m listing everything I’ve written about the soprafino style. Originating in Milan in the 1830s, it has been reproduced by many publishers down to Lo Scarabeo’s current mass market version. Printers have borrowed random details from the style, especially in Piedmont. See reviews of those decks listed in last week’s blog post on Piedmont decks.

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Tarot-Heritage Tenth Anniversary Roundup: Piedmont Decks

Celebrating my website’s tenth anniversary: 174 blog articles and 42 website pages on tarot history, reading with non-scenic pips, and decks of historic significance. Throughout the summer, I’m going to group the most useful articles by topic and send out links in a series of blog posts.

The Piedmont region has one of the oldest tarot traditions in Italy. Its geographic location made it the crossroads where the playing card traditions of Italy and eastern France mingled. Below are articles on the Piedmont tradition and reviews of individual decks.

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Edoardo Dotti Tarot Published by Giordano Berti

Attention, lovers of the Soprafino tarot. This elegant deck published by Giordano Berti is an essential. I’m completely enchanted by the graceful lines, rich colors, and smooth, sturdy cardstock. The original size (2.0 x 4.25 inches) makes the cards easy to handle.

The Soprafino pattern emerged when the Milanese printer Gumppenberg published a deck engraved by Carlo Della Rocca about 1835.  When Gumppenberg died, his employee, Teodoro Dotti, set up his own print shop and issued decks in the style of his former employer, including this Soprafino variant. Seventeen years later, Teodoro’s son Edoardo printed the same deck using his father’s plates, with modifications to make the images politically correct. Notice the Empress’s empty shield in the photo above. By this time, the Hapsburgs were out and Napoleon III was in as ruler of Italy; so the imperial eagle had to be removed from all playing cards.

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Budapest Bounty: Three Recreations of an Ancient Tarot

I’ve always been intrigued by the few remnants of fifteenth-century block-printed decks that still exist. They hold tantalizing clues to the early days of tarot, so I’m thrilled that there are three versions of the block-printed Budapest deck on the market. Shown here from left to right are the Fool and Judgment cards by Robert Place, Sullivan Hismans and Marco Benedetti.

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Interview: Sherryl Smith and Justin Michael

Here’s a Youtube video of Justin Michael and myself in conversation a few months ago. In the first 30 minutes, I talk about my 50+ years involvement with tarot and how our understanding of tarot history has evolved. This is interspersed with personal experiences that led to my somewhat irrational antipathy toward esoteric and kabbalistic tarot.

In the second half, I show off my deck collection, especially decks by artisans who have revived obscure historic decks, like Yves Reynaud, Marco Benedetti, Sullivan Hismans, Pablo Robledo, Giordano Berti, and Il Meneghello (Osvaldo Menegazzi). In some cases, these decks only existed as printed sheets or photos in magazines.

Be sure to check out the rest of Justin’s channel. He has interviews with tarot luminaries like Robert Place and Rachel Pollock as well as reviews of TdM and other historic decks.

Link to the Interview


The Agnolo Hebreo Devil Card

The most unique single reproduction card in my collection is the Devil card printed by Agnolo Hebreo (Angelo the Jew) shortly after 1500 and now residing in the British Museum. It was undoubtedly part of a complete tarot deck; but no other cards by this individual exist anywhere, and there is no trace of him in the records. This Devil card is the only clue we have that the printer Agnolo Hebreo may have existed. It’s possible the name is a pseudonym borrowed from popular culture by an anonymous deck designer.

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Tarot Marco Benedetti: Visconti Homage Deck

Twenty-five years ago, Marco Benedetti painted a heavenly homage to the Visconti-Sforza deck in tempera on gold leaf. A few years ago, he offered his deck to the public on Gamecrafter, and as a custom printed gold-leaf deck. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his original deck, he is offering both the original deck and an updated 25th anniversary edition on Gamecrafter and as a custom printed gold deck. Both Gamecraafter decks come with additional cards, so you really get two decks in one. There are several options for customizing the gold deck., which I discuss toward the bottom. First, let’s compare the two Gamecrafter versions.

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The Fifteenth-Century Charles VI Deck Recreated by Marco Benedetti

In fifteenth-century Italy, wealthy aristocrats indulged themselves with luxurious, hand painted, gold-embossed Trionfi decks. The decks came in two distinct families: those commissioned by the Visconti and Sforza Dukes of Milan in the International Gothic style; and Renaissance-style decks created most likely in either Ferrara or Florence. The so-called Charles VI deck, with 16 trump cards, is the most complete deck of the Florentine pattern. Other decks of this type have only a handful of trump cards. Benedetti compiled a complete 78-card deck by cobbling together all the existing cards in the Florentine style. A few absent cards had to be recreated, while several cards exist as duplicates. Benedetti includes the duplicate trump cards with his recreated deck, for a total of 90 cards.

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