Turning the pages of this book is like wandering the corridors of an enchanted castle where the walls are lined with over-sized images of tarot and fortune-telling cards, art from previous centuries, and the occasional surprise from contemporary popular culture. Barbier’s infectious joy and delight in all things cartomantic shines on every page of this wondrous book with the same energy and creativity she brings to her tarot classes on the Morbid Anatomy platform.Read more
Posts from the ‘Tarot’ Category
One of my favorite Visconti-Sforza decks has just been re-issued — seventy-eight cards in sparkling gold foil published by Lo Scarabeo. Unfortunately the gold doesn’t scan well; but trust me, it’s dazzling. I had to photograph the box at an odd angle to see the light reflecting off the gold. This deck is one of the first historic reproductions I ever purchased nearly twenty years ago. I read with it often, so I’m very happy to have a back-up deck in case I lose a card. But there is one very big let-down that would otherwise be a deal killer for me. Here’s a comparison of the two editions.Read more
The Visconti-Sforza deck is a hybrid mash-up of sixty-eight original cards painted by Bonifacio Bembo about 1450, six cards that were created by a different artist around 1475, and four cards that are still missing and have to be recreated by a contemporary artist whenever the deck is republished. Marco Benedetti has never been happy with the ten replacement cards, and dreamt for years of creating his own version of these cards that would enhance the deck rather than detract from it. This deck brings his personal vision into fruition. By drawing on other works by Bembo for most of the replacement cards, he has revived the deck’s original spirit.Read more
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.
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.Read more
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.Read more
One of the oldest complete French decks that still exists, the very quirky Tarot de Paris was printed in Paris about 1650. Only one example has survived—a complete deck in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Until now, there has been only one other version on the market, a facsimile published in 1985 by Grimaud for André Dimanche and reissued by Editions-sivilixi. Now we have a fresh opportunity to acquire this hard-to-find deck. A good deal of thought went into designing this unique deck, but the stenciling was a bit sloppy, making some of the lines hard to read. The Museo dei Tarocchi’s deck (Tarocchi Francesi) is ideal for studying card details as the images are sharper, the colors brighter and the cards enlarged, without sacrificing historic authenticity.Read more
The Adam C. de Hautot Tarot is another beautiful and historically important deck from the Tarot Sheet Revival workshop of Sullivan Hismans. This deck is an early representative of the Rouen-Brussels pattern, an alternate Tarot de Marseille (TdM) that flourished from about 1650 to 1780 in a corner of Europe defined by Paris, Rouen and Brussels. The Popess and Pope are replaced by a strutting Spanish Captain from the Commedia dell’ Arte, and with Bacchus straddling a wine barrel. Most of the trump cards from the Devil on up deviate from the TdM pattern, many of them resembling hand painted decks from 15th century Italy.Read more
A sister of the Umiliati Order in Milan, Maifreda da Pirovano, was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1300. Many historians believe this card from the Visconti-Sforza Tarot is her portrait. When the Duke and Duchess of Milan commissioned this golden Trionfi deck from their favorite artist, Bonifacio Bembo, shortly after 1450, they commemorated family history in some of the cards. Maifreda may have been related to the duchess; and her heresy involved claiming to be the equal of the Pope, so the connection seems obvious. But if you were the duchess of Milan, with a reputation based on good works and piety, would you advertise a heretic in the family? Let’s look at some other, more respectable, possibilities for this card.Read more
How did we get from there to here? How did the Fool go from being a medieval village idiot to a vagabond, to a free spirit on the road to enlightenment? Does the medieval Popess have any relation to a modern, witchy High Priestess? Did these changes make a radical break from the past?
It’s my thesis that every major change to tarot imagery and card interpretation evolved from what preceded it. There’s a continuous 600-year thread from Italy to France to Britain to the United States and beyond.
I’ve created a new section of this website, From Trionfi to Major Arcana, where I’ll follow this thread of development for each trump card, looking at how the interpretation of the cards shifted along with the image.