Marco Benedetti and myself in a conversation moderated by Justin Michael. We talk about tarot’s Italian origins and show off lots of decks from our collections. Here’s a chance to see historic deck facsimiles, as well as Marco’s recreations of rare Italian decks.
This is a kick-off video to Justin’s Tarot Through the Ages series. He’s got some interesting things coming up that will introduce a new audience to tarot’s roots. Be sure to check out Justin’s Titans of Tarot series where he interviews luminaries like Robert Place, Vincent Pitisci, and Rachel Pollack.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a deck that not only looks like the fifteenth century, but feels like the fifteenth century: I Tarocchi Rosenwald restored by Marco Benedetti, with hand-folded paper borders (Bordi Rivoltinati). Benedetti glues backing paper to each card, clips the corners then folds the borders to the front using traditional checkered paper. Every Italian playing card was made with this labor-intensive technique from the fifteenth century to the 1930s.
The Al Mondo Tarocchino is one of very few Bolognese-style decks to survive from earlier centuries with all cards intact. This deck comes to us from a narrow slice of time—after 1725 when Bolognese decks were required to have four Moors, and before the 1760s when double-headed figures became standard. The British Museum has the only copy of the Al Mondo deck in existence. Marco Cesare Benedetti has obtained the rights to reproduce twenty facsimiles. See deck details and purchasing information at the end.
This phantom of the tarot world is possibly the earliest Tarot de Marseille we know of. The only traces of the Rolichon tarot’s existence are a brief listing in an 1851 French auction catalog, and reproductions of thirty-five cards in the July 1919 edition of the Larousse Mensuel magazine. The deck itself has disappeared, so Benedetti’s careful recreation is a wonderful opportunity to experience this important piece of tarot history. Read more
There’s something compelling about the Rosenwald deck. It’s enough like the Tarot de Marseille to feel comfortable; yet its quirky details give it a slightly exotic tone. For a transcendent experience, hold Benedetti’s gold and silver Rosenwald cards in your hands. Read more
For the first and last time on this blog I’m reviewing a deck by a DFO (Dead French Occultist). I usually run out of the room when someone starts in about Kabbalistic associations with tarot (it’s a personal hang-up). But I know a gorgeous deck when I see one. Marco Benedetti’s gold foil edition of Wirth’s 1926 deck is pure magic. Read more
I came across this deck on The Gamecrafter while looking for something else and was immediately taken by the graceful, clean lines and minimalist design. The deck designer, Marco Benedetti, is not an artist, although he’s had architectural training, and this is the only thing he’s ever created. The deck is based closely on the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza deck (V-S) with plenty of quirky personal touches, since it was never the creator’s intention to simply redraw the V-S deck.
Benedetti’s goal was to return to the roots of tarot and strip it of the extraneous occult symbols that had been laid on over the centuries. He believes that any symbolism should be implicit in the overall design, so he made his drawings simple and ambiguous to keep the viewer’s imagination from being imprisoned by specific images. Read more
Click History for an illustrated story of Tarot's invention and development. The Cartomancy section teaches you how to read with historic decks. For an in-depth exploration of each trump card look in the Iconography section. The Blog has short articles on tarot books and decks, tips on card reading, and tarot in art and fiction.