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cards from the Vacchetta Tarot

One of my favorite tidbits in the long history of tarot art is the tarot made by Giovanni Vacchetta in 1893. The images are very beautifully drawn, in a style that is hard to identify precisely – something like Renaissance mannerism meets Art Nouveau. The figures are lovely and poised, the faces sweet and elegant. When I first became interested in this deck, there was no way to purchase a reproduction. I ended up with a set of photocopies from a friend who had obtained a reproduction deck some years earlier. Today, it is available in a colorized reprint from Lo Scarabeo called “Tarot of the Master”. The green borders with titles on them are not on the original cards. I think the publisher did a nice job selecting colors for this printing; the pastels complement the original drawings nicely.

This deck captures some of the feel of art decks from earlier centuries, such as the Mitelli Tarot. The symbolism is fairly traditional, although the artist does give some creative interpretations, particularly in the major arcana. There are some images that are downright gruesome (the Queen of Swords with a severed head, the 10 of swords with an anatomically realistic heart being pierced by blades), which makes a sort of macabre contrast with the gentleness of the artistic style.

Although this deck was made at a time when the tarot’s occult reputation was firmly established (at least in France), it feels more like an homage to the tradition of tarot art in Italy. This is not to say it isn’t good to read with – it actually stacks up quite well against many of the older decks. The number cards depict the suit symbols (rather than narrative scenes), but in this deck they are richly and creatively rendered, providing more raw material for interpretive musing.


May 2008