u0.jpg (14389 bytes)Universal Tarots - Review by Lee A. Bursten

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This deck published by the Italian firm Lo Scarabeo follows the Waite-Smith tradition to a greater extent than most Waite-Smith clones. Painter Roberto De Angelis has used Pamela Colman Smith’s illustrations as a guide and created a deck which, while faithful to the original Rider deck, manages to impart its own flavor and style to the familiar pictures.

Looking at this deck gives one the strange feeling of looking into an alternate universe, one in which A.E. Waite went to Roberto De Angelis instead of Ms. Smith to create the pictures. However, the deck owes at least as much to Smith (who goes uncredited) as to Waite, because Smith was probably more responsible for the layout and composition of the pictures than Waite, especially for the Minors.

De Angelis’s drawings tend to be finer than Smith’s, with particular attention given to facial features, fabric, and textures. The colors are subtler, eschewing Smith’s wide areas of bold color in favor of more subdued yet varied shades. For instance, where Smith uses bright red and orange, De Angelis will use various shades of pink, purple, and burgundy. The figures wear much more elaborate costumes. Certain objects, like cups or pentacles, are drawn exactly the way Smith drew them.

The most interesting thing about the deck is that many of the familiar scenes are shown from a different angle or perspective, very much as if they were stills from the remake of an old movie, with a different cast and director.

The Majors tend to be more faithful to Waite-Smith. The Fool is very similar, except with a less dramatic (and less interesting) composition and a blue sky substituting for yellow. The Magician is one of several cards in the deck that seem to have followed the original precisely. With the Emperor we start to see some interesting differences. He seems rather more jolly than the original, and rather than red his robes are green, brown and purple. The Hierophant strikes a similar pose to the Waite card but is different in every other way. I particularly like the Eastern headdress and the bare feet.

The Lovers is much more subdued than the original. Smith’s fire-haired, red-winged angel is now all gray. But the lovers themselves are more interestingly colored -- the woman is pure white while the man is darker. The Devil shows a more human devil, with a sort of Alice Cooper look. The Sun shows small but important differences. The Sun’s face has a somewhat bored look. The red banner is present, but not the pole. Instead the child’s hands are free, and the banner floats down from above the picture. The horse doesn’t seem quite as benign as in the original.

De Angelis is more creative with the Minor Arcana. The 6 of Cups is a good example. We see more or less the same scene, but the background is different -- a staircase leading up to a rather grand facade. The 8 of Cups loses its moon but gains a bleak daytime mood.

The 3 of Swords adds a reclining figure who covers his face in anguish, while the 4 of Swords is an example of changed perspective. The 6 of Swords is a more realistic picture, but I think it misses the somber mood of the original. The shrouded figure looks more like a monk in this one.

The 3 of Pentacles is an imaginative recasting of the original scene. I definitely like De Angelis’s picture better. I also prefer his 8 of Pentacles, with its more interesting composition. The 10 of Pentacles is a good example of De Angelis’s method. The major components of the scene are all there, but the picture is much simpler. Gone are the fantastic designs on the old man’s cloak and on the archway. Students of Cabala will notice that De Angelis has changed the arrangement of the pentacles, which in the original form the Tree of Life. Personally I prefer the new one -- less cluttered.

In the Courts, De Angelis pays less attention to specific symbols and more to costume and expression. The Queen of Cups lacks most of the nautical elements of the original card, and the cup the queen holds is the standard Smith-style cup rather than the ornate version of the original. The King of Swords is a wonderful picture for the king’s posture and battle-hardened features.

Overall I think this deck offers some fascinating new takes on the deck we are all so familiar with. I would recommend this deck for anyone who works with the Waite-Smith and would like some variety to perhaps help see some of the cards in a new way. This deck could also provide a cure for those who have stopped working with the Waite-Smith just from being tired of looking at the same old pictures.

Universal Tarots by Roberto De Angelis
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo/Distributor: Llewellyn Publications

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Review Copyright 1999 Lee A. Bursten

Images Copyright 1999 Lo Scarabeo



Page Copyright 1999 Diane Wilkes