Colombo in 22 Arcana 1492-1992 by Various Artists
Review by Diane Wilkes
In commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Cristoforo Colombo's discovery of America, Il Meneghello published a tarot deck. Twenty-two artists contributed separately to this collaborative effort. As all collaborative efforts must, this deck reflects diverse artistic styles and sensibilities, yet this deck seems all of a piece, somehow, despite that. Perhaps it's because of the unifying theme, but it is a surprisingly cohesive deck.
The Fool depicts a white-wigged man dressed in what must have passed for haute couture back in 1492. Oddly, he is seated with his arms folded across his chest, a pose more in line with the solidity of the Emperor than the adventurousness of The Fool. Yet the chair he sits on is held up by some sort of sea animal and below that animal is...the sea.
The Magician's style owes more to the Spanish--it evokes Ponce de Leon more than Cristoforo, but no problemo. The High Priestess is adorned in a flowing blue gown that calls up feelings and thoughts of the sea. She has such a dreamy quality that, while she represents Beatrice de Bobadilla, I see her also as representive of the high seas Columbus sailed upon. This was before the days of pollution, after all.
The Empress, on the other hand, is all Isabella, who bankrolled Chris' excursion. Her royalty is clear by the shield she holds, yet I think even Isabella would be gratified by this portrait, which makes her seem a beautiful visionary. This is one of the loveliest cards in this--or any--deck.
Each of the cards is a scene, real or imagined, relating to Columbus discovering America. The Lovers is clearly a scene of farewell, two lovers saying goodbye with the boat's ship in the background. The central figure on The Hermit is Padre Antonio Marchena, who was in some kind of Spanish convent. Columbus steers the ship's wheel as an angel guides his hand in The Wheel of Fortune. The Devil shows a scene right out of Dante's Inferno--a scene to which anyone who has ever been on roiling seas with a tormented tummy can relate, though from what I can translate, it pertains to the materialism in Europe at the time of Columbus' travels.
The Star is one of the more unusual cards. It, too, shows roiling seas, but a beautiful woman holds onto a large feline amidst them, evoking the Strength image more than the traditional Star. The Sun was done by Il Meneghello's own Osvaldo Menegazzi: it portrays a glowing orange orb inside the watery depths, with a sword and a book (perhaps the Bible) at the bottom of the sea. Since Columbus brought both the sword and religion to these shores, Menegazzi sends an ironic message with this card.
And of course, what card could better depict the discovery of the New World than the World? I can see this card being used in a sixth grade history class to show the scene--a young man with an oar in his hand stands on the new and verdant land. He looks exhausted. Three ships sail on the water and in the bluest of skies, four angels spin gold around a globe.
The cards themselves are on thin but sturdy cardstock, and measure an oversized seven and a half inches by three and a half inches. Backs are plain and are the color of light cardboard. The packaging is beautiful and typical of Il Meneghello's handiwork--there is a marbleized blue heavy cardboard slipsleeve held together with white ribbon that encases the cards. The title of the deck and the listing of the 22 different artists is on the cover, along with a paper gold medallion inset of Columbus. There is a not-so-little companion booklet with a goldenrod cover that gives information about each card and artists. Unfortunately for me, it is in Italian only.
As is usually the case with Italian decks, Justice is numbered 8 and Strength is 11. The numbers are placed in the upper left hand corner of each card. Card titles are, of course, in Italian, so, for instance, the High Priestess is La Papessa. You will recognize most of the titles even if you don't speak Italian. Judgment has been re-titled L'Angelo (The Angel), which is an oft-used alternative.
This is a lovely deck. I recommend it to collectors, historians interested in Christopher Columbus, and fans of collaborative decks. I received it as a gift, but have seen it for sale at Alida.
Cristoforo Colombo in 22 Arcana 1492-1992 by Various Artists
Publisher: Il Meneghello
Images © 1992 Il Meneghello
Review and page © 2001 Diane Wilkes