Dante Tarot by Giordano Berti; Artwork by Andrea Serio
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to order this deck, click here.

After reading Paula Gibby's lengthy and erudite article about this deck, I felt like a Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court.  In case there's any doubt about who's who, I'm the Yankee ignoramus who hasn't read all of Dante's Divine Comedy (just sections of it 25 years ago); Paula's the British monarch.

However, I feel there's a certain integrity about honest humility and acknowledged limitations--and I'm willing to bet that there are other people reading this who are also not Dante experts.  So this review is for us, the great unwashed tarot enthusiasts, who want answers to the big questions: What does the deck look like?  Does the theme translate to my knowledge base?  Can I read with this deck?

The Dante Tarot is an artistically interesting, even arresting, deck.  Bordered stylishly in black, the surreal and streamlined work of Andrea Serio would not be out of place in a museum or a chic and classy restaurant. This deck abounds with flowing figures (many with elongated body parts) and artistic distortions.  The brilliantly- colored images look like faceted jewels against the black background.  If this were simply an art deck, I'd give it two thumbs up. However, it is much more, and needs to be examined in the light of all its attributes.

The images on the Majors are, for the most part, recognizable as the tarot archetypes.  Numbers and titles for each card are as follows:

0                    Necessity
1                    Intellect
2                    Philosophy
3                    Knowledge
4                    Government
5                    Hope
6                    Love
7                    Direction
8                    Justice
9                    Prudence
10                  Fortune
11                  Fortitude
12                  Charity
13                  Death
14                  Temperance
15                  Authority
16                  Virtue
17                  Thrones
18                  Angels
19                  Dominations
20                  Archangels
21                  Principalities                   

The little white booklet (LWB) reminds us that the Major Arcana are "Trionfi" (Trumps), and are adjusted to "the concepts expressed by Dante in the Convivio."  While many of these seem to dovetail nicely with familiar archetypes, some are quite different.  The Fool hardly seems carefree, and the new card title ("Necessity") reflects that change.  Even more dramatic is the Empress' transformation to Knowledge (though she looks quite Venusian in the imagery). Fortune is normally a card you like to see in a reading, but this picture reminds you just how yoked you can become to that wheel.  While most of the Dante cards have a darker aspect than many other tarot decks, the twelfth card in the Major Arcana, renamed "Charity," evinces a softer, gentler dimension of sacrifice than the traditional Hanged Man.

The Minors are a trickier proposition and go much farther afield from the Rider-Waite-Smith standard.  Serio differentiates the Majors from the Minors by using Roman Numerals on the top left for the Majors; the Minors are numbered on the right. Suits are Bricks (Wands), Lights (Cups), Flames (Swords), and Lights (Pentacles).  Flames are based on canticles of Dante's Inferno, the Clouds are inspired by the Purgatorio, and Lights, the Paradiso.  The suit of Bricks depicts, interestingly enough, incidents and individuals that impacted Dante's life.

The Bricks are mostly pleasant images--the Five shows a merry scene at the old taverna, the Two shows our hero at work, scribbling out his masterpieces.  There is a grim scene in the Seven, wherein a downthrust wand pierces a kneeling man.  The point goes all the way through his back, and you can even see the stain of his blood darkening his shirt.  Contrast this with the much more pro-active Seven of Wands in the R-W-S and you can see how seeing this card in a reading could pierce someone's hopes. 

Because the suit of Lights is based on the Paradiso, all the images are dreamy, heavenly even.  The Three and Four of Lights look more like the traditional King and Queen of a suit (and are titled Heavens of Mercury and Heavens of Venus, respectively). Interestingly, the King of Lights doesn't depict a human form, but shows a golden, radiating light (the LWB calls this card "The Everlasting Light").

The suit of Clouds and, especially, the suit of Flames contain very grim, very dark imagery.  As Rachel Pollack once said, "You don't want the Pollyanna Tarot," and I agree with her.  At the same time, you also don't necessarily want a deck that will descend into the 9th level of Hell on a regular basis, taking you with it.  In Thoth, the Seven of Cups is Debauch, and the card has that feel of sludge you can't rise out of, but the Seven of Clouds does even more than drench you.  Forget tears, these people in the Dante version are weeping blood. 

Purgatory seems Hellish enough, but the heat really rises when we come to the suit of Flames.  Writhing bodies are the norm, and are often contorted in agony.  Check out the Knight of Flames, who holds his head like Nearly-Headless Nick in the Harry Potter tales, as the fires blaze around him and his compadres in agony. 

I have theoretic issues with an entire suit consisting of negative cards, but reality can bite when you use this deck for a reading.  I did a five card reading with this deck, and three of the cards were Flames.  It was scarily accurate, but the harsh outlook also seemed overly grisly.  I'm not a Pollyanna, really, I'm not, but I don't enjoy literature or decks that overwhelm me with their dark vision of humanity--and this deck, if only because of the Flames and Clouds suits, fits into that category.  I really can't imagine using it again for anyone whom I wish well.

The backs are not reversible, and depict Dante seated at his desk, writing his masterpiece with a feathered pen, all in shades of blue.  For those of us who really like nice card backs, these are simply beautiful. Cards are standard size, five inches by two and a half inches.  Lo Scarabeo cards are always of the highest quality, and this deck is no exception.  The card names are in six languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, and, of course, Italian.  The LWB gives background information on Dante, and even provides website links.  In addition, it explains how the works of Dante were integrated into the framework of the tarot (and vice-versa).  Titles and keywords are also provided, though reversals are not.  Two spreads are featured: the "Alfabeta" Divining Method and The Double Cross Method (I think there's something fitting about having a Double Cross spread for a deck dealing with Purgatory and the Inferno).

I do think the artwork alone qualifies this deck as essential for collectors, and the subject matter makes it highly desirable for fans of Dante Alighieri's writing.  I urge you to read the King Arthur's Court article on the Dante Tarot, as it is more in-depth than this review from your humble servant, the Connecticut Yankee.

You can read Paula Gibby's excellent article on the Dante Tarot here.

You can see a sample reading with the Dante Tarot here.

If you would like to order this deck, click here.

Dante Tarot by Giordano Berti; Artwork by Andrea Serio
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN#: 8883951689

Images 2001 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page 2002 Diane Wilkes