Leonardo da Vinci Tarot by Iassen Ghiuselev and Atanas Atanassov
Review by Lee A. Bursten
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I love this deck!
Two incomparable artists have created a deck which in my opinion is unmatched in artistic virtuosity. Paintings by Leonardo were recreated to fit into a tarot mold in a style referred to in the Little White Booklet as ďLeonardesque chiaroscuro.Ē At first glance the deck looks quite monochromatic, but in fact two colors are used, a dark green and a brown. The drawing and coloring are amazingly detailed and exact, and the pictures are quite expressive in a cool, clinical sort of way, somewhat similar to Robert Placeís Alchemical Tarot and Tarot of the Saints, although in a different style. In a strange way, the objective detachment of the style allows the humanity of the subjects to shine through.
In the introduction to the booklet, Giordano Berti explains that the 22 Majors were created in 1992 by Iassen Ghiuselev, while the 56 Minors were executed in 2002 by Atanas Atanassov. The Majors are pure magic; and just as magical is the fact that Atanassov, truly a wizard among tarot artists (whose decks include the Golden Visconti and the Golden Tarot of the Tsar) was able to execute the Minors in exactly the same style, the only difference I could see being that the lines on the Minors are in general very slightly less sharp than those on the Majors.
The method is to take a painting by Leonardo and alter it to fit into tarot conventions. The High Priestess, for example, is the Mona Lisa, wearing a bishopís hat. In the background of each Major card can be seen a small, sketchy symbol appropriate for that card (a globe for the World, an eagle for the Emperor), as well as the title of the card hand-written in Italian, written backwards (as Leonardo often wrote).
The imagery on the cards is actually rather simple, which I find appealing. In The World, a nude woman grasps a tree trunk while smiling, eyes downcast. At her feet lies a large eggshell, from which either she or something she has been nurturing has presumably hatched.
The facial expression and posture of the Hermit, an elderly ascetic in a cave with an hourglass, are quite affecting.
The Minors follow the same scheme, except that replacing the sketchy symbol and the backwards card title are geometric arrangements of the suit symbols in the upper right-hand corner of the card, superimposed over a full scene. These scenes encompass a wide variety of subjects; I was particularly taken with the cards with fantasy themes, such as the Six of Swords showing a dog- or cow-headed humanoid creature navigating a sailboat with a living tree as a mast. This card bears an interesting comparison to the Wheel of Fortune on the Oswald Wirth deck, which shows the wheel resting on a boat in water.
Although some of the Minors donít follow the Rider-Waite-Smith scheme in any recognizable way, itís clear that that deck was used by Atanassov as a basis for creating his Minors. The imagery, like that of the Majors, is simple; the cards donít have the same multitude of symbolism as other decks. Since Leonardo often painted similar subjects, there are correspondingly similar cards in these Minors, so that there are several cards, for example, picturing a man seated at a dining table, and several showing a mother and infant. One must sometimes rely on subtle differences in gestures or props in order to differentiate the cardsí meanings. Tiberio Gonardís well-written divinatory meanings are a help, although sometimes I was unable to make a connection between the picture and the printed meaning.
Because of the simplicity of the Minors, readings with this deck tend to be more straightforward and direct than with some other decks, although there is still a mystery and ambiguity in the cards which allows for intuitive insight.
I liked the graphic design of the cards (by Pietro Alligo), which uses as a framing device the circle and the square from Leonardoís Vitruvian Man drawing (also used as a basis for the Ace of Pentacles card). At first I thought this was too modern, but Iíve changed my mind. The geometric figures set off the paintings very well, as can be seen in, for example, the Hermit.
In my opinion, Lo Scarabeo has hit the jackpot with this one. Not only is this a wonderful art deck, but itís a great deck to read with as well. My congratulations to all those involved in this endeavor.
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You can read a sample reading with this deck here.
Leonardo da Vinci Tarot
By Iassen Ghiuselev and Atanas Atanassov; idea by Lo Scarabeo; graphics by Pietro Alligo; historical introduction by Giordano Berti; divinatory meanings by Rodrigo Tebani
Published by Lo Scarabeo, distributed by Llewellyn Worldwide
ISBN No. 073870409-1
Lee A. Bursten has been studying Tarot off and on for about 20 years. He enjoys reading about Tarot and searching for the "Perfect Deck," which is always just around the corner but out of reach. He is very grateful to Michele and Diane for posting his reviews, and especially to his significant other, Larry Katz, for his superhuman patience.
Images © 2003 Lo Scarabeo
Review © 2003 Lee Bursten
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes