Tarot of the Tsar - Artwork: A.A. Atanassov; Presentation: Giordano Berti
Review by Mari Hoshizaki
I realize there are many people who might wonder if this is just another rewritten and repainted 'tarot with Bible story' motifs. My review is from experience of one who did grow up with many Protestant Christian influences. My review is also from the slant of someone studying Western humanities in more detail, seasoned with delight in Dante, Gareth Knight and Byzantine art.
I like that this art deck named for the 'tsar.' Tsar is another word for the name that we know as Caesar or Kaiser. All the associations that we have with these historical rulers might bring up ideas of glittering parades, gilded churches and for me, Byzantine motifs.
In my own memory, I thought of the lovely icon collections from 'the lands of the firebirds' and I saw brushstrokes that remind one of near East or Arabian patterns. I even fancied perhaps the impression of Asian scrollwork or flattened, gilded and lacquer decorations---much like the beauty of the Russian Deck of St. Petersburg by U.S. Games., Inc.
I find these influences in this art deck, but more as well. The Golden Tsar looks like medieval and early Renaissance art to me. Something about the color and beauty reminds me of the early Christian mosaics of old Roman ruins or the churches of Ravenna in Italy. My class on Dante studies and a summer 2002 edition of Italy magazine noted how Dante Algheri walked in front of the churches of Ravenna in about 1300. He saw the then 800-year old gilded murals of Justinian and Theodora (It's about twice that age now, some 1600 years old and still as beautiful). He was so taken with their appearance and symbolism to Ravenna, that a whole canto in Paradiso is devoted to Justinian's story. I smiled when I looked at the cards this week. They seemed so much like these historical mosaics and gilded icons.
The art seems to be so much like the art of Byzantium, the art of a faith that 'had a Roman body, a Greek mind, and an oriental, mystical soul,' as Robert Byron described the triple fusion of Byzantine culture. Giordano Berti in the little white book (LWB) poetically suggests that the art of the Golden Tsar also exalts the faith of the Slavonic people and he (or she) who searches for the authentic nobility in religion. My own perspective is simply to add to that view, perhaps shed a bit more light.
This week I did a draw of two cards. My draw was Justice from the trumps, Archangel Michael, and the Four of Chalices, the prophet Elijah on Mount Herab.
This week, we studied the Justinian canto in my Dante class and did an overview of the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire. We learned that under Justinian, there were codes of law that the Western world uses today. In my poetry studies, I used the Elijah motif of meditation and also his ascension in my example. I think the classic reference actually made the work seem stronger. In terms of a weekly card draw, the Golden Tsar was right on target for my historical humanities studies. Since I am studying motifs and events that draw upon strong Christian themes, the Golden Tsar works with where I am at right now.
The majors follow the Marseilles order. The minors are done quite beautifully, with each appropriate number of symbols worked into a lovely design around a scenic insert. The scenic insert follows the Rider-Waite-Smith style of a suggestive motif with a human activity or event. The LWB said the minors could suggest a physical person with a relationship or influence to the questioner.
In my old copy of a Treasure House of Images, Gareth Knight suggests a picture layout of the Fool card in the middle and the Four Aces laid out around the Fool. I found the strong and beautifully rendered insert in the middle of each Ace card to be a very nice design.
One example is the celestial icon of the Ace of Pentacles. Two angels hold a golden plate against a hexagram-shaped window. Small details are not overlooked--the pentacle has the eight dots of delicate blue on the golden plate border over the red-inked icon of a Christian figure. The blue sky in the six-sided window is exactly the same color, with a white contrasting cloudbank at the angels' feet. Two red-winged cupid figures add richness to the scrolled gold etching of the card. Each of the other Aces have similar detail and a distinctively shaped insert that runs from Ace to 10. Pentacles have the six-sided insert, Cups have square inserts, Swords have round inserts and Wands have a diamond-shape insert.
If you believe the Golden Tsar is too heavily into historical Christianity or it reminds you of Christmas cards, I suggest balancing it with another deck. The Russian deck of St. Petersburg has elegant and colorful miniature motifs that add delightful folk-art imagery. A whimsical, simple deck such as Tarot Nova adds a lighter, bright note. I'm rather eclectic in my own personal weekly writings. I was using the Tarot of Love by Marcia Perry and picking out what gold and silver symbols or simple foil accents seemed to work with the gilded images of Golden Tsar.
Here's my walk through the majors:
If this silk that we've called light (Fool)
If this light that breaks open my sight (Magician)
If this sight that flew into me (High Priestess)
If this me that dreamed her wishes (Empress)
If these wishes unfolded as leaves (Emperor)
If these leaves lighted imagined faces (Hierophant)
If these faces merged softly (Lovers)
Then softer faces did cheer me (Chariot)
Their hands threw wind-streams of amber,
honeyed gilt lace
and silvered blue-green.
But one remembered face in balance
made that memory taste as sorrow, (Justice)
reminded me of shadows on tea-lit walls. (Hermit)
Their filtered shapes swirled and touched (Wheel of Fortune)
within a russet-rose circle (Strength)
Yes, they reminded me of you. (Hanged Man)
You were a dark image against the sunset (Death)
The sunset was all the colors (Temperance)
falling as sparks into the wine-dark sea (Devil & Tower)
If sparks reflected within a wine-dark sea (Star)
Then the air is also as liquid, light on dark (Moon)
Flights of silhouetted swallows, black on white (Sun)
swam as minnows in tidal shallows (Judgment)
within a current, they ran
Current dark as life, and feeling
All have sway over me.
Their shapes swirled in a wine-dark sea.
Shallows of lighter and darker, fluid
If they were, then you were
if light could hold you
as silk (World).
I see many names and talents from people associated with Lo Scarabeo noted in the credits for the Golden Tsar. Many people had hinted that I would enjoy the deck. I am glad to say that I find it a lovely and special gift.
My best wishes for your enjoyment of this lovely deck.
You can read another review of this deck here.
If you would like to purchase this deck, click here.
Golden Tarot of the Tsar - Artwork: A.A. Atanassov;
Presentation: Giordano Berti
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo, Italy