Universal Tarot by Roberto De Angelis          Review by Diane Wilkes

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Many decks are called Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) clones, because so many artists have been influenced to some extent by the art of Pamela (Pixie) Smith.  Collage decks like Transformational Tarot and the Blue Rose Tarot offer variations on the imagery, but hearken back to the basic meanings of RWS, for the most part.  Then there are decks as divergent as the Native-American themed Tarot of the Southwest Sacred Tribes and the Halloween Tarot, which are strongly influenced by RWS, to the point where the imagery is closely akin, even if the art is significantly different. Then there are decks that are even closer to that original, such as the Millennium 2000 Tarot and the photographic Mountain Dream Tarot.

Lo Scarabeo's Universal Tarot by Roberto De Angelis fits into that last category, and is a clone's clone.  Among many other things, De Angelis is famous for his artwork on the Nathan Never comics, but is not connected to the Nathan Never Tarot Deck.  De Angelis is clearly a talented artist, but I think the tarot world would have been better served if he had been allowed to create a tarot of his own devices and desires, as opposed to aping the original.  

No, that would make sense.  Instead, we get a pleasant, but somewhat lightweight, version of a deck which already has a plethora of imitators.  According to the LWB, the artist was modernizing the RWS imagery, but it looks neither modern nor all that different.  My response after looking at all 78 cards was the title of the Peggy Lee classic, "Is that all there is?"  A friend who I was showing it to was more pithy (if less musical): "What's the point?"

De Angelis includes many of the classic RWS elements--the Queen of Wands has the requisite cat at her feet and sunflowers grace her gown--but her face is as vapid as it is pretty.  One doesn't get the same sense of strength and dynamism from this card as the RWS version confers.  The Judgement angel is also sweet-faced, but also lacks the power of the original.  The High Priestess's face actually simpers!  Most of the cards bear out this lack of potency, with the exception of The Devil, who is actually more fierce and scary in this deck than the one in the RWS.

The Minor Arcana are also so close to the original RWS deck that finding contrasts was the most difficult part of this review.  The man who adorns the Nine of Cups  is a bit more brutish, a bit more of a sot than the image on the RWS rendering.  The Six of Swords contains the obligatory man ferrying a dinghy towards smoother waters, but there is no blanketed body or bodies at the bottom of this boat.  There's also no real mystery or drama in this image.  The RWS is filled with mystery and drama and ambiguous images that can be interpreted in a surfeit of ways; the Universal seems to lack even the subtlest of nuances.

One Minor Arcana card I do like is the Three of Pentacles.  The sculptor chiseling the alabaster idol has an energy that enhances the imagery--the RWS Three of Pentacles is more static.

Unfortunately, one card does not a worthwhile deck make.  I wish that De Angelis had created a deck more in keeping with his natural abilities and interests.  It may well be that he "was inspired by the iconography...while recreating the same symbolic immediacy of the tarots by Pamela Colman Smith in a modern style."  The artwork in this deck doesn't seem particularly contemporary to me.  It's too close to the original for that.  

The card backs are in a blue and white design and are reversible.  Because the deck is so true to the RWS, Strength is VIII and Justice is XI--most Italian decks reverse this numbering.  The 14 page-LWB contains a tarot history timeline, a short description of the Universal Tarots, a mini-bio of A.E. Waite, keywords for the Major and Minor Arcana (the Major Arcana are described in slightly more detail), and an original nine-card spread called "The Search for the End."

I recommend this deck for collectors and those who want all the RWS variations available.  

You can read another review of this deck here.

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

Universal Tarot by Roberto De Angelis
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo; U.S. Distributor: Llewellyn Publishing
ISBN#: 0-73870-007-X

Images 2000 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page 2001 Diane Wilkes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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