Golden Tarot of Klimt by A.A. Atanassov, based on the artwork of Gustav Klimt; Instructions by Bepi Vigna
Review by Diane Wilkes

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A day ago, at a local fair, I saw a t-shirt featuring The Kiss, one of Klimt's most famous works (and the card on which The Lovers in this deck is based). The appliqu was shiny and I couldn't resist fingering its metallic texture. When I received a package of six decks in the mail from Lo Scarabeo, I couldn't resist fingering it, either; the Golden Tarot of Klimt was the first one I opened. Both shirt and deck gave me a bit of a thrill...there's something about gold leaf that makes me act like a giddy girl, I guess.

The more I look at and work with this deck, the more entranced I become. My first glance showed me that several of the Majors, while exquisite, were . . . somewhat different than my idea of the archetypes. The Fool is a pale, naked man who holds his head in his hands like a candidate for the Nine of Swords--he is no one's idea of a blithe adventurer. The Magician is based on Medicine (Hygieia), which is also the central image of Jean Hutter's Odyssey Tarot High Priestess. I come down on the side of the Hutter attribution, though I can see it working for either card. And the High Priestess, based on the portrait of  Bildnis Fritza Riedler, has such a different face painted onto her body that it appears more shocking than mysterious. But the Empress is the real shocker--her death-head and gaunt figure seem more anti-Empress than Great Mother.

Another interesting and unique Majors card is Death (at right), but it works brilliantly. It is, as are all the images, highly stylized. Death himself is cloaked in a patterned shroud, while pale beings await his killing scythe. There is something compelling about this card. Are all the crosses on Death's ensemble suggesting that religion can kill you? Are we all vulnerable to the Grim Reaper, despite our attempts to bring riotous color into our lives? And is Death simply beautiful?

Even more alluring is The Moon card, which suggests a deep and magical past life regression. The fetal position of the woman is made numinous by the aura of moonlight than encases her in lunar amniotic fluid. The World shows a very pregnant woman whose burgeoning belly is a self-sustaining universe. (Of course, if she gives birth to this deck's Fool, the universe is a cruel joke.)

While the Majors are occasionally rather quirky, the Minors are, surprisingly, based on the Rider-Waite-Smith meanings, which make this deck amazingly readable for an art deck. That sounds condescending, and I don't mean it to be, but many of the art decks are not divination-friendly. This deck is incredibly evocative, with the art adding more nuance and connections rather than forcing the reader to create new meanings.

I pulled a card for a querent who wanted to know the state of an online crush and received the Two of Wands. Immediately upon looking at the card, I heard the chorus of the Supremes' song, 'You Can't Hurry Love'  ("No, you've just got to wait.") in my head. I was able to stress the importance of focusing on her own plans and projects, reminding her to move towards her goals instead of getting lost in reveries over which she has no control--and the image brought it beautifully home. Because it's the Two, there's a possibility for something to happen in that direction down the line, but there's no reason to stay stuck until it does. The Seven of Wands shows a man in the process of stabbing a monster (The Minotaur?)--a powerful image of triumphing over more powerful foes.

So many of the Minors are simply delightful, but I can only dwell on a few favorites. The Ten of Cups shows a jumble of women, swathed in bright, intricately-patterned clothes. It reminds me of a mother and her daughters having a merry slumber party (all that's missing is the popcorn), but there's a mystical layer coating the tableau of sweet, familial love.

The Ten of Swords draws me in for a different reason. While its composition is similar to the RWS version of this card, there is a willingness, even an eagerness for the end to come that shines on the pale face of the figure beneath the swords. The Klimt-touches make even this card a mixture of the restrained and the ecstatic. I've never been the type to find rapture in submission (on any level), but there's a spiritual quality to this card that suggests that what is truly valuable doesn't come easy. That attaining a vision necessitates endings.

It must be my day to focus on the Tens in general, because I must remark upon the Ten of Pentacles, simply because it's one of the most perfect versions I've ever seen. A bower of silver-tipped green trees form an arch, shading a path that leads to a stable, inviting home. It makes for the most peaceful picture--I want to move in today. I know that peace and security are etched into every brick.

There are a few Minors I just don't get--the Two of Swords depicts two naked men--I can't tell if they are embracing or grappling, but the little white booklet (LWB) suggests the second. The Four of Swords shows a woman resting her pretty head on her hands, but there is a light, frivolous flavor to this card that doesn't conform to my understanding of it. Not that that's a problem, necessarily; it's pretty enough that it adds just a frisson of chaos.

The Court Cards are a mixed bag. Some are perfect, like the Queen of Cups, dressed in blue and gripping an oversized martini glass, and the completely grounded Queen of Pentacles (at right). While the faces artist Atanassov affixes to the bodies don't always work, the Queen of Pentacles is the perfect garden lady doyenne.

Lo Scarabeo's usual professionalism takes on new heights with this deck. Atanassov integrates Klimt's wild patterning into the cards in such an exciting, yet holistic manner, that it makes each card a visual feast, and the gold leaf is so arresting that gazing at each card is pure pleasure. The fact that you can also read with it makes it much more valuable to me, but it works brilliantly as an art deck, as well. As per tradition, Justice is numbered VIII and Strength XI, and the card backs are reversible. The Major Arcana titles and the Minor suits (Wands, Chalices, Swords, and Pentacles) are traditional. Card titles in six languages are included on each card.

The LWB is written in five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. It includes some background information on Gustav Klimt, the artist on whom the deck is based, as well as the Tarot of Klimt's artistic sensibility (a combination of Hellenic classicism and Nietzschean culture). Short card interpretations, upright and reversed, follow. Some of these are traditional, but some are off the beaten track, such as the aforementioned Fool. The negativity of the reversals seems extreme to me. There is a section on Spreads, but it includes only one, a rather complex one that involves separating the Major and Minor Arcana. It is called The Circle of Faults and Virtues, and seems convoluted and potentially depressing; the card at the center of the circle influences all the other cards, and if it is reversed, that impacts the other (11!) cards in the reading, as they are to be interpreted using the overly negative reversed slant.

I recommend this deck to art lovers, but any reader who is drawn to beauty and enjoys a deck that has the flavor of the RWS, but is not simply a variant will want the Golden Tarot of Klimt. This jaded reviewer, who occasionally wonders what relevancy all these new decks on the market have, is reminded anew that a fresh vision can provide innovative and valuable insights unobtainable elsewhere . . . and for that, I am grateful.  

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI   X
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Wands, Chalices, Swords, Pentacles) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions Rods--Air; Swords--Fire X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                   X  
Smaller than standard                                           X
Larger than standard                                               X

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

Images 2005 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page 2005 Diane Wilkes