Ancient Italian Tarot and Classical Tarots
Reviews by Lee A. Bursten

If you are interested in purchasing the Ancient Italian Tarot, click here.

If you are interested in purchasing Classical Tarots, click here.

These are two reproduction decks published by Lo Scarabeo. Classical Tarots is a reproduction of a deck by Carlo Dellarocca, originally published by Gumppenberg in 1835, commonly known as the "Soprafino" deck. Ancient Italian Tarot is a reproduction of a late 19th century deck based on the same Soprafino designs. (Iím indebted to Tom Tadfor Little for this information, which I found on his excellent Antiquetarot Discussion Group.)

First, some words on the basic designs. The Soprafino deck is very esthetically pleasing and, depending on oneís tastes, is possibly the most pleasing of any deck produced before the 20th century. The pictures are detailed, very finely done engravings. There are many interesting details, from the intricate suit icons to the costumes to the facial expressions.

Best of all, although this is not an esoteric or occult deck, there are many unusual little touches here and there which might be used as interpretational aids. For example, Justice is shown with her eyes closed, yet a large eye peers out from the center of her collar. On the Classical Tarots deck, it appears as if a teardrop or drop of blood falls from the eye. I find this rather remarkable, since many modern decks, from Caroline Smithís Elemental Tarot to Rachel Pollackís Shining Tribe, make substantial use of eye symbolism on their Justice cards.

The Lovers is also an interesting card. This is a variation of the standard Marseilles scene, only this time the young man stands between his beloved and his father, the king, who places a paternal hand on the young manís shoulder, while Eros aims an arrow at the girl. But while the young man holds his belovedís hand, in his other hand he holds a short sword, which seems rather odd.

There are many humorous touches. For instance, in The Chariot, the charioteer is obviously very taken with himself, judging from his expression and posture, which are echoed by the two horses. He seems to be consciously imitating the picture on the front of the chariot, in which two angels are crowning a warrior. However, a victory wreath lies on the ground, about to be trampled by the horses.

I really love the Strength card. This woman is no delicate wallflower. She has kicked off her shoes and in a very no-nonsense manner is showing this lion whoís boss. The lion never had a chance.

The Devil is a very interesting card. He seems (to modern eyes, at least) more comical than threatening, with his bulging eyes and red nose. He holds in subjugation three creatures: a snake, a crocodile with a single horn, and a humanoid demon. But the three creatures seem to require a great deal of trouble on the Devilís part to keep them subjugated. In fact, there seems to be some question as to who is subjugating who. This could provide an interesting metaphor, where our interests and passions and obsessions, which we fool ourselves into thinking are under control, are in fact controlling us.

Finally, on Judgment, although the figures bursting out of their graves register anticipation and joy, there is one person on the lower right who seems quite dismayed and is covering his or her ears against the trumpet blast.

The minor arcana are, of course, non-illustrated pips, with simply the requisite number of suit tokens. But these pips are very attractively laid-out and detailed.

If one wants to read with an antique deck, I would definitely recommend this one, especially if the Marseilles seems crude or ugly.

The two versions are relatively similar to each other. The Classical Tarots (the original Soprafino) is finer by far artistically, with much fine detail in the engravings. The deck has been recolored for this reproduction, with very pretty shades of yellow, pink, red, orange and green predominating, which make for a cheerful atmosphere. The Tower card, however, is slightly out-of-focus.

On the Classical Tarots reproduction, Lo Scarabeo has placed keywords in four languages running up the left side of each card. The keywords arenít terribly well thought out, and I suspect most people will simply ignore them, especially people like myself who arenít fond of keywords, although it might be interesting to try using the keywords as an easy way to interpret the pip cards. Fortunately the keywords are easy to ignore, since they run up the side of the card rather than being prominently featured on the top or bottom. Another positive feature of the keywords is that they enable one to tell whether or not certain cards are reversed, such as the Two, Three, or 10 of Wands, where it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern their orientation otherwise.

The Ancient Italian Tarot deck is a coarser version of the same pictures. The lines are thicker and less detailed. The deck has not been re-colored, and the colors are darker. There are some cards where red areas have bled, for example The World. In the Classical deck her lips are red, but in the Ancient Italian deck itís just a blotch of red on her mouth. There are a few differences in the drawings, but no significant ones. The pip cards in the Ancient Italian contain Arabic numerals, whereas the Classical pips have roman numerals. For the entire suit of Wands in the Ancient Italian deck itís practically impossible to tell whether the card is upright or reversed, so if you read with reversals, you may want to mark the cards. However, if you look very carefully, you can see that the Arabic numbers at the top of the card are darker than those at the bottom, so you might be able to differentiate it that way.

Although the artwork is finer and the colors prettier on the Classical, frankly I prefer the Ancient Italian. The original colors, the faded-looking background, and the lack of keywords give more of a feeling of working with a truly old deck The light greens and light oranges on the Classical are pretty, but seem more modern.

Either of these decks would make a fine addition to a collection, and Iím quite happy to own them.

Ancient Italian Tarot
Classical Tarots
Lo Scarabeo/American Distributor: Llewellyn

If you are interested in purchasing the Ancient Italian Tarot, click here.

If you are interested in purchasing Classical Tarots, click here.

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.

Review © 2001 Lee Bursten
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes
Images © 2000 Lo Scarabeo









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