Art Nouveau Tarot--Antonella Castelli Review by Diane Wilkes

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I remember my first taste of freedom. I was taking a Pre-Law course for high school students at Syracuse University, six hours away from home and Mom. While I sweltered in my air condition-less dorm room, this indisposition was almost offset by my being able to decorate my half in the artistic style I desired. In those days, I still aspired to chic, and classic Vogue posters studded my walls--along with numerous art postcards by Alphonse Mucha.

I was immediately drawn to the idealized and lavish images of Mucha, and remain so to this day. Ergo, as soon as I spied the Tarot Art Nouveau by Lo Scarabeo, I knew I had to speedily possess it--the cards on the outside of the box looked like they were designed by Alphonse himself. My first perusal of the deck gave me a great deal of pleasure; those lush, elegantly attenuated images were like a visual trip down a beautifully-pruned memory lane. One gets a sense of great bounteousness in the art of Antonella Castelli--no one in this deck has gone hungry, or even has a less-than-burgeoning sense of self-esteem. Check out the Five of Pentacles, which typically shows disability and poverty in Waite-Smith and its clones. In the Art Nouveau Tarot, a woman sits in sorrowful repose, but she is so attractive that you know that she wonít be suffering long. She even has three blooming flowers bedecking her tresses--nothing so mundane as hair--that signal her availability for not-so-distant future love. This is not a pitiful human being.

In fact, humanity has never looked so good as it does in the Art Nouveau Tarot. The men are studly, the women alluring--none of them seem to have heard of junkie chic. The Major Arcana gives new illustration to the term "Beautiful People." The Magician is more reminiscent of wrestler-hunk Adrian Adonis than fey Hermes. Death is a beautiful dark woman whose skull-pocked dress is seductively form-fitting. La Luna lacks mystery, but she makes up for it by looking like a wholesome, post-cocaine Stevie Nicks. Even the traditionally staid Hermit looks like Sean Connery! Only the Devil is remotely repellent; he reminds me of Jack Nicholson in the comedic role of The Joker, as opposed to someone truly depraved.

The Majors, though uniformly buff, evoke the archetypes. The Minors donít equate to any Kabbalah or Tarot numerology with which I am familiar. The pips are decorated with women in various scenes, mostly in varying states of undress. Often, backgrounds are kaleidoscope-like mandalas that reflect the pleasing graphic art at which Mucha so excelled. A red heart pierced by three scimitars describes the Waite-Smith rendering of the Three of Swords; Castelliís image is of two scantily-clad damsels possibly debating whether shopping or a pedicure should be the order of the day. The Seven of Cups has a woman looking musingly into a mirror. The Eight of Cups, which typically depicts someone turning away from life as he or she knew it, has a woman posing pensively. It would be easy to envision an appropriate caption: Should I or shouldnít I? And the question would concern nothing more earth-shattering than a new hair color, of course.

The accompanying explanatory pamphlet doesnít shed an abundance of light. The Eight of Wands is described as "representing creative strain, hope and plans." The image is of a woman, aimlessly meandering, butterfly net in hand. She is not engaged in any mad dash--her air is tranquil, as befits a woman in a strapless negligee. I donít see any "strain"--do you? The Ten of Swords shows yet another woman, with a tear trickling delicately from the corner of her long-lashed eye. It could just be a problem with her contact lens, though. When I cry, my eyes redden as if I spent the day with a well-filled bong, and my nose becomes distinctly bulbous. This lady looks positively luminous.

What makes for attractive wall hangings does not necessarily make for great tarot readings. The idealized splendor of the visuals is simply not germane to the lives of most people I know, and the cards seem to be a little too unrelentingly sanguine to give accurate readings. But, as an art deck, the Art Nouveau Tarot is a true treat for the eyes. Alphonse himself would be proud of this deck. And, if I didnít think it would be a desecration, Iíd proudly hang these images on my wall

Publisher: Lo Scarabeo/Distributed by Llewellyn Publishing
Justice: 8/Strength: 11
Suits: Wands, Chalices, Swords and Pentacles (Bastoni, Coppe, Spade, and Denari)
Card Number: 78
Standard Size, Reversible Backs

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Images Copyright Lo Scarabeo 

Review and  page Copyright © 2000 by Diane Wilkes