Le Conchiglie Divinatorie by Osvaldo Menegazzi    
Review by Paula Gibby

The discerning eye of the collector has long been drawn to the work of Osvaldo Menegazzi, artist and savvy businessman, owner of the publishing house, Il Meneghello. Of particular fascination are his series of charming "fetish" or thematic variations decks, those majors-only sets that focus upon one particular object, infusing it with images that make it unmistakably tarot. Three of the four sets are readily available through European dealers: Le Mani Divinatorie, Il Calzature Fantastiche and I Fiori Divinatori. All three sets are beautifully rendered on generously-sized cardstock, aesthetically packaged and produced and are a must for any collector.

Elizabeth Hazel has written a wonderful review of the Le Mani Divinatorie for Tarot Passages. Please do yourself a favor and enjoy her commentary and the card images before you leave the site. It is a gorgeous deck.

But there always has to be a "first" and that particular Menegazzi "theme" deck is as elusive and difficult to find as some of the subject matter it depicts. It is Le Conchiglie Divinatorie, Menegazzi’s "Seashell" tarot.

Menegazzi has a deep affection for seashells and for years has painted them…all sizes, all types. In 1975, he was encouraged to direct that passion towards creating a set of tarot majors devoted to a series of renderings using seashells and other sea fossils as each card’s centerpiece. Why seashells? Well, I suppose one could say, "why not?"; however, there was a reasoning behind it, which is charmingly and quite poetically described in the little booklet included with the set.

The booklet alludes to the cyclical nature of the tarot, a journey, a series of spiritual evolutions leading us to…well, we really don’t know for sure, do we?

Consider what mysteries and secrets the sea holds. How many civilizations have risen, fallen and then been swept into the tumultuous waters, never to be seen again. The legendary Atlantis is but one of these lost civilizations. And once the sea claims those relics of times past, it assimilates them into its own infrastructure. The fossilized objects become "homes" or shells for small living creatures. Bits of ruins are absorbed into reefs, other remnants are irrevocably molded to other crustaceans. They become one with the sea. The ebb and flow of civilization become one with the ebb and flow of the tides.

It is this very cycle, this ebb and flow, that mirrors the cyclical nature of the tarot majors and made them the perfect vehicle for Menegazzi’s beloved shells.

Like all of Menegazzi’s fetish decks, the Conchiglie combines lyric grace, subtle imagery and healthy humor. In no card is the humor so apparent than in (appropriately enough), the Fool . As in the I Fiori Divinatori, Menegazzi literally makes himself the Fool. And an unforgettable (and hairy) one he is! Big ears, big nose, full beard and black curly hair floating in every direction, this Fool, bursting with energy and excitement, is guaranteed to grow on you. OK, maybe like a fungus.

The Conchiglie Fool sits in his seashell. He is, after all, the Fool, so he hasn’t quite learned how to navigate on his own. He needs "training wheels", which take the form of chains secured to the seashell, keeping it steady and preventing it from tossing its rider into the depths of the sea. This instability does not bother the Fool at all…he exudes enthusiasm and lust for adventure. Wherever he’s going, he wants to get there right away and his little vehicle is fully equipped to accomplish just that. We see dual tailpipes (indicating a hidden engine somewhere) and, as an added impetus, this motley Fool has converted his eyeglasses into twin propellers. There are very subtle touches of the Hebrew alphabet in many of the cards and we see a hint of Aleph in the Fool. Notice that you can see his breath as he puffs busily in hopes that this will further assist him.

Another favorite card of mine is the Chariot. What could be more perfect than the seahorse? Menegazzi doesn’t stop there, he infuses even more imagery into the card. Look at the wheels just under the seahorse and you will see that what Menegazzi has given us is not just the image of a seahorse, but of the great Trojan Horse, complete with horse’s reins. These slight nuances completely transform the card and give it an added dimension of meaning for, as with the Fool card, the imagery expresses the attributes of its associated Hebrew letter, Cheth. Cheth means field and the fence enclosing it. It implies an area set apart, a refuge that must be safeguarded. Such was the aim of Troy, to safeguard itself against the Greeks. Their goal was thwarted when they accepted the gift of the Trojan horse.

Delicate charm best describes the Hermit. Here, we see a human ear, from which dangles an earring made from a small shell. Contained within this earring is a small flame, representing the Hermit’s lantern. Once again, the card rendering has been skillfully and subtly painted to reflect the appropriate Hebrew letter. Just look closely at the ear…it has been deliberately drawn to resemble…Yod.

In the Conchiglie, Strength is card 11. The two small shells to either side of the central figure resemble an ox-goad, which represents the Hebrew letter Lamed. But it is the central shell that occupies our attention because the choice is so perfect. It is the great chambered nautilus, its smooth coiled shell attaining sizes up to 11 inches in diameter. And what a complex piece of "machinery" it is. The chambered nautilus is subdivided into a series of interior chambers, each one becoming progressively larger. The largest chamber houses the sea creature itself. The other chambers, through an amazing exchange of liquid and gas, regulate the buoyancy. It is an interesting fact that the submarine was built upon this concept of multiple interior chambers and regulation of buoyancy.

So, how does this relate to strength? Well, consider the greatest strength and defense mechanism inherent in the basic structure of a submarine. If one chamber is flooded, it can be closed off to prevent further harm or damage to the other chambers. The design makes it more impervious to the single attack of an adversary.

The concept of "compartmentalizing" one’s thoughts, not allowing one aspect of life to flood into all the others is based upon the structure of the submarine and the great chambered nautilus. A variation of this philosophy is still taught in corporate business classes. Employees are encouraged to have many interests and many varied goals. People are happier and healthier if they do not rely upon any one thing or circumstance to fulfill them. A healthy "diet" of family, friends, spirituality, work and play makes for a "strengthened" and more empowered state of being.

The Star is a lovely card, exemplifying the grace and lyricism alluded to earlier. The elongated shell, delicately rippled, glows with the radiance of the finest alabaster. Menegazzi has included several images of stars to identify the card, but see again the subtle allusion to the Hebrew letter. The stars are hanging from a thin strand of fishing line. In effect, the sharp-pointed stars have become…fishhooks, a representation of the letter Tzaddi.

This review would not be truly complete without taking a couple of paragraphs to discuss the publisher of the Conchiglie, a man who was also responsible for encouraging Menegazzi to create this beautiful set of cards. This individual was none other than Vito Arienti.

What would the world of tarot be without Vito’s influence? How fortunate we are that we don’t have to speculate upon such a situation. Many of you may already be familiar with the name. Vito Arienti, collector and owner of the former publishing house, Solleone. You may already own several decks produced by his house. However, Vito’s influence goes much deeper than that. It was Vito who encouraged Folchi to paint his first tarot cards. It was Vito who published several of Folchi’s most stunning decks. In addition to the works of Folchi, we have Vito to thank for another of his "discoveries", Elisabetta Cassari. Whether you love her work, or hate it, most people agree that her tarot images are evocative and unforgettable. She directed her considerable talents to creating tarot images only after Vito’s involvement and encouragement to do so.

Le Conchiglie Divinatorie was produced in a handsome edition of 1500 signed and numbered sets. The box is a heavy two-piece affair in black with gold lettering. The cards themselves are the largest of the Menegazzi fetish decks, measuring 3 ½ x 6 inches, produced on excellent quality card stock which is heavily laminated on both sides. The backs are a deep rose. The booklet contains the signature and edition information on the outside cover. On the inside is a very beautiful introduction to the Conchiglie written by Vito Arienti himself. My Italian is quite poor, but even my inadequate translation revealed the soul of a poet in his words.

The production is a worthy compliment to this quite lovely and interesting set of majors. .

The Conchiglie is rare and very difficult to find. I obtained mine from a small buyer in Germany and I have only seen one other surface. To my knowledge, it has never appeared on eBay, nor is it available from the usual European sources (Trigoni, Alida, Y.Daniel, Somerville).

However, there is some consolation. While the original large edition is quite rare, there is a miniature edition available from Alida. Just look under the Meneghello listings and you will find it. While I don’t care for these miniature decks as a rule, the clarity and simplicity of the Conchiglie images translate well in this smaller size. I highly recommend it, as well as the other three decks previously mentioned. Each is exquisite.

Le Conchiglie Divinatorie
Osvaldo Menegazzi
Issued by Vito Arienti in 1975
Signed and Numbered Edition of 1500

Paula Gibby first began to study the tarot in the summer of 1996, as a result of studying Kabbalah and the Tree of Life.  She completed two B.O.T.A. tarot courses and is an active member of Tarot-l and Comparative Tarot.  She has contributed tarot reviews to Wicce's Tarot Page and is a major tarot collector--at present, she owns over 300 decks.  Her spiritual studies continue to widen; she has completed several Reiki courses and has received the Reiki II attunements.  Inspired by the work of Arnell Ando and Michele Jackson, she plans to create a tarot deck sometime in the future, but is presently quite busy as a Finance Manager in the Washington, D.C. area.

Images © 1975 Osvaldo Menegazzi
Review © 2001 Paula Gibby
Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes



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