Decameron Tarot by Giacinto Gaudenzi
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

The deck box includes the following instructions: FOR ADULTS ONLY. In this case, the phrase refers solely to sexual content, not lofty themes that only a mature person could comprehend. We ain't talking "Last Tango in Paris" here.

Trust me, comprehending this deck does not involve a lot of mental labor. Even as I acknowledge my reputation as a prude, I refuse to allow that label to be used in conjunction with this review, as one thing has nothing to do with the other. If this was advertised as 78 Risqué Pictures, I wouldn't buy it, but it wouldn't bother me a smidgen. However, on the box, this is named Decameron Tarot. It has nothing to do with either: the Decameron or the Tarot. It's a double dose of bait-and-switch that I refuse to (ahem) swallow.

Now that I've got that off my chest (so to speak), I'll give you the facts and ask that you draw your own conclusions. Artist extraordinaire Giacinto Guadenzi has expanded his Majors-only Decameron Tarot to a full 78 cards, switching publishers from Ideagramma to Lo Scarabeo. The cards have been reduced to a standard size (a diminishment in sexual terms, but, to me, an improvement). Card titles are in Italian, English, German, Spanish, and French respectively, and placed to the side of the card, which makes them much less obtrusive than the former method of placing them at the bottom or top of the card. Backs are not-quite-reversible; the pastel colors convey a Laura Ashley feel, and the main images depict a woman and man embracing within an idyllic peach border. Closer scrutiny shows that the couples are different; in one, the woman is investigating the contents of her beau's pants and in the other, a different couple is upright, with the woman astride her man. What a blow (again, so to speak) for feminism. The artwork is nuanced and deft, and the colors are deep and rich, but these qualities seem wasted on this particular subject.

It's confession time. I bought this deck in its original format, thinking that it would actually have something to do with the Decameron by Boccaccio (I was an English major, after all). I ignored the "ADULT CONTENT" notice Alida provided, to my eventual regret. "How bad could it be," I asked myself. As soon as I glimpsed the Fool, I had my answer. The Fool card depicts a prone and scruffy reveler, his large penis lying inert in full sight as a young girl in braids stares at it in fascination. It was, for me, too uncomfortably akin to child porn, and I was instantly repelled. The Magician is seated as he reflexively fondles a naked woman's derriére. Perhaps he's checking to see if "As above, so below" is an accurate aphorism.

And so it goes. The Hierophant shows members of the Church in what initially appears to be a benevolent pose, but again, further examination shows that the nun is fondling the holy erection. There are often three people in the Lovers, but this version offers a peeper instead of an angel. The Chariot, a card typically indicating action and movement, shows a hayseed idly lifting the skirt of a young woman in a rustic cart (part of a young woman, anyway--we only see her legs and crotch). Justice (numbered VIII in this deck; Strength is XI) fondles herself atop pillows that sit on a collection of skulls. This image is the most cryptic in the deck--real justice is masturbation that leads only to death? The little white booklet (LWB) says, "Fortune influences loving justice. Commitment and trust are the personal qualities necessary for a satisfactory solution to the problem." Huh? Are we even looking at the same deck?

In Temperance, a serving girl pours water from a jug into a pitcher on a countertop as a man performs cunnilingus on her beneath the table. Another man, expressing unwitting cheer, imbibes his drink. The message, according to the LWB, is "Women's behavior is often unpredictable and is not based on reasonable criteria." (So much for "We've come a long way, baby.") "Don't ever think that you have your loved one in your grasp." I've never seen Temperance in that way, and I refuse to do so now. 

The World card depicts a man and woman having sex (there's a shock). The man grasps one of  the woman's round breasts, which gives us all the symbolism we could ask for--the world is round, too, you know.

I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear that the majority of the Minor Arcana depict sexual imagery also. The Aces, like the Major Arcana, depict a full-sized image; cards numbered two through ten have a small illustration at the center of the card, surrounded by the specific elemental symbol (Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles) in the appropriate number encased in dove gray. The Pentacles are coins emblazoned with the engraving of a flexible and naked woman, who is bent over and looking between her own legs. You were expecting "In God We Trust"?

The Seven of Wands looks like a rape scene to me--a woman with eyes wide in what looks like terror to me has her mouth covered by a large man's hand. The same man is bent over her with a finger over his lips. This card, offensive though it may be, is one of the few from this deck that has a picture that corresponds to Golden Dawn meanings, though the Six of Cups shows a pastoral scene of a young man reading beneath leafy trees. I can see this card's keyword as "Nostalgia."

The Court Cards are also full-length images. They tend to have nothing to do with the traditional court associations, though. Witness the Knave (Knight) of Pentacles, a friar of some kind who engages in anal sex at the bottom of the rectory stairs. Isn't that too much movement for this traditionally static Knight? The crumpled gown on the stairs could be a novice nun's garb, but that image speaks to wild abandon, not a typical association with this card.

The LWB seems to have been written for some other deck, as stated above. The deck is described as "A guide for Love," as if love and sex are synonymous. A biographical sketch of Giovanni Boccaccio follows. He is known for his use of irony, so perhaps he'd find it fitting that his name would be attributed to a deck having almost no resemblance to esoteric tarot.

There are two-three sentence descriptions for the Major Arcana; the Minor Arcana receive several keywords only, with the exception of the Aces and the Court Cards. A spread specifically designed for this deck is also offered--it is called "The Bedroom" and the description of this "bedspread" is both scholarly and insightful. Like the excellent art, it seems wasteful and an odd fit with the cards in the Decameron Tarot.

This review has been difficult to write. I have only respect and admiration for the talents of Giacinto Gaudenzi, and I'm very fond of everyone affiliated with Lo Scarabeo whom I've met. But I can't allow these Cup-like feelings to drown my Sword-like discernment--it would be unfair to the readership of Tarot Passages.

Often, I do a sample reading with new decks that I review, to illustrate their "readability." After examining this deck in depth, I could well imagine the only kind of reading this deck could illustrate: "You're going to have sex...you're going to have more sex...you are going to have sex on the floor...In the grass...With a defrocked nun...Up a tree..." Once my brain made the connection to Green Eggs and Ham, with its relentless, numbing one-track approach that this deck echoes, I knew it was time to move on. I have officially stopped thinking about the Decameron, and can move on to some of the deeper decks Lo Scarabeo has also recently released (Etruscan Tarot and Golden Tarot of the Tsar). A girl only has so much time...

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

Decameron Tarot by Giacinto Gaudenzi
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN#: 888395176X

Images © 2002 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes