Golden Tarot of the Renaissance (Estensi Tarot) -- Project by Giordano Berti; Art by Jo Dworkin, Idea and graphics: Pietro Alligo
Review by Diane Wilkes

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

This is a lovely reproduction deck--well, actually, there's more production than reproduction involved, now that I think about it. Only 17 of 78 cards are from the misnamed "Charles VI Tarot" (also known as "The Gringonneur Tarot"). The so-called "Charles VI Tarot" was, in fact, probably created in Ferrara in the late 1400's and possibly was the very first tarot deck (though this is not universally believed).

Jo Dworkin, who recreated the remaining cards, was guided by various examples of Trionfi (Major Arcana) from Ferrara (late 15th and early 16th Century). The Minors, on the other hand, were based on frescoes in the Palace Schifanoia (much like Folchi's Ferrara Tarot). The original frescoes are steeped in the magical and astrological influences absorbed by the artist, Pellegrino Prisciani, and this occult strain combines with Dworkin's intent to create a cartomantic deck.

The original cards that have been reproduced (hand-painted with tempera and adorned with gold leaf adornment) are:

The Fool
The Emperor
The Hierophant
The Lovers
The Chariot
The Hermit
The Hanged Man
The Tower
The Moon
The Sun
The World

I think Dworkin's additional cards mesh seamlessly with the originals.  One thing I found fascinating was that several of the Trionfi (and Court Cards) we are used to seeing with a single character have more than one person on them. The Fool's dog has been sent to the pound; instead we have several red-dressed children frolicking at the Fool's bare feet. This Fool is not blithely following his muse off a cliff--he is performing a trick, an action generally associated more with The Magician. Speaking of The Magician, he also has an audience of two fascinated youths.

It is not only normally "solo" cards that have additional figures. There are two cherubs aiming Cupid arrows in the Lovers card--and there are three couples for them to shoot at!

The Wheel of Fortune is another card that has more people than one usually finds, and the banners provide another clue to the way the cycles of fate were seen during the Renaissance: Regnabo: I will rule (in the future), Regno: I rule, Regnavi: I ruled, and Sum Sine Regno: I do not reign. The braying ass at the top of the Wheel reminds us that we are not masters of our destiny, but all too fallible and foolish. This Wheel is clearly based on the Visconti-Sforza version of Trump X.

The woman in Strength doesn't know her own (strength)--she breaks a marble pillar with her fingertips with the tranquil expression of a woman with a Paxil prescription. The Hanged Man doesn't have traitor's silver coinage flying from his pockets, but he grasps what look like moneybags in both hands--upside down, of course.

Another card I find particularly fascinating is The World, which depicts a woman not ensconced in a laurel wreath of victory, but atop a green circle that contains a world within. What look like mountains on the inside seem like clouds underneath the wheel, an evocative contrast that speaks to mundane triumph that is as temporal as the wafting vapors.

While the Minor Arcana are ostensibly based on the interpretations given by "cartomantic specialists," not all of them mesh with the meanings to which Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) users have grown accustomed. The Three of Wands shows three women spinning, bringing to mind the Moraie (Three Fates), which is an interesting connection, interpretation-wise. The Ten of Wands shows a royal couple on thrones lofted by angels carrying staves, suggesting that humanity can be a burden on overworked seraphs.

The Two of Cups shows a couple locked in an amorous embrace, which is somewhat standard, but the Five of Cups offers a more biblical form of grief than the RWS; a woman dressed in a fig leaf mini stands in the rays of the sun, three spilled cups at her feet. Regret that she has been cast out of the Garden of Eden is a more cosmic anguish than we are used to identifying with this card.

While there was one extant court card from the original "Charles VI Tarot," the Knave of Swords, Lo Scarabeo  decided to have Dworkin create all new images. This has resulted in a consistent and related court, but the historian in me would have preferred the single remaining card from the deck to have been included, even if only as as additional card, instead of the extra one that lists some of Lo Scarabeo's products. I will always come down on the side of choice.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, some of the Court Cards contain more than one individual. While I normally identify the Knight of Cups as the seeker of romance, in the Estensi deck the Knave is the one locked in a tender embrace. If I were forced, I could pretend that the Knave is merely kissing his mother goodbye before he begins his training, but it's a stretch. The Queen of Cups has two children at her feet, and I think they add to the sense I get from this card that she's a woman, W-O-M-A-N (you know, the kind who admirably and effectively takes on the rles of wife, mother, and all-around activist). One thing I found disturbing in this deck is that the Kings are so very young-looking, but the age of mortality was considerably less during the Renaissance.

Scans do not do these gorgeous cards Justice (an unintentional tarot allusion). The gold foil makes this deck seem impossibly lavish and brings to this viewer's mind the paintings of Raphael. The backs are reversible and in gradients of brown, with a hint of the punch decorations in the background (though not gold-leafed ones). The cards are a flexible, but sturdy matte cardstock, yet the gold leaf adds shine a-plenty.

The little white booklet (LWB) is 63 pages, but doesn't give a great deal of information--the length is due to the fact that the material is repeated in four languages. The languages are English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. Giordano Berti provides the historical background and artistic lineage for the deck and Tiberio Gonard handles the "Divining" material. The Court consists of the Knave (which corresponds to the Page in the RWS deck), Knight, Queen and King. Short upright meanings are provided, as well as reversals, but the reversals are designated with a capital "U"--perhaps to indicate these interpretations are for "upside down" cards? (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.)

A "Zodiac Diagram" spread is also included in the LWB, but the house meanings are not traditional. The fourth house represents "Relationship with children or also favorite pastime," which is normally associated with the fifth house, the fifth house, "Travel or correspondence with distant people," is ordinarily attributed to the ninth house.

I recommend this deck to those who are interested in tarot history, as well as those who collect decks for the art (especially Renaissance-style art). Lo Scarabeo has been publishing historical decks for a long time and that experience and care are evinced by and are paid off beautifully in the new release of the Golden Tarot of the Renaissance.

Golden Tarot of the Renaissance by Alligo and Dworkin; Project by Giordano Berti
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN#: 073870461X

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

Click here to peruse a sample reading with the Golden Tarot of the Renaissance.

  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 (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks/Coins) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/8" X 2 3/8")                     X
Smaller than standard                                    X
Slightly Larger than standard (4 3/4" x 2 1/2")                  X  

Images 2004 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes