Historical Tarot of the City of Ferrara - Amerigo Folchi
Italcards - Out of Print

Ever since obtaining Amerigo Folchi's exquisite Omaggio a Erte for a ridiculously low price, I have been a big fan of his artwork.  While I don't think I would ever use any of his decks for doing readings, they're just too damn pretty for me to resist.  I recently made a trade for this appealing deck, and it has quickly become one of my favorite decks of Folchi's.

Luckily, the little white book (lwb) is in both English and Italian, so I was able to glean some pertinent information about this deck.  I love the subtitle of the lwb: "Notes for a correct reading of the MAJOR ARCANA and the MINOR ARCANA."  I'm so glad he chose not to add notes for an incorrect one.  Or, maybe not.  Seriously, though, the lwb is particularly valuable because the deck  was invented "for the city of Ferrara"--and, along with interpretations, the booklet includes iconographic sources for each of the cards.  While I like knowing that the Fool means "Foolishness, thoughtlessness, extravagance, irrationality, frivolity, spontaneity, exhibitionism, frenzy," I am fascinated that, "Schifanoia frescoes, month of April: the court fool Scocola is represented in front of duke Borso d'Este."  Turns out that one of the most ancient extant tarot decks was created for Ercole I, who was Duke of Ferrara from 1471 to 1505, and father of Beatrice and Isabella d'Este.  The Historical Tarot of the City of Ferrara illuminates not only the city, but the d'Este (Estense) family, and their digs, aka Schifanoia Palace.

These cards come by their old world elegance honestly, as you can see from the deck backs, which portray the d'Este family crest, along with (I assume) some of the art of Ferrara.  The packaging is sumptuous, as befits the Estense family deck.  The box  is covered by some kind of gleaming fabric, and the deck itself is wrapped in an emerald sheath of the same material.   The artwork is equally lush.  The purple robes of The High Priestess look irresistibly silky; I long to finger each fold.  Ditto The Magician's ceremonial garb.  Folchi's use of pattern and texture is varied and detailed, as you can see in this card, yet despite the brightly-colored starred floor, a zodiac wheel surrounded by emanations of red and white rays, and elaborate borders,  the combinations don't clash--they are vibrant, but never tacky.

A keyword for the Emperor is "structure," and isn't this a perfect image for that particular designation?  The Chariot is led by two magenta swans who skim over rippling water--and the charioteer is a beautiful charioteeress.  Instead of reins, she holds an apple in each palm, reminding me of Aphrodite.  One of the apples is golden, too!   The Moon is a particular favorite of mine, perhaps because the "feel" of the card is more familiar, more resonant with my lifestyle.   A young woman peers out from her boudoir window, and a silvery crescent moon gleams brightly upon her.  A griffin of some kind nestles at her feet, half-oddity, half-pet.

Unlike some of Folchi's other decks, the pips often correlate to Coleman-Smith-like imagery.  The Nine of Wands shows a man leaning against a pole--and though he looks sanguine, behind him is a shadowed figure, dagger in hand,  poised to strike.  The Ten of Swords has the bloodied figure lying on the ground, but despite the wounds, the figure isn't completely limp, and only three swords are stuck in his body.  The skies are red, though, and again, we see varied patterns that should clash, but instead, pleasure the eye.   The figure in the Four of Pentacles fingers gems with lust and his intent seems craven--he clearly wants them for their monetary worth alone, since his attire is spare and he doesn't bedeck himself with any trinkets.  

The Court Cards are elegant and refined--this is the Estense family, after all.  The Page of Cups looks particularly effete, but that, too, seems right.

I am struck by the fact that I inadvertently chose to review three decks this month that all refer to a place: Amber, a mythical city, Sacred Circle, which hearkens to the lands of the Celts, and the Ferrara.  But even when the tarot isn't location-themed, it seems all decks offers a glimpse into another world.  In the case of these three decks, we get a more topographical focus than usual, which adds to our visceral understanding of the landscape.  The Estense family history and the town of Ferrara were unknown to me before acquiring this deck, and now I would love to know more about them.  That is what the tarot has done for (to?) me...made me curious about so many things that were once unfamiliar, and opened up new worlds.  Would that they were all as pretty as Ferrara, as seen through the eyes of Amerigo Folchi.

Altogether, this deck is extremely pleasing and a treat for anyone who likes art decks.  It's hard to find, but worth the considerable effort it requires to track down for Folchi fans.

Diane Wilkes


Review and page copyright Diane Wilkes 2000