Tarot de Gruyeres by Jose Roosevelt, Poems by Marie-Claire Dewarrat
Review by Diane Wilkes

Fanciful and grotesque by turns, the Tarot de Gruyeres is a Majors-only deck with artwork so busy and detailed that you could spend hours looking at the borders alone!  These pen-and-ink drawings surrounding the cards are quite intricate, depicting grinning, mustached faces, naked, crowned bodies, and horned satyrs. My favorite is the face with the tongue sticking out at you...it expresses the deck's cheeky energy perfectly. At first I thought that some of the cards had different borders, but Jose Roosevelt, the artist who created this lively deck, simply switched the borders around on some cards, so that the opposite ends were up.

The artist upends our traditional understanding of the archetypes, as well. A dog wearing a battered, but brimmed hat strips the Fool of his draped sheet, so that we see him bare-assed but not embarrassed as he climbs a rickety ladder to the stars. Even the wand clasped in the Fool's hand wears a goofy grin. The Magician floats above his table-altar, and large, wild roses bloom from the earth. The planet's face wears a furrowed brow, unused to seeing the power of gravity defied by a magical mortal. The High Priestess is unusually seductive; she cups her breasts in her hands while she peruses her book of mysteries. The pillars that surround her aren't black and white, but one wears the face of tragedy, the other, a cocky grin, as together, they carry a Moon banner above the High Priestess' head, which is topped by some sort of huge and odd bird.

The Hierophant holds two naked children on his lap of checkered stairs. The recent scandals of the Catholic Church priests are too fresh for this card not to give me the creeps. The naked bodies behind the Pope that seem to be climbing upward don't help, either.  The Lovers (above) is no less kinky--five naked bodies are arranged in a connected pose, and two of them are cherubs. Amor points his bow towards them, but he's close enough that we wonder who he's aiming at--a fellow angel or the humans.

Justice, numbered eight, wears tattoos that help her blend into her forest surroundings, as she weighs a pear against an apple on her scale. The trees' faces evokes the scene from the Wizard of Oz, where the trees take revenge on anyone who dares to pick their fruit. The figure on the Justice card kneels on a book, showing that, though surrounded by the natural world, she is grounded in the law and scholarship.

All of the cards are in black and white, except for the Wheel, which has some dark red coloring in the background. Why this card is enhanced in this manner is a mystery to me, a mystery the little white booklet (LWB) doesn't solve, as it is in French. Even if it were in English, I suspect my confusion would remain, as the LWB doesn't contain standard interpretations, but poems, alongside reproductions of each card.

Another card that really expresses the saucy spirit of this deck is the Death card. I have never seen such a gleeful, almost puckish, skeleton, as he holds a rag of a face in his bony hand with predatory delight. The Moon is equally surreal; dog and wolf don't bay at the crescent moon above, but instead howl with glee as they sit on the riverbank.

The artwork is quite detailed and bold. The figures are well-defined; the males, in particular, are sculpted hunks and the women are quite voluptuous.

The cardstock isn't flimsy, but it is quite supple and flexible. Card backs are reversible and depict the Castle Gruyere in red and white. The deck was, in fact, commissioned by said Castle and can be purchased through them. The card titles are in French, and are as follows:

The Fool Fou
The Magician Bateleur
The High Priestess Papesse
The Empress Imperatrice
The Emperor Empereur
The Hierophant Pape
The Lovers Amoureux
The Chariot Chariot
Justice Justice
The Hermit Ermite
The Wheel of Fortune Roue
Strength Force
The Hanged Man Pendu
Death Mort
Temperance Tempérance
The Devil Diable
The Tower Tour
The Star Etoile
The Moon Lune
The Sun Soleil
Judgment Jugement
The World Monde

This deck is truly delightful, offering food (cheese?) for thought and entertaining images that will occupy the tarot collector's attention for hours. I recommend it to them highly. You can see more images from this deck via the artist's website.

Tarot de Gruyeres by Jose Roosevelt; poetry by Marie-Claire Dewarrat
Publisher: Castle Gruyere

  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) N/A  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions N/A  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                             X
Larger than standard (approx. 4" X 5 1/2")                                              X  

Images © Château de Gruyères 1993
Review and page © 2003 Diane Wilkes
On loan from the Brigit Horner Collection