Tarot of the Journey to the Orient (Marco Polo Tarot) by Severino Baraldi, Pietro Alligo, Riccardo Minetti, and Isa Donelli
Review by Lee A. Bursten 


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


This is a theme deck, but in my opinion it falls more into the category of gimmick than theme.  The gimmick here is that each Major card shows two figures, one Asian and one Occidental, to illustrate the archetypes.  When I first heard about this deck I was doubtful about how well this would work and, on seeing the deck, my doubts have been replaced by a certainty that this is not a felicitous concept.  Although the box has a blurb reading “Deck inspired by the journey of Marco Polo across ancient China,” the deck in fact has nothing to do with Marco Polo except for the “East meets West” scenario.


On some of the Majors, like the High Priestess, the two characters interact with each other.  In others, like the Magician, they operate independently and seem unaware of each other.  In either case, the combination of Eastern and Western characters seems totally incongruous.  I realize the deck’s authors meant for the scenes to be allegorical and not realistic depictions of anything that could have happened in real life, but sometimes artistic creations work and sometimes they don’t, including Tarot decks, and this one just doesn’t.  A card which shows an Asian woman in the traditional Strength pose with a lion, while a few feet behind her Joan of Arc is wielding a sword, is just silly.


I like the deck’s pastel colors, but the artwork on the Majors and Courts doesn’t seem particularly inspired, and in fact has a sketchy or rushed quality, as if it were done as an afterthought.  I actually much preferred the artwork on the numbered Minor cards, for which the artist gives us the care and attention to detail that are missing from the Majors.  There is a curious and attractive stillness to these Minors, with much attention to textures and architectural details.  The Two of Wands is a good example, showing two men on a ship.  Over the rail of the ship we see buildings on the approaching shore.  A sky and three seagulls complete the scene.  Baraldi did a wonderful job here, and in this one card I can feel the tilting of the ship in the water, I can smell the ocean, and I can hear the seagulls crying.


The numbered Minors alternate between Western and Eastern scenes, alleviating the awkwardness of juxtaposing the two in the same image.  Most of them seem to use the Rider-Waite-Smith meanings as a base, but with unorthodox twists that bring some delightful results.  I particularly liked the Eight of Wands, showing an acrobat.


The Little White Booklet gives a statement (for example, “Sacrifices while waiting will bring benefits”), a sentence describing the picture, and some divinatory meanings for the Majors.  Some of these meanings seem strangely specific, such as “Good sales or purchasing contract” for the Lovers.


For the Minors, the booklet only gives some divinatory meanings.  But many of these meanings don’t seem to have anything to do with the images on the cards.  The Ten of Swords, we’re told, means “Supremacy over adversity and enemy forces; period of well-being and tranquility.”  However, the picture seems to show the exact opposite.  There was obviously some sort of major disconnect between the artist and the writer of the booklet.  This is unfortunate, because it causes the reader to have less than complete confidence that this is a well-thought-out system.


Due to the awkwardness of the deck’s concept and the uninspired artwork on the Majors, I’m afraid I can’t really recommend this deck.  I do like the numbered Minors, though, and I wish they could have been part of a different project.


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


Tarot of the Journey to the Orient (Marco Polo Tarot)

Artwork by Severino Baraldi

Written by Pietro Alligo and Riccardo Minetti

Instructions by Isa Donelli

Published by Lo Scarabeo, distributed by Llewellyn Worldwide

ISBN No. 0-7387-0282-X


Lee A. Bursten has been studying Tarot off and on for about 20 years. He enjoys reading about Tarot and searching for the "Perfect Deck," which is always just around the corner but out of reach. He is very grateful to Michele and Diane for posting his reviews, and especially to his significant other, Larry Katz, for his superhuman patience.

Images © 2002 Lo Scarabeo
Review © 2003 Lee Bursten
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes