Phoenix Tarot by Paola Angelotti
Review by Diane Wilkes

I discovered this deck-in-progress several years ago online, and I was charmed by its clean lines and bright colors. The computer-generated artwork is striking and very modern and engaging. I was delighted to find the deck was now available for purchase.

It took over a month from the time the artist sent me the Phoenix Tarot for the deck to arrive.  In some ways, the deck exceeded my expectations; in others, it greatly disappointed them.

The oversized cards are as brightly-colored as they appear on the artist's website. The clean lines and striking artwork are still in evidence.  But computer graphic art still has a long way to go when it comes to creating nuanced faces and many of the pip cards seem numbingly similar in toto.

One of the first cards from this deck that I saw was Il Matto (The Fool) and it remains one of my favorites.  Highly stylized, an almost-stick figure man dressed in angular clothes walks toward a mountain peak, the sky striped in shades of red and pink.  Behind him, lurks a menacing, jewelled crocodile.  The colors and composition convey a breezy insouciance that is the domain of this archetype.

La Sacredotessa (The High Priestess) is a bit more lush than the traditional, virginal Trump-- more Sophia Loren than Persephone. She does not carry the traditional scroll, but stands between two ornate pillars with one hand raised.  She's either wearing the largest engagement ring in the world or she's holding a luminous insight that shoots blazing sparks of light.

The Empress and Emperor are card-carrying members of the Beautiful People. You can easily imagine seeing this Emperor at Cannes, not as its ruler but on the beach, doing a press shoot for his latest movie. He possesses physical might, but not the requisite gravitas for the rôle...much like another bodybuilder I could name.

A night sky filled with stars is the backdrop for Il Carro (The Chariot) (at top).  The elegant vehicle traverses the unusual terrain of long grass that reminds one of the jungles of Africa.  The image is very romantic -- one can even make out the shadows of angels riding across the sky.

One particularly effective card is La Giustizia (Justice), whose starkly defined role is perfectly matched by the clean linear style of the Phoenix Tarot. Justice's face is not expected to convey a depth of emotion, so no nuance is needed. L'Eremita (The Hermit) is another card that naturally dovetails with this style. A robed figure stands in the tall grass, his purple gown meshing like interwoven linen with the sharp green blades of the waving grass, as a full moon blesses and illuminates his meditation.

The figure on Il Diavalo (The Devil) looks more like a cartoon character than a truly fearsome demon, but the golden lightning that sizzles behind his back gives the card a looming menace to face, just the same. La Torre (The Tower), with its geometrical designs is less frightening -- the bodies falling from the top of the building are too close to being stick figures for self identification. The card does bring me back to my 11th grade fear of Geometry, though.

Another card that loses something in the translation is La Luna (The Moon). The flat quality of the round pool surrounding the crustacean makes it look like crab-on-a-plate--al fresco dining, anyone?

Il Guidizio (Judgment) manages to blend the modern with the mystical.  The luminous ribbon Angel that floats above the city built on sand shares a song many of us desire to hear.  This card tells a dramatic story, a story that would enrich any reading.

The central figure on Il Mondo (The World) is not a person, but a three-dimensional diagram of the Tree of Life, with a green snake wound about its paths. It's an interesting concept, but even the bursting lights in the background can't give the card the dynamism of a dancing figure.

As I mentioned earlier, the Minor Arcana has simple, straightforward pips. They seem influenced by the Thoth Minor Arcana, particularly some of the higher numbered Cups and the Two of Pentacles, but I don't find them as powerful or as meaningful, despite the vibrant colors and unusual positioning.

Take, for example, the Otto di Bastoni (Eight of Wands).  Eight green implements are poised against a red-orange background, with sparkles of light bursting from the wands. Despite the pyrotechnics, the scene seems static, not energetic. Often, a concept is repeated, such as a flower fragmented by swords. What is meaningful and interesting in the Due di Spade (Two of Swords) becomes less so when duplicated in the Three, Four, Six, Seven, and Eight.

Occasionally, Angelotti transcends the mundane with the pips. Many are visually lovely, and the Due di Coppe (Two of Cups) takes on a life of its own. The two cups hover above two new, green leaves in a gently undulating blue sea. A sensual flower spurts water into the colorful chalices. But the interesting part is that the chalices have handles that put one in mind of arms akimbo, molded into a saucy, almost-challenging, pose, much like a romantic pair who tease and test one another. This card gives the reader a lot to work with, if he or she is willing to look closely at the imagery. Unfortunately, not every card contains as much symbolic material.

The Court Cards carry the same fate as the human figures on the Major Arcana--the computer-generated images tend to the bland, plasticene faces that fail to convey emotion or a sense of reality.  Some of the pictures are lovely--Angelotti has an excellent sense of composition and color-- but the people are often vapid and ultimately empty. One exception for me is the Cavaliere di Coppe (Knight of Cups), whose one-emotion face telegraphs his single-minded devotion to capturing the Grail Cup. Sadly, his King is diverted, staying way too busy living the highlife with the Emperor on the beach at Cannes. The Re di Pentacoli (King of Pentacles) reminds me a bit of Robin Hood, more Kevin Costner than the Man of the Forest. Again, no gravitas.

The box the deck came in was crushed in transit, but I suspect this will be the rule, rather than the exception--the construction does not seem particularly sturdy. A signed title card comes with the deck, which is limited to 500 copies. Another card contains the deck dedication, which is "To Ermanno and Martina"--I am guessing they are Paola Angelotti's parents. The inclusion of this card makes me want to like the deck more than I do, as it is personal and touching. There is no little white book--if you want to read anything about the cards, you will have to consult the artist's website, which does contain some keywords for each card. The card backs are reversible and of a simple purple and white design--a design that does not reflect Angelotti's artistic eye.

The deck itself is made on reasonably sturdy cardstock, but the unevenness of the edges is occasionally problematic, as is the quality of the printing. In my deck, some of the card titles are faded. The professionalism of the printing is not in the same class as US Games or Lo Scarabeo, but one can not expect that of a self-published deck (though some decks, like the Templar and Guardians of Wisdom, manage to meet those standards).

My main concern, frankly, though, is the price of this deck--if it were akin to the Templar and/or Guardians of Wisdom, I wouldn't have any issues at all. If you are from the United States and buy the deck from the artist, it costs slightly more than $67.00 (including shipping). It is $15 less if you purchase it through the Tarot Garden. I have a gut feeling that this price isn't due to greed on the part of the artist, but a way of recouping her costs--I suspect she ended up with a publisher who didn't give her a very good deal. Factor in the non-pictorial pips, though, and the deck price seems fairly prohibitive for the average would-be purchaser.

I recommend this deck to collectors and to those who are drawn to Angelotti's vibrant and vital artwork. I just wish the deck was less expensive, because, as it stands, it's not much of a bargain.

You can peruse a sample reading with these cards here.

You can see more cards and order the deck from the artist's website.

  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) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions X  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                            X
Larger than standard  
(approx. 4 7/8" x 3 1/8")                                          

Images © 2003-2004 Paola Angelotti
Review and page © 2004 Diane Wilkes