Visconti Gold Tarot Kit - Artwork by A.A. Atanassov; edited by Giordano Berti
Review by Mari Hoshizaki

I am pleased to see the Visconti Gold 2002 set from Lo Scarabeo. 

Back in the year 2000, Mark Filipas wrote on the Pasteboard Masquerade website about an upcoming book and deck set by Lo Scarabeo.  The set would feature an even newer Tower and Devil card and a book by G. Berti.  Filipas was referring to the Italian title of Tarocchi dei Visconti, which arrived in an English version in a local California bookstore in September 2002. Someone who bought the Visconti Gold when it first came out in 2000 or 2001 will ask, is this a significantly different deck?

For me, it is.  What I like least about the set is a minor complaint. The backs are a less-than-ideal color of yellowish green.  I compared the front images of the 2002 cards to a 2001 Visconti Gold card set. The lines of the gold stamping seem to be slightly thicker and longer in the newer 2002 cards.

I like the newer Devil and Tower cards, not pictured anywhere so far. The Devil and Tower in Mark Filipas' 2000 review of the deck is NOT the newest version by Atanassov.

One of the highlights of the 2002 set to me is the book discussing the Visconti images.  I enjoy it because this clears up my questions of Lo Scarabeo's suggested meanings.  Lo Scarabeo card sets in the Tarocchi d'Arte series still have the cards or booklets with old-style meanings.  Mary Greer has a book on reading reversals that gave me glimpses of traditional divinatory meanings for cards.  But I now know more about the Italian iconography and ideas of the cards since I read the Lo Scarabeo book. 

This is where the Visconti Gold book might give you a fun and different perspective. Giordano Berti gives a nice introduction to the Visconti Tarot cards. Some of the information is similar to some of the little white books of the newer Lo Scarabeo decks issued after the year 2000.  However, I have not seen another book in English that discusses the majors, minors and courts, as in the discussions by Tiberio Gonard.  This is where the new book shines for me.

Gonard writes about the art of cartomancy and shows eight different spreads. I found these spreads useful for writing exercises and getting to know the cards in the deck. His discussion of the Major Arcana has a few historical examples and interesting ideas. Each of the Major Arcana cards has about two pages of descriptions.  I liked the information that includes references to classic sources, such as Dante Alighieri.

Gonard believes that the minors in general were historically used in gambling games rather than divination. He still provides each card with at least half a page of ideas and suggested meanings.  His ideas range from historical emblems in Italy to perhaps a similar symbol in Buddhism.   I find the information expands my ideas of the cards. 

I do add a small note of caution to new students of historical decks.  This book does have its limits. You might have fun looking at the book meaning for the minors and courts at a Renaissance Fair or costume party. Right out of the book, you can look up and describe a court figure as 'a blonde man looking for a woman'  for a fun and frivolous reading.  However...

If you want to seriously read the historical Marseilles-style or Visconti cards to a modern American audience or use it as a divinatory tool, I'd suggest additional resources.  Two books by Gareth Knight give a taste of the history and talk about ethics and exercises*. I've heard one of my favorite art historians might write that book someday---until he does, these two are the resources that I'd like to recommend to others.

For more serious students of history, Stuart Kaplan's Encyclopedia of the Tarot, Volume II or the U.S. Games versions of the Visconti decks (Pierpont Morgan and Cary-Yale) have excellent background essays on the historical art and Visconti-Sforza family.  Other good American resources on general tarot history include Brian Williams' Renaissance Tarot book and/or deck and his Minchiate book and deck set.

You might still be wondering what the original reasons why this particular deck was made were.  My guess on this agrees with Stuart Kaplan's ideas.  He writes in Volume II of the Encyclopedia that these cards could be a commemorative tribute.  These cards celebrated Francesco Sforza's popular nomination as the ruling Duke of Milan and could also be a tenth anniversary gift to his wife. Many of the feminine figures in the historical pageantry of these trumps resemble pictures of Bianca Maria.  I've said in a joking way that this card set celebrates the many faces of Bianca Maria Visconti.

So, overall I'd enjoy this set as a fun and gilded gift of romance and history.  It has arrived in time for the holidays, with a glint of the golden art of old Italy restored, sparkling anew.


*Tarot Magic (also published as The Treasure House of Images) and The Magical World of the Tarot (Fourfold Mirror of the Universe). 

Visconti Gold Tarot Kit - First English Edition 2002; Artwork by A.A. Atanassov;  edited by Giordano Berti, text by Tiberio Gonard
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN #: 8883952588

Mari Hoshizaki in this incarnation is a delighted student of Western Civilization studies for the next three years (after working hours). Otherwise, she enjoys thinking of ways to mix historical and modern card decks with everything else.