David Madore's WebLog: Tarot again

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(Tuesday) · First Quarter

Tarot again

[Card]After writing last week's entry on tarot, I decided—acting on a sudden impulse so characteristic of me—to buy myself a deck of (fortune-telling) tarot. (I might mention that I collect playing cards; not that I do it very seriously, but I do have a good number of decks. Which is odd, given that I practically never play any card games. Anyway.) Now I wanted an item of some artistic value, not the common and ugly “tarot de Marseille” or one with cheap XXth century New Age illustrations (although I admit that I do find artistic value in some illustrations of the kind). So, on a friend's counsel, I decided to get (a facsimile, of course, of) the Visconti Sforza tarot, drawn in the mid XVth century by Italian artist Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti and Sforza dukes of Milan; and the drawings are very beautiful, as illustrated, for example, by the first major arcanum, The Magician (Il Bagatino in Italian), which I reproduced here on the left (click to enlarge). Only four cards (out of seventy-eight) are lost from the Visconti tarot (the fifteenth and sixteenth major arcana—respectively the Devil and the Tower—, the Knight of Coins, and the Three of Swords); the game I bought has them replaced with cards drawn in the style of the original, and I have to admit it is not badly done at all.

I would have liked to avoid giving money to occultists (because I don't like the idea of making profit out of people's gullibility), but it doesn't seem that that was possible: so I bought the cards from an occultist that sells on-line (if someone—in France—wants to buy the same cards, they are item tar134 in their catalog, costing €75; they are printed by AGMüller in Switzerland, though US Games Systems also seems to be somehow part of the editing process).

Incidentally, the same Stanley Morison who designed the ubiquitous Times character font also designed one, modeled after a XVth century font by Francesco Griffo, which he called “Bembo”. This is named after Cardinal Pietro Bembo, because the original font was used to print Pietro Bembo's De Ætna. I don't know what is the relation between the humanist Pietro Bembo and the artist Bonifacio Bembo.

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