Author: Giordano Berti and Tiberio Gonard
Artist: A. A. Atanassov
Book and Cards Set
Publisher: Llewellyn (Lo Scarabeo)
Publication date: September 2002
View Sample Cards
Price & More Info: Click Here
The Visconti Tarot is printed with shining gold foil -- quite a bit of gold foil, in fact. This deck is a modern recreation (not a reproduction) of what is believed to be the world's oldest surviving complete Tarot deck. The original deck was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, in 1450 AD. It is a wonderful example of Italian Renaissance era art. I've never seen one of the reproduction decks, so I can't comment on the card box claim that they are "restored to their original splendour" by Atanassov except to say that the artwork on the major arcana and court courts is splendid.
This deck, like most early continental decks, only has full illustrations on the major arcana and court cards. The pip cards are just that: pips. The cards that are fully illustrated, however, are windows into the past, depicting things as they were seen and thought of in the 1400s. The cards generally have less detail and symbolism than many modern decks, but are still easy to read from. Some of the cards show respect for the patron who commissioned them by working his family emblem into the picture, often in clothing. All the cards are labeled in several languages within their black borders. I've heard a few people mention that they think some of the pips cards are upside down. As I haven't seen the original, I cannot comment on this. However, there are no obviously upside down pip cards. Of course, given that the pip cards are just collections of cups, wands, swords or coins, it would be hard to detect just by looking at the deck.
Unlike the majority of the Lo Scarabeo decks I've seen, the Visconti Tarot comes with a trade paperback book of some 160 pages instead of a small flyer or multi-language booklet. This book was translated from the Italian by Harriet Graham and Elizabeth O'Neill. The first part of the book, written by Giordano Berti, traces the history of the Tarot and of this deck in particular. Then it goes on to talk about divination and some simple Tarot layouts. The rest of the book, written by Tiberio Gonard, details the cards. The information on the major arcana cards is fascinating. Each card is placed in a historical perspective so one has a chance to see what the illustration would have meant in the deck's own era. The major arcana cards have two pages each, while the minor arcana receive only one. While this is probably not the best book to learn the art of Tarot divination from, it is miles ahead of the usual Lo Scarabeo flyers or booklets.
This deck is one which is interesting and worthy of a close look. However, my personal recommendation is neutral. I love the artwork on the major arcana and court cards, but the pips are boring even for pips. I really can't read with it. However, as the oldest Tarot deck known, the Visconti Tarot is a worthy addition to any Tarot collection. This Lo Scarabeo recreation is lovely. Take a look at this deck when you get a chance and decide for yourself. Please note that the sample card scan does not do justice to the gold foil.
Reviewed by Randall