I had a good feeling about this one when I first saw scans. It could so easily have passed me by but some chance reference cast across my path aroused my interest and I found some scans. The official name is Tarot de Marseilles, Isis version, but it looks set to become known as the Isis Marseilles, a cleaned up version of Nicholas Conver’s deck of 1761. I bought directly from Mr Onumas and some whispering demonic voice urged me to buy two copies, as it might be a deck I would want to use without worrying; one for everyday use, for sweaty palms to shuffle and one for safekeeping elsewhere. I paid for express shipping which was a complete waste of time as it was pounced on by the greedy fingers of customs, held to ransom and it was only about two weeks later after having paid the ransom that they deigned to let me have it. That day was today, and I opened it eagerly in my office, door closed, and was immediately struck by the quality of the cardstock. It resembles the cardstock of the decks I used to buy 25 years or so ago when I first started buying and collecting cards.
The deck itself is a beautiful deck, with rich colouring, but the quality Japanese cardstock has done the deck proud, and I am pleased to see that the backs are something green and non-descript. Nothing Kabbalistic or clever, just a discreet green backing with no identifiable pattern. I’m not entirely sure if the deck purports to be something authentic. I have no idea if the creator believes this is yet another authentic Marseilles. I doubt it as there is evidence of subtle tweaking and subtle additions here and there, but I don’t care. I love this deck. I love its crispness, the sharp colours, the hyper-realism of the faces, the pink fleshy hands which grip the staff, sceptre, lantern, scales, scythe, papal cross, and all the other Arcana and suit accessories.
At first glance the faces and hands look unnervingly lifelike, and you have to look closely in case it is a photograph (especially the central figure on the World card, which looks uncannily real). But it never is, yet the faces have a curious expressiveness which makes this deck very special for reading with. I wonder about doing some of those Enrique Enriquez inspired Eye Rhythms readings, which I did last year with my study partner Chris Deleo (when we studied the Dodal together) and see where the glances and gestures lead me. There is something unusually vivid about this deck. It may not be officially “authentic” but there is something immediate and loveable about it, something witty, playful and mischievous. A deck I feel duty-bound to cradle affectionately and consider a favourite. It is good to see the Conver images with such sharp outlines, no blotchiness, no seeping ink and imperceptible details. Notes on one of the extra cards proudly read “The ISIS version includes contemporary technology and Japanese aesthetics, making it the most beautiful Tarot de Marseilles in the world”.
Some details have been added, a buzzing bee chases the Fool and (sting poised) threatens to distract the Maiden on the Strength card. As Mr Onumo has said; the bee symbolises “inner wisdom”. As the bee goes from flower to flower sticking its probiscus and extracting pollen, “so man may extract wisdom from the experiences of daily life” (Manly P. Hall, Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1929). It follows the Fool at first unseen then greets Strength head on and makes her confront it. One of the horses on the chariot card winks. I went to check on a facsimile Conver I have and he may well have been winking on the original but it is so blotched and dark that you’d never know. Shading is what has helped make this deck more vivid than other versions. Simple shading can make these static archetypes come to life. It seems to push them off the surface of the card and they come to us unbeckoned, uninvited with their urge to impart secrets, doing so with great charm and warmth. Without a doubt, I feel that this is the most readable restored Conver deck I have ever seen. There have been others. Some I like (such as the weirdly enameled Sánchez-Rodés Marseilles, published by Le Mat, Spain), others seem flat but functional (like the Fournier Marseilles whose Papesse has a distracting moustache), and others are just plain hideous (like the brown Convos by AG Muller). This is the best I have seen yet. I have my restored Dodal, my restored Payen, my restored Noblet and though I wouldn’t say that this is historically accurate as to be able to compete with the above-mentioned decks, it is an endearingly upbeat deck which I want to study and read with, to get shuffling and lay out and see the dynamics and interaction, see where those eyes peer or in which direction those fingers are going to point me. And probably, knowing me, not heed their wisdom.