I was browsing in one of my favourite bookshops this afternoon (after a mid-afternoon sushi snack) and thought I’d check out the tarot section knowing full well that there are so rarely any surprises anymore. Mass market, “safe” oracles, unthreatening mandala cards, that sort of thing, and then the stock sort of fades innocuously into feng shui and yoga books. Looking on the bright side, so often I hover round there thinking I’ll buy something and there really is nothing to tempt me so I suppose it’s all for the good.
However, this afternoon I came across a kit edition of Lo Scarabeo’s Golden Tarot of Botticelli which I had never seen before. Permission must have been given for Madras (a Brazilian publisher based in São Paulo) to release their own version of the Golden Botticelli. I noticed the seal on the box had been broken so I naughtily had a peek to see what the quality of the cards was like, and was pleasantly surprised. I have had the original Lo Scarabeo Golden Tarot of Botticelli for a while now and have never understood why it didn’t grab me. However, there was something about this version which I instantly fell in love with and so I bought it. At first I thought the cards were slightly smaller than standard Lo Scarabeo cards, but upon comparison they’re not. The borders are smaller, with only the title (and, on the Majors, a keyword) in Portuguese so that means the actual image is bigger, though the card size is the same. Thus we get a glimpse of what Lo Scarabeo decks would be like without all the titles in different languages.
The cards are glossier on the front, though the back of the card – which has the same back design as the original version – is a more matt finish. The colours feel richer and the gold highlights are not in gold leaf applied to the surface, but worked into the card colouring alongside the other colours so the gold is not so glistening and flashy. As the cards are glossy, the overall effect is one of coloured lacquered images, like lids from those Russian trinket boxes. It is like seeing a familiar deck which has been varnished and all the colours feel richer, sharper, more quietly opulent and yet slightly further away (if that makes sense). It also feels somehow older, more muted, more antique gold than early 21st Century highlights. Juxtaposed with the titles and roman numerals are keywords on all the Major Arcana. For example, we have The Moon; Visions, The Devil; Magnetism, The Tower; Pride, The Magician; Dexterity. Not wildly inappropriate as some keywords can be.
It comes with a book which is basically the same text as the LWB but translated and with illustrations of the cards in black & white next to the card descriptions. At the back of the book there are also translations in English, Italian, Spanish, French and German. Just like the LWB, except the Lo Scarabeo LWBs never have the texts in Portuguese which here takes pride of place. I see from their website that they do a few other Lo Scarabeo titles; The Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn, The Vampires of Eternal Night and also Silvana Alasia’s Egyptian Tarot. I also saw in the shop this afternoon their version of the da Vinci Tarot. Others of course may not like the cardstock, as these things are quite personal but I rather like it, though it is quite stiff and might easily crease if roughly shuffled.
It’s strange as I love Lo Scarabeo’s other “Golden” decks, the Klimt and Tarot of the Tsars being particular favourites, but this was a deck which always left me rather cold and I was never sure why. I have problems with iconic painterly images reappropriated for tarot archetypes. Not for reasons of purism or because I’m an art snob (I’m not), just because I find it hard to look anew at something I know so well. And I feel that I know many of Botticelli’s images well. Maybe we all do. Yet I have learnt to accept The Lovers in the Klimt Tarot, and I think I love the Tarot of the Tsars as much as I do because I don’t recognise any of the Orthodox ikons from other contexts. The Birth of Venus as The World (“Success”), however, makes me wince a little here, as does the Piéta as Death, but there is so much distracting richness and extravagance in this deck that it is easy to overlook these singular details and concentrate on the whole; the endless folds of drapery, colonnades, olive trees, stylised forest floor flowers and, most beautiful of all, the sunsets over the Tuscan hills seen through the brocaded trellis-work of muted gold. I feel like I’ve just discovered a brand new deck.