Review by Sonia Reid
The Tarot Balbi found its way to me
serendipitously when we helped out a friend by taking a vanload of
"junk" to the tip! The deck was brand new and I was
delighted to add it to my collection!
Created by Italian artist Domenico Balbi, who is, I gather (from the short
background given in Spanish), a specialist in metaphysics and
parapsychology, this bilingual deck deserves to be more popular
than it presently is. The brightly coloured cards
incorporate astrological and alchemical symbols as well as
Cabbalistic lettering and are an endlessly interesting.
Balbi's use of colour is unconventional and
fascinating! The Magician has flowing green curls, purple and blue
trees and shrubs are dotted about colourful landscapes,
and horses with pink, blue and green manes go flying
by. Another odd feature of the artwork is that whilst
all the characters are dressed in intricately designed
brightly coloured clothing, their faces and hands remain
uncoloured, executed simply in black and white. Such is
Balbi's mastery with colour that these eccentricities do
not jar on your senses as you might expect, and
actually enhance the visual appeal of the cards!
Apart from his green hair, the Magician stands before a table
on which there are 3 swords, 2 pentacles and 3 cups.
He holds another cup and a single red wand.
The Devil has lime green hooves, blue nipples and wings of
yellow, blue, pink, red and white. A caduceus is painted
on his/her solar plexus.
The Fool's clothing incorporates every possible colour and he wears mismatches
black and white shoes.
The Star shows a red-haired
female who pours water and fire from ewers embellished
with flowers, whilst in the background a scarlet bird
rests in one of many purple trunked trees.
The Temperance angel is dressed in yellow with white wings. She
pours rainbow coloured water from one colourful pitcher
into the other, and a sunflower decorates her Ajna Centre.
The Moon is an eerie card in which deep purple wolves
with green eyes howl at a full moon, with a crescent
moon superimposed on it. Reflected in the turbulent
water below, the crescent moon is shown as blood
The Hermit is dressed in orange and red and walks on a
lilac coloured road, by which a huge tree with a purple
trunk is growing.
There are numerous unusual aspects to
every brilliantly coloured card, too numerous to detail
them all. Suffice to say that the fascination of these
cards is endless, every time I look at them I discover
The Court cards are labelled in
Spanish only, but are easily identified as the traditional
page, knight, queen and king. They all wear
multi-coloured elaborately designed clothing whilst their faces
and hands remain uncoloured. I notice that Balbi has
chosen to portray the Swords court characters somewhat
differently to tradition. Whilst all the other pages are
obviously chidren, the Page of Swords is a young man. Clad
in a gorgeously detailed frock coat, he has a
crescent moon on his hat, and stands on a draughts board.
The Knight of Swords has a sun sign on his breast, and
the Queen has the Zodiac symbol for Cancer on hers,
whilst the King stands on a crescent moon. Other unusual
features in the court cards are the Knight of Cups riding a
blindfoded horse, and the Page of Pentacles whose tights have
different coloured legs ending in mismatched shoes.
The imaginative and striking Minor Arcana is numbered in Arabic
numerals from 1 through to 14 (inclusive of the court
cards), and in keeping with the Marseille style, they are
The Cups are pretty cards with bright
hovering butterflies and flowering vines. The Wands are red and yellow striped batons with flames around them,
until you read the court cards where they become sturdy
branches in various stages of growth. The Swords have pommels with intricate designs and colours, whilst their
double-edged quality is emphasized by dividing them down the
middle, one side black, the other yellow. The Pentacles are complex mandalas which incorporate astrological
and alchemical symbols, and are further enhanced with
trees, flowers and vines.
All the backgrounds are
divided by a downward curve with one colour above and
another below. Just when you think that each suit is
identifiable by the common background colours, Balbi throws in
one or two that are at variance from the rest!
All the cards are bordered in white, and in the case of
the Major Arcana the title appears in English in the
top border, with the Spanish translation at the
bottom. Roman numerals are shown at the top left or the
border, and are also incorporated into the design of each
card. The cards themselves are a standard size, easy to handle and
are well-finished with a semi-gloss coating.
This is probably not a particularly good deck for beginners. There
is no accompanying book and the Marseille style
non-illustrated Minor Arcana definitely calls for some familiarity
with standard meanings. Instead of the usual
accompanying booklet, there is a folded sheet of paper which
gives brief descriptions for each card. More emphasis
is placed on the major cards, with explanations of
the symbolism contained in them, including Hebrew
letter correspondences. The Minor Arcana is dismissed
with brief keyword descriptions in classic Marseille
An attractive and unique deck, better suited to the
Sonia Reid has been a tarot reader and teacher for 15 years. She holds a Certificate of Advanced Proficiency from the Brunswick
Spiritual Church. She is also a numerologist, inspirational writer and artist.