Review by Kat Sherwin
The La Corte dei Tarocchi is published by Il Meneghello in Italy. It was probably intended as a collector’s deck more so than a reading deck, and was published as a limited edition of 1100. The artist was Anna Maria D’Onofrio, who has since died. Her artwork is quirky, naive and very charming. It is achieved through engraving zinc plates and hand painting the resulting prints with watercolour, which has resulted in clean, sharp lines softened by a warm, gentle palette and very skilful shading. The original art was embellished richly with gold foil in strategic accents; the high-quality printing process employed by Il Meneghello has ensured that even without gold ink, this detail is made quite obvious. The cards are all hand-titled in Italian, and some of the pips have letters within the pip symbols to reiterate the number of the card.
The deck is based on the Tarot de Marseilles pattern, with 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana, with suits entitled Coppe, Denari, Spade and Bastoni. The pips are mostly non-scenic, with the exception of the two of Cups, which shows a man standing behind a table holding a cup; another cup sits on the table. Some of the other pips have small illumination-type embellishments on them. The Court cards show great personality. The Page of Swords is particularly lovely, standing in a formal pose and looking as though he’s about to burst out laughing. The Queen of Coins is shown with a small white dog trying to jump up into her lap.
The Major Arcana are beautifully illustrated with a muted palette of browns, warm faded denim and rich cranberry shades. Roughly half the trumps are quite unremarkable though obviously representative of their archetype – for example, the Emperor shows a man seated on a throne, holding a globe, while the Tower is a stone tower struck by lightning, with two figures falling from it. Nothing special. However, the other half of the trumps are really brilliant in varying shades of subtlety. The High Priestess holds her book closed, against her chest, showing no one the secrets contained within. The two figures on the Devil gaze shyly at each other, while covering their nakedness in consternation. The Sun is a glory of warm yellow was with two children (reminiscent of the couple in the Lovers through the colours of their garments) playing below. The Hanged Man and Star feature the quaintest, most unlikely birds in their illustrations. Strength is numbered eleven.
The cards are very long and narrow in comparison to most decks, which has presented a challenge to the artist in fitting the traditional archetypes into a different aspect ratio without significant distortion. She has achieved this admirably, and only a couple of the cards really stand out as being hard to look at because of all that perspective jammed into a narrow frame. These cards include Il Mondo, Il Carro and La Torre di Babelle (The World, The Chariot and The Tower of Babel).
Il Meneghello decks are famed for their production and the tactile quality of the cards and this one is no different. The cardstock is very thick, making the whole deck approximately four centimetres tall when stacked, and the deck is unlaminated. The cardstock has some texture, particularly on the front of the cards, with fine striations running top to bottom along the length of the cards. This makes a very pleasant buzzing sound and feeling when the cards slide across each other. The corners are not rounded and the cards are not all exactly the same size. The combination of size, aspect ratio, cardstock and unrounded corners makes this deck a challenge to shuffle, but it can be done with a reasonable degree of success.
The deck came packaged in a sturdy cardboard box with a lift-off top. The back of the card illustrates the top of the box, with a red and gold wax seal.
This is a very non-threatening deck, suitable for use reading for anyone at all. If reading for someone unexperienced with shuffling, I would recommend the “swoosh” method or shuffling yourself, as this could present a serious roadblock to the flow of the reading. The pip cards do not appear to adhere to a rigid system of embellishment or layout of symbols; rather than make reading with them difficult, this allows for a real degree of freedom and quirkery in a reading. The deck has a feel of unpredictability in a reading situation, but feels very benign and the images are highly expressive and comforting. The human figures are portrayed with a good deal of pathos and a certain childlike helplessness, which is strangely engaging.
I would not recommend this deck to beginners because of the strangeness of the pip structure and the difficulty in shuffling and handling the cards; I feel that the combination of these factors would render the deck unusable by any but a determined, seasoned reader with a passion for decks with a strong sense of personality. This is not a traditional deck and Marseilles aficionados will likely not find the deck addresses their needs. If, however, you’re an experienced reader with a yen for something different (and a bit of spare cash), then I would recommend this deck above most. It is a beautiful addition to any collection.