Review by Solandia
Despite the aristocratic title, this is not a deck devoted to the Russian Tsars, but a deck with its basis in the images of the faith of Russian Orthodox Christianity. The veneration of religious images - icons - is a very old tradition, brought to Russia from Byzantium in the earliest days of Christianity, when its worship replaced that of pagan divinities and ancestral spirits. The ritual use and doctrine of icons were codified and defined in the 9th Century CE, and the artistic code established at the same time set out the rules of iconography. The prescribed pattern, composition and distinct characteristics have changed little since that time., as icons were not intended to be a product of the artist's imagination, or to depict exactly an image of physical reality, but to represent a spiritual ideal and assist contemplative prayer. They illustrate the life of Jesus, Mary, the Saints, and biblical stories and are not meant to appeal to our aesthetic sense, but to be holy.
In the Golden Tarot of the Tsar, Atanassov has melded iconic images with the seventy-eight card tarot structure. Iconic images have 'odd' proportions, a flatness and lack of three-dimensional perspective, and these cards are no exception. The art has no direct light source, and hence, no shadows. Humans are tall and lean, their faces characterised by large eyes, a long thin nose and small mouth.
The majors show predominantly saints and religious figures like Jesus and Mary, full-length and facing us directly. The minors are pip cards, but also have small illustrative scenes as well, placed in a geometrically shaped inset in the middle of the card. For Cups, the inset is a square, for Wands, a diamond, Swords a circle and Pentacles a hexagon.
The Golden Tarot of the Tsar is one of Lo Scarabeo's metallic decks and has the tarot scenes set on a shining textured gold leaf background, and contained by rich dark red borders. Card titles and numbering are very unobtrusive, being in a small font on the far left hand side, allowing the card imagery takes precedence. The card backs show a mirrored picture of Jesus, and are suitable for reversal.
The booklet accompanying the deck is the standard leaflet packaged with Lo Scarabeo decks. (One day, I'd like to see companion books for decks like the Golden Tarot of the Tsar; their historical and spiritual depth cannot be adequately explained on fourteen small pages!) The booklet gives the name of the saint, historical figure or scene depicted on the card (all except the court cards), a (very) few words of divinatory meaning, and a new eleven card spread called the Orthodox Cross.
Though this deck is an experienced tarot readers' deck and requires a level of knowledge for full appreciation, it is definitely worth having in the collection just for periodic admiration of its visual splendour.
Kate Hill (also known as Solandia) is the founder and editor of Aeclectic Tarot, and has reviewed more than 200 decks over the years.
Review by Bonnie Cehovet
I realize there are many people who might wonder if this is just
another rewritten and repainted 'tarot with Bible story'
motifs. My review is from experience of one who did grow
up with many Protestant Christian influences, but my
review is also from the slant of someone studying Western
humanities in more detail, seasoned with delight in Dante,
Gareth Knight and Byzantine art.
I like that this art deck named for the 'tsar.' Tsar is another word for the
name that we know as Caesar or Kaiser. All the
associations that we have with these historical rulers might
bring up ideas of glittering parades, gilded churches
and for me, Byzantine motifs. In my own memory,
I thought of the lovely icon collections from 'the
lands of the firebirds' and I saw brushstrokes that
remind one of near East or Arabian patterns. I even
fancied perhaps the impression of Asian scrollwork or
flattened, gilded and lacquer decorations---much like the
beauty of the Russian deck of St. Petersburg by U.S.
I find these influences in this art deck,
but more as well. The Golden Tsar looks like medieval
and early Renaissance art to me. Something about the
color and beauty reminds me of the early Christian
mosaics of old Roman ruins or the churches of Ravenna in
Italy. My class on Dante studies and a summer 2002
edition of Italy magazine noted how Dante Algheri walked
in front of the churches of Ravenna in about 1300.
He saw the then 800-year old gilded murals of
Justinian and Theodora (It's about twice that age now, some
1600 years old and still as beautiful). He was so taken
with their appearance and symbolism to Ravenna, that a
whole canto in Paradiso is devoted to Justinian's story.
I smiled when I looked at the cards this week.
They seemed so much like these historical mosaics and
The art seems to be so much like the
art of Byzantium, the art of a faith that 'had a Roman
body, a Greek mind, and an oriental, mystical soul,' as
Robert Byron described the triple fusion of Byzantine
culture. Giordarno Berti in the little white book (LWB)
poetically suggests that the art of the Golden Tsar also
exalts the faith of the Slavonic people and he (or she)
who searches for the authentic nobility in religion.
The majors follow the Marseilles order. The minors are done quite
beautifully, with each appropriate number of symbols worked
into a lovely design around a scenic insert. The scenic
insert follows the Rider-Waite-Smith style of a
suggestive motif with a human activity or event. The LWB said
the minors could suggest a physical person with a
relationship or influence to the questioner.
old copy of a "Treasure House of Images," Gareth
Knight suggests a picture layout of the Fool card in the
middle and the Four Aces laid out around the Fool. I
found the strong and beautifully rendered insert in the
middle of each Ace card to be a very nice design. For example, the celestial icon of the Ace of
Pentacles. Two angels hold a golden plate against a
hexagram-shaped window. Small details are not overlooked--the
pentacle has the eight dots of delicate blue on the golden
plate border over the red-inked icon of a Christian
figure. The blue sky in the six-sided window is exactly
the same color, with a white contrasting cloudbank at
the angels' feet. Two red-winged cupid figures add
richness to the scrolled gold etching of the card. Each of
the other Aces have similar detail and a distinctively
shaped insert that runs from Ace to 10. Pentacles have
the six sided insert, Cups have square inserts, Swords
have round insert and Wands have a diamond-shape
If you believe the Golden Tsar is too heavily
into historical Christianity or reminds you of
Christmas cards, I suggest balancing it with another deck.
The Russian deck of St. Petersburg has elegant and
colorful miniature motifs that add delightful folkart
imagery. A whimsical simple deck such as Tarot Nova adds a
lighter, bright note. I'm rather eclectic in my own
personal weekly writings. I was using the Tarot of Love by
Marcia Perry and picking out what gold and silver symbols
or simple foil accents seemed to work with the gilded
images of Golden Tsar.
Here's my walk through the majors
I see many
names and talents from people associated with Lo
Scarabeo noted in the credits for the Golden Tsar. Many
people had hinted that I would enjoy the deck. I am glad
to say that I find it a lovely and special gift.
best wishes for your enjoyment of this lovely deck.
Bonnie Cehovet is Certified Tarot Grand Master, a professional Tarot reader with over ten years experience, a Reiki Master/Teacher and a writer. Bonnie has served in various capacities with the American Tarot Association, is co-founder of the World Tarot Network, and Vice President (as well as Director of Certification) for the American Board For Tarot Certification. She has had articles appear in the 2004 and 2005 Llewellyn Tarot Reader.