July/August 2014 Issue
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Golden Botticelli Tarot Review
This article was written by Donald Michael Kraig, Certified Tarot Grandmaster on March 16, 2009
A spectacular deck combining the archetypal Renaissance art of Botticelli with magnificent, metallic-gold filigree. Will be used often by intermediate and advanced Tarot readers, but the LWB may not have enough for beginners. One of the few art decks that transcends the category to be useful as a reading deck, too.
Sandro Botticelli (born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in 1445 and died in 1510) had the patronage of the (in)famous Lorenzo de’ Medici, and the two works considered his masterpieces, "The Birth of Venus" and "Primavera" have become so popular that they have achieved cliché status when trying to represent Renaissance art in Florence, Italy.
Botticelli created numerous artworks, and in this deck, artist Atanassov has cleverly cut and pasted sections Botticelli’s works—sometimes duplicating images in the background (such as repeating the image of a sword to give the appropriate number of swords in a card) and sometimes changing the size (such as making the coins bigger to draw more attention to them)—and massaging them in a surprisingly effective way to produce a deck that is mostly similar in imagery to the Rider-Waite-Smith version.
Botticelli’s art is so archetypal of the era, that doing the work of creating a deck from his work would alone make this a worthwhile deck. But Atanassov and Lo Scarabeo did more. In background areas, instead of washes of color, they filled the space with delicate golden filigree. By this I don’t merely mean the color; the ink is metallic gold, giving the impression that someone went back over your deck hand painting complex patterns using molten gold with an ultra-fine brush.
The bright, metallic gold ornamentation, combined with Botticelli’s art, has resulted in lots of reviews consisting of a single word from people to whom I have shown this deck. Single words they have used include "breathtaking," "spectacular," and "awesome." Before writing this review I did a web search for images of the cards of this deck, and not one even came close to the magnificent use of metallic gold on these cards. Simply put, this is a deck you have to see.
Often, when a review focuses on the way a deck looks, it gets classified as an "art deck" and worthy of collection, but not necessarily for use as a divinatory or magickal tool. The Golden Botticelli Tarot easily transcends such limitations, making this one of the few decks I’ve seen that qualify as both an art deck for collectors and a reading deck for Tarot practitioners.
Before getting to the cards and their uses, I want to talk about the Little White Booklet that is included with the deck. This one doesn't have much depth, spending half of its 15 English pages on simplistic and simplified meanings of the cards. Unfortunately, there is nothing about the relationship of the images to the meanings nor the specific sources of Botticelli’s work that are used on each card. I think that information would be quite an improvement. However, this LWB is an improvement over some of Lo Scarabeo’s other LWBs due specifically to about 1/3 of the LWB's discussion of the Tarot. Orsini briefly describes the interrelationships of groups of cards within the deck (Major Arcana, Aces, Court Cards, etc.) which is not often described in LWBs for any deck. She then describes an original seven-card spread, the Star of Solomon layout. This is followed by an example reading, something which should be included in far more LWBs.
As far as LWBs go, this one is fair. This criticism of the LWB is not meant as a critique of Lo Scarabeo alone, for in my opinion, any deck that is good enough to be published deserves to have a more in-depth explanation than what is found in LWBs. So for all Tarot publishers, please consider publishing real books to accompany decks, and not just LWBs. I realize that many publishers do this already for some of their decks. I’m just suggesting that if a deck is worthy of publication, so, too, is a book that thoroughly explains the deck.
Once you get past the shock of the beauty of this deck, the next question is, does it work as a Tarot deck? In this case, beside answering a strong, "Yes!" I also find myself totally intrigued and wondering where Atanassov found images within Botticelli’s corpus that so uncannily match the RWS model.
The Fool shows a man about to fall with a dog nipping at his feet. The magician show a man at a table (an ersatz altar). In the background are magickal books. Unfortunately, the tools are all chalices or cups, but if you are familiar with the RWS, the meaning, here, is clear. By the way, all of the cards have a glossy black border that draws attention to the image.
The Empress shows a woman holding a wand and sitting on a type of throne. She might be pregnant. The Emperor sits on a similar throne, wearing a crown and holding a sword in one hand and a sphere of authority in the other. The Chariot shows a warrior standing on a heavy, two-wheeled chariot being drawn by two white horses. Justice has a woman holding the scales. Strength shows a woman with her hand in the mouth of a lion.
Death leaves the usual RWS image, instead showing a woman sitting and holding the body of a young man, giving the impression of the popular Pietà motif. The Devil shows a young and innocent-looking Pan figure, his lower half being a goat and his upper half being a young boy with the exception of goat-like ears. His right hand is in a posture commonly used to show the figure blessing someone. The Tower is most obviously a composite card. To the side of a solid tower are a man and woman supposedly falling, but clearly just cut and pasted from their standing positions. An added pillar and block are supposed to give the impression of a cracking tower, but for me it didn’t work artistically. However, the meaning is clear so this could easily be used in a reading.
The Star, which, as in this case, Lo Scarabeo usually calls "The Stars," uses a close up of the famous three dancing women from Botticelli’s Primavera. This is a major departure from the RWS tradition, and the white and twinkling gold drawings of stars in the background trees don’t really make up for it. Still, with the name of the card given, a person with a little experience will know what this means and can use it. The World shows the famous image of Venus rising from the ocean, standing on a shell.
All through this deck you will find cards that either match Botticelli’s art with the RWS image (Did Botticelli really paint people rising from tombs as shown in the Judgement card? Amazing!), are very close, or add an interesting fillip and new context to the name and traditional meaning of a card.
I have to admit that I am not drawn to the Renaissance style of magick, so that might influence my comments on using this deck for magick. I just can’t see it. Perhaps for doing some guided visualizations (if you want to go back to Renaissance days) or for use with Renaissance-oriented formal magick. Other than that, I can’t see a magickal use for this deck.
However, I found this deck a delight to use for virtually any sort of Tarot reading. For anyone who has studied even a tiny bit of Renaissance art, these images open new understandings of each card, understandings that aren’t foreign to the RWS tradition, but add and modify that tradition in unique ways. Good for any general reading and especially for relationship readings.
After working with this deck for several days, I put it aside. I have lots of other decks to work with. However, for some reason I kept getting drawn back to this deck. It’s just too beautiful and archetypal to ignore. If you get this deck I think you will find yourself using it frequently. It’s just too beautiful to pass up. Definitely a keeper and a deck to use.
Name of deck: Golden Botticelli Tarot
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
Creator’s name: Atanas Alexandrov Atanassov
Name of accompanying booklet: Golden Botticelli Tarot
Number of pages of booklet: 64 (14 in English)
Author of booklet: Giulia Orsini
Magical Uses: Guided visualization; Renaissance-oriented magick
Reading Uses: General readings, relationship readings.
Artistic Style: Florentine Renaissance with gold stamping
Theme: The art of Botticelli
Tarot, Divination Deck, Other: Tarot
Does it follow Rider-Waite-Smith Standard?: Yes
Does it have extra cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Major Arcana cards?: No
Does it have alternate names for Minor Arcana suits?: No
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