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The Mantegna Tarot Deck

by Atanas Atanassov

The Mantegna Tarot Deck
Price: $30.00
Number of cards in deck: 50, with 25 additional copies (see notes, below)

Measurements: 2.65 x 4.75 inches, or 67 x 120 mm.

Back of card: Ornate scroll-work, blue on white. Similar to the back of a traditional playing card deck. May be inverted.

Booklet included: Yes, a long strip of paper with 14 panes with basic information & instructions for the deck. Also, 3 cards with instructions non-specific to this deck.

Publisher: Lo Scarabeo/Piatnik. Cards printed in Italy.

Comments: This is not a traditional tarot deck, but it is a deck with a long history. It has five suits of 10 cards each. The artwork for the original deck was initially attributed to the Venetian painter, Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), but seems to have been originated by an anonymous artist from the school of Francesco del Cossa in Ferrara. The unique concept of the deck has been attributed to Guarino Guarini (c. 1460), who for many years was in the employ of Lionello d'Este, Lord of Ferrara. This particular deck, one of the most beautiful I have seen, was created by Atanas Atanassov, who has other decks to his credit. The cards are exceptionally well printed & shimmer with foil in the backgrounds.

The cards are numbered from 1 to 50, the suits are designated backwards, from E to A. So they run like this:

E. Human Conditions, 1-10
D. Apollo & the Muses, 11-20
C. Arts & Sciences, 21-30
B. Geniuses & Virtues, 31-40
A. Planets & Celestial Spheres, 41-50

This is in keeping with Medieval philosophy, which was based on Pythagorean & Platonic ideals. In the illustration above, we show the first card of each suit, top row, from left to right: 1, 11, 21 & 31. On the bottom row, lower left, is number 41. The next card is the final one, no. 50 from Planets & Celestial Spheres: Prima Causa or Prime Light. The next card, from Apollo & the Muses, is Urania, card no. 12.

The final card in the bottom row, looking rather out of place, seems to be an embarrassment. It is one of 25 cards, each of which has two consecutive cards printed on it. These duplicate the other 50 cards. The card above has cards 1 & 2 of series E printed on it, along with keywords. In the instructions for the deck, these cards are not mentioned. It could be they were intended as a study aid, but there may be another reason, one having to do with the printing process. Regular tarot decks have 78 cards, plus two title cards, for a total of 80. In the printing plant, the 80 individual printing plates are grouped in a block of 8 x 10 & run off as one big sheet which is later cut & stacked as a deck. In this deck are 50 regular cards, plus 25 duplicates, plus the usual 2 title cards & 3 instruction cards, for a total of 80. It may be that the printer was unwilling to reduce the size of his block, or perhaps the publisher was not willing to pay the cost of an odd-sized block. This is somewhat strange as a regular playing card deck has 52 cards, plus 2 jokers & one or two title cards, for a total of 55 (5 x 11) or 56 (7 x 8). Whatever the reason, a third of this deck seems to be redundant.

The notes with the deck are correct in naming this deck as one of the most significant & enigmatic Medieval/Renaissance creations. There are instructions for an unusual 5 x 5 card spread, where cards are turned up & down to resemble a checkerboard. Cards are then removed in sequence, almost as if playing solitaire. The remaining card(s) are the answer to whatever question the querent originally proposed. This is quite fascinating.

The Astrology Center of America

207 Victory Lane, Bel Air, MD 21014
Tel: 410-638-7761; Toll-free (orders only): 800-475-2272

Tarot Home Tarot Decks Tarot Books Astrology Home E-Mail: Dave

Established 1993, The Astrology Center of America is owned & operated by David Roell. Except where noted, this entire site (AstroAmerica.com) & its contents are Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 by William R. Roell. All rights reserved. Tarot card images are Copyright © by the copyright holder (generally the publisher).