This is the second deck from publisher, Quarto Knows. It is the follow on from their redrawing of the Pierpoint Morgan Visconti-Sforza Taroccchi deck. In what was seemingly a successful foray into tarot deck publishing, Quarto has stayed with the theme of ancient decks. This time the focus is on the Tarot de Marseille. The same creative team were used to produce this kit, namely Rachel Clowes as the deck artist and Mary Packard as the book’s author. It comes in a large book-like box that will support itself on any bookshelf.
I’m not a lover of the Tarot de Marseille style, though of course I appreciate its historical significance to decks it gave birth to in the following centuries. I dislike it mainly because of its primary colouring. Initially I didn’t understand it. As a new tarot reader at the time, the pip cards said nothing to me and I left it aside in favour of the Rider Waite-Smith and Thoth Tarot decks (and their variants).
I agreed to review this deck as I thought it might help me overcome my dislike of the cartoon-ish nature of the modern Tarot de Marseille offerings and was really excited when the deck arrived to see it was not as bright as the Camoin I have here, or others I’d seen online. I really like the thought of ancient decks, what mysteries they may hold that have been overlooked and rewritten; that I might discover for myself some hidden truths sent over antiquity to reach me now….. a romantic notion I agree, but this is tarot after all and it is one arena where everyday is poetic.
The featured deck of this kit is the lesser known Tarot de Medanie dating from 1709, of which I knew nothing. It was created by Pierre Madenie in the French city of Dijon – not all Tarot de Marseille decks were created or made in Marseille, it came to represent a style of deck that could be identified by its regular and consistent art. The Tarot de Madenie, while one of the oldest decks of this style, has rich colours with a depth not seen on some modern variants.
Exploring the Cards
The cards themselves are large, the same size as the Golden Tarot: 8.5 cm x 16.5 cm. This worked in the Golden Tarot as the US Games issue of the Pierpoint Morgan Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi Deck are also large, in fact a little larger by comparison. This is in keeping with the originals. The Tarot de Madenie facsimile cards from Tarot de Marseille Heritage are 6.5 cm x 12.2 cm, which is considerably smaller, and are narrow by modern standards. It would have been nice to have kept this set close to that size too. However, the size of tarot card you prefer is a personal matter. I do like large decks but seeing as this kit seeking to be as authentic as possible, I fear it should have been smaller.
Staying with the cards for the time being, I have to comment on one other thing that I’m not keen on: the ageing effect applied over the front and back of the cards. US Games did this on their Rider Waite-Smith Centenary edition and it was awful. There was no need for ageing the cards then, and there is no need here either. Looking at the images online of the Tarot de Madenie, they are off white, which would have worked here too. The only consolation for me is that they subdue the primary colours of the deck.
Complaints aside, this is otherwise a really nice deck and I like it a lot. I’ve done some personal readings with it and was taken aback with them. I wasn’t expecting this because of the nature in which it had been put together but the essence of the original is still present, which is reassuring.
The backs of the cards are different to the originals and detail a nice flower and leaf design. The ageing technique has been used here too, but sits more comfortably.
The court cards will be familiar to anyone who reads with a European or Rider Waite-Smith type deck, and are named: Valet (Knave or Page), Cavallier (Knight), Reyne (Queen) and Roy (King). A selection of which can be seen here, one from each suit:
The suits will be just as familiar and are known as: Bastons (Wands), Coupe (Cups), Despee (Swords) and Denier (Coins/Pentacles). The following is a selection of the pips, again, one from each suit:
I’ve included a couple of images of the majors shown next to its facsimile counterpart from Tarot de Marseille Heritage, these two cards also show some slight differences. I think these differences impact the atmosphere and depth of the message of the card. You may not agree and to some it might be a mute point.
The original drawing of the Lovers shows the man smiling at one of the women. In the redrawing, he’s not. Should this make a difference to how you interpret the card? The driver of the Chariot looks a little vacant in the original, but in the redrawing he looks to the right and appears to be more focused and with purpose, which is more fitting to the modern interpretation at least.
While some people who read only with a Tarot de Marseille deck may find a few irks, for those seeking an introduction into this style of deck, this kit is a very good place to start. Yes, the cards are large but the art is good, the colours appropriate for their age and the book, again, is a literary gem.
Exploring the Book
As with the Golden Tarot book, Packard looks at tarot history but this time takes a diversion to follow the movement of tarocchi from Italy to France. The section on occult tarot takes a smoother ride with the main players and deck in the same theatre – France. Packard includes symbolism of colour that pertains to the deck and what Elizabeth Hazel calls directional dignities. There are three tarot spreads at the back of the book which include: Three Card Spread variations, a Five Card Spread which is a simple cross, and a Mandala Spread. These are accompanied by sample readings to help see the deck in action. And of course there are the divinitory definitions. What I like here is they pertain to the Marseille tradition so if like me, you’re not a Tarot de Marseille reader, you get a nice introduction to keywords and descriptions.
In my own tarot card meanings section, I try to incorporate meanings from multiple decks, other authors and my own experience and this can sometimes muddy the waters. There are some clear differences between certain cards from the Thoth Tarot and the Rider Waite-Smith. My own thoughts on this is that their meanings pertain to their own cards but that it’s good to know them as sometimes a card will present itself in a way you weren’t expecting. Following the definitions in the book provided clarity in the readings I did for myself. There were some instances where I couldn’t make sense of the cards, but when I checked the book, all was revealed and in a direct manner – that was hugely refreshing. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the three main decks (Marseille, Thoth & Rider) are seen as the heads of their own genres and perhaps should be treated independently of each other.
All in all, the Tarot de Marseille from Quarto Knows is a good introduction to the Marseille tradition. It has been treated and presented well. I would recommend this deck and will be utilising it myself with more frequency. I like it’s honesty and it’s different perspective. It is more sure of itself than some other decks and I include tarot in general here. My initial motive for reviewing this deck was to become more familiar with the Tarot de Marseille and I think this kit will be really helpful in achieving that.
Quarto Publishing Group and Race Point Publishing
Available from the publisher and other good online book stores.
The Artist: Rachel Clowes
I could not find a web address for Mary Packard, though I’m sure contact can be made through the publisher should you have any questions.
The facsimile edition of the Tarot de Madenie is published by Tarot de Marseille Heritage
- Should You Learn Tarot With the Rider Waite-Smith Only?
- Visconti-Sforza Review: The Golden Tarot
- The Rider Waite-Smith Tarot Variations
- The Blank Tarot
- Tarot Book Review: The Tarot Colouring Book