I hadn’t stumbled across this deck until quite recently, but it is rapidly becoming my Favorite Tarot Deck Ever. First published in 2003 by Australia-based artist and author Kat Black, Golden Tarot aims to reconnect the Tarot aesthetically and esoterically to its origins in early-renaissance Italy. It does so successfully by means of a method so simple, most of us would never think of it, yet one so daunting to execute that most of us would never undertake such a project:
To wit, every single image on every single card in Golden Tarot is lifted directly from a painting or illuminated manuscript created in western Europe circa 1200-1500 C.E. and then “reassembled’ on the cards in the form of a collage. This gives the cards an authenticity that most Arthurian fantasy decks of the modern age lack while still giving the artist plenty of leeway to take liberties with the traditional designs. To add a layer of mystery to the deck, Black eschewed the works of more famous artists of the period—Botticelli, Da Vinci, Durer and the like—and relied instead on more obscure works by lesser known artists. (If you’re an ardent student of art history, you’ll probably recognize some of the representations. I’m an amateur, and even I nailed a few.)
As an example, let’s examine the Three of Cups pictured here. Black has supplemented the “Three Graces” of traditional design with the presence of another trio—a pair of court musicians and a small dog—and set them in a lush forest, suggesting a more complex and ambiguous, Primavera-style spirit of celebration than that implied by the simpler “ladies’ night” of traditional cards. The musicians—one playing a lute, the other a recorder or shawm—are taken from the Siennese painter Simone Martini’s St. Martin is Knighted (1317) which you can find hanging at the Church of St Francis in Assisi. The lush forest and garden come from a painting by Fra Angelico, dating to 1400 and residing at Chiesa San Marco, Firenze. The woman hoisting her goblet overhead comes from a painting by the Florentine artist Benozzo Gozzoli from roughly 1420 and currently at the National Gallery in Washington. The other two graces are from The Church Militant and Triumphant (1368) by Andrea DiFirenze and found at Santa Maria Novella, Firenze. And yes, even the dog has a provenance—it’s from a fresco by Gozzoli from 1465, and it’s at St. Agostino in Sam Gimignano. Even the gilt border and card-back (as with the other 77 cards; they’re identical in this regard) are taken from a panel by the Swiss painter Conrad Witz from 1445 and found at the Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Mind you, all of this is source material for only a single card!
Spend some time with this deck, and sooner or later you’ll wonder which feat is truly more impressive—Kat Black’s encyclopedic knowledge of renaissance art, or the amount of time and effort that must have been required to brainstorm, locate, cut, paste, resize and re-pixelize the hundreds of images that comprise this deck. The hard work has paid off, though, in a sumptuous tableaux of images that convey a depth of multi-dimensionality found in few other decks. The deck also comes packaged in a sturdy box with removable top (again, with graphics derived from renaissance sources) and includes a 200-page (!) booklet that provides a comprehensive listing of all source materials along with a brief bibliography for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject matter. By way of constructive criticism, I’d like to see U.S Games Systems produce a larger-format version of these cards a’la the Sforza or Yale decks. There is so much detail in each of these cards to consider, you need a magnifying glass to fully apprehend many of them.
In any event, this is a deck that should appeal to most intermediate to advanced Tarot readers, and especially to readers who happen to be art-history buffs. Personally, I can’t think of many more pleasant ways to spend a quiet evening alone at home than to dim the lights, light a few candles, pour a glass of wine, put some Early Music on the stereo, and turn up a few cards from Golden Tarot and let them “speak their wisdom” to us from the first stirrings of the Enlightenment. Given current events, there are lessons they can teach us that we have yet to learn.