A Review of the Medieval Scapini Tarot

This deck is such a delight, and I came across it completely by accident. This weekend, I took a day and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (one of New York’s finer offerings); afterwards, I was wandering through the museum shop, and lo and behold! The Medieval Scapini Tarot leapt out at me from a shelf.

(Not literally, mind you. There was no actual leaping. But it caught my attention.)

Medieval Scapini Majors
The Magician, the Emperor, and Force (Strength). Look at that Emperor. So suave. So in control.

This is a modern TdM-style deck from Italian artist Luigi Scapini, who helped with the artistic reproductions for the Visconti-Sforza Tarot. It features figures in 15th century (ish) attire, and is decidedly medieval in tone. Scapini’s artwork has a beautiful vibrancy to it; the Major Arcana in particular are illustrated in bold colors and set against a gold-leaf background that makes them really striking. And the figures depicted in the cards have so much personality it almost hurts me to look at them.

Medieval Scapini Majors 2
Justice, Death, and the Star. I’ve never seen a Star look so forlorn, nor a Justice so aloof.

One thing that makes this deck truly unique is the design of the Minor Arcana. Even though this is a TdM deck, Scapini has painstakingly illustrated all of the Minor Arcana with vivid scenes. For readers who are interested in entering the world of TdM reading, but who are afraid of unillustrated pips, the Medieval Scapini Tarot could provide a beautiful stepping-stone, a sort of transitional stage between the Rider-Waite and Marseilles traditions.

Medieval Scapini Swords
Eight of Swords, Nine of Swords, Ten of Swords. A lot of the detail of these cards is lost in the photography, even though my pictures are significantly less amateurish and blurry than usual.

Here are a few more pictures. The Court cards are also beautifully done, set against the same gold background as the Majors. I’m particularly in love with the Page and Knight of Wands.

Medieval Scapini Wands
Four of Wands, Page of Wands, Knight of Wands. How cool is that Knight? Seriously, though.

Throughout the deck, the costuming and posture of the characters is unequivocally medieval. In the Majors, this tone extends to the art style, and I would have no issues whatsoever believing that the Trumps from this deck were actually reproductions of a late 15th-century deck commissioned by a Milanese noble. In the Minor Arcana, however, the art style takes on a decidedly modern twist. Scapini’s pips are gleeful, inventive, and tongue-in-cheek. They’re peppered with wizards, dragons, and the like, and in many ways they feel more like illustrations in a children’s storybook than Tarot cards. (Note, however, that I mean this as a good thing. Scapini’s art is refreshing in its levity.)

Medieval Scapini Cups
Six of Cups, Ten of Cups, Queen of Cups. The Queen is emerging from the ocean on a seashell. Is she then a Venus? But wait! She’s wearing a habit! Is she a nun? Or a nun-Venus? We may never know.

The art is minutely detailed, so much so that I can’t actually show some of my favorite cards here because the cool bits about them wouldn’t show up. I really cannot say enough how exquisite these cards are.

Medieval Scapini Coins
Ace of Coins, Three of Coins, King of Coins. I love the sculptural imagery on the Three.

One thing that might be a bit off-putting for some readers (either readers who are just starting out or those who are firmly entrenched in the RWS system) is the occasional, ah, deviation from tradition in the depiction of the cards. Some cards, simply enough, are more Scapini than Tarot. They depict beautiful, inventive, often comic scenes, but those scenes don’t necessarily connect with accepted meanings of the cards, either in the RWS or TdM traditions. Here are a couple of examples:

Medieval Scapini nontraditional
Six of Swords, Six of Wands, Seven of Coins. The Six of Swords is much more tumultuous and frightening than what I’m used to. The Six of Wands is hard for me to understand, except that there’s a chef on it, which is probably somehow significant. And the Seven of Coins shows gamblers, which is pretty much the opposite of the traditional RWS meaning. Nevertheless, these cards are stunning to look at.

That said, these nontraditional cards can just as easily be viewed as quirks of Scapini’s vision as an artist, and their presence is part of what makes this deck special. If you’re still uncomfortable with the basic meanings of the 78 cards, I’d veer away from this deck, simply because there won’t be much material available to help you learn. But if you feel like you’re ready for something a little more complicated, the art in this deck is so incredibly evocative that it can’t help but produce beautiful readings.

Medieval Scapini Nine of Wands
Ah, hell, I can’t figure out how to rotate the damn picture. Use your imagination. Crane your neck. This is just a lovely, bright, detailed card, and I wanted to share a close-up of it.

 

All in all, I would definitely recommend this deck. The cards themselves are a little bit sticky fresh out of the box, but some fanning powder and a good shuffling will take care of that issue. For anyone who’s looking to expand their TdM collection, or to bridge from RWS into TdM, this is definitely a deck worth having.

Medieval Scapini Nine of Coins
Last but not least, I love the detail on this (similarly unrotateable) card. The traditional woman-with-bird is in the middle of the card, halfway down the path. Behind her is travesty. Ahead of her, there’s a wedding ring lying in the middle of the road. Not the most feminist interpretation of the card, but a symbolically rich one nonetheless.
Advertisements

7 thoughts on “A Review of the Medieval Scapini Tarot

  1. Oh my !! I laughed so much with your comments on the cards ! I adore your reviews ! They are truly great ! This is the first time I see a TdM so illustrated ! The cards are beautiful ! I do have an impression of seeing a lot of phallic symbolism in these cards. Take the Knight of Wands you posted for an exemple and the Nine of Wands… As for the Star it almost feels like she is looking at you and saying “what re you looking at ? Never seen a naked woman pouring water in a pond (scoffs) ? “

    Like

    1. Let me know how it goes! This is a great deck, and I’m glad to know it appealed to you as much as it does to me. (Now if only I could convince the publisher to give me a commission on every purchase I send their way…)

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s