In this TdM month, named Traditional Tarot with a Twist, I’ll review several TdM’s & Tarocchi’s, traditional reproductions or reinterpretations, that can be recognized as Marseille/Ancient Italian-like. However, their deviations and differences, might invite discussion on their pattern of ‘true’ TdM/Tarocchi-ness. Regardless, they are all unique and gorgeous in their own way.
1. Sola-Busca Ferrara by Lo Scarabeo | Anima Antiqua Series 2017
2. Eros: The Garden of Love Tarot: burlesque TdM by Uusi Studios 2017
3. Minchiate Florentine Etruria 1795 by Il Meneghello 1994 (+tutorial!)
4. Le Tarot Noir: a medieval inspired TdM by Matthew Hackiere/Editions Vega 2013
The Minchiate Tarocchi is one of those decks that is usually bought later in one’s tarot life. When you already read with multiple systems or when a decent appetite for historical decks has been developed. Just like a lot of readers I figured the Minchiate Tarot’s were collector’s items. With all those extra’s and differences it couldn’t be a reading deck, right? This review, particularly of the Il Meneghello Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria from 1725, aims to describe deck & system, but most likely will also tell you if your Minchiate Tarot is you’ll be running to your display case or to any store that has it in stock.
Fair warning: because it is not just a review of the 1994 Il Meneghello reproduction of the Minchiate Tarot, but also shows the differences of the Minchiates in general, it might be a little lengthy. So, put on a tea cattle, plug in your coffee maker, or pour your ‘on the rocks’ and let’s go to Florence!
Look & Feel
Like most Il Meneghello (IM) decks the Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria 1725 Tarocchi comes in the customary IM box of very sturdy grey carton, with a lift-lid top, a glued card on top (The Wheel) and the signature red wax seal. I always love these storage containers, because not only will they keep your deck safe for quite some time, they simply look nice and special. They make them for all their decks, but they are lovely nonetheless (I do prefer the older more colorful ones over these ‘greys’, but understand they need to change it up every now and then and this is a more uniform solution). Anyway: an Il Meneghello deck is always easy to recognize on the shelves and has this nice Italian elegance.
The Etruria deck inside was sealed and after opening I found three extra papers: a copyright card with the limited edition number (mine: 819/2000), a tiny paper saying ‘the item is created by hand and therefore any imperfections aren’t mistakes’, and a card-sized paper piece with a little history on the deck. (Alas, no LWB with this deck, as is the case with most Il Meneghello facsimiles and reproductions).
That little history fragment luckily told me something I didn’t know prior to reviewing and which resulted in some extra research for you (see tables); namely that there are actually five (5) variants of the Minchiate Tarot. The only complete specimen of this originally hand painted etched tarocchi is currently kept at the Museum Visconteo di Pavia (I really should have a tarot-tour in Italy one day. Seriously!).
What I learnt on the internet, is that the Minchiate was used a lot as an ‘educational deck’. A game that tried to teach geography, mythology, some classical knowledge and history in the process. It is not certain if this specific Minchiate, the Etruria, was used for more than a game (and later divining perhaps), since those study decks usually showed cultural hints towards the continents on the suits – but the Fiorentine counted as the basics for such education packs.
A couple of other interesting tidbits on the 3rd paper are the fact that card XXX shows a stamp with the name Etruria, as was the case in the original, but more importantly, that the design of this stamp is also present in the coat of arms of the hugely important De Medici family. Il Meneghello obviously copied as many things from the original as they could, and I truly adore such authenticity: another card has the name of the 18th century tax collector for Playing Cards on them: Anton Molinelli.
Little did Molinelli, who held the playing card concession in Tuscany from 1721 to 1731, know that about 400 years later tax inners around the world would still be collecting on this deck, thanks to the many eager diviners and card-collectors. My first surprise when taking the deck out of the box was the fact that the cards of the Minchiate Tarot – I understood this is the case for the regular Fiorentine as well as the others (see table 1) – are pretty tiny. It’s almost a mini-deck. Which is great though, because holding 97 large(r) cards would have been a shuffling-disaster waiting to happen.
Coating & repro-details
The card stock of the Il Meneghello Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria 1725 (yep, a mouthful) is pretty good: thick enough, flexible and it has a smooth feel and shine to it, without being glossy or laminated. Much to my surprise it isn’t the rough unfinished stock they regularly give their decks. Instead there’s a slight coating that gives it this sheen and I guess the coating could be described as a soft waxy feel. It isn’t all that slippery, though I had to get used to the different feel at first.
The Etruria cards have square corners and all the tarot cards seem to be printed onto a background that looks different from the paper structure in the paintings. These reproduction images are printed onto a dot-like structure, which turned out to be part of the cachet-image on the back that was ‘stretched towards the front’ to give the deck something of a border. I could have done without those, even though the historic information I found tells me tells me this was very common back then. I guess what made it look like less of a facsimile was actually exactly very much part of making a facsimile. Nevertheless, all this – especially the coating – makes this IM Etruria Minchiate deck quite different from the way I know them to produce (actually, it reminded me more of the way Rinascimento reproduces decks).
Production & stock
This specific production technique might be a disappointment to some – I was a little surprised myself with both of these facts initially. However, I do like the card stock and the deck shuffles easily despite the square edges and the amount of cards – probably due to the size (9.5×5.5cm) and the finish. The latter makes the deck look classy instead of plastick-y (I can almost guarantee gloss-haters you’ll get used to it and will like it. It isn’t the same as the lamination you know from current day decks).
The thing that bugged me at first (now I hardly notice it anymore when reading with the deck and quite likely this was normal ‘back then’), was the fact *all* my dotted borders were way off or crooked in my copy. Also, my 4 of Swords card is at least an inch (0,5cm) taller than the rest of the deck, so I need to cut that. While I wanted to mention the fact – as they do themselves on one of these little papers – that hand-work and reproductions can have these little ‘deviations’ and ‘mistakes’, this is also a rather excessive example. I think you’re safe to buy a copy. No deck is the same, and I can hardly imagine all copies of the Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria have this mistake.
Tough tarot nut
So, let’s see about the deck itself. Let me tell you immediately: this isn’t a beginners deck and even advanced readers will find the Minchiate a tough nut to crack. The Minchiate Fiorentina Etruria has 97 cards. While there is quite an overlap with what we call tarot nowadays, there are also many differences. For starters, the Minchiate Tarot has -like the TdM, Thoth or WCS – 56 Minor Arcana: 4 well-known suits and their courts. But already in those Minors changes can be found. While the symbols of the suits are similar, their depictions can slightly vary from what you’re used to, especially if you haven’t read much with traditional tarot before.
The Swords are slender, almost rapier like. The Pentacles, or rather Coins in this Minchiate, all have faces and sometimes look more like parts of lockets than the representative of money. The Wands resemble scrolls, unless they are in the hands of a courtier, then they are similar to something of an elongated club (or decorative table-leg really). All the Cups are rather amphoric in nature and they’re all closed with a lid. The Pages (valets) are 50/50 male/female, the female pages representing the Cups & Coins.
All the Knights (Cavaliers) are half man, half beast. It gives them an extra edge that I really like though and the type of animal adds to the symbolism and can be used in your readings. Actually, it was striking how often animals were part of the minors images – something that might overcome the lack of embellishments on quite a large amount of pip cards. That’s right: like most traditional tarot decks the Minchiate Tarot has no scenics.
And there are more differences, especially when we look at the Major Arcana. The Minchiate Tarot has more than 22 Trumps, 41 to be exact (40+ The Fool). The additions being 4 extra (theological) virtues, the 12 Zodiac signs and the 4 elements. You’ll definitely be adding new flavor to your tarot.
On top of that the order varies greatly from ‘regular tarot’ and imagery & contents can be different: Several important Majors that we’ve known since the Marseille decks or the creation of the 1909 Waite-Smith, aren’t present. Don’t go looking for a High Priestess, an obvious Empress or a Pope/Hierophant for example: they’re not there. That isn’t to say their archetypes or energies can’t be found, but simply substituting ‘our’ 21st century II, III and IV for The Grand Duke card and the Western and Eastern Emperor isn’t that simple (although some read that way.)
Historic background & studying
The Minchiate Tarot was made in Italy and therefore simply differs in references in regard to the western patterns like the Tarot de Marseille. Where the WCS Tower is House of God in the TdM, the southern pattern calls it the House of the Devil or Hellmouth and it shows a naked woman running from a burning building. The unnumbered Minchiate Moon shows an astrologer simply studying the moon instead of the frightening columns and dark moon overlooking those howling dogs in the minchiate deck. And I could go on…it has its roots in the time the deck was made and in the history of that geographical area.
Another thing you might need to get used to is the fact that, other than seeing a Major 34 for example and a Virtue card: none of the cards are *named*. You’ll only see Roman numerals and sometimes those are also absent, which makes the fact that you get extra Majors, a different order and new images even more challenging. Numbers can be found in banners in the right or left hand top corner, and some are part of the image. In Trump IX, The Wheel of Fortune, it’s written on a book lying on the floor before the actual Wheel and in X, in the Minchiate Tarot The Chariot, the number is printed rather pointedly on a scarf-like fabric that the otherwise naked Charioteer is holding exactly in front of *her* genitals. The Minchiate Tarot is really a whole new Fool’s Journey, that’s for sure!
Elegance and surprisingly ‘easy’
All that studying (see the mini-tutorial on How to read the Minchiate Tarot to help you out) and memorizing seems daunting, but it will be rewarded though. For starters with the images of the actual deck. These are beautiful. Some are truly as gorgeous as any realistic museum painting. If you like Ancient Italians, you’ll appreciate the art on this one. It has the typical Italian elegance of the Renaissance, the warmer, though muted, coloring and the realistic imagery in people and environments. It might even beat the DellaRocca (Which Il Meneghello calls the Soprafino Tarot) But beware: there are several Minchiate decks. (See the Tutorial article for more info).
A few of my favorite cards are the unnumbered ones: important Trumps like The Sun, Judgement (The Trumpets), The Moon, The Star and the elemental cards, especially Water and Earth. In a way those cards remind me of a few Lenormand cards.
If you are just stepping onto a tarot path I’d urge you to start with a 78 card deck, learn the structure of tarot and then venture into more complicated decks like this one. However, if you are an advanced reader, especially already with a TdM or Tarocchi, you’ll notice that when it comes to actual reading the deck is surprisingly easy. Sure, you just had a do-over in European history, lol, but trust me: that’ll only help with the symbols and getting acquainted with the deck. Once I threw down a few cards I noticed that it wasn’t all that different from other traditional decks. And it gives very clear readings too. No beating around the bush either.
Astrology & GD inc
Another huge point in the Minchiate’s favor: if you always wanted to combine astrology and the elements with your tarot you don’t need to know each attribution to each card because with this deck those cards come separately.
Lately I’ve reviewed plenty decks that follow Golden Dawn teachings and I can’t help but see part of that back in the Minchiate. 18th and 19th century occultists implemented the use of astrology, elemental dignities et cetera onto the then existing and known tarot decks (tarocchi and the Marseille’s). That eventually led to the creation of the 78 card Waite-Smith (RWS/WCS) and Thoth. But the Minchiate, with its 97 cards, is already suited to work with these modalities in a different way. Each of these modalities, save from Kabbalah, has gotten a place in the extra’s. They can be read on their own however, as well as the ‘original trumps’. In other words: without the occultist reinterpretation of the TdM that formed the Waite Smith and Thoth.This is especially important to more traditional tarot readers. So score for the Minchiate.
When it comes to reading with this 97-pack the Minchiate leaves you with a multitude of options. Yes, I said it was ‘surprisingly easy’, but I of course ‘made the deck respond’ to my way of reading. Which means I chose how I wanted to work with all these differences, before I did a reading. Which is basically what you do with any deck you work with. But in this case of a little more importance. You can use parts of the deck a combination of parts or the whole 97-card beauty.
For the purpose of this review I ended up working with the complete deck and I think I’ll keep doing that. I realized the Minchiate Etruria is ideally suited for larger readings, but can easily be used for a simple 3-card reading too – although with such a large pack that felt a little like a waste of opportunities. Like I said, I used the entire deck and I ‘instructed’ the deck not to throw around zodiacs or virtues when I wasn’t asking about timing or characteristics/energies. So far, so good. The best thing Minchiate did to convince me it was working in that way, was when I – to test it – asked for the personality & character traits of a person, pulled three cards and got two courts and II (grand Duke/Empress).
Despite its many differences, by some the Minchiate decks are even considered ‘a sister of tarot’, the deck reads remarkably similar to any traditional tarot deck. Especially similar to the Ancient Italians, but with a good grasp of a Tarot de Marseille you’ll be able to work with the Minchiate soon enough. Once you get over the intimidating parts and do your part on the study front (which is something I could skip over a bit, since I have the benefit of being a historian), it might be one of those decks that sneaks into your go-to pile unexpectedly. I really love the artwork, especially of the deck I reviewed here specifically (the Etruria), but I got such straightforward and clear answers that it also scored high on the readability front.
As so many other readers I at first thought the Minchiate Tarot would be a great collector’s item and that would be it. Sure, it could be just that if you like traditional decks to look at or are simply not interested in needing to do a little history snooping or learning a new set of numbers and card options if you want to work with the complete deck. But, when I tried to immerse myself (and without the benefit of Robert’s article, since we were discussing those things behind the scenes as we went/as I was reviewing) in this tarocchi and simply treated it as a reading deck, it turned out to be just that: a great reading deck with good card stock, nice art work, and one that responds to a multitude of tarot techniques. If you haven’t figured it out by now: I am a fan of the Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria, perhaps even because of its ‘twists’. And while I have plenty decks to read with and to study upon, I am pretty sure I will take this one out for a ride every now and then.
TIP: The How To read the Minchiate Tarot-tutorial, based on working with this deck, will take care of your Minchiate-educational needs if this review has made you buy the deck.
|This review was made possible due to the Review Patronage of Robert Scott, Arcana Advising|
1. Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance were three classical “cardinal virtues” depicted in the more familiar tarot trumps. The Minchiate supplies the remaining cardinal virtue — Prudence — and inserts them with the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity. The only other deck to have the theological virtues was the Cary-Yale deck. This is the only deck to include all seven virtues.
2. Whenever I refer the actual deck at (in) hand I say Minchiate Fiorentine Etruria or Etruria so we know I am talking about this specific edition -most likely when referring to card stock or images. When speaking about the system and pattern I will just use Minchiate Tarot most of the time, since this will be common for at least the 4 Fiorentine decks. The Francesca has 98 cards and some other differences and won’t be referenced specifically.