Divine Decks: A Visual History of Tarot: The First Comprehensive Survey of Tarot Gets Published by Taschen

The cards of the tarot, first cre­at­ed for play around 600 years ago and used in recent cen­turies for occult div­ina­tion of truths about life, the uni­verse, and every­thing, should by all rights be noth­ing more than a his­tor­i­cal curios­i­ty today. Yet some­thing about the tarot still com­pels, even to many of us in the ever more dig­i­tal, ever more data-dri­ven 21st cen­tu­ry. Taschen, pub­lish­er of lav­ish art and pho­to books, know this: hence, as we fea­tured last year here on Open Cul­ture, prod­ucts like their box-set reis­sue of the tarot deck designed by Sal­vador Dalí. (There must be a mean­ing­ful over­lap between Taschen’s demo­graph­ic and Dalí’s fans, giv­en that the pub­lish­er more recent­ly put out the most com­plete col­lec­tion of his paint­ings between two cov­ers.)

Dalí isn’t the only artist whose inter­pre­ta­tions of the Fool, the Hiero­phant, the Lovers, the Hanged One, and the oth­er arcana have graced a tarot deck. H.R. Giger, the artist respon­si­ble for the bio­me­chan­i­cal creepi­ness of Alien, designed one in the 1990s; more recent­ly, we’ve fea­tured decks illus­trat­ed with visions inspired by the nov­els of Philip K. Dick and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

But all these togeth­er — even includ­ing the “Thoth deck” designed by occultist Aleis­ter Crow­ley and the Sola-Bus­ca deck, the ear­li­est known com­plete set of tarot cards — rep­re­sent only a small frac­tion of the sto­ry of tarot’s place in the past six cen­turies of civ­i­liza­tion. That sto­ry is told, and more impor­tant­ly shown, in Taschen’s new book Divine Decks: A Visu­al His­to­ry of Tarot.

The first vol­ume in Taschen’s “Library of Eso­ter­i­ca,” the book “gath­ers more than 500 cards and works of orig­i­nal art from around the world in the ulti­mate explo­ration of a cen­turies-old art form.” An image gallery on Taschen’s web site gives a small sam­pling of the range of tarot decks found with­in, includ­ing ones cre­at­ed in 1930s Eng­land, 1970s Italy, and 2010s Brook­lyn. One was intend­ed as a pro­mo­tion­al item for an Amer­i­can paper com­pa­ny in the 1960s; anoth­er, with dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es, announces itself as the “Black Pow­er Tarot.” This in addi­tion to such well-known exam­ples as Crow­ley’s Thoth deck and the ven­er­a­ble Sola-Bus­ca, both lush­ly repro­duced in its pages. And the tarot lives on, as I’m remind­ed when­ev­er I pass one of the many store­fronts here in Seoul offer­ing tarot read­ings. In any case, it’s cer­tain­ly come a long way from 15th-cen­tu­ry Europe. You can get a copy of Divine Decks: A Visu­al His­to­ry of Tarot on Taschen’s web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Behold the Sola-Bus­ca Tarot Deck, the Ear­li­est Com­plete Set of Tarot Cards (1490)

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Jour­ney into the Occult

The Tarot Card Deck Designed by Sal­vador Dalí

The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleis­ter Crow­ley

Twin Peaks Tarot Cards Now Avail­able as 78-Card Deck

Philip K. Dick Tarot Cards: A Tarot Deck Mod­eled After the Vision­ary Sci-Fi Writer’s Inner World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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  • alma p says:

    Mr. Mar­shall — respect­ful­ly, Stu­art Kaplan pub­lished his two vol­ume Ency­clo­pe­dia of Tarot sevre­al years ago so I don’t agree with you that Taschen’s is the first com­pre­hen­sive sur­vey. Below is the infor­ma­tion on the first vol­ume of Mr. Kaplan’s work — there were two vol­umes.

    THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TAROT Vol­ume I: Kaplan, Stu­art R.
    Kaplan, Stu­art R.

    Pub­lished by US Games Sys­tems Inc (1988)

    ISBN 10: 0913866113ISBN 13: 9780913866115
    Used
    Hard­cov­er

    About this Item: US Games Sys­tems Inc, 1988. Hard­cov­er. Con­di­tion: Fine. Dust Jack­et Con­di­tion: Fair. 3,200 illus­tra­tions plus 8 colour plates make this mam­moth work, con­tain­ing all rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and art­work on the tarot, the defin­i­tive work for the seri­ous stu­dent. Sixth Print­ing. US Games Sys­tems Inc 1988. illus xvi + 390pp hb dw frayed & torn, book fine. Sell­er Inven­to­ry # 009976

  • Uri Raz says:

    Kaplan’s ency­clo­pe­dia has 4 vol­umes. Sad­ly, its out of print.

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