Bruegel Tarot by Guido Zibordi Marchesi
Review by Diane Wilkes

If you would like to order this deck, click here.

If you're a Bruegel enthusiast, this is the deck for you!

Alas, if you're not, it isn't.

Corpulent peasants live and gambol and make faces at sheep in this rustic art deck inspired by 16th century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The little white booklet (LWB) explains that during the Protestant Reformation, artists used to fat commissions from the Church now had to find other sources of income for their art, hence the "genre painting" based on nature and the round of daily life, of which Bruegel is considered a master. Perhaps the loss of "fat" commissions led to the enlargement of the models as a form of wish fulfillment.

Forget the stately elegance of decks like the Golden Tarot of the Tsar and the Classical Tarots, or even the art decks like the Leonardo da Vinci and the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg. The Bruegel Tarot is peopled with their country cousins, their servants, and their tenant farmers. I'm no elitist, but, based on this deck, I must say that if one can get the upper parlor, perhaps one should. Bruegel is also known for his use of the grotesque, and Marchesi has not shied away from that propensity. Additionally, qualities of Bosch's art have been intermingled with Bruegel's, so the images of the tarot, remade in the mode of these artists, seem to have lost not just their sophistication, but also their majesty. The Chariot, normally a vehicle for personal evolution, shows the darkest side of this trump--one of the horses is crushing an old man who got in the way of the cart. That a misshapen lump rides at the top of a bale of hay on that same cart, seemingly fingering an angel-puppet just makes the scene more degraded.

One thing I find particularly alienating about this deck is the depiction of women. They are almost all plump and unrefined in their looks and attire--something that isn't true of all the men. Particularly representative are the Emperor and Empress--with her broom-scepter, the Empress looks more like the Emperor's maid than his mate! The King and Queen of Cups, which appear on the card box, illustrate this inequity, as well.

The Lovers card shows a male precursor of the Jukes or Kallikak clan chucking the chin of a female in red as a scorned and angry woman behind him fists her hands in rage. She looks like Hazel on steroids, and dresses like her, too. One can't blame the Kallikak for rejecting her, yet one must wonder how these people managed to propagate prior to the advent of paper bags.

With a few exceptions, such as The Emperor and The Hermit, these characters' faces, while not brutish, often look distorted, vapid, or vacant.

Just because the art is not to my taste does not mean I can't and don't admire the incredible artistry employed by Guido Zibordi Marchesi. While the latter cards in the Minor Arcana (8-10) tend to be irritatingly overcrowded, I found that by using my magnifying glass, I could see incredibly intricate and expressive details. The Hanged Man, for instance, shows a small crowd gathering at the sight of a man hung upside down from a spoked wheel, perhaps a punishment for stealing a pear, which he grasps even as he hangs. Beneath him sits what looks like two more pears, but the magnifying glass helped me to see that one was nibbled, and if the two "pears" were put together, they would create a unified heart. The woman carrying the baby in the Four of Swords holds a bunny rabbit under her other arm, but you might miss this without careful scrutiny of the card.

And some of the cards repay such scrutiny. The Death and Devil cards are both quite interesting. Fittingly, Death is the more artistically spare of the two, and shows an avenging skeleton lifting an upraised sword in one skeletal hand, but with the other on the head of a man on his knees clasping a cross. Only the kneeling man is in color, and he seems to have red-tipped horns; perhaps this is a comment about false idols in the Lutheran tradition. The Devil is a combination robot and monster similar to the Sta-Puff Marshmallow demon in the movie Ghostbusters. This contraption is in color, and appears above a monochromatic family farm scene, implying that the Devil of their imagination is more vibrant and alive than they are, and consequently more compelling, and even more attractive to them.

Another intricate scene is that depicted in the World card. A Christ-figure in white stands at the center of a circle of people, instead of the traditional laurel wreath of victory. This is a vivid illustration of the Golden Dawn astrological attribution of this card to Saturn, and the concept of dancing within the constraints of the mundane world. The circle and what is within the circle is colorized--the surroundings are shades of brown.

I find the artist's dual use of monochrome and full color presentation in the same image contextually fascinating, but he doesn't carry it over into the Minor Arcana. The Minors are not based on the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) illustrations and often have conflicting meanings. The Six of Wands, normally considered a card of victory, shows numerous farmers carrying wooden planks (Wands), working together on something while the farmer's wife sweeps the barn. A large green snake is wrapped around one such rod, but the symbolism of the asp is unclear. The LWB gives the meaning as "Work. Work obtains fire from stone. (Everything is obtained through work.)"

The artist interweaves the suit emblem into every card and each card contains its number of Wands, Cups, and so forth. This can lead to a sense of overcrowding in the latter numbered cards, as mentioned above. The artist had the same problem with the Giotto Tarot, which was also his creation. The Eight of Wands is particularly grisly, as well as overcrowded--nothing like boiled baby to make my stomach roil (according to the LWB, its meaning is Realization. Consent. Silence gives consent, which makes my stomach roil even more!) The Minors have been divided into four seasons: the Swords are Spring, Wands, Summer, Pentacles, Autumn, and Cups, Winter.

The Court Cards are in the same vein as the Minor Arcana. They can be simply mundane or weird, depending on the card. The Queen of Wands' totem in the Bruegel Tarot is a barking dog (with a hobby horse connecting her wand to it, for some odd reason).  The Knave of Swords makes faces at the sheep--I dare someone to say he doesn't look like an escapee from the rural Bedlam. The Knave corresponds to the Page, and the other Courts (Knight, Queen, and King) are traditionally titled.

While I don't find the deck particularly attractive, it has been very effective as a reading deck; the aphorisms add a facet to the cards that is particularly profound in a reading situation. While this is an art deck, it's a readable one.

The reversible card backs are monochromatic shades of grey-brown and depict one of the more benign rustic couples against a pastoral scene and brick fence. The quality of the cardstock, like the artwork, is excellent, as is typical of Lo Scarabeo decks.

The LWB is written in five languages (English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Dutch) and the card titles are in all those languages, plus German. The LWB is quite informative, and states that each card "has popular sayings as a theme or, in other cases, allegories taken from biblical texts." Unfortunately, the limited space of the LWB precludes an explanation of what the card has to do with said quotation, which could amplify the cards considerably. For example, The Moon's aphorism is listed in the LWB as "All cats are alike in the night," yet the main image is of dogs baying at the Moon. There is a crowned fur body in the image, but it is impossible to discern its species--if you remember Cousin It from the Addams Family, you can imagine what it looks like. It does not resemble either dog! Also included in the LWB is a nine card spread entitled, "The Path of Virtue and Temptation," which is quite fitting for this deck's thematic structure and is quite unique and interesting.

I only recommend this deck to tarot collectors and art lovers--and even then, the artistic bent must lean towards Bruegel's style of artwork. Marchesi's artistry is outstanding, though, and the deck is extremely effective in terms of its purpose.

If you would like to order this deck, click here.

You can see a sample reading with this deck here.

Bruegel Tarot by Guido Zibordi Marchesi
Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
ISBN#: 0738704466

  Yes No
78 cards X  
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI   X
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks) X  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions   X
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                   X  
Smaller than standard                                            X
Larger than standard                                               X

Images and cited text 2003 Lo Scarabeo
Review and page 2003 Diane Wilkes