The detail in this deck is mind-boggling.
The artist Luigi Scapini was commissioned to help recreate the Visconti-Sforza Tarot for US Games. The Visconti-Sforza version of the Tarot is the oldest known to exist.
After that work was done, Scapini was apparently inspired to create his own. The result is the Medieval Scapini Tarot (MST), an astonishing blend of influences, all centered around the basic style of the Visconti-Sforza.
When I say that the style is based on the Visconti-Sforza, I’m only telling a partial truth. The Major Arcana are indeed inspired by this style, but the Minor Arcana are not. The original deck would have had only pip cards, similar to the TdM. Scapini has gone the extra mile and illustrated all of the small cards, making them more akin to the RWS than anything else, at least as far as historical decks are concerned. This does not mean that the pictures themselves are inspired by the RWS, however. They are the artist’s own interpretations, derived from a diverse pool of divinatory meanings, including the Golden Dawn and Etteilla. There is the occasional nod to the RWS hidden amongst the vast amounts of symbolism, but make no mistake, these cards are not, by and large, derived from the RWS.
What makes this deck interesting is how starkly modern it is, incorporating systems and symbols from virtually all of its historical precedents, while maintaining an artistic style that evokes the Tarot in its oldest form. This is originally why I chose this deck. I wanted a historically-oriented deck to counter the addition of the very modern Deviant Moon I’d just gotten. The original Visconti-Sforza is missing some cards, which means that any recreation of it would require entirely new imaginings of those cards. I figured, if I had to get a deck that has new cards, why not just go for this one, which still stays basically true to the aesthetic of the original Major Arcana (with the addition of details that do not take away from the overall impression of historicity, at least to my untrained eye). The small cards still resemble regular pips, but with the fun illustrations added in. Having a TdM, I know what a typical pip card looks like, so the variation here is welcome.
The version of this deck that I got came complete with a companion book by Ronald Decker, titled Art and Arcana, without which a lot of the aforementioned symbolism would have been lost on me (although that would undoubtedly have had no effect on my overall enjoyment of this deck). The book is very interesting, thoroughly researched, providing an history of the Tarot in general, as well as detailing the specific systems important to the development of the Tarot as we know it today, all in the context of Scapini’s deck. The book has been invaluable to my understanding of this deck, and it was a very welcome surprise to find it (I did not realize that I had gotten a set that included a book at the time of purchase).
This deck is amazing, simply put. I have not seen such a comprehensive inclusion of various systems since Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, and the artwork is stunning. The deck is made all the more lavish with the metallic gold and silver backgrounds in the Major Arcana and court cards, as well as highlights in some of the details throughout the entire deck, most notably the suit of coins, all of the emblems of which have been done in gold. Again, the detail is great. There is so much in each card, and every bit is significant. This will be one of those decks that shows me something new every time I look through it for a long time to come.