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Tarot. The Library of Esoterica

de Jessica Hundley

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To explore the Tarot is to explore ourselves, to be reminded of the universality of our longing for meaning, for purpose and for a connection to the divine. This 600-year-old tradition reflects not only a history of seekers, but our journey of artistic expression and the ways we communicate our collective human story. For many in the West, Tarot exists in the shadow place of our cultural consciousness, a metaphysical tradition assigned to the dusty glass cabinets of the arcane. Its history, long and obscure, has been passed down through secret writing, oral tradition, and the scholarly tomes of philosophers and sages. Hundreds of years and hundreds of creative hands--mystics and artists often working in collaboration--have transformed what was essentially a parlor game into a source of divination and system of self-exploration, as each new generation has sought to evolve the form and reinterpret the medium. Author Jessica Hundley traces this fascinating history in Tarot, the debut volume in TASCHEN's Library of Esoterica series. The book explores the symbolic meaning behind more than 500 cards and works of original art, two thirds of which have never been published outside of the decks themselves. It's the first ever visual compendium of its kind, spanning from Medieval to modern, and artfully arranged according to the sequencing of the 78 cards of the Major and Minor Arcana. It explores the powerful influence of Tarot as muse to artists like Salvador Dalí and Niki de Saint Phalle and includes the decks of nearly 100 diverse contemporary artists from around the world, all of whom have embraced the medium for its capacity to push cultural identity forward. Rounding out the volume are excerpts from thinkers such as Éliphas Lévi, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell; a foreword by artist Penny Slinger; a guide to reading the cards by Johannes Fiebig; and an essay on oracle decks by Marcella Kroll. About the series Library of Esoterica explores how centuries of artists have given form to mysticism, translating the arcane and the obscure into enduring, visionary works of art. Each subject is showcased through both modern and archival imagery culled from private collectors, libraries, and museums around the globe. The result forms an inclusive visual history, a study of our primal pull to dream and nightmare, and the creative ways we strive to connect to the divine.… (més)
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The first volume in Taschen’s Library of Esoterica, Tarot, is a beautifully illustrated book that spared every expense on editing.

First the good. This book is beautiful, an exceedingly lovely physical object to hold in one’s hands and flip through, repeatedly—which is exactly what I’ve done since I acquired it. The layout is gorgeous. The illustrations, representing a wide variety of Tarot decks created from the 1400s to 2018, are gorgeous.

The volume devotes 335 pages to the 22 Major Arcana, presenting illustrations from roughly 15 or so decks or related art for each card in the Majors. The Minor Arcana receive somewhat less attention, with only 63 pages for their 56 cards. Although I would have loved to see as many examples of the Minor Arcana, this is understandable: many decks pay considerably more attention to the Majors, and Taschen needed to keep the physical book to a manageable size. Obviously, both sections feature cards from historically significant decks produced during the Renaissance and early 19th century occult flowering. It’s unclear what criteria Taschen used to select examples from the mid-20th century on: sometimes only a single card from a deck is featured, while half a dozen or more cards are featured from others. The examples are an excellent mix of media, styles, and deck traditions; it’s fascinating to see the breadth of art produced within the same 78-card framework, and fun to speculate on why specific cards were chosen.

For both Majors and Minors, a caption introduces basic details about the artist, and deck or artwork, for almost every illustration. The author(s) took pains to rephrase this information for artists whose work appears several times in the book—a lovely attention to detail that readers, like me, who read the book cover to cover will quickly come to appreciate. The essays that bookend the Arcana sections are informative and fun to read. So that’s the good.

Now, the bad. Proofreading, what is it? We at Taschen just don’t know.

We’re not just talking a lack of stylistic consistency in the use of italics or capitalization. We’re talking one or more spelling, grammar, or typesetting errors on almost every page. We’re talking so many, commas, in places they don’t belong. We’re talking grammatically mangled sentences. Judging from the prevalence of badily mistpelled words, we’re talking not even having spellchecked the manuscript.

It’s a level of sloppiness one expects from a $0.99 self-published eBook, not a $40 art book from a boutique publisher.

To conclude: Tarot will delight lovers of Tarot history and illustration. Be prepared for some frustration if you value the written word as much as the visual arts. For those focused primarily on the illustrations, or willing to overlook the lackadaisical editing, this book is top notch.
  Trismegistus | Apr 17, 2021 |
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To explore the Tarot is to explore ourselves, to be reminded of the universality of our longing for meaning, for purpose and for a connection to the divine. This 600-year-old tradition reflects not only a history of seekers, but our journey of artistic expression and the ways we communicate our collective human story. For many in the West, Tarot exists in the shadow place of our cultural consciousness, a metaphysical tradition assigned to the dusty glass cabinets of the arcane. Its history, long and obscure, has been passed down through secret writing, oral tradition, and the scholarly tomes of philosophers and sages. Hundreds of years and hundreds of creative hands--mystics and artists often working in collaboration--have transformed what was essentially a parlor game into a source of divination and system of self-exploration, as each new generation has sought to evolve the form and reinterpret the medium. Author Jessica Hundley traces this fascinating history in Tarot, the debut volume in TASCHEN's Library of Esoterica series. The book explores the symbolic meaning behind more than 500 cards and works of original art, two thirds of which have never been published outside of the decks themselves. It's the first ever visual compendium of its kind, spanning from Medieval to modern, and artfully arranged according to the sequencing of the 78 cards of the Major and Minor Arcana. It explores the powerful influence of Tarot as muse to artists like Salvador Dalí and Niki de Saint Phalle and includes the decks of nearly 100 diverse contemporary artists from around the world, all of whom have embraced the medium for its capacity to push cultural identity forward. Rounding out the volume are excerpts from thinkers such as Éliphas Lévi, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell; a foreword by artist Penny Slinger; a guide to reading the cards by Johannes Fiebig; and an essay on oracle decks by Marcella Kroll. About the series Library of Esoterica explores how centuries of artists have given form to mysticism, translating the arcane and the obscure into enduring, visionary works of art. Each subject is showcased through both modern and archival imagery culled from private collectors, libraries, and museums around the globe. The result forms an inclusive visual history, a study of our primal pull to dream and nightmare, and the creative ways we strive to connect to the divine.

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