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Fine Art Tarot

Fine Art Tarot

J. Breyer, 1979


This deck celebrates the idea of artistic archetypes. Though the historical influences of the Tarot may be disputed, there is a widespread opinion that its images transcend historical time and place.

To express this archetypal nature of the 22 Trumps, J. Breyer of France assembled this series of works from a wide range of existing sources. The result was this beautiful Trump-only deck which was printed in 1979 by Éditions Ergonia, Paris. U.S.Games Systems was its sole distributor in the United States. They are beautiful cards in every detail, printed with sharp, rich colors on thick card stock with a high gloss. Stuart Kaplan says in his Encyclopedia III that this deck was produced in two sizes, one large format of 8¾ by 4½, and a smaller format of 4¼ by 2¼. The smaller deck is the one shown here. Kaplan wrote a brief Foreword in the booklet to this deck, in which he lists the sources of the original works.

Temperance is a detail from Saint Elizabeth by Hans Holbein the Elder (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). The World is a detail from The Four Elements by Hendrik van Balen the Elder and his assistant J. van Hessel (Musee des Beaux-Arts, France). The Magician is from a painting called The Strolling Players by Francisco Goya (El Prado Museum, Spain). The Chariot is a fresco entitled Apollo, by Pietro Perugino (College du Cambio, Italy).

The Devil is from The Witches’ Sabbath by Francisco Goya (El Prado Museum, Spain). The Sun and The Moon are from an engraving taken from a 1631 alchemical text. Judgment is another detail from The Four Elements by Hendrik van Balen the Elder and J. van Hessel (Musee des Beaux-Arts, France).

J. Breyer, in the little booklet for this deck, gives a very brief commentary in the form of a Maxim and a short motto for each card. The mottos are the French subtitles shown at the bottom of each Trump. His motto for the Magician is I Take Risks, and his maxim is “To dazzle in order to dazzle myself! Tall Tales! Isn’t it a fun game!” The Charioteer, whose motto is I Advance, says “I move forward . . .in spite of my horses who bite each other now and then.” And the Devil, “I enchain because if I were unchained, I would like someone to do as much to me!” His motto is I Lie.

There are several other well-known works represented in this deck. The Empress is taken from The Rite of Spring by Botticelli, The Pope is from the 15th century illuminated manuscript, Strength is a detail from Venus at the Mirror by Peter Paul Rubens, and The Fool is from a 16th-century French tapestry. The precise years in which these works were created are not listed in the booklet though most of these could be found in an art history book.

Every image here antedates the invention of the Tarot, yet beautifully illustrates the universality of its themes.


Review by Mark Filipas

Image of Fine Art Tarot