The Lure of Mantegna

originally published in The Sunday Stew 9/6/15

We are always to succumb to the lure of the unknown. That shiney new thing. The mysterious thing we don’t know about but want to know more. At least it is that way for me. The first couple times I heard about this Mantegna Tarot was when I was doing my Tarot tour of Italy this year. “It’s not like other tarot decks”, “It uses totally different cards”. Upon returning home I bought the deck. I had collected a few decks in Italy but did not see this Mantegna Tarot and I had to have it.

My Tarot is all about intuition. You know, that pure perception of truth we all have hidden deep inside us. It’s the inner voice of your higher self, telling you what is the right thing to do and hoping you won’t ignore it. The cards help you hear your inner voice and embrace its message. Sometimes it’s hard to hear your inner voice amid all the day to day crazy.

When I ripped into this new deck I certainly realized this wasn’t like any other deck I had. This Mantegna deck wasn’t even created by the famous Venetian painter Andrea Mantegna. So why did they name it after him? The art is gorgeous, and represents one of the most praiseworthy and enigmatic Renaissance works of art. These engravings came to light around 1460, in Ferrara by an anonymous artist from Francesco del Cossa’s school. One story has it that the original deck was actually commissioned by a Pope, for use as a card game.

The structure is not Major and Minor Arcana with Trumps, but 50 cards divided in 5 classes of cards representing the conditions of man, the muses, the liberal arts, the virtues, the cosmical principals and the celestial spheres.

The Human Conditions group- show us members of the middle class and nobility to the highest spiritual position of High Priest.

Apollo and the Muses cards- include feminine figures, the Muses, which represent various forms of artistic expression, ruled by the prince of knowledge,Apollo.

The Arts and Sciences cards- are allegories and subjects of Medieval study, philosophy, astrology, theology.

The Geniuses and Virtues cards- display the three universal principles, light, time and space along with the four cardinal virtues and three theological virtues.

The Planets and Celestial Spheres group has the 7 main planets and the divine sphere from which everything originates.

The layouts can be according to your favorite spread. But there is another layout in the book I found as unusual as the whole deck itself. It was a type of solitaire where you layed 20 cards out and in 4 horizontal rows of 5 cards each alternating face up and face down, then you start removing the cards according to the different 5 groups. As in solitaire you are working from highest to lowest numbers. It’s the cards that are left and do not fit in the solitaire order, that are out of sequence that will be left on the table that are essentially your messages.

Buon divertimento or as they say in English, have fun.

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