by Jean-Michel David
These reviews first appeared on Aeclectic.net – reproduced here with minor modifications.
Camoin-Jodorowsky Tarot de Marseille
The World, Camoin-Jodorowski Marseilles
There are numerous Tarot decks in print that use the appellation Tarot de Marseille. Many, of course, are not published nor printed in Marseille, but follow the designs commonly associated with this southern French maritime city.
The creators of this deck, one of whom claims to be a descendent of the Conver family, utilised and compared various versions of this style of deck, and sought to re-create it to its original splendour. It is obvious that they were principally, but not solely, influenced by the early (1760) Nicholas Conver deck. This latter, incidentally, is still available as a reprint from three publishers: as a limited edition cardboard collector’s deck from the Camoin House, from Lo Scarabeo in Italy, and from Héron in Bordeaux (in my view, the best edition).
Though both Jodorowsky and Camoin had access to many historical representations, they on occasions opted for the more familiar Marteau colouring (as found in the more popular Grimaud version of the Marseille deck), and ‘added’ clarity to many aspects which were only hinted at in the earlier versions (such as the hind-legs of the horses on the Chariot, or the ‘snake’ at the bottom of Temperance, or again the ‘ramp’ upon which the figure of the Star kneels upon). In some of these and yet other cases, I personally would have preferred the ambiguity to remain, as the rendition chosen appears to be more an interpretation rather than clearing an intended depiction.
In some instances, they have perhaps drawn from an oral tradition which was then incorporated, even if it meant altering the illustration. For example, the figure closest to the ground on the Tower is usually depicted as falling on the rear part of the Tower, and thus hidden. There is a tradition which mentions that this figure is really falling out of a partially open but out of view door. In their deck, they have placed this door in view (as is found on some uncommon decks), thereby altering the rendition, and removing the ambiguity as to whether the person is falling down the side of the building, or from its (rear) door.
In other places, they could have added clarity but unfortunately didn’t. For example, in a Schaffhouse eighteen hundreds deck (also published as Tarot Classic by US Games), the curved swords are clearly swords, with their hilts not confused with the tip of adjacent blades.This is even more evident in such some Bolognese tarot decks. It should be noted that the Schaffhouse deck has many significant differences to Marseille style decks – as one example, the Hanged Man’s two legs are straight.
As mentioned above, and as in most early French decks, the Swords are all curved and crossed when even-numbered – except for the ten which has two straight swords. If odd-numbered, the pairs are crossed and a single straight sword is placed in the middle. The Batons as straight. In a reading, they are thus easily differentiated.
As with all early Tarot decks (with the exception of the Sola-Busca, which does not follow Tarot tradition in either its Major or minor Arcana depictions), all pip cards are ornate, but no scenes are depicted. The suits follow the more common Tarot tradition of Batons, Cups, Deniers or Coins, and Swords, rather than the related but less popular Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts and Spades or yet other suits. The ten-of-cups card is therefore illustrated, albeit ornately, with ten cups.
Some early decks, such as the Visconti-Sforza, kept their Atouts un-numbered. Most others, as with all the very early numbered Tarot decks, numbered these using the Roman additive style (there is thus no zero, and nine is written as VIIII). Also, and following traditional numbering, Justice is VIII (eight) and Strength XI (eleven). This is adhered to by Camoin and Jodorowsky.
As with the other available Marseille decks, this deck is a must for those interested in symbols of perennial mediaeval esoteric representations. For those who wish to use it as a tool for developing the Imaginative faculty, then this is, in my opinion, amongst the better modern Marseille-style decks, and hence amongst the best Tarot deck, yet available. It is certainly worth adding to any serious Tarot enthusiast’s collection.
I would personally rate this deck, for its artistic merit, traditional integrity (despite inclusions that may have been better avoided), and esoteric symbolism (even in the minutia of detail), three out of five stars.
Note: At the time this review first came out, Marseille tarot availability in the English speaking world was extremely difficult, and thus rated this deck more highly. It would be unfair to have left my review untouched by changes that have occurred over the past six years.
Visit the Camoin House Tarot Website.
Hadar Tarot de Marseille
Kris Hadar’s The Basteleur
Having written the above review about a year earlier, I received the also recently re-designed Marseille deck by Kris Hadar – again a truly marvellous Marseille rendition, and unlike, for example, the Convos that in my view just lacks so many of the generic deck’s finer qualities!
For Kris Hadar, ‘the Tarot is a Cathedral wherein each may in prayer discover within one’s existential labyrinth the path to one’s salvation!’ (p18 LWB, my translation). When one truly believes this, then surely depth of care will weave itself into the deck’s re-design.
In order to avoid repeating some of the general comments I make in relation to the Marseille, I take the previous review as read.
The Hadar deck, according to its printed date, came out in 1996, two years before the Camoin-Jodorowsky.
What Hadar appears to have done is carefully consider various representations and made careful judgements about whether a detail ought to be included or not. For most cards, I do think the choices made are inspired. If one compares, for example, the hem of Temperance, Hadar has maintained the careful ambiguity of a possible snake-like depiction, without thereby destroying such ambiguity as has occurred in the Camoin-Jodorowsky. At other times, however, I do not think he was careful enough with the details, and went with the more common depiction. Again, and for example, the triple nipple upon one of the figures on XV the Devil card, also found, for example, upon the 1760 Conver, has not been incorporated – though possibly purposefully. Another detail which many early decks include ambiguously is the hind-legs of the horses on VII the Chariot. Both Camoin and Hadar remove the ambiguity – Hadar doing the opposite of Camoin and following the Marteau rendition by deleting the ambiguous lines altogether. A last example: the platform’s ambiguous outline upon XVII the Star has been retained.
Like the box which contains it, there is an overall flavour of blu-ishness to the deck. This however, is more of a tonal quality, for the colouration and figures are quite beautified when compared to the woodcuts from which the earliest Marseille decks originate.
If the Atouts are wonderfully re-presented, an even higher praise can be said for the Court cards, except for the flatline of the horizon. Here, Hadar has really presented an un-surpassed modern rendition of a Marseille. Unlike most others which, to my mind, fall a little in this domain, Hadar has maintained careful attention to the Marseille spirit: the Page of Coins has no title, no additional detail has been added – and none subtracted.
The pips remain beautifully illustrated, though again, I wish that, as I mentioned for the Camoin-Jodorowsky deck, Hadar had paid attention to the clarity of the hilt of the curved swords, so as not to confuse these with the tips of adjacent blades (as clearly differentiated in, again, the Schaffhouse deck). To have maintained Saul Marteau’s initials upon VII the Chariot and upon the two of Cups I just do not see merit in – nor in having inserted the misleading 1181 date adjacent his name and 1996, both of these latter of course expected, on the two of Coins (though it may be worthwhile indicating his e.mail response to this query in the Forum section of this Aeclectic.net – and I should also add that I personally strongly favour, and have earlier mentioned, a 1196 symbolic dating for the earliest ‘Marseille’ – these dates remain, of course, illegitimate based on historical evidence).
The titles and the back of all cards are also craftily executed – the back a beautiful reversible patterning. As stated on the box (for a change a good size, by the way, which doesn’t risk damaging the cards as one attempts to re-enter therein the deck and its little white booklet), ‘the originality of this Tarot also resides in the particular care given to the back design as an aide to improve the art of divination’ (my translation – oh, yes, I nearly forgot – the little white book is all in French, though this may be because of the Swiss provenance for my copy of this Canadian-designed deck).
Overall, another three-star masterpiece for a Marseille Tarot deck – my only problem will now be to which of these modern creations to recommend, the Camoin or the Hadar?
Note: as mentioned above, I originally gave a higher star rating to this deck.
Visit the Kris Hadar Tarot website.