Meet The Family | Ancient Italian Tarot | Lo Scarabeo

Published by Alison Cross on

I don’t know about you, but I’m increasingly drawn to antique Tarot decks and this Ancient Italian Tarot from Lo Scarabeo is currently one of my favourites.

I believe that the original engravings for this deck were made by a prominent Milanese engraver named Carlo Dellarocca.  This is the 1880 version of the deck, published by Lo Scarabeo (my copy dates from 2000).  As far as traditions go, this deck is a Marseilles-based deck (unillustrated pips, Justice VIII/Strength XI) with Majors and Court titles in Italian only.  These old decks are untrammelled by Golden Dawn influence and I find them extremely refreshing!

One of my Tarot bug-bears is that the Court section of a deck can feel poorly thought out, with little or no consideration going in to the personalities of the 16 characters and the traits that each conveys. But in this deck, they are very distinct personalities – even if they are not quite what you expect!

 Let’s meet the Fantes, Cavales, Reginas and Res!

Page (unexpected news) Knight (traveller) Queen (friend) King (entrepreneur)

We have the Bastoni family, or Wands to you and me.  Notice how the club is quite different in each image.  The Fante (or Page) holds a large, rough-hewn club emphasising the unformed, beginning nature of the Page…the Cavale (Knight) holds something that seems to have a bit of a dent in it, the Queen’s club is very decorative and the King’s enormous  ……. club…..leaves us in no doubt that he’s the main man!

Colour-wise – this family show a lot of green – the living, vital wand.  There is also red for the fire of Wands.  But heck – colour might not count for anything other than what the printers had available to them at the time – this is a pre-GD deck after all!

Take a good look at the Pages in the Ancient Italian – they’re all considerably older than many modern decks portray them!

Page (researcher) Knight (mercenary) Queen (widow) King (lawyer)

The Spade (Swords) family look quite pleasant sorts, even though every last one of them is tooled up for a fight!  What do you make of the Queen’s robe, folded into an opening between her legs? One of the LWB meanings for her is ‘sterility’  Hmmm – maybe I’m reading too much into the folds of that robe, which looks to me like a ‘fachina’ (as my son used to call it).

Colour-wise – one might say that a sky blue is the common denominator?  Suitable for Airy Swords! But look! Also a lot of red!

Notice how all the swords are depicted at an angle, except the King’s – his sword is bolt upright and he is, of course, scrupulously fair in his dealings with people. The Fante’s sword is almost upright, but he also sports a little dagger at his waist – suggesting that duplicitous nature that we know and luff about the Page of Swords.

Page (messenger of luff) Knight (passionate but unfaithful lover) Queen (lover/wife) King (Artist/mature person)

Take a good look at the Cups or Coppe family – this is the only family group where there is not a single weapon on show (the King of Danari has a sword too).  This family’s power is founded in relationship – the love is mightier than the sword, if you will.

The Coppe family memberes are decked out in blue – suitable for a suit associated with Water.  And red prevalent in this lot too!

All the Knights in the deck approach their family from the right hand side (except Danari enters from the left!) and have horses moving at different speeds, but the slowest looking horse is given to the Knight of Wands.  In post-Golden-Dawn decks, this is the VERY boy you would expect to have the fastest horse!

Page (student) Cavale (consultant/arrogance) Queen (Heiress, greed, marriage of convenience) King (business/rich man)

Meet the Danari family AKA Pentacles.  Notice how in this family, the Cavale and King both have Swords in addition to their suit symbol.  For the Cavale the coin hangs in the air in front of him and he doesn’t look hugely interested in it as he canters along behind it with his unsheathed sword resting on his breast.  The King also has a sword, but it remains in its scabbard behind him.  He is the only King who LOOKS at his suit symbol and holds another one on his knee – the getting of material goodies is important to this guy!

The meanings ascribed to the Page and Cavale are more what I would expect from the Swords characters….. the ‘mercenary’ nature of the Swords Knight I would probably associate with the Knight of Pentacles.  In this deck, the Knight of Danari is so clearly following the money!

Colourwise? Nothing really jumps out at me – other than the Queen’s golden skirt! Lots of red, blue and green *sigh*

So, what conclusions can I draw about the Courts of the Ancient Italian Tarot?

They are very attractively portrayed and each one is a unique character.  There is no real colour-coding of the suit families, but then we are looking at a deck that predates this tendency.  The etchings are refined and the cards are beautifully coloured throughout the deck

The meanings ascribed to the cards are, on the whole, as we generally understand them to be, with the exception of the Fante and Cavale of Danari who are described more like Swordy types.  And the Cavale of Swords is described more like the Danari chap should be.  Solution? I suggest just swapping around those descriptions so that they keep with your understanding of these courts.

What do you think of the Ancient Italian Tarot families?  What’s your favourite Marseilles-type deck?

Alison Cross

The Tarot's Court Cards are my specialist area.Β  They talk to me. Not LITERALLY though ....


Anonymous · 13th June 2014 at 10:27 am

If you are drawn to antique Italian Tarot Decks I suggest Sola-Busca and Visconti Sforza (the 1st historical Deck)

    Alison Cross · 13th June 2014 at 11:56 am

    Absolutely – am saving up for a Sola Busca even as we speak!!! And the Visconti Sforza is also high on my list of 'Gotta Have's πŸ˜€

    Alison Cross · 13th June 2014 at 11:56 am

    Absolutely – am saving up for a Sola Busca even as we speak!!! And the Visconti Sforza is also high on my list of 'Gotta Have's πŸ˜€

Inner Whispers · 16th May 2014 at 7:51 am

I notice that the Regina di Coppe has a covered cup, just like the RWS one πŸ™‚ Once again, a woman who can hide or control her emotions, even though they run deep. Had to laugh at your comments about the King of Wands, and interesting about the Knight of Wands having the slowest moving horse – very strange. I like that the Knight of Pentacles is following the money. Makes me think of that film with Tom Cruise yelling "show me the money"! πŸ˜€

    Alison Cross · 30th May 2014 at 4:24 pm

    That's an interesting observation, about the covered Cup, Chloe! (y)

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