Bianco Nero Tarot | Deck Review
The first time I saw the Bianco Nero Tarot ‘in the wild’ was on a facebook post by Serge Pirotte. Immediately smitten by this monochrome deck, I messaged my son with a link to the deck and asked him to get it for me for Christmas. Which he did!
The deck was published by US Games Systems Ltd in 2018 and the artwork is by Marco Proietto with the Little White Book (LWB) by Arwen Lynch.
Let’s take a quick look at the LWB which is 62 pages long and which provides keywords and interpretations for each card and a spread for the deck with a worked example.
Each card is presented with keywords for rightsides and reversed work and a paragraph that taps into the imagery of each card (about 80 words or thereabouts). It’s a comprehensive LWB which you would expect from someone with Lynch’s experience.
Moving on to the cards, we have a 78-card monochrome deck that draws deeply from the artwork of the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck with the odd splash from the more ancient Visconti Tarot. Being rooted in the RWS is in no way a criticism – it makes the deck immediately accessible to anyone familiar with that deck. The RWS, previously under copyright to US Games, is now out of copyright and every man and his dog is bringing out their own version of it, so why shouldn’t US Games bring out a different, stylish RWS-inspired deck too?
The artwork is in the style of antique engravings – the work and woodcuts of Doré and Dürer have inspired the artist – and it makes for a nice, clean, graphic deck.
Each card has its number at the top (Roman numerals throughout) and name at the bottom (suit name, in the case of the Minors). This is a deck with Strength at VIII and Justice at XI. The cards are a standard tarot size and the card stock is nice and slippy for easy shuffling and the card back design allows for reversals.
Of course, being obsessed with the Court Cards, I’ll mostly be talking about them.
The suits remain the traditional Cups, Pentacles, Swords and Wands and the court card ranks of Page, Knight, Queen and King are retained.
Looking first at the Pages, each card consists of a solo young man wrapped in robes or belted at the waist with the symbol of their suit. The backgrounds are as you would expect – pyramids for the Page of Wands, ploughed fields for the Page of Pentacles etc. The Page of Cups even has the same frilly head-gear as he does in the RWS, but in this deck he does not look at the fish in his Cup, but rather at us, from the corner of his eyes. This is one of the small changes that adds a dash of something-new to the familiar RWS classic tarot.
The Knights are fabulously RWS with everyone and their warhorse doing exactly what you would expect in exactly the landscape that you would expect. These guys are the court cards who are most like their original counterparts.
The Queens are all quite low-cut robe kinda gals. In fact, if the Queen of Wands (who is seated modestly with her legs crossed a la Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct) stands up, she’ll be naked from the waist down! Which kind of fits the ‘passion/sexy’ aspect of this character’s persona. The Queen of Cups sits on a windy shore, her hair whipping around her face and looking pensively out to sea – there’s a King Canute feeling to this one. The Queen of Swords sports a crown of butterflies. And yes, the little hare in the RWS Queen of Pentacles can be found in the Bianco Nero Queen card too, sitting in the shade of her throne.
Almost all the female forms in this deck are slender, depicted with a shoulder exposed, shoulder straps slipping, ribbons of fabric covering their bust or hips et – but no actual exposed boobs if that’s a concern to you, I hasten to add. I wasn’t surprised to read that Marco has studied the human form in life drawing at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, his love of figure drawing is clear in this deck!
The Kings are again easily recognisable thanks to good use of RWS symbolism employed in new ways – the little salamander from the RWS King of Wands clings to the side of the Bianco Nero King’s throne, just beneath the lion that the king absent-mindedly strokes. The jolly little boat in the RWS King of Cups becomes a magnificent fully rigged clipper, heading straight for the rocks! As with the Pages and Queens, the Kings are all decked out in flowing robes or cloaks that cover their modesty – except the King of Pentacles who is entirely swathed.
I really like this deck – it’s very easy to read with thanks to those Rider Waite Smith roots and the LWB that comes with it. However, although the artwork is very RWS in orientation, it IS different enough to keep things interesting and allow you to interpret the cards in a different way to the RWS, especially those courts.
Who would love it? Anyone who loves their RWS would like working with this deck. If you are a learner looking to branch out into a new deck, but still feel confident – this is for you. If you are a collector looking for a monochrome deck that you can actually use, rather than have it lie on a shelf and grow dust-bunnies, this is for you too.
I’d be interested to know what you think about it if you have it in your collection!
In the UK, like the deck, but don’t want to buy it from that big river place? Try here on bookshop.org. This is an affiliate link and I get a shekel if you buy it there.