August 06, 2016

Unboxing: Dark Tarot

A few weeks ago, Ms. Benebell Wen did a review of the Dark Tarot, a Tarot deck created by the mysterious "M" who prefers that his true identity remain unknown but of course invites you to visit him online at As part of Ms. Wen's review of the Dark Tarot, she announced that "M" wanted to do a Tarot give-away: one lucky entrant would win a free copy of the Dark Tarot. Much to my pleasant surprise, "M" decided that every person who entered to win a copy of the deck would receive a copy. Huzzah for the kindness of strangers! Thanks to the attention that Ms. Wen brought to the deck, and the generosity of "M", I am now the proud owner of a copy of the Dark Tarot. I'm going to reserve most of my comments for the video you can watch above, but there are two things I want to make clear before we start:

First, this deck is a collaboration between "M" and "V", both of whom reside in Italy. "M" is a regular smarty-pants in his own right, but "V" is a professional sculptor. Together, they combined their skills to produce an amazing Tarot deck which in its complete state is a new creation never before seen in the world.

Second, the conception of the Dark Tarot follows a tradition that was commonly observed 400 years ago: artists recycled images and concepts from one deck of cards into another; however, this doesn't mean that the Dark Tarot is just a re-touched clone of an ancient deck: all of the cards have been completely re-colored and more than a third of them redrawn with minor or major changes to the original image. 

In this case, "M" and "V" used the Minchiate as their source. Minchiate is an ancient Italian card game composed of 97 different playing cards and was not a Tarot deck as we know it today. Well, depending on which history I read, there are different stories told. Some say that it was a card game in the style of Italian Trionfi, a trick-taking game where top-trump wins, but other sources say that the Minchiate was also used as a Tarot deck. Me being who I am, I think it was a lot of both and everything in between. Perhaps a better Tarot historian than I can clear this up?

At any rate, you might be thinking that "M" and "V" are a couple of Photoshoppers who just skimmed some images and slapped them together to make a buck, but you'd be completely wrong. As you'll see in the video above, but also the example below, the Dark Tarot is a work of love and Some of the images are completely new. The images of the Dark Tarot were hand-drawn with watercolor and ink on white cardboard, and the result is stunning. I contacted "M" to ask about what changes he made to the Minchiate, and he said that majority of the pips are copies that were recolored and restored in the pattern shown above. Regarding the trumps, he said that about 1/3 are copied and repainted in the pattern of the King of Clubs, about 1/3 are copied and modified in the pattern of Death, and about 1/3 are completely original as shown with the Magician. Look at the examples below:

The pair of cards above shows the King of Wands. This is an example of what "M" and "V" did when they copied a card from the Minchiate deck. In this case, you can see that the original illustration was largely preserved, but the background was brightened, the pattern on the floor was changed, the border was removed, and the "King of Wands" was added. I think you'll agree with me that the Minchiate version on the right is far inferior to the Dark Tarot version on the left.

In the pair of cards above, this is an example of the modifications that "M" and "V" chose to make. In this example, you can see that the Minchiate version on the right has "XIII" on a scroll of paper on the top left corner, but this is removed in the Dark Tarot version. You'll also notice that the Dark Tarot has a severed arm on the bottom left and a severed head on the bottom right. The Dark Tarot also features "DEATH" along the bottom of the card. Again, the antiquing process highlights the darker colors in the foreground and makes the colors pop.

The example above is the Magician, and this is a card that is 100% completely original and conceived and executed by both "M" and "V" exclusively for the Dark Tarot. All the card of the Dark Tarot have received an incredible antiquing finish, and this has served to make the illustrations on the card really jump out at the viewer. They've also served to breathe new life into what was an otherwise drab deck. Lo Scarabeo published a Minchiate Tarot deck in 2011, but seeing as these images were originally created roughly 400 years ago, I think it's fair to say that they're in the public domain. 

Another reason you'd be dead wrong that "M" and "V" are just trying to make a buck off some pictures in the public domain is that this deck isn't for sale. You can't buy this deck from any retailer or publisher, nor can you buy it from "M" and "V" at The only way to get your own copy of the Dark Tarot is to download the deck images from their website, put the images into a print-on-demand service such as, and order it yourself.

I've never met "M" or "V", but I wonder that they must be awfully kind people because when they said that I'd won a copy, they wouldn't even let me pay for the shipping or make a donation as my way of saying "thanks" for the hard work they put into the deck. Who turns down free money? Apparently, "M" and "V", who must be doing quite well for themselves to go to the time and energy of hand-painting an entirely new Tarot deck and then giving away the source files for free. So here's to you, "M" and "V." Live long and prosper! The Dark Tarot is delightful, and I'm proud to be able to add it to my collection.

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