One year in high school I had a spiral bound day planner I bought at a museum gift shop that featured Klimt’s artwork. I carried Klimt around with me everywhere that year and afterward, cut out the full-color prints that appeared in the day planner, framed and placed them around my room. An art poster print of “The Kiss” was hung up in my bedroom through my adolescence and young adulthood. Currently in the halls of my day job office hangs a really nice framed print of “Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” [Also, tell me it isn’t just me– is there or isn’t there something very Nine of Pentacles about that painting.]
Like many artists of his time (Pamela Colman Smith included), Klimt was influenced by Japanese block art. Klimt’s art is bold, sensual, deeply ornate yet symbolic, and iconic of the Art Nouveau and Symbolist Art movements, with mystical tendencies. His art was controversial for its time. Klimt would have been about 50 years old around the time Waite and Smith created their tarot deck.
The Klimt Tarot or Golden Tarot of Klimt by Lo Scarabeo and Llewellyn is one of the most well-done collector’s art deck I’ve seen. There on the box cover you see one of Klimt’s iconic paintings, “Judith I.” The cards are 2.5″ x 4.6″, which fits comfortably in my hands and the smooth texture on the cardstock renders the deck very easy to shuffle and fan for reading purposes. There isn’t much to the Little White Booklet (LWB), as the text in there is short and sweet, and in those few pages, is packed with 6 language translations.
On the side of the box pictured above, the top image is from one of my favorite paintings by Klimt, “Medicine (Hygieia),” which so perfectly appears on The Magician card in the deck. While more and more decks are moving to China for printing and manufacturing, these decks are still made in Italy. The box and packaging is finished beautifully and is part of what renders this deck such a rewarding collector’s item. It was first published in 2005 and the brainchild of the Bulgarian-born Atanas Antchev Atanassov.
A lot of thought and detailing went into putting this deck together. My copy got dinged a bit over on the left corner of the flap, but it’s still a flawless deck.
The above photo shows pages from the LWB and gives you a sense of the contents (the part in English) and also Key 0: The Fool, with one of Klimt’s sketches, though it looks like it has been rendered in for this deck, and modified with detailing and mosaic patterns signature of Klimt. For the LWB, as you can see, there isn’t a lot in terms of card meanings, but I am totally okay with that. I know these days more and more tarot readers seem to expect LWBs to be thick and comprehensive, but we’re not using the LWB to learn tarot here, so this particular LWB is a simple, straightforward keyword reference booklet only. What I am bummed about is not including the Klimt painting that each card was sourced from. As a collector’s deck and a deck tailor-made for Klimt admirers, such information would seem essential to include. [Since such information isn’t included in the LWB, I’ll try to include some of the ones I was able to pick out based on my rudimentary knowledge of Klimt’s paintings, and also with the help of this site, The Complete Works of Gustav Klimt. The LWB does contain a very cool spread that I tried out, however, which I will get to later in this review. That part was very cool, and out of the ordinary for typical LWBs that give you a 3-card past, present, future spread and maybe the Celtic Cross.
We’ve got reversible backs, so you can read with reversals with this deck, and the spread that the LWB teaches also assumes reading with reversals. The cardback imagery is “Expectation” from a mural at the Palais Stoclet in Brussels done by Klimt, modified to make it reversible.
Okay, now one of my favorite details of all is the edges. Look at that! (Above and below pics.) Also check out the painting on Key XIX: The Sun, “Hymn to Joy.”
The gold-gilded bars on the edges of the card borders form these beautiful strips when you fan the cards out. I love that detailing and I don’t think I’ve seen it in any decks before, or at least it’s an uncommon detail. I love it. Klimt loved drawing big butts, nude women posed in erotic positions, and lots of female genitalia. All that is included in the Klimt Tarot, as it should be, but if that is something that might render the more prude among us queasy, then this may not be the reading deck for you.
One of Klimt’s most famous paintings, “The Kiss” is Key 6: Lovers. Ah, of course. Here, also note the numbering of the keys for the Majors, following the earlier Tarot de Marseille numbering, not the RWS. Here, Key VIII is Justice and Key XI is Strength. I’m surprised by the Klimt piece chosen for Strength, though. You would think “Fable” by Klimt might be a better fit for the typical symbolism we attribute with the Strength card, i.e., woman and lion.
Key XIII: Death is depicted by “Death and Life,” with minor digital alterations. Key XXI: The World is depicted by “Hope I.” Many of these works were difficult for me to identify, and I suspect came from Klimt’s lesser known rough sketches and pencil studies that have been colored in and enhanced for the deck.
In the Ace of Cups you have the sketch from “Love” digitally enhanced and compiled with other iconic Klimt detailing to form the card imagery. There was a lot of creativity contributed to this deck by Atanassov, so he must definitely be given due credit. This deck wouldn’t be what it is without his artistic hand in the compilation.
The Ten of Cups features “Junge Frau” with the addition of chalices. The Queen of Chalices appears to be a digital alteration of “Emilie Floge 1902” with her right hand modified to hold up the chalice, though the face on “Emilie Floge” compared to the face on the Queen of Chalices seem to differ, so I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s from another one of Klimt’s works that happens to be strikingly similar to “Emilie Flogie.” In the above photograph of the King of Chalices, what looks like a big white vertical rectangle is just the glare from my house lights. What’s there is a beautiful gold pillar.
The gold gilding on the Klimt Tarot is magnificent. At home, I have the Golden Universal and Golden Botticelli to compare this deck to, and the gold gilding on the Klimt Tarot is far superior to both the Golden Universal and Golden Botticelli. I wasn’t a big fan of how the Pentacles were done in the Golden Universal, for instance, whereas here in the Klimt Tarot, it’s beautifully done. Each pentacle contains a different signature Klimt mosaic detailing or design. That tiny detail is what really makes the suit stand out in the deck. Throughout the cards you’ll find the digital inclusion of the mosaic patterns that Klimt is so well known for.
In the Five of Wands, one of the figures comes from Klimt’s untitled sketches, many of which were brilliant, so I’m glad Atanassov brought those pencil sketches to life in this deck. Some of the cards, like the nude figure in the Five of Swords, seem to be enhanced and colored-in sketches from studies that Klimt did of nude figures.
While this is still a pretty easy deck to pick up reading with for an RWS reader, many of the card imagery is inspired by the esoteric decks that predate the RWS. Still, I had no problems reading with this deck. Atanassov did a superb job with the illustrated pips and even when the imagery deviates from typical RWS imagery, the art on this deck is evocative of the interpretive essence for the card.
Now for the cool spread taught in the LWB. I haven’t come across this spread before, but I like it. It’s the “Circle of Faults and Virtues” spread.
In the photo above you’ll see the layout for the spread. To start, you need to separate the Majors from the Minors and have two piles. You’ll be working with the Arcana separately.
Each pile is shuffled separately. Then, starting at the 12 o’clock position, set the cards down clock-wise, with the card at 12 o’clock being Card 1, at 1 o’clock being Card 2, etc.
When you have set out 12 Minors in a circle, draw a card from the Majors pile and set that one card in the center.
For my Major Arcanum, I drew The Empress, reversed, with art on the deck derived from Klimt’s “Pallas Athene 1898.”
The instructions say that if the Major Arcanum is turned over upright, then you read the circle of cards from right to left, which would be counter-clockwise. If the Major Arcanum is reversed, then read left to right, or clockwise. Then you read the spread in three steps. Since The Empress in my reading appeared in reverse, I was supposed to go clockwise, but I bungled it up and mistakenly went counter-clockwise, so bear with me here. (Also, it’s probably because in my mind and per my practice perspective and general metaphysical approach, upright and right is always associated with clockwise, while reversed, upside-down, and left is always associated with counter-clockwise, so my brain immediately went to “counter-clockwise” when I saw the reversal and as a result, forgot how to read directions.)
So I’ll be reading my spread counter-clockwise, contrary to the LWB directions. The first four cards in the “part 1” that you read (remember, read the circle in 3 distinct parts) represents my current situation, where I am now and what’s going on with me. Had the Major Arcanum, The Empress, been turned over upright, I would be reading the four Minor Arcana cards positively. However, according to the LWB directions, when the Major Arcanum is reversed, the Minors are read negatively.
The next four cards are read, and this “part 2” indicates my current career trajectory or work situation, according to the LWB. Again, the Major Arcanum leads. If it is upright. the Minors in that four-card part are read positively, and if the Major is reversed, the Minors are read negatively.
The final “part 3” and last four cards in the circle represent the seeker’s emotional situation. While the cards as they are aren’t difficult to read as an RWS reader, the Klimt Tarot might not be my deck of choice for a workhorse reading deck in professional practice. It’s definitely more of a collector’s item, but boy, as a collector’s item, deck collectors are going to want this deck. Any enthusiast of the Art Nouveau movement is going to appreciate what Atanassov and Lo Scarabeo/Llewellyn have done here.
For me, I like to leave the Klimt Tarot deck along with my copy of the Botticelli Tarot out on a coffee table in my front sitting room for guests to browse. In lieu of oversize full color coffee table books at my house, we have beautiful gold-gilded tarot decks. I admire how, as an artist, Klimt pushed the boundaries of propriety for his time, and heck, many of his works would still be considered provocative and controversial today. That is just how ahead of his time Klimt was. The Klimt Tarot is going to be a favored deck in any tarot collection.
FTC Disclosure: In accordance with Title 16 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 255, “Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” I received Golden Tarot of Klimt from Llewellyn for prospective review. Everything I’ve said here is sincere and accurately reflects my opinion of the deck.