The Budapest Tarot is all the rage these days, and deservedly so. This beguiling deck, lovingly restored by Sullivan Hismans of Tarot Sheet Revival (“TSR”), merits high praise.
According to TSR, the deck dates from the late fifteenth to early sixteenth century, making it one of the oldest existing tarot decks, falling between the Visconti-Sforza and Modrone decks of mid-fifteenth century Italy and the earliest prototype Tarot de Marseille decks of mid-seventeenth century France. This is an intriguing time period in tarot history, with few readily accessible decks available, making the Budapest Tarot all the more enticing.
Original uncut sheets of cards are housed separately in two museums (Budapest and Metropolitan Museum of Art) and some private collections. None of the sheets are whole, and many of the images are themselves incomplete.
Sheet images of Popess, Emperor, and Wheel from Trionfi.com–click here to see more.
Yet, fortunately for us, the content of the various sheets overlap, so the complete deck could be reconstructed from what remains.
And reconstruct it is what Hismans did. In spades.
This is one of the most personable decks anyone could hope to see. It has a magnificently joyous feel, with the images virtually leaping out of their frames. Marseille and historic tarot readers should have no trouble reading these cards. I found them immediately readable, right out of the package.
Card stock is sturdy, of a warm-toned parchment color, with some visible texture. Lightly coated in a matte finish, the cards are about 5.5 x 10 cm (roughly 2 x 4 inches) in size. They do not bend much, but if you like to riffle shuffle, the size makes it possible. They shuffle very easily overall.
Backs are reversible, with a repeating diamond pattern. The deck includes presentation cards, a card with your handwritten deck number among this limited first edition of 250, and English and French cards with a brief background of the deck. The major arcana follow Type B numbering, a slightly different system than modern tarot decks–two cards list the sequence for ready reference. There is no little white booklet.
Everything comes in a hand-printed linocut wrapper, held in place by a red band. Quite the impression. The deck as a whole has a lovely hand-hewn feel.
As for design, where images were incomplete, the restoration approximated missing portions from available line drawings. Red and yellow dominate, save a few splashes of light blue. Sullivan tells me he made these choices to remain true to the most probable palette of the originals. He also notes that the originals likely included blue only in the Justice (here numbered XX) and World (XXI) cards of the originals, the last two of the major arcana under the Type B numbering of this deck.
The card size makes the deck very easy to handle. They are not bendy, but still shuffle easily and feel good in my hands. And they read like a dream.
The aces are striking, those of Wands and Swords in particular–their emblems held, not by a disembodied hand as seen in later tarots, but by a lion and a cheetah.
The honors have lively expressions and are often humorous. The Page of Cups guzzles, well, something out of his cup. The Knight of Wands seems ready to skedaddle right off the card. The Page of Disks is a woman.
The number cards are charming. There is a lot going on in the Major Arcana and honor cards, so these comparatively simple cards offset them well while maintaining a seamless style. Except for the wands, which have a banner with their number written in Italian, numbers are not indicated. Nevertheless, each card is easily identifiable by number. The swords and wands are easy to tell apart.
I’ve worked with this deck for less than a month now. In my book, that is not very long. Once I have logged more time with these cards, I will upgrade this “snapshot” to a “commentary” on my experience with them.
In the meantime, you can learn more or order a deck from the Budapest Tarot page at Tarot Sheet Revival.
Pictures and text © Yeshe Francisco 2017, unless otherwise stated.