Looking at an Artist

The review of Paolo Martinello’s decks
By Allan Ritchie

We all have favorites.  Some say it isn't fair to have favorites but this is the world we live in and I have come to accept it.  I have favorites and I am happy to relish in them. One of my favorite tarot deck artist is the Italian artist Paolo Martinello. He has the recently released Epic Tarot and I am taking this chance review of all three decks that he has illustrated.  I will start with his two previous decks that have captured my attention and hold a special place in my collection. The Universal Fantasy Tarot and the Mona Lisa Tarot are two decks that received two different receptions. 

All three decks are published by the Italian publisher Lo Scarabeo.  The publisher of Italian comic books and they also have their artists to create decks. As a life long fan of comics this idea demands my attention. The Universal Fantasy tarot that was published in 2007 and then the Mona Lisa Tarot was released in 2008.   

Pablo Martinello artists has a distinct style and look to his work. His work captures the eye with dramatic colors, fine line work and with the keen understanding of graphic storytelling. The color palate in each deck is distinct and fits the feel of the deck. What stands out in his work is that he understand the storytelling. In the card image as with the comic book panel Martinello captures a scenic moment in one single image.

The Universal Fantasy deck living up to the name is deep and wide with fantastical creatures, monsters, warriors, maidens and a whole world that delights the eye and engages the imagination. With evocative illustrations and detailed art work of a new imaginative world this deck has a specific audience. Creative scenes carry the passing symbolic reference to the Waite-Smith design. Examining the cards the Waite-Smith bones are easily evident but the deck communicates in the rich vocabulary of the fantasy genre with its unique themes. The Universal Fantasy Tarot is a solid, enjoyable working tarot. 


The Universal Fantasy deck speaks to the modern day with clear intent.  The deck captures the wonder of discovery, the lightness of a joyful moment as well the depth of darkness that can exist in a reading. The perspective of the illustrations is transportive in their ability to enrich the reading experience for both the the client and reader.  The detailed foreground and the remoteness of some backgrounds create aides to meditations and shows Martinello as a master of the craft to draw the eye to what demands attention. 

The Mona Lisa tarot is a deck that pushes boundaries, expectations and conventions.  The Mona Lisa tarot is a narrative tarot deck.  All the rage a few years ago this deck was built on the premise of a tarot deck as a picture book.  The story that this deck tells is of the Mona Lisa. Her story is hidden in the cards.  The art work is as impeccable as it is interesting. Published in 2008 it was released to a mixed reception.  


The Mona Lisa Tarot remains as much puzzle as tarot deck.  The elements of the Waite-Smith system are apparent but even less so than the Universal Fantasy and is able to transcend that pattern. This deck demands that you pay attention.  The card images at times are completely free of the suit symbols.  This deck plays with a fluidity of gender that is empowering as it has strong, beautiful and resourceful women but also the Mona Lisa is shown as male.  There are references to Mona Lisa myth that are treasures when discovered.  For those that have no love for the papacy or respond negatively to the classic Pope card may become fans of the deck as it illustrates one narrative about of the downfall of a pope.  Having worked with the deck since its release I have come to understand how this deck works.  It is a challenge that has its rewards but a challenge none the less.  

Die hard fans of the deck harbor an unrequited desire.  The Mona Lisa Tarot has a secret.  The Mona Lisa Tarot is a stand alone deck but was not intended to be so.  When the release of the deck was anticipated Lo Scarabeo and retailers marketed it as both a stand alone deck and a deck/book set. I as one of those that preordered the deck/book set. The release date came and went.  Then I received an e-mail informing me that the release date was uncertain.  Undaunted I purchased a stand alone deck with the expectation that if I liked it enough then the deck/book set would be added to my collection as well.    

The book was never released and rumors abounded about the reason for the lack of publication.  There remains a fond disappointment for what the book might have taught about the deck and especially on the use of narrative tarot decks.  Now as eight years have passed since its release there is no hope that the book will ever see the light of day.   

Waiting many long years, we now see that Paolo has not lost his touch and his eye for detail and the fantasy landscapes. I had high expectations for the Epic Tarot. 

Let's give the deck an overview.  Ricardo Minetti is the author of the deck and Paolo Martinello is the artist. The Epic Tarot is a deck that is completely devoid of titles.  The Major Trumps are simply numbered with Roman numerals. The Suit cards are illustrated with a number on top of the card and the suit symbol at the bottom. Each suit along with the Majors has an individual stylized border. The ordering of the Majors is Strength as eight and Justice as eleven. The Suits are Books, Cups, Swords and Spheres. The minors suits has a court structure that is free of human hierarchy and are represented as Unicorns for Pages, Griffins as the Knights, Phoenixes take place for the Queens and Dragons stand as Kings.  This could be a fluid assignment as there isn’t anything that would hinder making a personal shift in this correspondence.  


The fantasy art of the deck is gorgeous with lush colors and each card is a work of an exacting artist.  The structure has a passing resemblance to the Waite-Smith system but is much more free of its bonds than in the previous decks. The suit cards show the emblem of the suit but not in the number so this falls in between the Universal Fantasy and the Mona Lisa.

The deck is a fusion of the imaginative illustrating and the intuitive structure. This deck pulls on the imagination and a tool ready for use fresh out of the box. Yet it rewards each effort to look closer and see deeper into each card. This is what I have come to expect from Martinello's work.  There is more to understanding the Epic Tarot than just seeing the art but the dictates  examining and discovering the secrets of this deck as well.  Not deeply hermetic or esoteric this deck does not feel mired by the meanings of the past but elevating to require those who examine the deck to sincerely see the future of the craft and deck art.     

All submissions remain the property of their respective authors. All images are used with permission. Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - 2016  Questions? Comments? Contact us at ATAsTarotReflections@gmail.com