The first tarot cards were hand painted and put to print using wood blocks in the middle of the 15th century. New decks were few and far between from the 15th to the 20th century. Even with the printing of the most popular and best-known Rider Waite deck in 1909, tarot decks did not start to be printed in large numbers until the later part of the 20th century. By the start for the 21st century, the number of decks rapidly expanded. If you do a current search on Amazon or eBay for “tarot cards”, you will get results well over 5,000 on Amazon and over 10,000 on eBay. This article will look at the various artistic representations for the Magician card over the history of the tarot.
15th to 20th Century
Tarot decks never really received any form of true mass production until the very last twenty years of the 20th century (1980 to 2000). And the real expansion in the number of decks did not ramp up until the very last ten years (1990 to 2000). This article is meant to be a visual feast of card examples, more than a history lesson. Changes in artistic style and printing techniques show up clearly from one period of time to another.
The earliest decks were hand-painted and printed using the woodblock technique to produce multiple copies.
1463 – the Visconti-Sforza Magician Card
The Visconti-Sforza tarot is the name assigned to roughly 15 decks printed in the middle of the 15th century. No complete deck exits, but examples from the different decks can be found in various museums, libraries, and private collections around the world.
1751 – The Marseille Tarot
Before the Magician became the established name for the number one card of the Major Arcana, it was the Bateleur, or “street entertainer”.
1810 – The Lombardy Tarot
Produced by Ferdinando Gumppemberg in Milan, the card is still the street performer.
1835 – Soprafino Tarot
Another deck produced by Ferdinando Gumppemberg in Milan, identified as the juggler.
1909 – Rider Waite Tarot
In 1909 we get the first modern printing deck, with much more vibrant colors and a simpler artistic technique.
1969 – Thoth Tarot
The deck was developed between 1938 and 1943 but did not get published in 1969, after the creator, Aleister Crowley, and artist, Freida Harris had both died.
1986 – The Mythic Tarot
Based on Greek mythology, this version of the Magician is represented by the god Hermes and introduces the concept of “being at a crossroads” where decisions must be made using the tools of each suit.
1990 – Haindl Tarot – the Magician
One of the first decks to introduce a truly modern art style, as well as three additional icons from three other systems of thought and divination: Hebrew letters (upper left corner), runes (upper right corner), and astrology (bottom right corner). Hexagrams from the I-Ching appear on other cards in the deck.
1998 – Crow’s Magick
This deck clearly shows the influence of computer design to enhance the artwork, and this represents one of the early decks to break with the traditional image of a man as the magician.
2016 – Linestrider Tarot – the Magician
In this version of the art, another animal was chosen, and the artist selected a watercolor style. The concept of the scientist as the magician is implied by the beaker in the monkey’s hand, and the “tipping of the hat” to evolution.
2017 – Ostara Tarot – The Magician
And finally, a blend of hand-drawn artwork enhanced by computer design, featuring a female version of the magician. The multiple eyes depict the exploration of knowledge and “looking everywhere” for the truth.
From There to Here
Just a final look comparing the earliest cards with one of the most current.