The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot by Caitlín Matthews
Reviewed by Treewitch
Published by Red Feather ISBN: 978-0-7643-6040-4 RRP: £40.79
I am thrilled to be offering a review of this beautiful deck. Originally published in 2005, it was re-printed and the new edition was released in December 2020. As with any book or deck from Caitlín Matthews, the research is thorough and fascinating. We are given wonderful insights into the life and times of Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), a true Renaissance man. The card images are taken from Leonardo’s drawings, writings and sketches, many of which show prophetic visionary designs for machines and innovations several centuries before their time.
The deck is a full 78 card tarot divided into Macrocosm Cards (the Major Arcana) and Microcosm Cards (the Minor Arcana) and recognisably follows the RWS system. There are two additional ‘Enigma’ cards for further guidance – one reveals how the card backs make up intricate patterns (more about that coming up) and the other shows a grid layout of all the cards face up.
Twelve of the Macrocosm cards have alternative names to those more traditionally known. They include; II Enigma for The High Priestess, VII Imagination for The Chariot, XII Passover for The Hanged Man and XVI Deluge for The Tower. All the cards are named and numbered so are easy to follow. The Enigma/High Priestess card is a stunning sketch for, arguably, Leonardo’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. The Magician is depicted as Leonardo himself in another stunning work sketched in red chalk.
The four suits are titled Air, Fire, Water and Earth, corresponding to Swords, Wands, Cups and Coins/Pentacles respectively. Leonardo followed Plato’s observations of nature, so this concept fits well. At a time where religious iconography and allegory reigned over landscapes, this was yet another progression from the norms of the day.
The Court cards are titled Lord, Lady, Knight and Page. In Renaissance times Italy was made up of separate Republics, thus no overall ruling monarch but various aristocratic and military leaders governed, and many of these persons are depicted here.
Leonardo’s figures come from sketches of his friends, contemporaries, lovers and strangers. He observed all aspects of Italian and French society of the day (he lived in Florence, Milan and Paris) as well as creating imaginative designs for masques and carnival. I particularly like this image for The Emperor showing an unknown man (possibly a military captain) wearing extravagant armour and helmet that certainly didn’t exist in reality!
The deck comes with a 144 page guidebook, which covers the history and background of Leonardo and his work. There are detailed chapters on why and how The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot came to be, as well as suggestions and examples of usage and spreads. The text is rendered in red, which ties in with Leonardo’s speciality work with red chalk. All the card images are reproduced along with upright and reversed interpretations, a brief history behind the image and some deep exploratory questions a reader may wish to pose and even meditate on.
A significant spread created for this deck is the Destiny Spread, and it is this that uses the unusual card backs. Whilst laying a number of cards face down, the reader is encouraged to match up the geometric forms and large silver circles. This may involve inverting some cards to complete a shape. There are insights to discover with each shape and much to think about even before turning over the cards. The Destiny Spread is holistic, encompassing deep feelings and ideals along with seeing the answer to a query laid out before you. There are good examples of the spread for various situations and I wholly recommend giving it a try.
The Da Vinci Enigma Tarot takes time to reveal the many layers of information and interpretation it contains. I have used it daily over several weeks both for personal and client use and am fascinated by the nuances and soulful explorations that emerge from a reading.
The deck will appeal to readers interested in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, art history and Renaissance art in general. In keeping with the style of the day several cards depict nudity. If a reader is new to the tarot the author suggests perhaps using the deck in parallel with a beginner’s book so as to be familiar with the more recognised tarot archetypes.
The cards measure 7.5cm x 12cm and are of sturdy cardstock. The deck arrives nestled under the guidebook in a luxurious glossy box.
Caitlín Matthews is the author of over 60 books and is the creator or co-creator of numerous tarot and other oracle decks. For more details of her works, seminars and newsletters please find her at:
Study me, reader, if you find delight in me, because
I shall return to the world on very few occasions
Leonardo Da Vinci