Tarot decks come in all shapes, sizes, and artistic interpretations. Traditionally a deck of cards, one such artist took the art of tarot a step towards new heights by creating the Tarot Garden – featuring huge, colourful steel sculptures representing the major arcana.
French artist Niki de Saint de Phalle realised her passion for the tarot by creating beautiful sculptures depicting the 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot cards, which stand in the surroundings of the charming Capalbio, along the coast of Tuscany.
The impressive Tarot Garden, which is a physical representation of the artist’s personal view of the symbolic form of divination, is the result of Niki de Saint de Phalle’s wish to express the idea of a “small Eden where man and nature meet”.
Taking inspiration from the Park Guell by Gaudì in Barcelona, Spain, the artist chose a small plot of land in the wild Maremma, just a few kilometers from Capalbio. Set amidst olive groves and ochre fields, the Tarot Garden is an open-air exhibition featuring Niki de Saint de Phalle’s whimsical art.
A project that started in the 1970s and continued until her death in 2002, Niki de Saint de Phalle created and personally built the great statues for the Garden. The 22 Major Arcana have a steel structure covered by concrete with mirrors, coloured glass and ceramics.
The sculptural structures were built of welded iron and steel by the artist’s husband, artist Jean Tinguely, along with local workers. The garden highlights the natural landscape, where there are quiet coves of tranquility, and fountains to frolic in. Every part of The Tarot Garden intimately captures Niki de Saint de Phalle’s imagination, who fashioned this garden as a labour of love, on land gifted to her by friends as a place to bring man and nature together.
The larger-than-life mosaic-covered sculptures are interactive – made to climb on, to go inside them, walk around them, and to be played with. The vibrancy of the pieces and their colossal weight in and of themself are a reflection of Niki de Saint de Phalle’s own colourful, exuberant and often troubled life.
The Empress is the more prominent sculpture of the artist’s portrayal of the 22 Major Arcana cards, and possibly the artist’s most cherished. Portrayed as a large woman-sphinx and a woman of colour, The Empress features mirrored blue hair and a bright-red crown, alongside a flower blooming on one of her breasts and a lavender heart on the the other. The Empress’s interior, covered in shards of mirror, even became Niki de Saint de Phalle’s home while working on the garden.
The Tarot Garden elaborately journeys through life as the tarot does. The Devil is depicted as a rainbow-winged hermaphrodite with feminine hips, and three gold penises. Justice, encases a sculpture inside by Jean Tinguely depicting iniquity imprisoned by a huge lock. Other highlights includes busty females flouncing in a fountain, a wall of skulls, a bleeding heart, a chapel dedicated to the black Madonna, lovers and towers and a forest of columns, all symbolically depicting the human experience through the eyes of the tarot and in this case, Niki de Saint de Phalle’s own interpretation of the major arcana.
A magical place for all to visit, The Tarot Garden has something for everyone offering guidance, inspiration, awareness and the love of a woman, through open arms, who sought to teach the tarot through a very unique perspective and artistic medium.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea