Magic, Occult, Reviews, Tarot

Sola Busca Tarot: Deck Review

Review of the Sola Busca Tarot: Museum Quality Kit by Paola Gnaccolini, Lo Sacrabeo Tarot, Published by Lo Scarabeo

Last year, I wrote an article The Four of Pentacles – 500 Years Ago & Today, exploring the meaning of the 4 of pentacles and comparing the illustrations in my go-to Rider Waite tarot deck to the 15th-century Sola Busca tarot deck.

4 of pentacles card from the Sola Busca and Rider Waite Smith decks

I uncovered some fascinating tarot history during my research of the Sola Busca, and I touch on the origins of the Sola Busca tarot the previous post. At that time (June of 2019), I had preordered my deck, but hadn’t yet received it. The deck arrived two weeks before Halloween 2019, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. It would take me nearly seven months from opening the box to laying my first spread with the Sola Busca. Here’s my take on this reproducton renaissance tarot deck.

First Impressions of the New Sola Busca Tarot

There have been several reproductions published of this 15th-century tarot deck over the years, but many are quite expensive. The Sola Busca Tarot: Museum Quality Kit was within my “tarot card addiction budget.” The set came in a beautiful presentation box, with a 127-page paperback booklet (disclaimer, that page count includes instructions in six languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and what looks like Russian). The hinged presentation box includes a ribbon to make lifting the book and tarot deck easy.

Lo Scarabeo Sola Busca Tarot presentation box

I noticed two things the first time I picked up the deck. It was very thick, and very slippery. I played around with it for a while, getting the feel of the cards. It was so difficult to shuffle that I became frustrated pretty quickly. I popped the cards back in box and decided to come back to it when I was in a better frame of mind.

It would take me nearly seven months from opening the box to laying my first spread with the Sola Busca tarot deck…

In May of 2020, while the world was still on lock-down, social distancing, and trying to keep our minds occupied during the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to give the Sola Busca Tarot a second chance.

Handling the Deck

The Sola Busca Tarot: Museum Quality Kit by Paola Gnaccolini is made of very thick, glossy card stock, making it difficult for me to shuffle. I measured it against my standard Rider Waite deck and found it to be nearly twice as thick.

The Sola Busca by Paola Gnaccolini is nearly twice as thick as the standard Rider Waite tarot deck

My preferred method is the overhand shuffle (also known as the Witch’s Shuffle), and I found it nearly impossible to mix the cards this way because of the thickness of the deck. I then tried a riffle shuffle, but the cards were too rigid to make this practical. The “swoosh” method (where you lay the cards on the table and swirl them around) will probably the best option for most people who try this deck.

Identifying the Cards

If you learned tarot on a modern deck, reading the 500-year-old artwork on the Sola Busca cards will be a challenge. Just like a modern deck, there are 78 cards, but there are some significant differences that you should know about. Let’s break it down by the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana:

The Major Arcana

Like modern decks, there are 22 cards in the Sola Busca Tarot major arcana. The majors are identified by Roman numerals, so if you’ve memorized the tarot keywords by number (or if you have a tarot keyword chart like this one), you’ll be able to apply that knowledge to these trump cards.

The first two cards of the Sola Busca Major Arcana

The majors in this deck do not have traditional names like The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, etc. Instead, with the exception of card 0 (The Fool in the Rider Waite and other decks), the majors in the Sola Busca tarot deck are named for biblical figures or famous people of the time. For example, card #1 (traditionally The Magician) depicts Marcus Baebius Tamphilus, also known as Panfilio, who was a magistrate around 192 b.c. His biography, along with the other personalities depicted in the Sola Busca major arcana, is included in the booklet.

The companion book to the Sola Busca reproduction by Paola Gnaccolini

The enclosed book is not a comprehensive guide to reading the tarot. It is very specific to this deck. The cards in the major arcana are covered in detail (as pictured above). There is also a section with traditional meanings for the majors, as well as a very high-level overview of the minor arcana.

The Minor Arcana

The Sola Busca tarot deck has 56 minor arcana cards, and they’re broken out into four suits, just like a modern deck. However, identifying the individual cards can be a bit of a challenge. With the exception of the Aces, each card has a tiny Arabic (standard) number written somewhere on the lower half of the illustration.

The Court Cards of the Minor Arcana are different as well. They are numbered, rather than identified by their station. So, the Page cards have the number 11, the Knights the number 12, the Queens the number 13, and the Kings are numbered 14.

The Sola Busca minor arcana court cards are numbered, rather than named (cups shown)

The suits can be a bit confusing at first. While the swords are clearly swords, the pentacles look a bit like cymbals, the wands like scepters, and the cups look like lidded vessels or clay jars.

The Number 5 Card in each suit of the Sola Busca minor arcana. (l-r: swords, pentacles/coins, wands, cups)

Pros and Cons of the Sola Busca Tarot Deck

The Good

  • High-quality presentation box
  • Fascinating Italian renaissance artwork reproduced from the original 15th-century Sola Busca tarot
  • Nice reference for tarot historians
  • Advanced tarot readers may find this a good way to stretch their interpretation skills
  • Interesting historical information in the booklet

The Not So Good

  • Very thick, rigid card stock makes this deck difficult to shuffle
  • Extremely glossy finish is slippery, which makes the cards difficult to handle
  • The graphic design on the back of the cards is uninspired
  • Understanding the numbering system takes a bit of practice
  • Identifying the cards will be challenging for beginners
  • The symbolism is not as apparent as in modern decks, so it could be challenging for beginning readers
The Classic Celtic Cross spread laid with the Sola Busca Tarot

Overall Rating for the Sola Busca Tarot: Museum Quality Kit by Paola Gnaccolini

3 out of 5 Crystal Balls

I would be hard pressed to recommend the Sola Busca Tarot: Museum Quality Kit by Paola Gnaccolini to someone looking for a go-to everyday reading deck. It is difficult to handle, and I believe most beginners will find it very challenging to interpret. However, it’s a nice addition to your collection if you appreciate tarot history and renaissance artwork. I have no regrets about my purchase, and I’m glad to have the Sola Busca in my ever-growing collection.

Sola Busca Tarot: Museum Quality Kit by Paola Gnaccolini at a Glance

  • Number of Cards: 78
  • Size: Approximately 3″ x 5 5/8″
  • Publisher: Lo Scarabeo
  • Publication Date: August 2019
  • Type: Historical, Reproduction
  • Card Image Artist: Historical, Unknown
  • Instruction Booklet: Yes


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