Il Meneghello

Milan's Tarot Artisan

If Diagon Alley were accessible from Milan, one of the quirky shops on Corso di Porta Ticinese would undoubtedly conceal its access point. Linking Milan’s medieval quarter with the 19th-century Piazza XXIV Maggio, the narrow pavé-surfaced road is framed by colourful edifices that house some of the city’s most curious locales: the world’s smallest bar, a shop dedicated to those old-school musical relics called LPs, a trippy vintage boutique and Il Meneghello–the workshop of Osvaldo Menegazzi, the world’s last artisan tarot card maker, who fittingly plies his trade in the city where these storied soothsayers are believed to have originated.

A spry bespectacled septuagenarian crowned with a mane of shiny white hair, Menegazzi tends to his craft with the meticulous care of Ollivander while embodying Dumbledore’s affability and all-around good vibes. A wizard in his own right, the tarot master, however, does not greet customers from the top rung of a sliding ladder or flick a wand to conjure giant spheres of water.  Armed with a paintbrush in his left hand and an array of watercolours, he sits rooted to his nifty workstation nestled under a loft as he methodically paints away, occasionally glancing up to boungiorno the awestruck muggles completely enthralled with his treasure trove. Just like the Magician–card number one of the tarot’s Major Arcana depicting a man with everything he needs at his disposal to cast his spell–, Menegazzi is equipped with all the necessary objects and tools to bring his vision to life, one enchanted brush stroke at a time.

Menegazzi’s colorful artwork adorns Il Meneghello’s white walls while wooden shelves and tables display a vast selection of tarot cards packed in sturdy boxes–also constructed by Menegazzi–, all affixed with a wax seal.  For more than 40 years, the tarot master has recreated classic decks such as the Visconti, Marseilles and Masonic while also realising his own designs: insects, futuristic, cats, dogs and–his personal favorite–the Hokusai tarot, born from his love of Japanese culture, in particular the deck’s namesake artist.  Each deck contains a card of authenticity that states its number and batch, such as the 247th out of 1000 printed in 2002.

Overseen by the tarot master himself and art historian Cristina Dorsini, Il Meneghello is named for Meneghino, a commedia dell’arte character associated with Menegazzi’s beloved Milan. Although Menegazzi doesn’t read tarot, the cards have always fascinated the graduate of the esteemed Brera Academy of Fine Arts. Having been drawn to their philosophical, artistic and historical context, he remains particularly fascinated by how each deck tells the story of families, culture and even the city itself during a particular time period.

Of the classic tarot decks, Menegazzi adores the Visconti. Painted mostly by 15th-century court artist Bonifacio Bembo for Milan’s Duke Filippo Maria Visconti, the 15 decks were the first form of tarot cards as the world knows them today,  Originally commissioned for game playing, the tarot was not used for cartomancy purposes until the 19th century. The Visconti decks portray Milanese nobility and offer a thoughtful glimpse into Renaissance lifestyle. From clothing and mannerisms to accessories and objects, all the artistic details and symbolism provide insight into how the upper class lived.

A long-time collector of both playing and tarot cards, Menegazzi established his publishing house in 1974 and began painting decks, crafting his own as well as reviving classics completely by hand. His first original deck, the divinatory shells, was released later that year, and the rest is history.  

Once inspired to create a new deck, Menegazzi’s production process takes anywhere from one to three months: he researches his inspiration, expands the concept and then starts painting. Instead of working his way consecutively through a deck, the artist always begins with his favourite card: Death, number 13 of the Major Arcana. He loves the meaning…which is nowhere near as ominous as the name implies. In tarot, death marks the end of something–a job, mindset, relationship, habit, cycle, etc.–that needs to “die”, thus paving the way for a new beginning.

With hundreds of decks under his belt, Menegazzi shows no sign of slowing down. This year, he published the out-of-print Visconti-Brambilla deck, marking the first time in 600 years that the three most famous Visconti decks–Francesco Sforza, Modrone and Brambilla–have been reunited under the same roof.  And the tarot master has even more tricks up his sleeve, such as a new look for the boxes that incorporate objects like stones and corals to add a distinct sculpture-like quality. He is also planning to release a new deck in the coming months.

Il Meneghello does not have a tarot reader on site, but anyone can pick up a deck and start studying the cards. Owning one is in many ways like owning a slice of history. Decks start at 15 euro.

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Mario Affinita