In 1978, Niki de Saint Phalle, a French sculptor and filmmaker, began work on a series of 22 large-scale sculptures meant to represent the main figures depicted on Tarot cards. Niki’s Tarot garden, or Giardino dei Tarocchi, was finally opened to the public on May 15, 1998, after nearly 20 years of work.
The bold statues, completely covered in colorful mosaics, were built on top of Etruscan ruins on an estate on the coast of Tuscany. The unique statues look like whimsical giant monsters. One of the figures—the Sphinx-like Empress (card III in the deck)—is so large the artist lived inside it for several months.
The project was inspired in part by Gaudi’s famous sculpture garden Park Güell in Barcelona. The subject matter, however, makes Giardino dei Tarocchi entirely unique. The sculptures depict the figures of the Major Arcana, a suit of 22 trump cards within the 78-card tarot deck, which symbolize the deepest aspects of life.
The Tarot figures depicted in the garden include The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Choice, The Chariot, Justice, The Hermit, The Wheel of Fortune, Strength, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Falling Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, The Judgement, and The World. The fantastical monuments represent the artist’s personal interpretation of these esoteric cards.
Hidden among the mosaic sculptures are a few motion machines from kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely. On-and-off partners in both life and art, the two artists were often referred to as the “Bonnie and Clyde of the Art World,” known equally for their tumultuous relationship as well as their creative collaborations.