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Satirical Playing Cards by Peter Flötner, Nuremberg, c.1545

Detail from Satirical Playing Cards designed by Peter Flötner, Nuremberg, c.1545

Behind the superficial representation to which one's attention is initially drawn, there is a second one in which Flötner sets irony and ridicule, parody and perversity against the past, against the classical and bourgeois way of life...

Although Nuremberg had no university, towards the end of the 15th century the city became a major centre of humanism in Germany, as well as a centre of trade and skilled craftsmanship. The influence of classical forms and humanism was also mirrored by anti-classical tendencies, so that these playing cards can be seen as a parody or burlesque. The vulgar everyday activities of common folk (e.g. toilet humour and irreverence) is juxtaposed to bourgeois pretentiousness. The art of printing made it possible for art, knowledge and information - including political or social comment - to be made accessible to the common people… in this case thanks to a good block maker.

Satirical Playing Cards designed by Peter Flötner, Nuremberg, c.1545 Satirical Playing Cards designed by Peter Flötner, Nuremberg, c.1545

Above: cards from a satirical woodblock printed and water coloured pack designed by Peter Flöttner of Nuremberg, c.1545. The block-cutter and published was Franz Christoph Zell. Gold highlights have been added. The suit symbols are acorns, leaves, bells and hearts and the card values run from deuce, 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, Unter, Ober, Künig. The 10s are represented by banners. In the numeral cards the suit symbols have been moved to the upper half of the cards so that the bottom of each card is free for illustration, in what must be one of the most splendid woodblock packs from the first half of the sixteenth century. The backs of the cards contain the vocal scores for German songs. Cards from the facsimile edition published by Ferd Piatnik & Söhne, Vienna, 1993.

Peter Flötner (c.1490-1546) was a German designer, sculptor, and printmaker. He was an important figure in the introduction of Italianate Renaissance design to sculpture and the decorative arts in Germany.   Read Wikipedia article →


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