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Hunting Depicted on Playing Cards

Detail from Flemish Hunting Deck, c.1475-80

la chasse au cerf Guildhall Tarocchi Jack of Clubs

Hunting animals was central to man's existence since prehistoric times, supplying materials for tools, clothes, food, fuel and medicine. Developing endurance and bravery, training for battle… Plato reckoned that hunting developed moral strength and virility.

Hunting can put life at risk: mortal injury may befall the hunter or his quarry. Face-to-face with a hungry predator your adrenaline and cortisone levels will rise sharply… there is an analogy here with gambling where fortunes may be lost or won…

In the Middle Ages hunting was an integral part of life. Animal hides also provided vellum and parchment for manuscripts and, in some instances, playing cards were made from vellum or rawhide. Most packs, however, were made on pasteboard. Several hand-made packs of playing cards from the fifteenth century based on the theme of hunting have survived.

The medieval Christian saw the struggle against sin as a test of moral strength and faith: the Church disapproved of gambling. But hunting was honourable, and animals were moralised as virtues with parallels in human nature, from demonic to divine: donkey, bull, swan, ox, unicorn, deer, dragon,  elephant, fox, boar, rabbit, eagle, lion, bear, mermaid, falcon, griffin, hound, etc.

See also:

The Flemish Hunting Cards
Ambraser Hofjagdspiel
Stuttgart painted cards, c.1430
Spanish Bullfighting
Mexican Bullfighting
Waddington's Sporting Series

XV century manuscript border

Above: XV century manuscript border.

Last Updated July 13, 2016 at 08:59pm

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