XV Century Catalan Playing Cards, Barcelona
These ancient playing cards were discovered inside the binding material of a printed Catalan book dated 1495. Although there are no other surviving examples, it is likely that it is a sole remnant of an archaic Spanish-suited pattern, perhaps used in a particular area, which has been superseded. The four female Sotas (not Queens) stand inside niches and on circular bases. They wear long robes and each holds their respective suit symbol in their right hand. We do not know whether the Kings were seated or standing. The batons are knobbly and arranged in a similar way to what we know today as Spanish: we might expect the cups, coins and swords to be similarly arranged.
If the Latin suit system, including the Spanish variant illustrated here, derived from Islamic cards, then we have an early example of cards faithful in some ways to their Islamic origin, produced at a time when possibly both styles were still in use, and before other imported versions of Spanish-suited cards were adopted. See also: Moorish Playing Cards • Mamluk Cards • Master of the Banderoles • Gothic Spanish Cards.
The materials used in card games are very perishable so surviving early specimens are very rare. Because games are a magnificent way of promoting social relationships, as well as “unleashing passions”, these late fifteenth century playing cards give us a sense of how the Catalan capital absorbed foreign cultural elements and in turn spread their own style abroad.