Master PW Circular Playing Cards, c.1500
A pack of playing cards with five suits: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares... everyday objects suggesting the natural world of life and fertility.
This pack of seventy-two round playing cards shows the artist in top creative form. The imagery depicts plants and animals based on the study of nature, rather than copied from artists' model books as previous engravers of cards had done (e.g. Master of the Playing Cards). Flowers are shown in various stages of bloom. The name of the engraver is unknown but he is known today as the Master P.W. due to his monogram.
The inscription Salve Felix Colonia (Hail, happy Cologne) accompanied by three crowns of the Cologne coat of arms on the title card confirms that the cards were made in Cologne. There are fourteen cards per suit: King, Queen, Upper and Lower Valet (or Squire and Man-at-Arms) and ten numerals, with Latin inscriptions on the Ace in each suit. The Kings and Queens are lavishly dressed figures on horseback (or a donkey). The detail includes embroidered brocade material and elaborate jewel adornments on the headgear and edges of the gowns. Even the horses have decorative livery and are depicted in anatomical detail. There are no references to religion but only to social class, costumes and nature.
The engraving of lines in metal in order to print on paper developed from the goldsmith's long-established practice of decorating metal with engraved patterns. The technique was first used for printing on paper in the second quarter of the fifteenth century. It was considered the most noble and appropriate technique in which to render the work of great masters. Since none of Master PW's surviving cards are mounted on stiff card, the question arises whether they were actually intended for play. Although it is known that circular cards were used in India, the circular format was not the norm in the West. Of course, circular illustrations were known in the 15th & 16th centuries depicting occupations of the months and calendar illustrations. Likewise, naturalistic flowers, birds and animals occur in the borders of books of hours. We see here how the profane world of the medieval playing card had close connections with religious artwork.
The extra card in which Death is clutching at a nude woman give these round cards the character of a series which was only intended for looking at. Having found pleasure in the sequence of roses, columbines, parrots, hares and pinks, having admired the ingenious arrangement of the flowers and animals and the quality of the draughtmanship, having smiled at the sometimes cranky kings, queens and knaves and having reflected on the slogans on the ace cards, one is reminded by the final card of the transitory nature of mortal beauty [quoted from Detlef Hoffmann, 1973].
People are still superstitious today, but in the past they were more so. Cards would play a part in how they made sense of the world in an era when there were so many unexplained mysteries. They are more than just a pack of cards, people could read into the symbols and inscriptions, draw analogies, make decisions or find meaning in everyday life. The inscriptions on the five Aces are as follows:
A style of manuscript illumination during the high Gothic period, around the late 15th / early 16th century, involved decorating the margins with a luxurious array of strewn flowers, fruits, small animals and insects, painted in a naturalistic style on a gold background. In the example of a Missal shown below, the roundels in the borders also contain miniature illustrations of saints of the month, each accompanied by an appropriate symbol by which he may be recognised.
Hoffmann, Detlef: The Playing Card, an illustrated history, Edition Leipzig, 1973
Humphreys, Henry Noel: The Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages, illustrated by Owen Jones, originally published in 1849, re-published by Bracken Books, London, 1989
V&A Museum, London
“Royal Cards Reign of Queen Anne” cover historical events, both honourable and treacherous, during the period 1702 to 1704.
Gambling and Vice in the Hours of Charles V: card-playing in the local tavern
Jeu “Gerente” - published by Moncar in 1983 in the “Cartes de Fantasie” series.
Middle Ages by Germano & Cª, (Litografia Maia),
Illustrated playing cards featuring comical engravings and rhymes about saints, c.1740.
French suited German engraved cards c1610 to 1650,
Hand-coloured Forrest Cards produced for “Young Gentlemen & Ladys who are Lovers of Ingenuity”, c.1750s.
Delightful Cards, containing variety of entertainment for young Ladies and Gentlemen c.1723.
“Romance Español” designed by Carlos Sáenz de Tejada and published by Heraclio Fournier in various editions since 1951.
Baraja “Neoclásica” engraved by José Martínez de Castro, first published by Clemente Roxas, Madrid, 1810.
“Baraja Mitológica” was first published in Madrid in c.1815 by Josef Monjardín from engravings by José Martínez de Castro.
“Europe” designed by Teodoro N. Miciano and printed by Heraclio Fournier in 1962, portraying XIV century European fashions.
Fairy Brand Round Playing Cards No.200A
Animal suited playing cards engraved by the Master of the Playing Cards, Germany, c.1455
Bubble Cards - known as “All the Bubbles”, c.1720.
Anonymous “La Baraja” Spanish deck, c.2005.
Medieval View of Gambling in the ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Jheronimus Bosch
Early German deck by unknown maker, c.1825
French-suited pack with full-length courts by Joseph Losch, c.1800.
The luxury, hand-painted Stuttgart Cards (Stuttgarter Kartenspiel) dated c.1430, with suits of ducks, falcons, stags and hounds.
“Jeu de Bataille” card game published by Éditions Willeb, Paris. The court cards represent characters from different nationalities or ethnic groups who are presumably engaged in battle
Donald’s Circular Snap published by Pepys, 1951.
Set of medieval playing cards with King, Queen, Knave and numeral cards from one to ten in each of four suits which refer to the activity of hunting, as practiced by the nobility.
“Four Centuries” playing cards by Esselte Öbergs with court cards depicted as caricatures from different historical periods.
“Globe Playing Cards” patented on Oct. 6, 1874 by I. N. Richardson.
Unique pack of playing cards created for the British Museum with illustrations by Frances Button.
Playing cards designed by Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550).
Medieval style playing cards commemorating the Battle of Grunwald (1410), designed and published by Studio Wena, 2011
‘Ganjifa’ playing cards made in Sheopor in the North of Madhya Pradesh province in Central India. The Ganjifa game probably developed from 13th century games played by Mamluk immigrants from China.
Daveluy produced card games between c.1840 and 1890. Many of his playing cards have historical connotations and show figures with a landscape background.
‘Première Croisade’ with single-ended courts by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1850.
Cartes Moyen-Age by Daveluy, Bruges, c.1875.
Quénioux believed that aesthetic feelings are the highest values: “C’est précisément cet amour de l’artisan pour le travail qu’il accomplit, la satisfaction intime qu’il en éprouve, qui ont donné naissance à tous les arts et qui ont fait dire que l’art est la joie dans le travail”.
Playing cards had been made as precious objects for wealthy clients since the late 14th century. They were made to look at, admire and to keep in curiosity cabinets, or perhaps to entertain ladies or educate children rather than to play with.
Circular Spanish-suited playing cards for FATE, 2007
C. L. Wüst Oval Patience Karten No. 240, beautifully printed by chromolithography, c.1910.
Baraja Edad Media, fantasy Spanish-suited medieval playing cards published Mas-Reynals, Barcelona, 1993. Designed by M. Malé and illustrated by V. Maza.
Playing Cards by the Master of the Banderoles, one of the earliest professional printmakers, c.1470.
Master PW Circular Playing Cards: roses, columbines, carnations, parrots and hares... everyday objects evoking life and fertility.
Deck made by Johann Jobst Forster, Nürnberg, first half of 18th century in the Paris pattern.