- Museum number
Complete pack of 52 humanist playing-cards, each with several lines of Latin text. The suits are millstones, harps, goats and cupids 1544
- Production date
Height: 98 millimetres
Width: 71 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Report of the Keeper of Prints and Drawings to the BM Trustees, 12 August 1976:
A pack of 52 mid-sixteenth century French 'humanist' playing-cards. The suits are Cupids, Harps, Millstones and Goats, each symbolizing a particular classical author. The Kings are the authors themselves (respectively Ovid, Horace, Plautus, and Seneca), and the Queens are the four appropriate Muses (respectively Erato, Terpsichore, Thalia and Melpomene), three of the Knaves are 'studiosi' and one (of Millstones) 'discipulus'. All the cards bear quotations from the authors in question, the values of those from ace to ten being indicated by the number of lines in the quotation. An inscription on the Ace of Harps explains the symbolism of the Suits: Ovid, the erotic poet, is typified by Cupid; Horace, the lyric poet, by the harp; and Seneca, 'tragedy' as 'The Song of the Goat' (Greek, 'tragos'). Why the Millstone should represent Plautus, the writer of comedies, is less obvious. The inscription explains that 'he suffered at a mill' (i.e. he is said to have spent several years as a labourer in a mill).
The Ace of Cupids is inscribed, 'this new pack of cards is offererd for sale in Paris by Christian Wechsel, at the Basel Arms in the Rue St. Jacques and at the Pegasus in Rue St. Jean de Beauvais, in the year of Our Lord, 1544.'
Reasons for purchase: 1. Rarity: This pack is quite possibly unique, and no other similar pack appears to be known. The Museum has one of the best collections of playing-cards in the world, and these would make an outstanding addition to it. 2. Their cultural importance, as an unique document in the history of humanism. 3. The quality of the woodcuts themselves. French woodcuts of this level of excellence are very rare. The work of the anonymous designer and cutter of this pack is not only equal to the finest French work of the period but compares favourably with the best that artists in other countries were producing at the time.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1976 Amsterdam, Mus. Willet-Holthuysen, Looking at Cards, No.213
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: F.46a