The World in Play: Luxury Cards, 1430-1540

The World in Cards will be on display at the Cloisters Museum in upper Manhattan from January 20 to April 17. It is a small but wonderfully rich show of hand painted playing cards from the Middle Ages. There are mostly single sets, hand painted and gilded for the use of the uber elite. But there is also a rare, uncut woodblock set that would be printed and hand colored for the upper middle classes to use.


Rare woodcut cards, printed in a single sheet but uncut and awaiting hand coloring.


In this hand painted and gilded card set, falcons represented the feminine suits and dogs the male suits.


The suits were different from what we are used to in contemporary card sets–there were Collars, Nooses, Tethers, as well as animals and acorns and other things.

For more information about this show, check out the website, which also includes images from the entire exhibition. The catalog is also very nice:

“Examples of cards from the earliest hand-painted woodblock deck as well as fifteenth-century German engraved cards, north Italian tarot cards of the same period, and the finest deck from the early sixteenth century¬†will complete the display.”


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