The Queen of Flowers, ca. 1430–40
Master of the Playing Cards (German, active ca. 1425–50)
Engraving printed from two plates; 5 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (13 x 9.1 cm)
Janet Lee Kadesky Ruttenberg Fund, in honor of Colta Ives, and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2006 (2006.429)
The Queen of Flowers is one of the exceptionally beautiful and delicate prints created by the Master of the Playing Cards, the first great figure in the history of engraving. The name traditionally given to this anonymous printmaker, who probably worked in Alsace, derives from a group of approximately seventy printed cards that survive in unique or rare impressions. As with present-day playing cards, fifteenth-century decks consisted of number and figure cards of different suits. The Master of the Playing Cards' set was composed of flowers, birds, deer, wild men, and beasts of prey. In this print, the suit of flowers is represented by a large unfurling blossom that was printed from a different plate than the demure queen. For expediency, the Master cleverly engraved separate plates for each of the figures and each of the suit signs so that they could be printed in varying combinations. The variety of images within each suit suggests that he may also have used the cards as model books of motifs for artists and craftsmen.
The overall soft tone and the slight slippage in the face of the queen suggest that this small work was printed by hand rather than with the rolling press, which came into common use later in the fifteenth century.