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King of Germany, from The Courtly Household Cards


Not on view

The Courtly Household Cards (Das Hofämterspiel)

These cards were in the collections of Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria and appear in his posthumous inventory of 1596. The deck is structured according to the hierarchy of officials and functionaries in a late medieval court, from those of the highest rank down to the lowest. There are four suits: heraldic shields blazoned with the arms of the kingdoms of Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, and France. Each suit is led by a king and a queen, followed by a master of the household (10) and a marshal (9), with a fool (1) at the bottom—two male and two female. A lady-in-waiting (6) appears in all four suits. The rest of the pip cards (8, 7, 5, 4, 3, and 2) are all court functionaries or purveyors of descending ranks and are different in every suit—except the 4 of Bohemia and the 4 of Hungary, which are both mounted trumpeters—for a total of twenty- three subordinates. These range from a medical doctor and a cupbearer, to a falconer and a cook, to a court tailor and a fishmonger, to a barber and a potter. The deck is a unique compendium of secular woodblock prints of a quality unsurpassed at this early date. The articulated lines are cut to a remarkable thinness with assured fluidity. The coloring of the figures and of their surrounds is executed with a painterly refinement. Great care is given to the detailing of costumes, fabrics, and appurtenances, while decorative elements are richly enhanced with applied gold and silver, frequently embellished with punchwork that scatters reflected light. Some correspondences with the engravings by the Master ES have long been noted, supporting an attribution to the Upper Rhineland, but other scholars have argued that the cards may have been produced in Austria—perhaps Vienna.

Suits: Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, and France
12 cards in each suit: King, Queen, Master of the Household (10), Marshal (9), 8 and 7 (all different figures), Lady-in-Waiting (6), 5 through 2 (all different figures), Fool (1)
48 cards, of which 48 survive
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Kunstkammer (KK 5077–5124)

King of Germany, from The Courtly Household Cards, Woodcut on paper (pasteboard) with watercolor, opaque paint, pen and ink, and tooled gold and silver, German

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