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Upper Knave of Ducks, from The Stuttgart Playing Cards


Not on view

Despite his rough handling of the bird, which he brandishes like an excited child showing off his prize, the Upper Knave of Ducks does not seem to pose a mortal threat.

The Stuttgart Playing Cards (Das Stuttgarter Kartenspiel)

Although the original commissioner of these exceptionally fine and unusually large cards is unknown, they soon found their way into the collections of the dukes of Bavaria and are first mentioned in a 1598 inventory of the archducal Kunstkammer. The court cards for the suits of Falcons and Ducks are male while those for Hounds and Stags are female. This segregating of the sexes may seem odd to us now, but a description of playing cards written in 1377 noted a pack of fifty-two with just such a sequence. The imagery of the Stuttgart cards implies two different types of hunts. The kings and their courts preside over the falcons, which were trained to strike their prey (in this case, ducks), while the queens and their courts dominate the hounds, which were used to bring down large game (here stags). The birds and animals in the pip cards are vibrant and lifelike, suggesting observation of nature and knowledge of various types of hunts. The face cards, on the other hand, have scant connection to any aspect of the hunt. The childlike figures with round, smooth faces project the insouciance of a world free from worry or strife. The queens remain comfortably indoors, whereas the rest of the court figures occupy shallow strips of pleasant greenery against a shimmering gold backdrop that provides a glittering shield against the world beyond. The youthful, elegant court figures evince the innocence and vitality of a privileged people untroubled by coarse quotidian concerns. Thus, in this deck the hunt serves as a metaphor for a world where man and beast cohabit in concord, where the cares of life evaporate—a blissful idyll with little basis in late medieval reality.

Suits: Falcons, Ducks, Hounds, and Stags
13 cards in each suit: Falcons and Ducks: King, Upper Knave, Under Knave, Banner (10), 9 through 1. Hounds and Stags: Queen, Upper Dame, Under Dame, Banner (10), 9 through 1
52 cards, of which 49 survive
Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart (KK grau 15–63)

Upper Knave of Ducks, from The Stuttgart Playing Cards, Paper (six layers in pasteboard) with gold ground and opaque paint over pen and ink, German

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