The Cloisters set of fifty-two cards constitutes the only known complete deck of illuminated ordinary playing cards (as opposed to tarot cards) from the fifteenth century. There are four suits, each consisting of a king, queen, knave, and ten pip cards. The suit symbols, based on equipment associated with the hunt, are hunting horns, dog collars, hound tethers, and game nooses. The value of the pip cards is indicated by appropriate repetitions of the suit symbol. The figures, which appear to be based on Franco-Flemish models, were drawn in a bold, free, and engaging, if somewhat unrefined, hand. Their exaggerated and sometimes anachronistic costumes suggest a lampoon of extravagant Burgundian court fashions. Although some period card games are named, it is not known how they were played. Almost all card games did, however, involve some form of gambling. The condition of the set indicates that the cards were hardly used, if at all. It is possible that they were conceived as a collector’s curiosity rather than a deck for play.
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Title:The Cloisters Playing Cards
Geography:Made in Burgundian territories
Medium:Paper (four layers of pasteboard) with pen and ink, opaque paint, glazes, and applied silver and gold
Dimensions:Each: 5 3/16 × 2 3/4 in. (13.2 × 7 cm)
Credit Line:The Cloisters Collection, 1983
Marking: Two watermarks appear in the paper of these cards. One is in the form of a fork-tailed Gothic letter "p" surmounted by a quatrefoil and appears at least in part, on the 2 of Nooses, the 2 of Dog Collars and the queen of Horns. The other is a shield with the letters "iado" surmounted by a crozier which appears, at least in part, on the 1,5,8 and 10 of Dog Collars, the 1,2 and knave of Nooses and the 8 of Horns. The first watermark closely resembles Briquet 8684 and 8686, used mostly in eastern France and Flanders between ca. 1464 and 1480. The second watermark is Briquet 1876, used in southern Flanders and the north Lowlands between ca. 1468 and 1479.
[ Hôtel Drouot, Paris (December 12, 1978, lot 50)] ; [ Sotheby's, London (December 6, 1983, lot 70)]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009.
Livres illustrés, littérature, jeu de tarots dessiné et enluminé, importante bibliothèque héraldique, histoire, régionalisme, nombreux et bons livres non catalogués. Paris: Hôtel Drouot Rive Gauche, December 18, 1978. no. 50.
Melikian, Souren. "Identifying the World's Oldest Deck of Cards." International Herald Tribune (October 8–9, 1983).
Melikian, Souren. "The Two Classes of Buyers at Auctions." International Herald Tribune (December 10–11, 1983).
Phipps, Frances. "The Role of Cards in Colonial Society." The New York Times (December 4, 1983). p. 25.
de Hamel, Christopher, ed. Medieval Illuminated Playing Cards: A Complete Pack of 52. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., December 6, 1983. no. 70, [pp. 1–12], (extract from full catalogue).
Western Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., December 6, 1983. no. 70.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notable Acquisitions, 1983-1984 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1984). pp. 17–19.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. "One Hundred Fourteenth Annual Report of the Trustees for the Fiscal Year July 1, 1983, through June 30, 1984." Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 114 (1984). p. 40.
Hoffmann, Detlef. Gemalte Spielkarten: Eine kleine Geschichte der Spielkarten anhand gemalter Unikate. Insel Taschenbuch, Vol. 912. Frankfurt: Insel Verlag, 1985. pp. 40–43, fig. 13.
Janssen, Han. De geschiedenis van de speelkaart. Rijswijk: Elmar, 1985. pp. 150–57.
Parker, Elizabeth C. "Recent Major Acquisitions of Medieval Art by American Museums." Gesta 24, no. 4 (1985). p. 171, fig. 12.
Husband, Timothy B. The Cloisters' Playing Cards and Other Handpainted Packs of the Fifteenth Century/Die Cloisters-Spielkarten und andere hangemalte Kartenspiele des 15. Jahrhunderts. Vienna: Piatnik Edition, 1994. pp. 5–65, fig. 4, 36, 42–43, 45, 47.
Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 241, pp. 199–200.
Barnet, Peter, and Nancy Y. Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. no. 99, pp. 138, 198.
Evans, Helen C., ed. The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions – Online Catalogue. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.
Barnet, Peter. "Medieval Europe." In Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1977–2008, edited by James R. Houghton. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. p. 23.
Bardiès-Fronty, Isabelle, and Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi, ed. Art du Jeu, Jeu dans l'Art: De Babylone à l’Occident Médiéval. Paris: Musée National du Moyen Âge - Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, 2012. no. 57, p. 87.
Barnet, Peter, and Nancy Y. Wu. The Cloisters: Medieval Art and Architecture. 75th Anniversary ed. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 146.
Husband, Timothy B. The World in Play: Luxury Playing Cards 1430–1540. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. pp. 80–93, 134, fig. 99–102, 104–108.
Philippe de Montebello, former Director of The Met, guides viewers through The Cloisters, pointing out Romanesque and Gothic architecture and artwork, beautiful tapestries, and the diverse species in the gardens. He outlines the history of the building and its many influences and highlights significant works of art in the collection.
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