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Exhibitions/ The World in Play

The World in Play: Luxury Cards, 1430–1540

January 20–April 17, 2016

Exhibition Catalogue

The only study of its kind in English, this engaging volume discusses the significance of early European playing cards as unique works of art.

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Exhibition Overview

Only three decks of European hand-painted playing cards are known to have survived from the late Middle Ages. These include The Cloisters Playing Cards, which will form the core of this small exhibition highlighting one of the more intriguing works of secular art from The Cloisters Collection. 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. Collectively, the figures and scenes depicted on these cards reflect changing worldviews during a period of tumultuous social, economic, and religious change, charting the transition from late medieval to early modern Europe.


The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.

Exhibition Objects

Clockwise, from top left: Under Knave of Ducks, King of Falcons, Queen of Stags, 5 of Stags, Under Dame of Stags, Banner (10) of Hounds, Queen of Hounds, 7 of Hounds, King of Ducks, from The Stuttgart Playing Cards, ca. 1430. German, Upper Rhineland. Paper (pasteboard) with gold ground and opaque paint over pen and ink. Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart