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Playing Card History by Leslie

Origins

Many theories abound, but written references to playing cards in Europe begin in the 1390s. Playing cards were probably introduced to Europe via Crusaders returning from the Middle East.

French and English suits were set by the early 15th century (heart, spades, diamond and clubs).

French Playing Cards

French manufacturers started naming court cards in the late 16th century (like those in our French Playing Card Collage Sheets), with names from Medieval epics, the classics and the Bible. By the 17th century a definitive set of names was established:

  • Kings, representing the empires of Jews, Greeks, Franks and Romans:
    • David (spades)
    • Alexander (clubs)
    • Charlemagne (hearts)
    • Caesar (diamonds)
  • Queens (not related to the historical Queens of the Kings, above):
    • Pallas Athena (spades) — goddess of wisdom
    • Argine (clubs) — an anagram of Regina — perhaps for Juno or to lampoon an unnamed king’s current mistress
    • Judith (hearts — heart for bravery, not for “hearts and flowers”) — probably for the Apocryphal heroine who imperilled her life and chastity in the tent of Holofernes and escaped with his head
    • Rachel (diamonds) — Jacob’s wife
  • Knaves:
    • Ogier (spades) — a Danish hero who is legend married Morgan le Fay
    • Lancelot (clubs) — a knight of the Round Table
    • La Hire (hearts) — a swashbuckling commander during French fight against English during time of Joan of Arc
    • Hector (diamonds) — possibly Hector de Maris of the Round Table, or Hector de Galard, a captian in the service of Charles V

PaperItalian Tarot (Tarocchi)

Tarot cards developed as a gambling deck in Northern Italy in the early 15th century (the fortune-telling attributes were added much later in the 18th-19th centuries). The number of cards has varied but have standardized into 22 trumps (or triumphs) plus 56 cards broken into 4 suits (coins, cups, swords, batons).

The symbolic images of the trump cards developed in part as a result of the rediscovery of classic Greek texts in the late Middle Ages/early Renaissance (reintroducing the Neoplatonist concept of the universe as organized in increasing levels of vicinity to God).

The subjects (and order) of the 22 trumps have changed over the centuries, but are generally:

 

The Fool (unnumbered)

   

11

Strength or Fortitude

1

The Magician

 

12

The Hanged Man

 

2

The Popess or High Priestess

 

13

Death

 

3

The Empress

 

14

Temperance

 

4

The Emperor

 

15

The Devil

 

5

The Pope or Hierophant

 

16

The Tower

 

6

The Lovers or Lover

 

17

The Star or Stars

 

7

The Chariot

 

18

The Moon

 

8

Justice

 

19

The Sun

 

9

The Hermit

 

20

Judgement

 

10

The Wheel of Fortune

 

21

The World

 

PaperRenaissance Tarot of Andrea Mantegna

An interesting deck engraved circa 1460-70, which has 50 cards (five groups of 10). There is disagreement regarding the meaning and purpose of this deck, but one theory proposes the deck was made in Mantua during the council in 1459-60 as a pastime for Pope Pius II.

The groups are ordered “E” to “A”:

E — conditions of man (beggar to pope)

D — Apollo and the nine Muses

C — 10 sciences (seven liberat arts + Astrology, Philosophy and Theology)

B — seven virtues + light, time and earth

A — firmaments (seven planets + promo mobile, prima causa and the cosmos)

Our Muses collage sheets use cards from group D (muses and Apollo), group B (virtues) and group C (liberal arts).

Rubber Stamps based on these cards.

This article was published on Sunday 25 November, 2007.
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