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GALLERY INDEX
~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
· page XV ·

THE HOFÄMTERSPIEL


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GALLERY INDEX


other pages

page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viéville's
Tarot
page XI
the
Minchiate
page XII
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XIII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIV
the
Hofjagdspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck

~ NOTE ~

The replica of the Hofämterspiel shown in this page is by Piatnik (Austria).
Notes in square brackets along the text refer to the booklet that accompanies the edition, written by a team of scholars:
[1] Fritz Koreny
[2] Georg Kugler
[3] Michael Dummett
[4] Detleff Hoffmann



THE HOFÄMTERSPIEL


VII of Hungary (chief cook)
The Hofämterspiel is a late medieval deck that consists of 48 cards, all of which are extant.
Together with other playing cards, such as the Hofjagdspiel, it belonged to the great collection of art treasures gathered in the 16th century by archduke Ferdinand of Tirol; it is mentioned in the collection's catalogue
[1], the only known record of the deck.
These large cards measure 97 mm x 140 mm (3¾ in x 5½ in); they feature woodblock prints, skilfully decorated with bright-coloured tempera paint, and a few additions in finely embossed silver and gold leaf.
It is impossible to assess the precise age of the deck, though sometime around the mid 15th century appears to be a quite reasonable dating. It is also very likely that the geographic area where the cards were made was southern Germany, i.e. today's Austria 
[1]. The original deck is, in fact, held by the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.

THE SUBJECTS

Unlike other known decks of the same age belonging to German culture, such as the Hofjagdspiel ("court hunting deck") and the Stuttgarter Spiel ("Stuttgart deck"), whose illustrations feature hunting scenes, and whose suits are herons, hounds, deers, etc., the Hofämterspiel was basically inspired by the standard social structure of royal courts during the late Middle Ages. The illustrations depict many different members of a typical household [2], with their names in archaic German, whence the name Hofämterspiel given to the cards (literally meaning "householder's deck").
Therefore, what makes these cards particularly interesting is not only their intrinsic value for the early history of playing cards, but also the evidence they provide for the knowledge of social hierarchy and everyday's life in late medieval courts.

IX of France (marshal)


king of Germany
On the basis of written sources that describe no longer existing decks, it has also been suggested that playing cards whose ranks are inspired by different social conditions might have been devised already in the late 14th century: this entails that the "household" system might be earlier than the "hunting" system [1], thus representing the very first variety of playing cards in the German world.

queen of Bohemia


III of France (tailor)
THE SUIT SYSTEM

Another important difference from the aforementioned hunting decks is the choice of the suits: in the Hofämterspiel they are represented by four different shields. The coats of arms they bear are those of Germany (a black eagle on a yellow background), France (gold fleur-de-lys on a blue background), Bohemia (a white rampant lion on a red background) and Hungary (white and red horizontal stripes): in the 15th century, these were the four main countries in central Europe.
Therefore, the author's intention was probably to celebrate with this deck a local monarch or ruler, eventually Ladislas Postumus, king of Hungary and Bohemia from 1453 to 1457, according to a theory by Arpad Weixlgärtner 
[1].
The choice of the suit signs for the Hofämterspiel provides an evident and interesting analogy with the Shields suit of Swiss playing cards, still in use today (see also the Swiss gallery).



THE 48 PERSONAGES AND THEIR RANKS

Each of the Hofämterspiel's cards features a different personage, almost as if the deck consisted of 48 courts, i.e. without pip cards. In each suit, the values rank from I (the lowest) to X, and they end with a queen and a king (the highest card). The king and queen have no number, and are also the only two subjects that do not state the character's occupation; therefore, they may be considered as actual court cards of the deck.
In all four suits, the I features a fool (Narr, or its female equivalent Narryn); instead, the two highest cards next to the king and queen are the master of the household or major domo (Hofmeister, X, who was in charge of the court during the ruler's absence), and the marshal (Marschalk, IX, in charge of any duty that involved the use of horses or carriages, such as the king's travels, etc.).


X of Germany (household master)
With the exception of two subjects (namely, the Jungfrawe, lady-in-waiting, card VI in all suits, and the Trometer, trumpeter, card IIII in Germany and Hungary), all other personages are individual, i.e. they are not repeated in other suits.
The social rank of each of them may be easily understood, according to the higher or lower value of the relevant card. For instance, a doctor (Artzt, Bohemia suit) would have shared more or less the same social rank as a chaplain (Capplan, Germany suit), or of a chancellor (Kanzler, Hungary suit), or of a household mistress of a queen or a princess (Hofmeistryn, France suit), so all these subjects are featured on the eighth card (VIII) of different suits.


A full list of the personages and of their values is shown in the following table: for an easier reference, the ones that are not found in all four suits are highlighted in pale green.


TABLE OF PERSONAGES IN THE HOFÄMSTERSPIEL

value suit
BOHEMIA

FRANCE

GERMANY

HUNGARY

...


...


X


IX


VIII


VII


VI


V


IIII


III


II


I



König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Artzt
doctor

Kammer
[mei]ster
chamberlain

Junckfrawe
lady-in-waiting

Valkner
falconer

Trometer
trumpeter

Herolt
herald

Hefneryn
potter (female)

Narr
fool

König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Hofmeistryn
household mistress

Schenk
cup-bearer

Junckfrawe
lady-in-waiting

Koch
cook

Marstaler
master of the stables

Hofsneider
tailor

Jeger
huntsman

Nerryn
fool (female)

König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Capplan
chaplain

Truchses
steward

Junckfraw
lady-in-waiting

Kellner
wine-cellar man

Parbirer
barber

Renner
jouster

Bott
messenger

Narr
fool

König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Kantzler
chancellor

Kuchenmeist
[er]
chief cook

Junckfrawe
lady-in-waiting

Schutz
archer

Trometer
trumpeter

Vischner
fish-monger

Pfister
baker

N
[er]ryn
fool (female)



Ranking by social hierarchy reminds us of the first group of cards in Mantegna's Tarot.


I of Bohemia (male fool)
Some of the lowest cards of the series seem to share their personage with other obsolete types of playing cards, though not as old as the Hofämterspiel itself.
For instance, the Bavarian-Austrian Hexenspiel, which belongs to the so-called group of Cuckoo decks (see Cards Without Traditional Suits, page 2), used to have a subject named Narr, which featured a fool (although a similar subject in German and Austrian Tarock decks is called Sküs, and looks like a joker).

I of France (female fool)

In some respects, the four Narr and Narryn cards have something in common also with the knaves of the Minchiate deck, which featured two male and two female personages. And other German decks as old as the Homämterspiel, such as the Ulmer Spiel and the Stuttgarter Spiel, had two male knaves and two female ones [4].

Which game or games the Hofämterspiel was devised for is virtually impossible to tell, as no other source mentions the deck or its use, except the aforesaid catalogue entry that describes Ferdinand of Tirol's belongings. The very fine quality of the cards, as well as the particular ranking scheme, suggest that the Hofämterspiel was likely used for playing a trick-taking game, in which the Narr and Narryn might have acted as jokers 
[3].
However, it is interesting to discover how many female personages took part to the card game, at many different hierarchic levels, i.e. queen, mistress of the household (VIII), lady-in-waiting (VI), potter (II), fool (I), as they probably did also in everyday's life at court.


IIII of Hungary (trumpeter)

II of Bohemia (female potter)


further reference to tarot decks can be found in Trionfi and in The Hermitage



page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarots
of Ferrara
page VIII
the tarot
of Marseille
page IX
the Tarot
de Paris
page X
Viéville's
Tarot
page XI
the
Minchiate
page XII
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XIII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIV
the
Hofjagdspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



OTHER GALLERIES

non-standard patterns advertisement decks sizes, shapes and colours standard pattern variants non-suited cards Mercante in Fiera Uta Karuta, Iroha Karuta, Dôsai Karuta Âs nas
regional patterns: Italy regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Germany regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: Sweden regional patterns: Portugal regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

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Introduction
INTRODUCTION
AND HISTORY

Multi-language Glossary
MULTI-LANGUAGE
GLOSSARY
the Fool and the Joker
THE FOOL &
THE JOKER
Index Table
INDEX
TABLE
Regional Games
REGIONAL
GAMES
Playing Card Links
PLAYING CARD
LINKS