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

THE HOFJAGDSPIEL
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GALLERY INDEX


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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 XV
the
Hofämsterspiel
page XVI
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XVII
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



THE TRADITION OF HUNTING CARDS
Hunting cards is a term created in the 20th century which indicates a group of playing card decks whose features, such as the techniques used for their making, their size, their composition, were rather heterogeneous, yet well defined, which turned successful in the German-speaking areas, starting from the early decades of the 1400s to the following century, during which they gradually died out, being replaced by tarots.
The features they shared were as follows:

ace of Hounds

king of Falcons

central Europe in the 1400s (grey) and modern
national boundaries (blue); the red dot indicates
the city of Basle, and the area where hunting cards
were likely used is featured in pink
  • The main geographic area where they were known corresponds to Upper Rhineland, whose centre is the city of Basle (Switzerland); in fact, in the 1400s this was a very rich city, which acted as the crossways between different European regions, thus becoming an important centre for both commercial trades and cultural exchange. From 1431 to 1445 a famous Concile was also held there, whose main participants came from Germany, France, Italy and Spain; it is not a coincidence that these countries are the same ones where European playing cards had their birthplace.
    Hunting cards likely spread also further north, as one of the few surviving decks comes from Flanders.

  • The cards were considerably large, yet their size mismatched in different decks; after all, the ones belonging to Italian illuminated tarots, of similar age, were large too.

Their origin still remains partly obscure, as much as the tarot's own, or probably even more. But despite the deep differences with other types of European decks, their basic structure, i.e. a combination of numeral subjects and courts, is quite similar, letting us think that also these ones sprang from Moorish playing cards.

Today few specimens of hunting decks are still extant, but they are better preserved than, for instance, the aforesaid tarots; in fact, maybe due to the variety of their suits, and their absolutely fascinating illustrations, once the trend of using them for playing games had soon subsided, these cards rapidly ended up in collections and art treasuries, already since the 16th-17th centuries.
The most well-known specimens are the Stuttgarter Kartenspiel ("Stuttgart playing card deck", dated c.1430), the Cloisters deck (of dutch origin, with oval-shaped cards, dated c.1470-85), two decks of Master E.S. (from the initials of the unidentified author, dated 1460 and 1463), and obviously the Hofjagdspiel ("court-hunting deck", dated c.1440-45), described in detail in this page.

5 of Lure


AN UNFINISHED DECK
The Hofjagdspiel originally consisted of 56 cards, 54 of which are still extant. It was found among several other works of art belonging to the great collection of archduke Ferdinand I of Tirol (1529-95). The collection's inventory describes the deck as "…a card set of hounds, lures, cranes, hawks and men seated on horseback". Today the original is held by the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna (Austria).

the hoof, which had disappeared under
the flap, was succesively repainted
The cards measure c.95 x 155 mm (3 3/4 x 6 in). The illustrations were drawn in ink on preparatory charcoal sketches (whose traces in some subjects are still recognizable), and decorated partly with tempera paint and partly with water-colours; some backgrounds were also painted in gold. The material they are made of consists of several layers of paper tightly pressed, and kept together thanks to "Italian-style flaps", i.e. the extra length of the last layer, slightly larger than the card itself, was folded and stuck to the front surface, thus obtaining a rim, coloured in gold, which frames the illustration; in a few cases, the same frame covered some details, which the artist had to paint again.

The cards appear to be in excellent state of preservation, considering that they may be over 650 years old. Already at first sight, though, many of them show one or more details still drawn in ink, left uncoloured: this is particularly noticeable in the suit of Herons, in which the colour of the sky partly covers the birds, still waiting to be completed. Therefore, the deck remained an unfinished work, and it is very likely that in such condition it even remained unused. In fact, it does not show the typical signs of wear that in used cards are almost constantly found.

4 of Herons

THE COMPOSITION OF THE DECK

ace of Falcon
The 56 subjects of the Hofjagdspiel are divided into four suits, each of which has fourteen cards. The special signs they feature are Falcons, Hounds, Herons and Lure; the latter was a too whose shape resembled that of a small bird: falconers kept one tied to their wrist, to call back their falcon after the hunt, as the court card on the right clearly shows. Each suit has pip cards from 1 (ace) to 9, one subject shaped as a banner that features the sign of its own suit, worth 10, and ends with four courts, comprising an unter (lower) knave, an ober (upper) knave, a queen and a king, in hyerarchic order.

ober of Lure
Such archaic structure reminds us of an attempt of merging the typical courts of German tradition, i.e. the two knaves of different rank, with a female personage, still a rather innovative element in those years, which in Germany was not bound to become very successful. In all four courts the relevant personage is depicted on horseback, or by a horse, which belonged to the hunting spirit of the deck (as will be said further). An accurate analysis should not overlook the use of a banner, usen in place of a numeral '10'; such tradition in Germany was partly lost (despite still today the 10s distinguish themselves from other values, being marked with the Roman numeral X), whereas in Switzerland the 10s maintained their banner-shaped look.

10 of Hounds

Kings and queens in the Hofjagdspiel have no crowns, but they dress in more rich and glamorous wear than the ober knaves, who in turn wear more showy clothes than the unter knaves. In fact, there are no indices nor any other way of telling the courts else than by their elegance, by the age of the personage (the kings are elder than the knaves) and by the position of the suit sign (unter knaves feature it in the lower part of the card, whereas all other courts have it in the upper half).
The clothes worn by the courts largely reflect the fashion of those years in the Upper Rhineland region, but the personages of the suit of Herons feature some rather 'exotic' ones: the king's headgear recalls the Byzantine world, the queen's hairdo shaped as 'horns' was fashionable in the nearby Burgundy, anad the ober wears a Moorish-like turban.

close-up of the king and queen of Herons, which clearly show the unfinished details
(i.e. the uncovered parts of the body, the suit signs), and the exquisite painting of the clothing's fabric


8 of Hounds
Also the arrangement of the pips is eye-catching, because of the complex composition: instead of a 'classic' though rather static arrangement in regular rows and columns, the author preferred to depict the subjects as in real life: the most clear example is the 8 of Hounds, which features a bitch with her eight puppies, randomly scattered and much smaller than her. Although from an artistic point of view this scheme yielded an excellent result, undoubtly innovative for those times, paradoxically it clashed with practical use, because a player would have barely been able to understand the number of Hounds, or Falcons, or Herons, by taking a quick look at the card, which lacked indices, probably having to count the pips one by one, to be sure of the right value. Only the suit of Lure, being such tool inanimate, has pips arranged in the traditional way.



THE COLOUR SCHEME
Besides the suit sign, it is possible to tell which suit a card belongs to also by its background colour, which in subjects but the two highest courts is painted in a specific colour: blue for Falcons, pink for Hounds, sky blue for herons and red for Lure. Instead, kings and queens have a golden background, identical in all suits.
Also the clothes worn by the personages follow a similar code, as within a given suit their colour is the same, although sometimes with different shades: pink for Falcons, blue for Hounds, yellow for Herons and green for Lure. Smaller details, such as headgear, scarves, sleeves, etc., have a different colour only in higher courts, matching the one of the suit's background.
The scheme thus obtained consists of a primary colour (background, minor details) and a secondary colour (clothes), which for Falcons is blue + pink, for Hounds is pink + blue, for Herons is sky blue + yellow and for Lure is red + green. Obly the suit of Herons has minor details in pink, not in sky blue as the background.

Falcons
Hounds
Herons
Lure

The cards of the Hofjagdspiel have red backs. However, six of them have been left unpainted; on the back of one of these cards, namely the king of Falcons, the author drew an interesting study of fabric folds (on the right), which later on should have been covered with red paint.

the back of the king of Falcons


THE HOFJAGDSPIEL AND THE OTHER HUNTING DECKS
In a long review written by art historian Ulrike Jenni about the Hofjagdspiel, its suits and courts are accurately compared with the ones belonging to other two important decks. The results of the comparison underline the remarkable difference in the composition of hunting decks, pointing out the failure to achieve a golden standard, as the tarots did, which might have even contributed to their early subsidence. The comparison, though, also points out how the choice of their suits, which might seem a trivial and almost casual detail, really was very accurate and precisely matched the theme of each deck.
Starting with the Hofjagdspiel, we notice that the suits are linked one another by a logical sequence: the Falcons are the means used for stalking the Herons which, once killed, are retrieved by the Hounds, while the hunters call back their birds by means of a Lure. In all four suits, the courts (i.e. unter, ober, queen and king) are taking part to a heron hunt, as in those years would have happened in a princely court, and they are doing so on horseback, giving reason for the steed featured in each of these subjects.

In the Stuttgarter Kartenspiel, instead, the suits are Hounds, Stags, Falcons and Ducks; their composition, despite the same pip cards from 1 to 9 and the banner (i.e the 10), no longer comprises four courts, but three: two knaves (unter and ober) and a king. In two suits, though, all the courts are female, being referred to as lower lady-in-waiting (equals to an unter), upper lady-in-waiting (ober) and queen. In this case there is no colour scheme, but a distinction into two separate "hunts" appears quite evidently: one in which the Hounds stalk the Stags (carried out by all female personages), and one in which Falcons are used to hunt Ducks (carried out by all male personages)

lady-in-waiting of Stags, from the Stuttgarter Kartenspiel

In the unusually oval-shaped Cloisters deck, once again only one hunt is in progress, with the suits of Collars, Leashes (or Tethers, both referred to hounds), Horns and Nooses (double, likely used as traps for birds or small game). Besides pip cards from 1 to 10 - also the latter value is expressed by meas of pips, not a banner - we find three rather familiar courts: a knave, a queen and a king, as in common Bridge cards; in this, the Cloisters deck reveals its Dutch origin (farther from the Upper Rhineland scheme) and its dating, sometime towards the end of the 1400s, less early than other hunting cards.

knave of Nooses, from the Cloisters deck



KONRAD WITZ, MASTER OF LANDSCAPES
Nowadays all scholars agree that the author of the wonderful illustrations of the Hofjagdspiel was painter Konrad Witz, who lived in the first half of the 15th century, born in Germany (he is mentioned in old documents as Master Konrad from Rottweil), but active especially in Basle, the city where he also received a honorary citizenship for artistic merits. By comparing the style of his paintings with the subjects of the Hofjagdspiel it has been possible to assess with reasonable accuracy a dating for the deck, within the small range of years between 1440 and 1445, by the end of the painter's carreer.
The features that made Witz's works famous are the careful details, with particular regard to effects of light and shade (such as fabric folds, etc.), which he was able to render with an almost photographic accuracy, and the landscapes and views in which he set his subjects, which turned out much more than a simple background, and very often matched real locations. In the Hofjagdspiel, this can be clearly seen in the subjects from the suit of Herons, in which the birds are likely depicted on the shore of the Lake of Geneva, whose views are very realistic. Details and landscapes were both aspects of one same goal Witz aimed at: to give his works as much as possible three-dimensionality or, better, to minimize the loss of reality of the portrayed subject, due to the inevitable passage from real life's three dimensions to the only two of the painting. See two samples of his major works by clicking on these links: Madonna With Saints and King Solomon And The Queen Of Sheba.
So the falcons, the hounds, the herons, become alive, they stop acting as simple suit pips, turning into real subjects of miniature paintings; in fact, they are depicted with the most ample range of attitudes and movements, although this, as already mentioned, did not help at all the card player, even confusing his attempt to read the subject at a glance.
unter of Herons and queen of Falcons
Witz's virtuosity accounts for the extreme reality of some situations, almost frozen while in progress, such as the unter of Herons, featured on the point of mounting his horse, after having left on the ground the dead game (i.e. the suit's sign), or the same knave of Hounds, who rather sternly scolds his dog (again, the sign of the suit), because with his leash he crossed the horse's legs, hindering his pace. Witz's art also gives reason for some unusual perspectives, such as that of the same unter of Herons, who turns his shoulders towards the card holder, and the queen of the same suit, whose face we cannot see because entirely turned towards the opposite direction.



Although the hunting decks grew popular in a relatively small area (for instance, they were never used in France, nor in Italy, nor in Spain), they still represent a milestone in prehistory of European playing cards, also because, despite having survived but the short lapse of one century, they undoubtly influenced the differentiation process of suit signs, which in Germany at first, then also in Switzerland and in France, led the local players to adopt symbols so different from the original Moorish suits, whereas in Spain and Italy they remained much more similar to the original ones.

unter di Segugi

ace of Falcons, detail of the bell
tied to the bird's claw
And among the very details of this deck, which Konrad Witz so cleverly rendered, we find a small but significant feature that seems to foresee the above-mentioned evolution, yet so faraway in time: the legs of the falcons feature a small bell, or rattle, a measure used in order to retrieve the birds in the case they did not come back to their owner, the same object that one century later would have been chosen as one of the four typical suit signs of German and Swiss regional playing cards.



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 XV
the
Hofämsterspiel
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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