May 13, 2004

The Suit of Books

In Nuremburg, in 1588, an illustrator by the name of Jost Amman issued a book called Charta lusoria, containing a complete set of designs for a non-standard deck of playing-cards. Although there are fifty-two cards in this set, divided in the usual way into four suits, the suits themselves are not the usual ones, but rather Ink-pads, Books, Drinking-cups and Pots. Amman’s book is another of the fascinating volumes presented by the Herzog August Library (which I’ve previously mentioned here & here), and it is from their site that I lifted the following images of the Suit of Books:

'The Ace of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria... 'The Two of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...
'The Three of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria... 'The Four of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...

I don’t know whether these cards were even primarily intended for recreational use: the fact that, in the body of the book, only every fourth page was printed, does suggest that the cards were meant to be cut out, or at least used as templates, and played with. On the other hand, each card was printed with a motto in Latin and German, in the manner of an emblem-book, so perhaps the card-deck format was more a way of structuring the morals contained in these texts.

'The Five of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...
Jost Amman is one of the most prolific illustrators of the 16th century. Born in Zurich in 1539, he was the son of a teacher of a local renowned college, but preferred to follow his artistic inclination rather than becoming a scholar himself. His apprenticeship was carried out partly in Switzerland and, probably, in France too, as suggested by his early designs. In 1562 he settled in Nuremberg, where he worked for publisher L.Heussler. His works include portraits, illustrations for books on various themes, ornamental designs, stained glass windows, jewelry, [etc…] Despite his name gradually became well-known, he never made a fortune, and in his late years he actually lived in poverty. He died in Nuremberg in 1591, only three years after having finished this deck.
'The Six of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria... 'The Seven of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...
'The Eight of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria... 'The Nine of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...
Although [the deck’s] composition matches non-German patterns (i.e. Italian, Spanish, French), we may still include these cards among the German-structured decks […] In first place, the three courts are typically German: a lower knave (Unter Knabe), an upper one (Ober Knabe) and a king, as still found in decks for playing Skat, Jass, etc. […] In second place, the 10s of each suit do not feature the relevant number of pips, as the other nine cards do, but show a woman wearing rich clothes […] with a small flag in the corner, featuring the roman numeral X [… Thirdly,] two aces of this deck feature a large crest, one of which vaguely reminiscent of the shape of a heart […]: this is a further detail found among the contemporary German-suited Swiss cards.
'The Ten of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria... 'The Lower Knave of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...
'The Upper Knave of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria... 'The King of Books', coloured woodcut from Jost Amman's 'Charta lusoria...

Click on the images to see them enlarged. To see the cards in context, try the following links: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, X, LK, UK, K. The italicised text above is taken from this page at Andy Pollett’s very informative playing-cards site.

Posted by misteraitch at May 13, 2004 04:18 PM | TrackBack
Comments

There is no enough time to scrutinize each page. diglib.hab.de is much better than bl.uk.

Posted by: noel_lapin on May 14, 2004 03:37 AM

These illustrations are luscious. I love the books growing out of the vines. I used that concept recently when I painted the windows of the library where my husband works.

I discovered your blog today. What a delightful treasure!

Posted by: patricia on May 15, 2004 02:12 AM

It's believed that originally the Tarot pack may have had a consultative or contemplative function; that its lexicon of images may have related to some now lost arcana. Too fanciful, I guess, to speculate a similar function here...

Posted by: Dick Jones on May 20, 2004 06:58 AM
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