Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reproduction Playing Cards

File:The Cardsharps.jpg
Caravaggio's 'The Cardsharps' (1594) -   

Today's post is of my first attempt at making some Medieval/Renaissance style playing cards. When I started researching them, I was amazed at the range of styles that were available prior to 1700. Some were miniature works of art.

Because I was just starting, I went for a very simple style. I used the same colour scheme as the original set. My cards are made from pasteboard and are coloured with gouache.

This extant set is very similar to my set:

16th C Swiss cards -

This uncoloured, extant example is also very similar to the deck that I reproduced:
Three uncut sheets playing cards made with wood blocks that were found in Johann Spremberger's Ein kurtzer und gründlicher Bericht ... wider die pestilentischen Kranckheit - mid 16th C uncut cards

Here are some extant examples of renaissance playing cards:

Uncut sheet of playing cards, Giles Savouré, 1475-1500. Woodcut with stencil colouring on laid paper. Museum no. E.988-1920 - French cards 1475-1500


  dated c.1430
Originally in the collections of the dukes of Bavaria, these are considered amongst the earliest surviving sets of playing cards. The cards are made from pasteboard consisting of up to six sheets of paper glued together, over which, on the front side, a layer of gesso was applied. Outlines of the designs were scratched into the surface, while some details were drawn in with pen and ink. The entire surface was gilded and the designs were then painted over the gold. The backs are painted dark red.
The imagery in Hunting Books of the day, and on playing cards such as these which were destined for nobility, was often a parallel comment on moralia and human nature, although in this case the artist has portrayed the theme of hunting in a somewhat idyllic fashion with almost affectionate relationships between the female figures and the animals.
These cards were made by an unknown workshop in southern Germany, possibly Swabia. The artist has freely invented the suit symbols and the court hierarchy in relation to the theme of the courtly hunt.
source and individual cards if you like them
Pasteboard German cards c. 1430 -


  1. These are wonderful! I hope to see them in person sometime!