New York – Christie’s rediscovers a remarkable survival of an extremely rare set of German engraved and parcel-gilt silver playing cards signed Michael Frömmer of Augsburg made in 1616 (detailed image to the right- estimate: $150,000-250,000), which will be offered in the Important Silver sale on October 19. Consigned by the descendant of General Manuel Oribe of Uruguay, this is the only complete deck of 52 cards in existence that are engraved in the four Italian suits: swords, batons, cups, and coins, each suit with a king, a knight, a knave, and pip cards ace through ten.
These cards, according to family tradition, were given to Josefa Oribe y Viana de Contucci, ancestor of the present owner, by Infanta Carlota Joaquina of Spain (1775-1830). Princess Carlota was daughter of King Carlos IV and, as wife of King João of Portugal, Princess of Portugal and Brazil. During Napoleonic struggles, Carlota was exiled to Brazil with the Portuguese Court. When Napoleon forced her father to abdicate in Spain, she became claimant to the throne of Spain and Spanish America. Following the patriotic revolution in Buenos Aires in 1810, she ordered Portuguese-Brazilian troops into Montevideo to protect the interests of the Spanish monarchy. Carlota's emissary in South America and the director of her military efforts there was Felipe Contucci. Carlota presented these cards to Contucci's wife, and they descended to the present owner.
Documentary evidence shows that silver playing cards were an essential component of the princely kunstschrank, or art cabinet, of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. These cabinets, equipped with both artificialia and naturalia, represented the world in microcosm through an array of objects representing man's artistic and scientific achievements combined with natural rarities from exotic locales. The ambitious purpose of these cabinets - to display the education, sophistication and immense wealth of their owners - perhaps overshadows another function, which was simply to delight, astonish, and entertain. Card games joined board games, trick cups, "fun-house" mirrors and other amusements in a designated area of the cabinet. The celebrated Pomeranian Kunstschrank was fitted with three decks of silver cards in French, German, and Italian suits, conveying the worldliness of the owner by his ability to entertain in three "languages." Michael Frömmer, maker of the present set, contributed the French-suited deck to the Pomeranian Kunstschrank, which like most of the known cabinets of the period, was assembled and supplied by Philipp Hainhofer (1578-1647) financier, diplomat, and art dealer of Augsburg.
Auction: Important Silver including the
Stuart collection of Magnificent Regency Silver October 19
Viewing: Christie’s Rockefeller Galleries October 15-18
Related Departments Silver & Objects of Vertu