The present Queen of Flowers B is one of the most beautiful examples of the playing cards to which the Master of the Playing Cards owes his name. This deck of cards, approximately sixty different cards and fragments of which have survived to the present day, is the earliest engraved set known, and its anonymous engraver is considered the first artistic personality in the history of engraving. Not only was he the first to create a significant body of work in this new medium as it emerged in the first half of the 15th century, he also brought it to a first pitch of sophistication and beauty, not equalled until decades later, in the works of the Master E.S. and Martin Schongauer.
The technique of engraving was first developed in the workshops of goldsmiths, who took impressions from their engraved works as models for their apprentices, as records of their designs and perhaps samples for their patrons. However, the subtlety of expression and the accomplished handling of light, shadow, and volume suggest that the Master of the Playing Cards may have been a painter or sculptor rather than a goldsmith. Several attempts have been made to establish his identity, and the artists Konrad Witz, Hans Hirtz, and Hans Multscher have all been suggested. Although none of these attributions have been confirmed, there is little doubt that he belongs to the artistic environment of South-Western Germany between Basel, Strasbourg and Ulm.
In his ground-breaking work on 15th century engravings, Max Lehrs recorded just over one hundred prints by the Master of the Playing Cards, most of which exist only in unique impressions, and many only as fragments or copies. Nearly all of his known works are in European public collections, with the majority of the cards being in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Kupferstichkabinett in Dresden.
The sale of the Queen of Flowers not only offers a rare opportunity to obtain an important, unique and beautiful example from the early days of engraving. It is also the first opportunity for years - and perhaps the last - to acquire a work by this great yet enigmatic artist whose engravings mark the beginning of printmaking as a fine art.