The Master of the Playing Cards (active circa 1435-1455)
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The Master of the Playing Cards (active circa 1435-1455)

The Queen of Flowers B (Geisberg 48.51; Lehrs 49)

The Master of the Playing Cards (active circa 1435-1455)
The Queen of Flowers B (Geisberg 48.51; Lehrs 49)
engraving printed from two plates, circa 1435-40, the only known impression of this engraved playing card, a fine, delicate impression, the printing slightly slipped in places, the separately printed flower slipped, some paper losses with old restorations outside the subject at the upper corners and along the sides, the lower right corner of the subject and the outer tip of the tassle at the right sheet edge lost and skilfully made-up, a carefully restored tear at the cushion at left, a few tiny rustmarks and specks of foxing, generally in remarkably good condition
S. 130 by 91 mm.
Friedrich Brugger, Munich (not in Lugt); sold by Aumüller, Munich, 30 January 1871, lot 905 (see pencil inscription verso)
A. Freiherr von Lanna, Prague (Lugt 2773); Gutekunst, Stuttgart, 11 - 22 May 1909, lot 2139 (there described as 'Reizendes Blatt in vorzüglichem Abdruck, oben im weissen Papier etwas ausgebessert.'), to Artaria, Vienna (5000 Mark)
Rudolf Ritter von Gutmann, Vienna (Lugt 2770); confiscated in 1938; then in the Albertina, Vienna; restituted to the heirs of Rudolf von Gutmann in 2006
Hans Wolfgang Singer, Sammlung Lanna Prag - Das Kupferstichkabinett Wissenschaftliches Verzeichnis, Joseph Baer & Co., Frankfurt am Main, 1895, vol. I, p. 20, no. 100.
Max Geisberg, Das Älteste Gestochene Deutsche Kartenspiel, Strassburg, 1905, No. 48.51.
Max Lehrs, Geschichte und Kritischer Katalog des Deutschen, Niederländischen und Französischen Kupferstichs im XV. Jahrhundert, Vienna, 1908, Vol. I, p. 102, no. 49.
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

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.

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