MASTER of the Playing Cards
(active 1435-1450 in the Upper Rhine)

Queen of Wild Men

c. 1440
Engraving, 135 x 88 mm
Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden

The Master of the Playing Cards is perhaps the first artist with a recognizable body of engravings. He is named after a set of sixty engraved playing cards, divided into five suits (Flowers, Wild Men, Birds, Deer, and Lions and Bears), each consisting of eight numbered cards and four face cards. Card games were introduced into Europe in the fourteenth century from Islamic lands and rapidly became popular. The number of cards and the standardization of suits varied. The French system of suiting (Spades, Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds), starting around 1480, eventually prevailed.

The delicacy of the lines in the Queen of Wild Men suggests that the artist only lightly scratched the surface of the plate with a stylus rather than a burin and that each card was printed by hand rather than with a press. The engraving has the look of a silverpoint drawing, as thin straight parallel lines define lightly shaded areas. The use of lines to convey tonal variation and spatial depth anticipate engraving's greater pictorial potential than the woodcut. Numerous copies after his engravings demonstrate the popularity and regional distribution of his prints.

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