The beauty and bawdiness of medieval playing cards

(K. Brent Tomer),

LIFE in the Middle Ages was not all work, plagues and prayers. People also had fun, despite government and church efforts to stop them. One of the most popular medieval amusements is the subject of “The World in Play: Luxury Cards 1430—1540”, at the Cloisters Museum in New York. It is terrific as an art exhibition and as social history.

Timothy Husband, the curator, points out that some scholars credit the “three P’s”—paper, piety and playing cards—with the spread of printed images throughout medieval Europe. But only the first two are much known to the wider public. This show illuminates why the third deserves more attention. The decks on view are often beautiful, and sometimes poetic; a number are humorous and a few downright bawdy. For instance, on one card (pictured above) a woman with long blonde braids sits on a stool milking a grumpy cow—which on inspection proves to be a bull. Another portrays a woman passing a phallic-looking tree on her way to market. One hand balances the basket of geese on her head, the other lifts her long skirt above her knee. Geese are not all that is for sale.

Kings, queens, knights and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The beauty and bawdiness of medieval playing cards


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