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Playing card

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    early 16th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Durand, F (printmaker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    woodcut print, coloured by hand, on laid paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case EDUC, shelf 9, box D

An early use of the woodblock for printing was for making playing cards. Surviving examples of printed cards date to as early as about 1420. This sheet is thought to have been made by an artist called F. Durand in Rouen or Lyons in the first half of the 16th century. It has not yet been cut, showing the way in which cards were made for economy, printed many to a sheet and cut at a later stage. The high quality of detail and careful application of hand-colouring suggests that this pack was intended for a well-off client.

The names on these cards include legendary and historical figures, including Bethsabée and Pallas among the queens and some of the Nine Worthies among the kings. The Nine Worthies were trios of Pagan, Jewish and Christian heroes introduced by Jacques de Longuyon in his romance Voeux de Paon of 1312. They were seen as exemplars of chivalry and knightly prowess and aristocratic rulers sometimes associated themselves symbolically with one or other of them. The Worthies included here among the kings are David, shown with his harp, and Charlemagne, with his globe symbolising his status as the first Holy Roman Emperor. Although playing cards and their suits were not standardized at this time and varied according to region and the whim of designers, these names were starting to become standard on French picture cards by this date.

Physical description

Uncut sheet of playing cards, containing eight subjects, four Kings and four Queens bearing titles of legendary and historical personages; Woodcut print, coloured by hand, on laid paper; Signed on 'la grants baslive' F.

Place of Origin

France (made)


early 16th century (made)


Durand, F (printmaker)

Materials and Techniques

woodcut print, coloured by hand, on laid paper

Marks and inscriptions

Signed on 'la grants baslive' F.


Height: 18.9 cm size of sheet, Width: 27.6 cm size of sheet

Descriptive line

Woodcut, hand-coloured. F. Durand. Uncut sheet of playing cards, F. Durand, France, early 16th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hamilton, Jean. Playing Cards in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Victoria & Albert Museum. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. London, 1988, p.46, ill.


Printing ink; Laid paper


Wood-cutting; Hand-colouring

Subjects depicted

Playing cards


Prints; Images Online; Entertainment & Leisure; Playing cards & Tarot cards; Printmaking techniques


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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