Andy's Playing Cards - The Tarot And Other Early Cards - page XIII - The Hofämterspiel
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GALLERY INDEX
~~ Gallery 5 ~~
The Tarot and other Early Cards
· page XIII ·

THE HOFÄMTERSPIEL


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page XII
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page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XV
the Italy 2
Moorish deck

~ NOTE ~

The reprint of the Hofämterspiel shown in this page is by Piatnik (Austria).
Notes in square brackets along the text refer to the booklet which accompanies the edition, written by a team of scholars:
[1] Fritz Koreny
[2] Georg Kugler
[3] Michael Dummett
[4] Detleff Hoffmann




VII of Hungary (chief cook)
THE HOFÄMTERSPIEL

The Hofämterspiel is a late mediaeval deck containing 48 cards, all of which have survived.
Together with other playing cards, it belonged to the great collection of art treasures gathered in the 16th century by archduke Ferdinand of Tirol, and it is mentioned in the collection's catalogue
[1], the only known record of the deck.
These large cards measure 97 mm x 140 mm (3¾ in x 5½ in); they feature wood engravings skilfully decorated with vivid colours, and a few additions in finely embossed silver and gold leaf.
It is impossible to assess the precise age of the deck, though around the mid 15th century appears to be a quite reasonable dating. It is also very likely that the geographic area where the cards were made was southern Germany, i.e. today's Austria 
[1].

THE SUBJECTS

Unlike other known decks of the same age belonging to German culture, such as the Hofjagdspiel, whose illustrations featured hunting scenes, and whose suits were falcons, ducks, deers, etc., the Hofämterspiel was basically inspired by the standard social structure of royal courts during the late Middle Age. The illustrations picture the many different members of a typical household [2], with their names in archaic German, whence the name Hofämterspiel given to the cards (literally meaning "householder's deck").
Therefore, what makes these cards particularly interesting is not only their intrinsic value for the early history of playing cards, but also the direct evidence they provide for the knowledge of social hierarchy and everyday's life in late mediaeval courts.

IX of France (marshal)


king of Germany
On the basis of written sources which describe no longer existing decks, it has also been suggested that the concept of playing cards whose values were inspired by social levels probably already existed in the late 14th century: this would mean that the "household" system might have been an earlier creation than the "hunting" system [1], thus representing the very first variety of local deck in the German world.

queen of Bohemia


III of France (tailor)
THE SUIT SYSTEM

Another important difference with the above-mentioned "hunting" decks is the choice of suits: in the Hofämterspiel they are represented by four different shields. The emblems are those of Germany (a black eagle on yellow background), France (golden fleur-de-lys on blue background), Bohemia (a white rampant lion on red background) and Hungary (white and red horizontal stripes): by the 15th century, these were the four main countries in central Europe.
Therefore, the author's intention was probably to celebrate with this deck a local monarch or ruler, eventually Ladislas Postumus, king of Hungary and Bohemia from 1453 to 1457, according to a theory by Arpad Weixlgärtner 
[1].
Obviously, the choice of suit symbols in the Hofämterspiel provides an interesting analogy with the Shields suit of Swiss playing cards, still in use today (see also the Swiss gallery).



THE 48 CHARACTERS AND THEIR RANKS

Each of the Hofämterspiel's cards features a different character, almost as a pack made of 48 courts. In each suit, the values rank from I (the lowest) to X, and they end with a queen and a king (the highest card). The king and queen do not feature a number, and are also the only two cards not stating the character's occupation, so that they might be considered the actual court cards of the deck.
In all four suits, the I shows a fool (Narr, or its female equivalent Narryn), while the two highest cards next to the king and queen are the master of the household or major domo (Hofmeister, X, who was in charge of the court during the ruler's absence), and the marshal (Marschalk, IX, in charge of any duty that involved the use of horses or carriages, such as the king's travels, etc.).


X of Germany (household master)
With the exception of two subjects (the Jungfrawe, lady-in-waiting, card VI in all suits, and the Trometer, trumpeter, card IIII in Germany and Hungary), all other characters are individual, changing from suit to suit.
The social rank of each of them may be easily understood, according to the higher or lower value the relevant card is worth in the deck. Therefore, for instance, a doctor (Artzt, Bohemia suit) would have occupied more or less the same social level of a chaplain (Capplan, Germany suit), or of a chancellor (Kanzler, Hungary suit), or of a household mistress of a queen or a princess (Hofmeistryn, France suit), so all these subjects appear on cards VIII belonging to different suits.


A full list of the characters and their values is shown in the following table: for an easier reference, subjects not appearing in all four suits are shown in pale green.


TABLE OF THE HOFÄMSTERSPIEL'S CHARACTERS

value suit
BOHEMIA

FRANCE

GERMANY

HUNGARY

...


...


X


IX


VIII


VII


VI


V


IIII


III


II


I



König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Artzt
doctor

Kammer
[mei]ster
chamberlain

Junckfrawe
lady-in-waiting

Valkner
falconer

Trometer
trumpeter

Herolt
herald

Hefneryn
potter (female)

Narr
fool

König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Hofmeistryn
household mistress

Schenk
cup-bearer

Junckfrawe
lady-in-waiting

Koch
cook

Marstaler
master of the stables

Hofsneider
tailor

Jeger
huntsman

Nerryn
fool (female)

König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Capplan
chaplain

Truchses
steward

Junckfraw
lady-in-waiting

Kellner
wine-cellar man

Parbirer
barber

Renner
jouster

Bott
messenger

Narr
fool

König
king

Königin
queen

Hofmeister
household master

Marschalk
marshal

Kantzler
chancellor

Kuchenmeist
[er]
chief cook

Junckfrawe
lady-in-waiting

Schutz
archer

Trometer
trumpeter

Vischner
fish-monger

Pfister
baker

N
[er]ryn
fool (female)



Ranking by social hierarchy appears similar to that of Mantegna's Tarot's first group of cards.
Among the list of subjects, the lowest cards of the series seem to have elements in common with other obsolete decks, though not as old as the Hofämterspiel.

I of Bohemia (male fool)
The Bavarian-Austrian Hexenspiel, belonging to the so-called group of Cuckoo decks (see Cards Without Traditional Suits, page 2), had a card named Narr which featured a fool (although the same subject in German and Austrian tarot decks is called Sküs, after the French l'Excuse, and looks like a joker).

In some respects, the four Narr and Narryn also link to the knaves of the Minchiate deck, which featured two male and two female characters; also German decks from the 16th century, such as the Ulmer Spiel and the Stuttgarter Spiel, had two male knaves and two female ones 
[4].

I of France (female fool)

Which game or games the Hofämterspiel was specifically created for is virtually impossible to tell, since no other source except Ferdinand of Tirol's catalogue entry specifically mentions the deck or it's use. Due to the very fine quality of the cards, and because of the particular structure of the ranks (six matching subjects in all four suits, and six mismatching ones, with a fool as last card of the suit), it appears likely that the Hofämterspiel was used for playing a trick-taking game, in which the Narr and Narryn might have acted as jokers [3].
However, it is interesting how several female characters too were part of the card game, as well as of daily life at court, at many different hierarchic levels: queen, mistress of the household (VIII), lady-in-waiting (VI), potter (II), fool (I).


IIII of Hungary (trumpeter)

II of Bohemia (female potter)




page I
classic
tarots
page II
regional
tarots
page III
trump card
arrangements
page IV
modern &
non-standard
page V
theMulûk
wa-Nuwwâb
page VI
the Visconti
Tarots
page VII
the tarot
of Marseille
page VIII
the Tarot
de Paris
page IX
Viéville's
Tarot
page X
the
Minchiate
page XI
Mitelli's
Tarocchino
page XII
Mantegna's
Tarot
page XIV
the deck by
Jost Amman
page XV
the Italy 2
Moorish deck



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