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Ross G Caldwell  Ross G Caldwell is offline
Join Date: 07 Jul 2003
Location: Béziers, France
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Ross G Caldwell 
Starnina and saracen shield

Earlier in the thread I noted that one of Cristina Fiorini's arguments for attributing the Rothschild cards to Giovanni dal Marco (or "del Ponte") was the particular type of shield on the Knight of Swords. This shield is "double domed" (I don't know the real heraldic term, if there is one), and Fiorini claims that this shield is unknown in Italian art except for one instance, done by Giovanni's teacher Gherardo Starnina, in a painting called "Battaglia tra Orientali" (Battle between Orientals) or various titles, "Kampf orientalischer Reiter" in German, and "Battle scene with eastern knights" in English, at this webpage (it is in the Lindenau-Museum in Altenburg, Germany) -

Details -

You can see clearly the double shields.

What struck me most was the similarity with two other early playing cards, which have until recently have had wildly different dates attributed to them -

(from Trevor Denning, "The Playing Cards of Spain" (Cygnus Arts, 1996), figs. 6 and 7)

When Hoffmann ("The Playing Card: An Illustrated History" (Leipzig, 1973) showed the latter card in color (fig. 11a), along with others of the set, he attributed it to Provence and a date of 1545. But Denning was able to allude to more recent evidence, and an article of Michael Dummett in 1991, that shows that the paper is dated to around 1400. People don't print cards on 150 year old paper, so these cards must be some of the earliest printed images known (Thierry Depaulis also independently confirms the scientific information of the paper's dating in his article "L'Apparition de la xylographie et l'arrivée des cartes à jouer en Europe" (Nouvelles de l'Estampe nos. 185-6, Dec. 2002-Fev. 2003, pp. 7-19) p. 18; here he cites Dr. José Eguia, director of the Fournier Museum of Playing Cards in Vitoria, Spain, where this set is located).

For us, what is interesting is the similarity between the depictions of the Saracen shields of Starnina's painting and the printed cards; the Lindenau Museum dates the painting to 1425 (which is strangely after Starnina's death, which is usually given as between 1409 and 1413), so the cards are likely to be earlier.

Also interesting is to make a comparison/contrast between these cards and the Rothschild Knight of Swords -

First comparison is that it is the same card which gets the special shield (the Knight of Batons (ill. Denning) in the first pack doesn't have it, the Knight of Cups (ill. in Hoffmann) doesn't have it, and the Knight of Batons in the Rothschild doesn't have it). So we are looking at a definite evidence of a tradition in which the Knight of Swords is portrayed as a Saracen.

Another comparison can be made between the Starnina and the two printed cards - they show very much the same kind of shield, with two flat sides and decorative/heraldic tassels hanging from them. This contrasts with the dome-like Rothschild card, which also bears no tassels.

A contrast can also be drawn between the combatative stance of the printed cards, and the defeated posture of the Rothschild image.

It could well be that the Rothschild artist intended to portray this figure as a defeated Saracen (giving us an opportunity to interpret the St. George-like portrayal of the Knight of Batons as slaying the Saracen dragon), and it could well be that the artist was drawing from a tradition known through Aragonese cards and/or artistic convention; but given that such a tradition did in fact exist among cardmakers, and the differences in the style of the two printed cards and the painted one, it seems to me unnecessary to posit a direct link of the Rothschild to the work of Gherardo Starnina, through Giovanni del Ponte.

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