I've been meaning to tell you guys about a type of little cards I encountered last year - I thought some might find them interesting, especially because there's some similarity to tarot cards. These particular sets of cards are known as Floskaartjes
, though they have many other names, and are generally classified as 'popular prints'. Very little is known about them and little has been written about them, even though they were widely produced in the Netherlands and Belgium from at least the 17th to far in the 19th century. There are no editions known of any other countries as far as I'm aware, and the oldest sheet is preserved in a museum in Ghent.
The Floskaartjes consist of 36 numbered cards of 18 pairs, with Dutch/Flemish titles. There are 17 male-female pairs that start with Keizer
(Emperor) and Keizerin
(Empress) and go all the way down the social ranks to the Dienstknecht
(Manservant) and Dienstmeid
(Maid). Interestingly, the final pair is formed by Leven
(Life) and Dood
(Death). The cards were used by children to play games, and it is thought that, symbolically, they functioned as a sort of Memento Mori - in fact, at the top of some of the sheets, one can read this short, rather macabre rhyme (with my not very literal translation below):
Deez’ prente strekke u, lieve jeugd!
Tot tijdverdrijf, vermaak en vreugd
En leere u, hoe, van keizer af,
Elks deel op ’t laatsten is het graf.
These pictures serve, sweet youth!
As pastime and joy, and that's the truth,
They teach you, how, from the emperor on,
In the end everyone to the grave will have gone.
As I said, there's an Emperor, an Empress and a Death, and there's also a Bisschop
(Bishop) and a Bisschopsvrou[w]
(Bishop's Wife), although Catholic printers replaced the latter with an Abtdis
(Bishop's Maid) or Verhevene Vrouwe
(Elevated Woman). The similarities with the Emperor, Empress, Death, Pope and Popess of the tarot are obvious, and I assume that's why some authors have even gone as far as to suggest that the Floskaartjes developed out of the tarot, although that seems just a tad far-fetched to me. Here
are the relevant cards of a beautifully designed 18th-century sheet by Nicolaas Muys (the entire sheet can be seen here
): the Emperor is depicted with a sword and globus cruciger, the Empress with a bird of some sort (an eagle or even a griffin?), the Bishop with a staff and the Bishop's Wife with a lamb and perhaps something in her hands; Life shows a young boy blowing bubbles near a vase with flowers and some sort of smoke column (all symbolizing the fragility of life, I guess) and Death a skeleton with an hourglass and a scythe. Here
are those of a 19th-century edition by Mindermann en Company: this time the Emperor is only holding a scepter, the Empress is merely crowned and dressed in long robes, the Bishop wears a miter and holds a crosier, the Abbess wears a veil and her face is turned away from view, Life shows a young boy blowing bubbles near the ocean, and Death's skeleton is again holding an hourglass and scythe.
There are lots and lots of other examples of sheets, some crudely made, others very finely engraved.