Thursday, July 2, 2015


Jehan Genevoy, a printer in 16th-century Lyon, France, published a set of playing cards with wonderfully graphic figures.  I chose two of them, charted and colored them, and discovered what a stunning couple they make!  They work up nicely in cross stitch, but I can also see them done in needlepoint, perhaps as pictures or accent pillows.  The white backgrounds could be worked in a textured stitch which would accent the figures even more.  If you would like to see these in black-and-white and others from Genevoy's playing cards, see Dover's book, Antique Playing Card Designs.

Playing cards appear to have been invented in China where in 1120 a document mentions a game involving ivory tablets with allegorical figures of the heavens, mankind, stars and cardinal points, and virtues such as justice and benevolence. Paper cards first appeared in China in 1294, the country that invented paper and printing.

The spread of playing cards seems to have gone from China into India where a card game called dasavatura used cards depicting gods, royalty, animals, and flowers.  This game spread into Persia and Egypt, finally moving up the Italian peninsula.  The naibi of 14th-century Italy depicted aspects of human life as well as mythological people such as the Muses and Apollo, the planets, the virtues, and the sciences.  It was these pictorial and symbolic cards, in combination with numerical cards, that eventually evolved into the Tarot.

Numerical cards are modeled on Arabic cards and were influenced by dice.  These entered Europe via Spain, and the four suits and the "royal" cards of king, queen, and jack were added.