The earliest documentary reference to card makers in the lowlands records that two carteurs, Michel Noel and Philippe de Bos, both of Tournai, were admitted, in 1427, as masters in the painters guild. The registers indicate that apprentices known as Burnteurs or Licheurs en couleurs (mixers of colours)also were associated with the guilds. Masters, however, were prohibited from engaging these apprentices unless the apprentices had previously paid the proscribed fee to the guild corporation. The relatively large numbers of masters and apprentices recorded in these guild registers in the later fifteenth-century demonstrates that card making must have developed into a sizable local industry. The records also reveal that a considerable number of women were engaged in card making.
A 1840 document sets forth numerous technical regulations governing the card makers of the Tournai guild. Of particular interest are the materials and techniques cited, which correspond very closely to those used for the cloisters playing cards.
"Item, in the same manner everone who resides within the town jurisdiction and who wants to make cards must first have been permitted to do so by the painters guild paying 40 sols tournois plus 10 sols tournois....these card makers will have to execute their cards in the usual manner, namely, stamped or stenciled on bleached and browned paper pasteboard and pinted with distemper of such colours as scarlt...vert de gris...white and ordinary black, but they are not permitted to use gold or silver nor azure or other fine colours, or they will be fined 10 sols tournois each time they use gold,silver or other fine colours. Thes card makers cannot be helped by assistants to stamp their paper or mix their colours unless the assistants pay 10 sols tournois to the painters guild "
According to these regulations, the card makers who produced the cloisters pack must have had to pay the luxury fees for the abundant use of gold, silver and azure.The techniques employed in the manufacture of the cloister cards suggest that they were the product of a workshop in which there was a division of labor and whose operations were governed by regulations very similar to those outlined in the Tournai document.
While the numeral card were produced largely by mechanical means, the court cards are by a single hand. This artist worked in a sketchy but engaging style, and relied more on body colour and glazes rather than on descriptive modeling to bring volumetric presence to the figures. All of these figures stand in three-quarter profile with -in the case of the men at least- the left foot leading and often stepping on or out of the double-line border. Each of the kings and queens holds an object in one hand (generally the right) and raises the other, their fingers together and unflexed and the thumb pointing outward in a rather conspicuous gesture for an artist who does not excel at hands. Three of the knaves hold a weapon in one hand: the fouth knave, a jester, holds a jesters staff. The jester hooks the thumb of his other hand under his belt, one knave tips his cap, another holds a hunting horn to his lips, and the last drolly grasps the inner line of the border.
As the representation of court figures was not yet bound by convention, the uniformity of the poses and gestures suggest that the painter relied on a limited number of models and seemingly found a restricted range of stances suited to the format of the cards.
The figures are all given full, rounded faces with nubby chins, small tight lips, arched brows and eyes consisting of a circle often centered on a dot for the pupil and set within abbreviated curved lines. The scant modeling is indicated with a few rather short parallel strokes and the volumes of the otherwise linear forms are defined by varying the density of the flesh tones. While not endowed with a large measure of expressiveness, these court figures do seem to project a certain quizzicalness through their superficial splendor. Indeed, the summary drawing and minimal modeling of the facial features add an air of bemused posturing to these wry characters. The visual effect nonetheless, is achieved more through the charming naivete than the accomplishment of the painter`s draftmanship.
All information provided from the 96 page booklet included in the boxset.
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