The Lion has been a symbol for power and strenght since the ancient orient. It has remained so up to the present day in art and literature. We meet him as gate-keeper, Heraldic animal, Fabulous creature throughout the centuries. He was the constant companion of Mark the Evangelist and St. Hieronymus until in the 16th century he became of interest to artists and simply an object of study, without any background.
Virgil Solis, therefore, did not have to search far in this case either. They were to be found in Master E.S., not only as secondary figures in holy scenes, but also among his playing cards. Several studies of lions obviously drawn from the living object by Durer are preserved. The Lions of Virgil Solis have nothing commanding respect or power, they are rather friendly and playful. In individual cases they still have heraldic symmetry and their intergration into the scrollwork is a proof of skill in design and experience in ornamental engraving.
Of all the suits in this pack, however, it was the Monkeys which captured the greatest attention and were copied the most. Pleasure in the grotesque can really be unfolded in this theme. The Monkey which is the closest of all animals to mankind in historical development and whose imitative instinct is proverbial was used by fabulists and satirists constantly as a distorting mirror of man. In mediaeval art the monkey on capitals, gargoyles and misericords embodied evil, the devilish, now and then, however, it also appears here as a parody, for example, on the clergy.
Virgil Solis varied the motif towards the stylistic and the humourous but he did not discover it. Durer appears to have been a stimulus, Especially the monkey which bends down from the tree in the marginal drawings for Emperor Maximilian`s prayer book is repeated on the Monkey five at the top. Durers pen and ink drawing "Monkey Dance" might not be without influence also.
The form of the King, Queen and Knave is similar in all suits. The Kings and Queens each in the saddle, the horse, seen approaching in profile, trotting or about to jump. The Mercenaries (afoot) carry various cutting and thrusting weapons and fire-arms. In each case the figure controls and fills the picture in front of a low-lying horizon. As a motif this is nothing new, artistically the cards are of uniform type. The predilection for opposite directions and diagonals is striking and especially stressed by the long weapons and sceptres. The pictures become diversified in details as a result of the fashionable finesse which includes even the horses.
A piece of contemporary history is reflected cultural-historically in these playing cards.The re-feudalization which finds visual expression in the dress fashions is also expressed in the endeavour to achieve a beauty of line in the ornamental sense, which ia a reminder of the gothic. Whoever has an eye for the curvatures and refractions, for the flowing curves and arcs, in short for that which constitutes the appeal of graphic structures, will look at the cards of this pack with delight and pleasure. Moreover, the vividness of a new feeling for life and appreciation of the world makes itself felt and it is this which causes the greatest sensation and haas been imitated the moest.
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