NEW YORK, NY.- Christies
rediscovers a remarkable survival of a complete set of German engraved silver playing cards signed by Michael Frömmer of Augsburg in 1616 (estimate: $150,000-250,000), which will be offered in the Important Silver sale on October 19. Consigned by a descendant of General Manuel Oribe of Uruguay, and hidden in generations of his family since the early 19th century, these cards become the fifth known set of renaissance silver playing cards in existenceand the only complete deck of 52 cards. They are beautifully engraved in the Italian suits of swords, batons, cups, and coins, each with a king, a knight, a knave, and pip cards ace through ten.
Silver playing cards were a luxury that would only have been made for a noble collection, and indeed these cards descended in the Spanish Royal family. According to family tradition, Infanta Carlota Joaquina of Spain (1775-1830) gave them to Josefa Oribe y Viana de Contucci, ancestor of the present owner. Princess Carlota was daughter of King Carlos IV and, as wife of King João of Portugal, Princess of Portugal and Brazil. Carlota's emissary in South America was Felipe Contucci, and she presented these cards to his wife. They then descended from her to General Oribe, President of Uruguay from 1835-1838, and directly to the present owner.
Documentary evidence shows that silver playing cards were an essential component of the princely kunstschrank, or art cabinet, of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. These cabinets, equipped with both artificialia and naturalia, represented the world in microcosm through an array of objects representing man's artistic and scientific achievements combined with natural rarities from exotic locales. The ambitious purpose of these cabinets - to display the education, sophistication and wealth of their owners - perhaps overshadows another function, which was simply to delight, astonish, and entertain. Card games joined board games, trick cups, "fun-house" mirrors and other amusements in a designated area of the cabinet. The celebrated Pomeranian Kunstschrank was fitted with three decks of silver cards in French, German, and Italian suits, conveying the worldliness of the owner by his ability to entertain in three "languages." Michael Frömmer, maker of the present set, contributed the French-suited deck to the Pomeranian Kunstschrank, which like most of the known cabinets of the period, was assembled and supplied by Philipp Hainhofer (1578-1647) financier, diplomat, and art dealer of Augsburg.