After a festive surfeit of Scrabble, charades and hide and seek with the energetic younger members of the family, January is a time for calm and quiet. But if anyone can be tempted into participating in a parlour game this month, it seems that the humble card game is holding sway, whether it be match stick poker, a mildly vigorous game of snap, the solitary pleasures of Solitaire, or, in the case of our first Most Loved post of 2013, simply admiring the beauty of exquisitely decorated 18th Century Playing Cards. Discovered on the British Museum website by Stella McCartney's visual director, Jonathan Schofield, the idyllic pastoral scenes have captured the imagination of the January Love stream.
First invented in ancient China, playing cards arrived in Europe in the fourteenth century. The four suits now used in most of the world – spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs – originated in France in about 1480, and at the same time, the court cards evolved to represent European royalty and attendants. A deck of cards is redolent with symbolism: the 52 cards in a pack represent the weeks in the year, and the 13 in a suit mark the 13 months of the lunar calendar. And the mystical associations of the card deck continue to this day: people look to the tarot deck to discover their financial and romantic future, and gamblers across the world believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, in their fate being dealt in the cards.
"A deck of cards is redolent with symbolism: the 52 cards in a pack represent the weeks in the year, and the 13 in a suit mark the 13 months of the lunar calendar"
Modern culture has always embraced the potent symbology of playing cards. From the murderously anarchic Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the escalating hysteria that thrums through the Blackjack scene in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, to the hushed tension of the poker table in Casino Royale, visits to which are punctuated with scenes of extraordinary violence. Fashion houses have also got in on the act, with both Hermès and Lanvin creating luxury packs, Celine’s S/S12 collection drawing on it directly for design inspiration, and Maison Martin Margiela being literal and creating a belt from vintage cards.
Here we speak to Schofield about who would design his ideal pack and his anticipation for the year ahead.
Why did you choose to love these playing cards?
I love the British Museum and they are on the website. I also love the look and feel of good playing cards generally.
Where would you keep them if you owned them, and when would you bring them out?
I would keep them by the side of my bed, to remind me of the chance nature of fate, and I would bring them out after dinner over glasses of iced Cointreau.
If you were to design a pack of cards, what would you put on them?
I would ask Mondrian to design them, or maybe Matisse.
What's your favourite card game?
21, I like simple games with high stakes!
Hearts, Diamonds, Spades or Clubs?
The Queen of Hearts.
What was the best present you received over Christmas?
What are you looking forward to about 2013?
Turning over the cards and seeing what Lady Luck has in store...
Text by Tish Wrigley