ca. 1440-1445, facsimile edition
The 52 cards of the deck are 9,7 x 15,6 cm (3.75 x 6.14 in) each.
Instructions in German and English
The Ambraser Hofjagdspiel (Court Hunting Pack of Ambras), also called the "Ambras falconer cards", is a pack of cards painted around 1440–1445 and attributed to the engraver Konrad Witz from Basle, Switzerland. It originally consisted of fifty-six cards from which only 52 survive, all distributed in four suits, falcons, lures, hounds and herons, symbols related to hunting. It was found in a collection at the Ambras Castle, in Innsbruck, Austria, in the sixteenth century, and now figures as a precious item in the collection of cards of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The pack originally consisted of fifty-six cards in four suits, size 9.5 x 15.6 cm, painted red on the reverse. The cards are executed in water colours and paints over black ink drawings on paper - they are not printed or mechanically produced in any way. Several layers of paper have been glued together to give the cards the necessary thickness. As was the practice with early Italian cards, the back paper has been cut slightly larger allowing the edges to fold over to the front, forming a border around the fronts of the cards (sometimes this border obscures part of the drawings). The suit symbols are hounds, herons, lures & falcons. The court hierarchy consists of four court cards in each suit, unnumbered and without titles, all mounted on horseback: King and Queen (with brushed gold backgrounds), Upper Knave & Lower Knave (with backgrounds matching their respective number cards). The number cards are also unnumbered, but run from 1 - 9, with a banner as 10. Banner 10s were often associated with South German cards in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and still are found today in Switzerland.
The cards are notable for their carefully devised colour scheme and the consistent internal structure of the pack which extends to the clothing as well as background colours of each suit. Another feature is the thematic consistency of the four suits which all relate to the theme of hunting, a pastime which was the prerogative of the nobility for whom the pack was probably designed. Not all the numeral cards are arranged in neat, formal rows, but in some cases the artist has illustrated the animals' natural behaviour and arranged them in a haphazard, informal manner. These considerations, added to the cost of a luxury pack produced in the workshop of Konrad Witz, suggest that these cards were intended for courtly patrons, not for ordinary people. Furthermore, the cards can hardly have been used for play: they show no sign of wear and are unfinished... perhaps because the Herons and Hounds suit number cards were poorly suited to the practical requirements of card playing.
A 56 card pack, of course, is similar to Italian Tarocchi packs without the 22 trump cards. Four court cards are found also in other early packs, such as the two packs by the Master E.S., but most packs had only three court cards per suit. In this pack, however, the Kings and Queens do not wear crowns but instead wear exotic headgear.
In the years before the Renaissance reached the North, German bourgeois art began to embrace the external physical world: human figures and animals are depicted in these playing cards with realistic skies and landscape backgrounds, shadows and light-and-shade effects. In several ways these cards depart from the typical conventions of fifteenth century playing card design and we may regard Konrad Witz and his apprentices as innovators in their field.