Extremely rare set of early hand-coloured playing cards with geographical maps of the Russian provinces
In 1827 the St. Petersburg artist Konstantin Gribanov (b.1797) completed a set of playing cards that would teach children about Russian geography by combining education with entertainment. With this in mind, Gribanov divided the face of each card into four sections, showing its suit, the coat of arms of a province, that province’s local costume, and its major towns. The back of the card would feature a map of the province.
The scope of preparatory work undertaken by the artist is truly impressive. The maps are accurately copied from “Географический атлас Российской империи, царства Польского и Финляндского” [Geographical Atlas of the Russian Empire, the Kingdoms of Poland and Finland], published in Voenno-topographicheskoye Depo under the supervision of Colonel Piadyshev in 1821. This work features sixty provinces, hence the unusual number of cards in the deck. For the designs of the coats of arms, the artist relied on the two most up-to-date sources: “Манифест о полном гербе Всероссийской империи” [Manifesto On All Coats of Arms of the All-Russian Empire] (compiled on the orders of Paul I in 1800) and “Реестр Высочайше утвержденных рисунков гербам Российской империи по 1825 год” [Register of the Designs for Coats of Arms of the Russian Empire, Approved by His Imperial Majesty in 1825]. These, however, comprised only verbal descriptions. As for the costume designs, at least 20 of them are copied from Georgi’s famous work “Description of all the nations of the Russian Empire” (1776-7). Many others Gribanov apparently based on Emelyan Korneev’s illustrations for Rechberg’s “Les Peuples de la Russie” (1812-13).
As we can see from archival documents, the project’s realisation was not smooth. After originally banning the cards, the censorship committee only allowed Gribanov to publish them after he managed to prove that they were intended purely for educational purposes. When the cards were finally issued, they were priced at 8 rubles each; this high price explains the rather low demand for Gribanov’s creation, which took seven years to sell.
This set is not only a valuable record of the most up-to-date mapping and heraldry of the Russian Empire at the beginning of XIX century, but also a rare example of Russian playing cards with original artistic designs.
Forty eight copper plate engravings printed on cardboard (9.7 x 6.5 cm), in the French suit system, 47 cards out of the deck of 52 + 1 out of 8 additional cards: the extra card with the Coat of Arms of Cherkassk and lands/costume of the Don Cossacks, with full contemporary hand-colour and gold-edged.
Katalog russkago otdela, Leipzig: Mezhdunarodnaya Vistavka Pechatnago Dela i Grafiki, 1914, no. 356; Playing Cards: The Collection of Alexander Perelman, New Accessions 2000-2002, exhibition catalogue for the State Museum-Preserve Peterhof. Peterhof and St. Petersburg: Abris Art Publishers, 2002, no. 57; I.N. Ukhanova, Igrushki v Sobranie Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, St. Petersburg: Izdatelstvo Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha, 2011, p 145; Afanasiev O.E. Geograficheskie igralniye karty Konstantina Gribanova XIX veka I ikh uchebno prosvetitelskaya rol’ v rasprostranenii znaniy o rodnoy strane, Pskovskiy Regionologicheskiy zhurnal № 9, 2010; Miroliubova, G.A and S. L. Plotnikov, Igralnyye karty dlia yunoshestva, sochinennyye Konstantinom Gribanovym, Trudy Gosudarstvennogo Ermitazha XL, Sankt-Peterburg, 2008: Kultura i Iskusstvo Rossii, pp. 104 – 114.
Stock ID: 90213