Saturday, September 2, 2017

Arthur Szyk, Fine Art, Jewish American History, and Jokers

 As my readers know, I focus on the jokers and rarely involve myself in the deck of cards. But for this  beautiful and historic deck, I'm making an exception. 

   Arthur Szyk
Dybbuk Joker Playing Card
The Joker: A Dybbuk

Sept 2023 Update - While making this joker the "joker of the month" on the site to celebrate the new year, I realized that these decks are still available for purchase!  (But, you need to place a minimum order of a $100)

Arthur Szyk was an artist who fled to the US from Poland just before the Holocaust and was a significant contributor to American propaganda art during the war. He is perhaps most famous for his 1950 portrayal of the Declaration of Independence.  He was a book illustrator and his art for Hagaddahs was very popular.

He also illustrated two gorgeous decks of cards. 

"In the 1930s, Arthur Szyk joined a storied artistic tradition by illustrating an exquisite set of playing cards. Painted in his highest style in watercolor and gouache on paper, the twelve court cards - four Kings, four Queens, and four Jacks - each feature a different Jewish hero from the Bible or ancient history. Every idealized portrait includes the hero's name in Hebrew calligraphy and a symbolic element alluding o his or her story".

The jokers - not mentioned in the formal description of the deck that I quoted above - are of a dybbuk, a mystical Jewish figure.   Or so I am told by Pam Stein, the contributor of this deck and joker.

A dybbuk, per Wikipedia is: "a malicious possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person." I will continue to research this. As part of this, I've been reading the Wikipedia article on the 21 Jewish mystical characters, there are a lot more birds that I would have imagined.

The deck of cards by Arthur Szyk features the 12 royal cards who in the card tradition, connected them with characters from the old testament.

Focusing on the women,  the Queen of Diamonds portrays Ruth. Notice the wheat in her hands which echoes the story of her going to the fields to harvest excess wheat and barley where she caught Boaz's eye.
Ruth as the Queen of Diamonds
Ruth as the Queen of Diamonds 

The Queen of Spades is a painting of Esther.
Esther - The Queen of Spades
Esther - The Queen of Spades
 The Queen of Diamonds is Deborah.
Deborah Queen of Diamonds
Deborah, Queen of Diamonds
The Queen of Clubs by Arthur Szyk is Judith.

Szyk's  dybbuk jokers are the highlight of a section that I call the mystical and devil joker section. One  problem with putting Szyk's cards in with the devil jokers is that the art work is such fine quality, it should probably be in the fine art joker section.

Here's a few of the other devil or mystical cards.

This one interesting, is also involved with Jewish mysticism. I'll need to research it too.

Other places where I felt moved to discuss the full decks of cards:
 transformational decks of cards. 

1 comment:

  1. The Atlantic magazine ran an article about Arthur Szyk and the revival of interest in him largely due to Irvin ungar's efforts


Thanks for your input and for reading and thinking about jokers.