In my latest trip to London and Paris to perform magic, I traveled to Paris to visit the Louvre. Seeing the Mona Lisa in person was an incredible rush—but that’s not the only work of art that caught my eye.Look closely at this painting, entitled The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, by French baroque painter Georges de la Tour. At first glance, we are are seeing a fairly typical game of cards; but look deeper. The young man on the right is so focused on his hand, that he is oblivious to the cheating taking place on the other side of the table. The women are exchanging glances, either because they’re on to the cheater or they’re in on the scam. Moreso, the artist offers a moral statement into the dangers of wine, women, and gambling.As a card magician, there is another level of captivation—this painting is from the 1630s. If you think that’s a long time ago, consider that playing cards were actually fairly modern at that time; they date back as early as the 9th century in China during the Tang Dynasty.
The first book on magic was published in 1594 by Englishman Reginald Scott, entitled The Discover of Witchcraft. It was an important turning point in magic as the author gave detailed analysis of sleight-of-hand and magic tricks in order to refute superstitions around them.
In the 1800s, Johann Hofzinser, who is remembered as the father of card magic, frequently entertained the high Society of Vienna, mixing social satire with magic. Many of the card effects my fellow magicians and I perform are attributed directly to Hofzinser.
So why share these bits of history? In many ways, it’s the history that’s the real magic. It’s an enduring art form that continues to impact people in unique and memorable ways. Keep this in mind next time you pick up a deck of cards. You’ll be holding a bit of history that represents magic’s rich heritage.