Art News & Views

A Hoard of Luxury Goods at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented an exhibition of 34 chessmen entitled, The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis, from the collection of the British Museum on November 15, 2011.  The collection is being displayed at The Cloisters, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.

In 1831, more than 70 chess pieces and several other objects, all made of carved walrus ivory and dating from the 12th centurywas unearthed on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland. The chess pieces (thereafter known as the Lewis Chessmen), are today probably the most famous chess pieces in the world, and are among the icons of the collections of the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is the first time such a large collection of the chessmen has travelled outside the United Kingdom.

The game of chess is believed to have originated in India in the sixth century A.D., and to have spread west first through Persia, and then through the Islamic territories, until it reached Europe. Chess is an important legacy of the Middle Ages. The piece in the form of an elephant in Indian and Islamic chess tradition was transformed into a bishop of the church in medieval Europe. And the piece that accompanied the kinghis advisor or vizierbecame the queen. The Lewis Chessmen are among the earliest examples in which both bishops and queens are found.
The Lewis Chessmen are believed to have been made in Norway. Archaeological evidence of workshops for the carving of walrus ivory point to the Norwegian city of Trondheim. Each of the pieces is a pleasant sculpture in miniature, with a precise, individualized character. The kings all sit with their swords on their laps, but some have long hair and beards, and others are clean-shaven. The knights wear distinct headgear, carry different shields, and ride horses with shaggy manes. Among the warders (rooks) in the exhibition, who are represented as foot soldiers, one bites the top of his shield, barely containing his frenzied eagerness for battle.

Examples of Islamic and Medieval chessmen from the Metropolitan's main building will also be displayed nearby.

The exhibition is being organized by Barbara Drake Boehm, Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters and the exhibition is made possible by the Michel David-Weill Fund.

The show ends on April 22, 2012 and after the showing in New York, they will return to London.

Tags: antique

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