Sunday, October 16, 2016
King, Queen, Bishop, Knight
Of all the towering statues and Egyptian sarcophagi, I found myself most intrigued by this small little treasure when I recently visited the British Museum. The Lewis Chessmen are a group of 12th century chess pieces that were discovered in 1831 on the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. They make up the most complete surviving medieval chess sets in the world.
The museum thinks the chessmen were probably made in Trondheim Norway sometime in the 1100's. They are carved mostly of walrus ivory with a few pieces made from whale teeth.
I'm not a chess player so I'm not quite sure why these little chessmen drew so much of my attention. It probably has more to do with the age of the set and the details in the carvings and the fact that a game that is popular today has it's roots so deeply imbedded in history.
The chessmen in the set reflected the order of feudal society and the game was devised to sharpen the tactical skills of knights. It became one of seven knightly accomplishments.
One of the information cards at the museum said that this set is one of the most popular and well traveled of it's exhibits. Pieces from the set have traveled all over the world for different exhibitions. I had it all to myself for quite a while.