This twelfth-century ivory chess piece is carved in the form of an enthroned bishop who wears a miter, holds a crosier, and makes a gesture of blessing with two raised fingers. Two attendants crouch beside him, rendered on a much smaller scale to suggest lower status. The kneeling figure on his right, wearing a monastic haircut called a tonsure, gestures to an open book. The figure on the opposite side rests on his staff, head in hand.
The Museum’s chess piece is similar to figures from a chess set found on Lewis, an island off the west coast of Scotland, in 1831. That set is divided between the British Museum, London, and the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Also made from walrus ivory, the Lewis chessmen date to the mid-twelfth century but are carved in a more abstract style.
[ Hamburger Frères, Paris (sold 1911)]; J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (from 1911)
Breck, Joseph. "Pre-Gothic Ivories in the Pierpont Morgan Collection." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, o.s., 15, no. 1 (January 1920). p. 16, ill. p. 17.
Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers. The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1925. p. 50.
Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers. The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 2nd ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929. p. 50.
Griffith, Beatrice Fox. Treasure Under Glass. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1963. p. 43, pl. XXXVII.
McNab Dennis, Jessie, and Charles K. Wilkinson. Chess: East and West, Past and Present. A Selection from the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968. no. 6.
Little, Charles T. "A Romanesque Walrus Ivory Bishop in New York." In The Lewis Chessmen: New Perspectives, edited by David H. Caldwell, and Mark A. Hall. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 2014. pp. 321-327.
Shalem, Avinoam. Die mittelalterlichen Olifante: Volume 1, Text. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen. Berlin: Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 2014. p. 112, fig. 134.