Board games, especially chess, were integral to medieval courtly culture, as they were regarded as essential to honing tactical skills for the battlefield. Chess pieces fashioned for aristocratic households reflect the chivalric ideals embedded in the game. This piece, probably made in London, of locally available walrus ivory, is one of three that may come from the same high-quality set. This chessman shows a knight on horseback battling a dragon. He wears a shirt and leggings of mail underneath his surcoat and his head is protected by a helmet with narrow slits for the eyes. The knight has just pierced the dragon's head with a sword now unfortunately lost. The virtuosic, three-dimensional carving and the level of spatial invention of the piece are extraordinary, and distinguish it as a masterpiece.
Georges Hoentschel (French, Paris 1855–1915 Paris)(until 1911; sold to Morgan); J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (1911–1913); Estate of J. Pierpont Morgan(1913–1917)
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New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis," November 15, 2011–April 22, 2012.
New York. Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. "Salvaging the Past: Georges Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 3, 2013–August 11, 2013.
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Verdier, Philippe, Peter Brieger, and Marie Farquhar Montpetit, ed. Art and the Courts: France and England from 1259-1328. Vol. 2. Ottowa: National Gallery of Canada, 1972. no. 68b, pp. 118–19, pl. 92.
Binski, Paul, and Jonathan J. G. Alexander, ed. Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England, 1200-1400. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1987. no. 147, p. 148.
Barnet, Peter, ed. Images In Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1997. no. 51, pp. 218–19.
Sears, Elizabeth. "Ivory and Ivory Workers in Medieval Paris." In Images In Ivory: Precious Objects of the Gothic Age, edited by Peter Barnet. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1997. no. 51, p. 24.
Bardiès-Fronty, Isabelle, and Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi, ed. Art du Jeu, Jeu dans l'Art: De Babylone à l’Occident Médiéval. Paris: Musée National du Moyen Âge - Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, 2012. no. 120, p.121.
Krohn, Deborah L., Ulrich Leben, and Daniëlle O. Kisluk-Grosheide, ed. Salvaging the Past: Georges Hoentschel and French Decorative Arts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2013. no. 130, p. 166.