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Stories in Game of Kings

High Ground

Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012

Chess Players, Banaras Floods

In previous posts, we discussed the origins of chess in India centuries ago. For the final post of this blog, we turn to modern-day India, where chess remains as popular as ever.

The city of Banaras (or Varanasi), in Uttar Pradesh, India, is holy to Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is sometimes celebrated as the "City of Temples," of "Learning," or of "Lights." Located on the banks of the Ganges, it is also subject to relentless flooding.

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End Game

Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chess Players

Chess games are sometimes accurately represented in works of art, but that is not always the case. Consider, for example, this curiously theatrical photograph from the mid-nineteenth century.

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A Ruler's Riddle

Larry List, Independent Curator and Researcher

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Buzurjmihr Masters the Game of Chess

Three representations of "Buzurjmihr Masters the Game of Chess" are housed in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum. That the story was illustrated in the Shahnama (Book of Kings), recounting the tales of ancient heroes and rulers of pre-Islamic Iran, indicates that the tenth-century poet Abu'l Qasim Firdausi regarded this story as significant as a scene of battle or diplomacy. Indeed, it was both. It was also a turning point in the history of chess.

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Shah Mat! (Checkmate!)

Maryam Ekhtiar, Associate Curator, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, April 4, 2012

 Buzurgmihr Masters the Game of Chess

Chess is undeniably the most popular board game ever invented, yet its origins are not entirely clear. It appears to have entered Iran through India. This development is documented in a Sasanian text in Middle Persian from the reign of Khusrau I (A.D. 531–579) that recounts the story of its introduction as a contest in refinement and intelligence between the Indians and the Persians.

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Chess on the Brain

Emma Wegner, Assistant Museum Educator, The Cloisters

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012

Chess Tournament

After the success of our chess tournament in December, Shaun Smith, the Director of School Programs at Chess-in-the-Schools (CIS), contacted us to say how much the players had enjoyed themselves and that it would be great to do it again before the Lewis Chessmen exhibition ends in April. On Sunday, March 11, we hosted a second tournament, this time from CIS programs at four New York City elementary schools: PS 503K, PS 160K, PS 98M, and PS 31K. Thirty children, grades one through five, arrived early to play out the ancient battle between Kings, Queens, Pawns, and Knights.

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War Games

Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Men Playing Chess

Allusions to chess appear frequently in the news these days. Alas, these pertain not to art, but rather to what is sometimes perversely called the "art" of war. One recent editorial refers to the excruciating "game of regional chess over Syrian tragedy" (New Age, March 6, 2012, online edition). Another editorial, in The Huffington Post, was entitled "Syria: Three-Level Chess Game" (February 8, 2012).

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A Good Companion

Elizabeth Morrison, Acting Senior Curator, Department of Manuscripts, J. Paul Getty Museum

Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bonus Socius

I recently visited the Cloisters to see The Game of Kings with curator Barbara Drake Boehm. I had always admired the Lewis Chessmen and was delighted to see them up close. The clever way in which the pieces are displayed on modern reconstructions of black-and-white chessboards reminded me of a manuscript of chess problems found in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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Boarded Up

Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012

Alfonso, Book of Games

The Metropolitan Museum owns more than forty chessboards dating from the Renaissance through the twentieth century; some private collectors have hundreds of boards. Medieval chessboards, on the other hand, rarely survive in any collection, and our knowledge of them depends largely on written sources. While some legends focus uniquely on the fact that they were big and heavy enough to be wielded as lethal weapons (see "An Epic Battle"), more nuanced information can be also gleaned from literature, from chess treatises, and from princely inventories.

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Under Their Spell

James Robinson, Curator of Late Medieval Collections, Department of Prehistory and Europe, The British Museum

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012

From the very moment of their discovery in 1831, the Lewis Chessmen have captured the imagination of all who encounter them. Local legend relates how the peasant who first unearthed them from a sand dune in Uig Bay ran for his life, fearing that they were sprites or elves. The chessmen have certainly worked their magic over the years, acting not only as inspiration to writers of fiction but also to filmmakers and the occasional museum curator.

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Finding a Mate

Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Curator, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012

The Chess Players

Who would have thought there could be a connection between chess and Valentine's Day? Growing up, my image of chess pretty much corresponded to the Thomas Eakins painting shown above: graying gentlemen gathered around a table in a dimly lit sitting room, with only a glass of port to warm things up. Indeed, as a game that focuses on battle strategy (see "An Epic Battle"), chess seemed to me to be pretty much "a guy thing."

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About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis, on view at The Cloisters November 15, 2011–April 22, 2012.