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Barbara Drake Boehm

Barbara Drake Boehm is a curator in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters.

The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

High Ground

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

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2012

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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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

End Game

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

Posted: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

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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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

War Games

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

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Boarded Up

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

Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012

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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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Finding a Mate

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

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012

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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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Carving Out a Collection

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

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012

With the purchase of the Lewis Chessmen in 1831, the British Museum created, overnight, the single-most important collection of medieval chess pieces in the world, its holdings rivaled only by the Cabinet des médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, which houses the famed "Charlemagne" chessmen. So rich is the treasure from the Isle of Lewis that the British Museum was able to lend enough pieces to re-create a famous chess game for our current exhibition while retaining a substantial number of pieces on display in London.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

All Set

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

Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2012

For centuries, chess sets have been crafted from a wide range of materials. The Metropolitan's collection of chess pieces, numbering in the hundreds, ranges geographically from Persia to the United States, and chronologically from as early as the eighth to the twentieth century.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

Horsing Around

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

Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2011

Long forelocks falling over the eyes, groomed manes, tails that reach to the ground, and a short, stocky frame distinguish the horses ridden by the Knights of the Lewis Chessmen. They seem to resemble today's Icelandic horses. I spoke to Heleen Heyning, a breeder of Icelandic horses at West Winds Farm in upstate New York. She immediately saw the resemblance between the Lewis horses and her own. She noted that Icelandic horses were known across Scandinavia in the Viking area and are thought to have been introduced to Iceland about the year 800. For the last thousand years—that is, since before the Lewis Chessmen were carved—there has been no crossbreeding of Icelandic horses. Therefore, the resemblance we see is not accidental.

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

All Aboard!

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

Posted: Tuesday, November 29, 2011

If a chess player today were lucky enough to set up a board with pieces from the Lewis hoard, he or she would easily recognize the cast of characters, which became standardized in the Middle Ages. From conversations with visitors to the exhibition, I have learned that some players get tripped up trying to identify the Rooks or trying to distinguish the Kings from the Queens. If asked to play according to medieval rules, however, almost all players today would undoubtedly misstep, as these rules have changed over time and have varied by region. Read on to learn more!

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The Game of Kings Exhibition Blog

An Epic Battle

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

Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In a chess match, opponents simulate a battle between warring kingdoms. But, if one is to believe medieval legend, even such mock battles could provoke intense competition. According to the Icelandic St. Olaf's Saga (written about 1230), King Knut murdered a chess opponent, Jarl Ulf, in 1027 following a dispute during a match.

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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.