Chess and backgammon game board

Circle of Georg Schreiber German

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 520

Sumptuous board games such as these examples—for playing chess, backgammon, tric-trac (an early French variant of back-gammon), and goose (in which dice-throwing contestants raced to the center of the board while trying to avoid landing on certain symbols)—often served as diplomatic gifts or objects of display in Kunstkammern.[1] It was the exotic materiality and origins of these boards, known to have been used in taverns and other houses of ill repute in later centuries,[2] that elevated them into the collections of European nobility, for whom chess and backgammon were thought to promote the development of the kinds of strategic and tactical thinking necessary to rule.[3] The chess and tric-trac board (cat. 37) is inlaid in ivory and mother-of-pearl with scenes of hunting,

(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Koeppe, Making Marvels: Science & Splendor at the Courts of Europe: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019)
1. “Ein Löffel, Näpflein, oder Trinkgeschirr, so aus dergleichen Horne gemacht, ist unvergleichlich gesund wider den Gift und die fallende Sucht.” Zedler 1732–54, vol. 39 (1744), s.v. “Steinbock,” col. 1636, no. 12. See also Himmelein 2015, p. 41.
2. Watteck 1975, p. 13, ill. no. 10.
3. Watteck 1962, p. 29, figs. 5–7; compare a group of rhinoceros-horn cups in the Metropolitan Museum (MMA 08.212.1–.11).
4. Watteck 1962; Gumppenberg 1984, p. 287; Koeppe 2004, pp. 82–83.

Chess and backgammon game board, Circle of Georg Schreiber (German, active 1616–1643), Amber, ivory, brass, gold foil, ebony, German, Königsberg (Kaliningrad, Russia)

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