Chess Piece, Rook, Ivory; carved, painted

Chess Piece, Rook

Object Name:
Chess piece
9th–12th century
Excavated in Iran, Nishapur
Ivory; carved, painted
H. 13/16 in. (2 cm)
L. 3/8 in. (1 cm)
W. 5/8 in. (1.6 cm)
Ivories and Bone
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1940
Accession Number:
Not on view
Carved and Incised Chess Pieces: 40.170.148 and 40.170.149.

These two pieces, a bishop and a rook, are among a group of 12 ivory chess pieces, probably from more than one set, that were excavated in the ruins of Nishapur. The pieces in this group are highly abstracted, as exemplified by the rook, which has the typical V-shaped notch of such pieces in Islamic sets. Despite the upward-curving tusks looking rather more like horns, the overall shape of the bishop does somewhat resemble that of a kneeling elephant, although even this identification requires some imagination. Of particular interest is the green staining on the rook; this is certainly deliberate and suggests that the opposing sites were formed from white versus green chessmen, rather than the white versus black that is associated with the modern period.[71]

William Greenwood in [Greenwood 2014]


71.. See Wilkinson, C.K., (1943) Chessmen and Chess. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, vol. 1, no. 9 (May), p. 274 for the 12 pieces; and.Wilkinson, C.K., and J. McNab Dennis, (1968). Chess: East and West, Past and Present; A Selection from the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Collection. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 2.
1939, excavated at Tepe Madrasa in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1940, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds

New York. Asia Society. "Asian Games: The Art of Contest," October 14, 2004–January 18, 2005, no. 12:2.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. "Asian Games: The Art of Contest," February 26, 2005–May 15, 2005, no. 12:2.

Middlebury College Museum of Art. "Asian Games: The Art of Contest," September 8, 2005–December 11, 2005, no. 12:2.

Wilkinson, Charles K. "Chessmen and Chess." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 1, no. 9 (May 1943). pp. 271-279, ill. p. 274 (b/w).

Greenwood, WIlliam. "Board Games from India to Spain." In Kings & Pawns. Doha, Qatar: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, 2014. pp. 52–53, ill. p. 53.

Carboni, Stefano. "Chessmen in the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Scacchi e Scienze Applicate suppl. no. 7, fasc. 15 (1996). ill. p.12 (b/w).

Mackenzie, Colin, and Irving Finkel, ed. Asian Games The Art of Contest. New York: Asia Society, 2004. no. 12:2, p. 140, ill. (color).