Bishop Chess Piece


On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 14

The Bishop was introduced to the European chessboard in the 12th century, replacing the elephant of Islamic tradition. The substitution of a man of the church for an animal used in battle may seem curious, but medieval bishops frequently served with armies. That role is not on display here: the smaller figures probably represent men who served the Bishop in ceremony. An official known as a Reader holds the Bishop’s book. He has been tonsured—his hair shaven in a circle at the crown of his head. The man holding a staff and cradling his ear may be the Precentor, who was in charge of the choir.

Bishop Chess Piece, Walrus ivory, Scandinavian

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