Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Bishop Chess Piece

Made in probably Trondheim, Norway
Walrus ivory
Overall: 3 3/4 x 2 1/2 x 1 7/16 in. (9.6 x 6.3 x 3.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 10
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.
[ Hamburger Frères, Paris (sold 1911)]; J. Pierpont Morgan (American), London and New York (from 1911)
Brooklyn Museum. "Chess: East and West, Past and Present," April–October 1968.

New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis," November 15, 2011–April 22, 2012.

Breck, Joseph. "Pre-Gothic Ivories in the Pierpont Morgan Collection." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, o.s., 15, no. 1 (January 1920). p. 16, ill. p. 17.

Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers. The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1925. p. 50.

Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers. The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 2nd ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1929. p. 50.

Griffith, Beatrice Fox. Treasure Under Glass. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1963. p. 43, pl. XXXVII.

McNab Dennis, Jessie, and Charles K. Wilkinson. Chess: East and West, Past and Present. A Selection from the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968. no. 6.

Galan y Galindo, Angel. Marfiles Medievales del Islam: Volume 2, Catálogo de Piezas. Cordoba: Publicaciones Obra Social Y Cultural Cajasur, 2005. no. 40029, pp. 437, 520.

Little, Charles T. "A Romanesque Walrus Ivory Bishop in New York." In The Lewis Chessmen: New Perspectives, edited by David H. Caldwell, and Mark A. Hall. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 2014. pp. 321-327.

Shalem, Avinoam. Die mittelalterlichen Olifante: Volume 1, Text. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen. Berlin: Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 2014. p. 112, fig. 134.

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