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  • Place of origin:

    Germany (probably Cologne, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1300-1320 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved walrus ivory

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is a walrus ivory chess piece of a king made in Germany, probably Cologne. Cologne workshops had a long tradition of carving in walrus ivory, and chess pieces were still being made in the city in the second half of the fourteenth century in a style only moderately evolved from the present set. The motif of the king hooking his hand under his mantle-cord indicates monarchical authority and judicious contemplation and is seen on several representations, both sculpted and painted, from the middle of the thirteenth century onwards. The carving is derived from a series of seated kings on the West Tower of the Minster at Freiburg.
By 1200 chess was a popular game in Europe, having been brought from India via the Middle East in the early medieval period. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the playing of chess became established as a courtly – and courting – pastime par excellance, as numerous references to it in written Romances, illustrations in manuscripts and depictions on works of art attest.
By the beginning of the Gothic period the principal pieces had already taken human form. The castle though does not appear to have taken the form of a building until the sixteenth century, and is most often represented as a mounted figure not unlike a knight. It is no9teworthy that hardly any chessboards have survived. The overwhelming majority of chess pieces were made in non-Parisian workshops and the most active workshops were based further north, in Scandinavia, Germany and England

The game of chess has from its inception carried chivalric and military associations. These qualities made the game a suitable intellectual pastime for the elite of Renaissance Europe. Luxury chess boards and finely carved chess pieces became common possessions in palaces from Italy to England and as today, color was used to distinguish between opposing chessmen.

Physical description

Chess-piece of a king seated on a high-backed throne. He wears a low crown and a long mantle over a gown, and holds a sheathed sword in his right hand. Both hands are gloved, and he pulls his mantle cord away from his body with his left thumb. The throne is decorated on the sides and back with a simple lozenge pattern.

Place of Origin

Germany (probably Cologne, made)


ca. 1300-1320 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved walrus ivory


Height: 7.8 cm, Width: 4.9 cm at base

Object history note

In the possession of John Webb, London, by 1862 (London 1862, cat. no. 155); purchased from Webb in 1867, for £12.

Descriptive line

Chesspiece, ivory, seated figure of a king, German (probably Cologne), ca. 1300-1320

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1867. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 6
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London: Published under the Authority of the Board of Education, 1927-1929, Part II, p. 56
Cf. Pinder, W. Die Deutsche Plastik des 14 Jhdts. Munich, 1925, pls. 7, 8
Cf. Brieger, Peter H. English Art, 1216-1307. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957, pls. 47a, 47b, 50
pp. 81-82
Maskell, W., A Description of the Ivories Ancient and Medieval in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
I, pp. 468 (note 5), 469, II, cat. no. 1255, II, pl. CCXI
Koechlin, R., Les Ivoires gothiques français, 3 vols, Paris, 1924 (reprinted Paris 1968)
part II, pp. 722-723
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014
Williamson, Paul and Davies, Glyn, Medieval Ivory Carvings, 1200-1550, (in 2 parts), V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2014, part II, pp. 722-723, cat. no. 246



Subjects depicted

King; Throne; Sword


Sculpture; Games


Sculpture Collection

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