- Museum number
- Series: The Lewis Chessmen
Chess piece; walrus ivory; king wearing floriated crown, tunic, mantle and brooch; seated upon high-backed chair holding sheathed sword; chair back: decorated with foliate scrolls: upper ones held by animals' heads surmounting
the uprights; chair sides: interlace decoration in panels.
- Production date
- 1150-1175 (circa)
Height: 99.04 millimetres
Weight: 245 grammes
Width: 51.83 millimetres
Depth: 44.29 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from Zarnecki et al 1984, cat. no. 212; see bibliography.
'A hoard of 78 pieces was found in 1831 in the parish of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in what was described as a 'subterranean' chamber. Eleven pieces from the same find are in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh. From the pieces it is clear that the hoard was not made up of a number of complete sets, and as none of the carving is incomplete, a workshop hoard is most unlikely. Perhaps they formed part of the stock of a merchant ship wrecked on the shores of the island, subsequently hidden and not recovered. The pieces show virtually no signs of wear.
The form of the chessmen and the decoration on the back of the thrones on which the kings, queens and some of the bishops are seated, have led to pieces being dated from the middle to the end of the 12th century and to their being attributed to either Britain or Scandinavia. It is difficult to find a parallel for the figure style, except in other gaming pieces, and even amongst these the Lewis pieces are more stylized and rigid than any others that survive. It is unlikely that they were carved later than the middle of the century, unless they were produced in a very remote centre, but their very high quality and especially the subtlety of their decorative carving would not support this. They belong to a group of carvings whose style is found in both Scandinavia and East Anglia: at, for example, Lund Cathedral and Ely Abbey, regions that were linked by trading and by political and close ecclesiastical contacts. The actual carving of such pieces of walrus ivory could have been carried on either side of the North Sea.'
Beckwith, 1972, no.166
Dalton, 1909, pp.63-73
Lasko, 1972a, pp. 236-7
Gaborit-Chopin, 1979, no.168
M. Taylor, The Lewis Chessmen, 1978
- On display (G40/dc5)
- Exhibition history
2019 15 May-9 Sept, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2018 19 Apr-22 Jul, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 28 Jun-08 Oct, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2017 1 Mar-31 May, National Museum of China, Beijing, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016-2017 08 Sep-29 Jan, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2016 13 Feb-18 Jun, National Museum of Western Australia, Perth, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015-2016 20 Sep-11 Jan, Kobe City Museum, Kobe, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 14 Jul–6 Sep, Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2015 18 Apr–28 Jun, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2012 27 Nov - 2013 18 Mar, France, Paris, Musee de Cluny, Jeux de la Babylone Antique
2011 14 Nov-2012 22 Apr, USA, New York, The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis
2011 15 Apr-12 Sep, Stornoway, Museum nan Eilean
2011 29 Jan-27 Mar, Shetland Museum & Archives
2010 7 Oct-8 Jan, Aberdeen Art Gallery
2010 21 May-19 Sep, Edinburgh, National Museum of Scotland
1997 4 May-28 Sep, Norway, Trondheim, Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum - National Museum of Decorative Arts, Trondheim 100
1995 6 Aug-12 Nov, Germany, Brunswick, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Heinrich der Löwe und seine Zeit: Herrschaft und Repräsentation der Welfen 1125-1235
1984 5 Apr-8 Jul, London, Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art 1066-1200
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number