- Museum number
- Series: The Lewis Chessmen
Chess-piece; walrus ivory; king with damaged sword on knees; crown with hatched band; back of throne decorated with three vertical panels containing trefoils, geometric interlace and undulating scroll design.
- Production date
- 1150-1175 (circa)
Height: 97.28 millimetres
Width: 54.49 millimetres
Depth: 38.42 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
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
2005-2006 25 Jul-13 Jan, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
2005 12 Feb-26 Jun, Newcastle, Hancock Museum, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
2004-2005 1 Oct-15 Jan, Manchester Museum, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
2004 30 Apr-21 Sep, Cardiff, National Museums & Galleries of Wales, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
2003-2004 21 Nov-14 Mar, London, BM, Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number