The Lewis Chessmen are a set of chess pieces that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in the early 19th century. The pieces, made of walrus ivory, date back to the 12th or 13th century and are among the most important pieces of medieval art in existence.
The Lewis Chessmen are notable not only for their high quality of craftsmanship and intricate design, but also for the fact that they offer a glimpse into medieval society and culture. The pieces are thought to have been created in Norway, which at the time was ruled by the Vikings, and provide valuable insight into the everyday lives of the people of the era.
The Lewis Chessmen consist of 93 pieces, including knights, bishops, rooks, pawns, and several unique pieces that are not found in modern chess sets. These include warders, who are similar to rooks but with a more human-like appearance, and berserkers, who are thought to represent warriors in battle. The pieces are intricately carved with intricate details, such as fur trim on the knights’ armor, and are believed to have been highly prized possessions in their time.
The discovery of the Lewis Chessmen was made by a local farmer in 1831, who stumbled upon a hoard of pieces while digging in a sandbank on the Isle of Lewis. The pieces were quickly purchased by the British Museum, where they have been displayed ever since.
In the centuries since their discovery, the Lewis Chessmen have been the subject of much scholarly investigation, with experts attempting to understand their origins, purpose, and cultural significance. While there is still much that remains unknown about the pieces, it is clear that they were created by highly skilled craftsmen and were of great value in their time.
The fact that the Lewis Chessmen were made of ivory is also of great importance, as ivory was a highly prized material in the medieval period, and was used in the creation of many other luxury goods of the time, such as combs, boxes, and other decorative objects.
Despite the value placed on ivory at the time, it is likely that the Lewis Chessmen were not made for the purpose of being played with. Instead, they were likely used as a form of status symbol or as a gift to an important person. This is because ivory was expensive and difficult to obtain, and would have been seen as a symbol of wealth and power.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the Lewis Chessmen, with many people seeking to learn more about their history and significance. This has led to a number of new studies and exhibitions, including the “Lewis Chessmen: Unmasked” exhibit at the British Museum, which offered a closer look at the pieces and the context in which they were created.
Despite their age and the mystery that still surrounds them, the Lewis Chessmen remain an important piece of cultural heritage, and continue to captivate people with their beauty and historical significance. Whether you are a history buff, a chess enthusiast, or simply someone who appreciates fine art, the Lewis Chessmen are sure to leave a lasting impression.
For those interested in learning more about the Lewis Chessmen, a visit to the British Museum is highly recommended. The pieces are displayed in the museum’s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, and offer a unique opportunity to see one of the most important pieces of medieval art in existence.