Chess in the Arts

Chess in the Arts – Examples

From time to time, chess in the arts appears in history. Classical paintings showcase different periods of their development. The rules and the appearance of chess pieces have been changing in the course of centuries. After all, it’s one of the oldest games on Earth.

Occasionally, the pieces occupy deliberate, rather than random, spaces on the board, like in a real match. Esthetic enjoyment aside, this creates an opportunity to try and solve the riddle posed by a cunning artist.

The Chess Players by Lucas van Leyden (1508)

Let’s begin with a Dutch Renaissance painter. A keen observer would notice that the position on the board doesn’t resemble a conventional game. And indeed, it’s not. The painting happens to depict courier chess. The rules of this variation are different from the regular ones.

The board was larger: 12×8 cells, with no numbers or letters to speak of. The King couldn’t retreat to safety by castling. The Queen could only move diagonally, one step at a time. Any pawn could gradually reach the last horizontal and turn only into a Queen.

The armies included additional pieces, that modern player wouldn’t recognize, like the Archer. It moves two squares diagonally, leaping over other units, similar to the Knight.

The painting portrays a match, presumably between a bride and a groom. The latter is losing and looking at the board with a demoralized expression. The lady’s father is watching them carefully.

Chess in the Arts
The Chess Players by Lucas van Leyden

The Game of Chess by Sofonisba Anguissola (1555)

Only 50 years later, chess looks completely different in this next work of art. The Queen is now the most powerful piece, while pawns can move two squares on their first move. The Bishop has turned into a formidable force. It can move diagonally to cover any distance rather than a single square. Does that ring any bells?

The painting depicts the artist’s family – her sisters. It also features an older maid who is cautiously observing the position, waiting for the game to end.

Anguissola famously introduced a new element into portrait painting – that of laughter. The emotion is evident in the youngest girl’s expression. Smiling was a rare occurrence in paintings of that period.

Chess in the Arts
The Game of Chess by Sofonisba Anguissola

Mother and Son by Daniel Garber (1933)

Let’s travel several centuries ahead, to the Great Depression era. Mother and Son was created by an American impressionist painter. The artist drew inspiration from landscapes and of course his dear ones.

The painting depicts Garber’s wife and son, his frequent subjects of choice. They are absorbed in a game of chess. This pastime was quite popular in their family. Daniel was a fairly competent player himself.

Chess in the Arts
Mother and Son by Daniel Garber

Hopefully, this article has given enthusiasts a fresh cultural perspective. The aforementioned examples leave no doubt about the distinctive mark of chess in the arts. They also emphasize how diverse the game taking place on a 64-cell grid really is.

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