Chess Art: Then and Now
So, I was digging around in my closet the other day, attempting to access my secret stash of printer ink cartridges, when I came across a flat cardboard mailer lodged in the darkest corner of said closet. Perplexed for a moment, I pulled the mailer out into the light and pride it opened. Inside, I found something that I had tragically forgotten all about: a print of The Chess Players, by Ture Nikolaus Cederstrom. Ahhh…it suddenly dawned on me. This was a Christmas gift from two years ago! Looks like I just re-gifted it to myself!
I had come across this painting some years ago and was immediately captivated by its depiction of a chess match between two Dominican monks (and a third who seems to be kibitzing) and what appears to be a visiting parish priest. In many ways I find this painting captures everything that is noble about the Royal Game. For example, the painting wonderfully captures the camaraderie of chess as the two monks sit side by side in what appears to be a tag-team match against the visiting challenger. Speaking of the challenger, he seems to be so enthralled by the on-board action that he is literally on the edge of his seat with excitement! Another nice touch: notice the folded umbrella in the bottom left corner? Chess – the perfect rainy day activity! Also in that corner are two empty wine bottles – not sure if this is a reference to the fact that the enjoyment of chess can be enhanced by some vino (the two do go together extremely well), or if it is a warning that that chess will eventually drive you to drink - I’ll let you make up your own mind on that one. And, lastly, we have the standing monk who seems to be analyzing the board and judging the position, a reminder that chess is a very social activity that ensnares players and spectators alike. Alas, I don’t know who won this game frozen in time, but my bet is on the Dominican monks.*
Like the parable of the prodigal son, what was lost had now been found. I immediately took the painting and set out to the local crafts store to find a frame and mat (the reason why this print was lost in the first place was because my plans to place it in an old frame occupied by a disintegrating reproduction of the US Constitution did not come to pass when the dimensions were way off – I never was any good with a ruler). An hour later I was back at the house and had assembled my new-old creation and was systematically holding it up against different spots on the walls of my study. A few minutes after that, it hung in a nice location on a southern wall.
Hmm. Nice, but….
As anyone who has ever tried to hang a new piece of art on old walls can attest, the first spot you pick is just that: the first spot. For, after hanging my print on the wall, I discovered that if I would just move that other picture over a bit, a new ideal spot would be uncovered. Of course, moving that older picture “over a bit” meant moving something else to make room for it…and so on to an infinite regression. Soon, wall hangings were shifting about the room like stars across the night sky and some three hours later, I was still drilling holes for hangers and shifting this there and that here in a fevered spate of activity. But, at long last, it was done!
Well…not quite. While I am happy with the print’s final destination, I am not happy with the resultant vacuum created on the middle left of another wall. I know! Time to get another painting!
My next purchase, Girolamo Induno’s Fernando and Iolanda Playing Chess:
I love this picture for its medieval overtures, from the background tapestry with its two knights jousting, to the suggestion of courtly romance between Fernando and Iolanda. There also seems to be something more here, some sort of intrigue judging by the pensiveness of the older chaperons who are not looking at the board but at the young sir who seems to be presenting his case...for something. But we will need to revisit this at a later time.
Now, some new art. Check out this satirical strip:
Unfortunately, I forget where I got it, or who the artist is (artists: always sign your work!), but I find it very sad. This chess strip ingeniously captures the poisionous nature of indecision and indecisiviness, something that inevitally (three “in” for the win!) leads to defeat both on and off the chessboard. I can’t help but to think that this strip is very appropos for the times we live in and reminds me of the current plight of the West in general, and the United States specifically.
Where is the horse gone? Where is the rider?
Where is the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast?
Where are the revels in the hall?
Alas for the bright cup!
Alas for the mailed warrior!
Alas for the splendour of the prince!
How that time has passed away,
dark under the cover of night,
as if it had never been!
- The Wanderer
Let us hope it is not so. Regardless, to despair is to sin, so let us move on to...
...* = that Old Joke:
Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. ‘What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?’ the first asked.
The second replied, ‘Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants.’
‘Okay, but can you tell me what is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?’ inquired the first.
The second answered, ‘Met any Albigensians lately?’