Bishop Chess Piece, 1150–1200
Scandinavian, probably Trondheim
Walrus ivory; 3 7/8 x 2 3/8 in. (9.8 x 6 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.229)
This twelfth-century ivory chess piece is among the earliest carved in the form of a bishop of the church, identifiable by the miter on his head and the crozier he holds. He gestures in blessing with his right hand. Two attendants crouch beside him, rendered on a much smaller scale to suggest lower status. The kneeling figure on his right, with a monastic haircut called a tonsure, gestures to an open book. The figure on the opposite side rests on his staff, head in hand.
The game of chess first appeared in India in the sixth century and reached Europe as early as the tenth century through contacts with Muslim society. The Museum's chess piece is similar to figures from chess sets found on Lewis, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Those figures, which came to light in 1831, are divided between the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.