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Home > Chess Sets
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Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces (Rosewood/Ivory)
Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces (Rosewood/Ivory)
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Retail Price:  $109.95
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This Isle of Lewis chess set is hand painted in Rosewood and Ivory and comes packed in individual boxes and foam protection for each colour.
The bottoms are felted. Kings are 3.5" in height with a base of 1.5". This set is suitable for a 18 inch board with 2 inch squares. Chess board is not included.
All pieces were cast in Hydrostone (a trademark of the United States Gypsum Corporation), a reconstituted stone material used by sculptors. The pieces were hand-painted to resemble aged ivory, given several coats of acrylic varnish, and then coated with a museum-grade paste wax to enhance their appearance and feel.
The Lewis chessmen are probably the best-known set of medieval chess pieces, and these are hand cast, hand-painted replicas of the best preserved specimens. The original Lewis chessmen were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (off the coast of Scotland) shortly before 1831. The exact circumstances of the discovery are something of a mystery, and there are numerous legends. Eighty two are in the British Museum, and the remaining 11 are in the National Museum of Scotland at Edinburgh. The originals comprised enough pieces to form several complete sets, and are believed to have belonged to a merchant specializing in luxury goods who buried them for some reason. The Lewis chessmen are significant as they are the largest collection of secular objects in the Romanesque style, and are an invaluable art treasure. Experts believe the pieces were carved from walrus ivory in Norway or Iceland, perhaps as early as 1150 A.D. Early Scandinavian chess sets featured an armed figure called a Warder (or Centurion) in place of the Rook, but the remaining pieces are the same as in modern chess (King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, and Pawn). No board was discovered with the pieces, but a contemporary mosaic from Italy indicates that the modern 8x8 board of alternating dark and light colored squares was used. Some of the originals may have been painted red or stained by soaking in wine or beetroot, so one side of these have been reproduced in red. Each side has its own individual appearance, as each piece is slightly different, representing the hand-carved nature of the originals, but the pieces are still readily identifiable. Kings are 3.5" (8.75cm). The set is suitable for display or for play, and is of special interest to members of the SCA who are looking for period accessories - the Lewis pieces are authentic for the period 1150-1300 A.D., and yet the types of pieces are easily recognizable by modern players. The kings sit upon ornate thrones, each holding a sword across his knees. The queens are also seated on intricately carved thrones, one resting her chin on her hand, the other holding a drinking horn. One bishop is seated, one is standing, but both hold a crozier and one also has a prayerbook. The knights are mounted on horseback, armed with spear and shield, and armored with helmet and mail hauberk. The warders (rooks) are armed footmen, with sword, shield, helmet, and mail. The pawns are of two different types, one representing an engraved boundary marker, the other a simple octagonal obelisk. The set-up of the board was probably the modern version, but it would have represented the medieval court in microcosm: In the center, the king and queen, supported by the church. Surrounding them are the knights and the warders, the outposts of the medieval army, and in front of all, the pawns, representing the anonymous peasantry. You may view some of the originals and read about their history at the British Museum Website (search for "Lewis Chessmen").
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