Alfonso playing Chess

The pages concerning chess in the Libro de Juegos are perhaps best known. Each page contains not just a graphic, but a discussion of various chess problems. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of these pages is the range of people in Alfonso's time who played chess, and are illustrated in the book. The picture above is supposedly a portrait of Alfonso playing chess with his wife, the queen. The others in the picture are court pages.

Perhaps another interesting fact, and a subtle one at that, is that if both the king and queen were playing chess, this suggests that by Alfonso's time both men and women could play this game as a "couple" activity!

Two women play Chess

The picture above appears to illustrate two court ladies engaged in a game of chess. The intent of this page of course was to illustrate another chess problem, not to illustrate two women as such playing the game. Along with each illustration of a chess problem, a page of the book offered a textual discussion of the problem and it's solution - not unlike some of the contemporary chess texts available on the market now.

Knights playing Chess

In the graphic above the chess problem is illustrated with two courtly knights intent over the game. Note that each has the same symbolic decoration on their right side of their cape. This latter fact indicates that they would be from the same order.

Playing in a Tent

As indicated on the introductory page to the Libro de Juegos, during the reign of Alfonso, many different groups of people lived peaceably and well in the lands he reigned over. The chess problem illustration above shows two men in a tent playing chess. From their dress, the viewer can observe that the man on the left is an Arab, and the man on the right is a Spaniard.

Moors playing Chess

The chess problem illustration above depicts an interesting setting. Here two "Moors" play chess while two others watch and another one is playing the harp! It seems that music played during a game at this time was not an insolated instance, as will be noted in this next illustration.

Music and chess

In the illustration above two noble gentlemen are engaged in a game of chess. A musician on the left strums a harp or lute. Also note that the smaller figure on the right is either a page or waiter serving a drink to the player on the right. Consequently, this illustration might be of a game of chess in someone's home or in a public tavern.

Playing Chess in a pharmacy

The picture above illustrates that chess was played in a wide variety of places during Alfonso's time. This picture is set in a pharmacy. One can tell that from the array of pharmaceuticals on a shelf above the players. The player on the right also seems not to be playing at this time, but is examining a flask. Over on the left, a worker off to the side is engaged in some related task.

Chess Book

In the illustration above, the player on the extreme right seems to be pondering the chess problem. The two men on the left appear to be discussing a page from a book, perhaps an earlier instruction book about how to solve that chess problem!

The Great Chess

No, the illustration above is not a distortion. What is depicted is what the author's of the Libro de Juegos called "The Great Chess". If one looks closely at the other illustrations, one notes that these others all concern chess problems on an 8 by 8 checkered matrix. "The Great Chess" is a much larger matrix that is 12 squares by 12 squares. A number of pages in the Libro de Juegos depict chess problems on these larger boards and offer information on solving these problems. While the 8 by 8 matrix has become the chess board of choice over the years, in some places people still play "The Great Chess".

The Virtual collection includes a number of varied and interesting chess sets. To view some of these, please click on the menu item in the left panel.

Last update February 11, 2010