Week 2: A Chessy Drama


When I flipped to Jan 10/11, I was astonished. The photograph depicts a wood with trees, branches, and fallen leaves on the ground that makes the path barely visible. The light penetrating from top creates a misty and mysterious atmosphere to the place. This is called Fontainebleau Forest, a salted paper print from paper negative by French artist, Eugene Cuvelier in early 1860s.

I know what salted hot chocolate is, but salted paper print? Having wiki-ed the history of photography, I found that salted print was a technique few decades after the first photographic process was introduced. The picture shot in Fontainebleau Forest to me is equally historical and contemporary. No wonder black & white is said to be timeless.

However, what intrigued my curiosity this week is Jan 12 – The Chess Players by Liberale da Verona in 1475. What a bushy blond hairstyle is that young men and women had to have one? According to MET website,

Blond hair was especially prized in Siena (Saint Bernardino famously inveighed against the pervasive practice of bleaching hair in the sun, and Neroccio de’ Landi’s Portrait of a Lady in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, gives good evidence for this fashion).

Not just the hairstyle, but the facial expression and gesture of the characters, especially on the lady’s side, are interesting enough to unfold more details.

She appears to have lost—the pieces on the board are of one color—and she places one hand on the arm of the victor while coyly turning her head away, her gaze directed upwards. One of her companions looks on fixedly while another has an expression of distress.

The description also explained that this painting was part of a chest front (cassone) comprised of three fragments. The first fragment kept also at MET was the prologue – Scene from a Novella. The young man and the lady were introduced, and the lady was inviting the young man in. The second (Groups of Youth, kept at Harvard Centre for Renaissance Studies) and the third (The Chess Players) was the interior scene where the game of chess took place packed with bushy blond spectators. Talking about the chess game, how did it finish? People have tried to track down the origin of the novella, but “all attempts to identify the specific literary source have failed.” Yet, it’s not difficult to guess the next scene with a tint of wild imaginations.

Most frequently suggested is the chivalric tale of Huon of Bordeaux, in which the young knight Huon, disguised as a servant to a minstrel, wins the right to sleep with the daughter of King Ivoryn by winning a chess match; she is distracted by his beauty and, by losing, spares his life.

What a cheesy chess drama! I’d better flip over the page and be expectant to more dramas next week.


More about the works mentioned (in the order of appearance):









One response to “Week 2: A Chessy Drama

  1. Pingback: Week 5: Likes. Liking. Likeness. | My White Cube·

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