Friday, March 18, 2011

The Symbolism of the Pointing Lady

The mystery of the pointing woman!  How and why is she related to chess? 

Most often she is a Queen - either an actual historical queen posed with coyly pointing fingers and captured by many artists over the centuries, or she is a representation of a Queen who is not meant to represent an actual historical figure. 

However, the pointing figures are not restricted to females.  Chess historian Ricardo Calvo was fascinated by the artwork in the "Book of Chess" (part of a larger work put together on chess as well as many different types of board games and gambling games) authorized by King Alfonso of Castile, finalized about 1283 C.E. or thereabouts.  In many of the lavishly colored illustrations within the chess folios of that work, chessplayers and observers (Templars, Muslims, females) were often depicted with fingers pointed in certain ways.  I have many of those images saved but not stored on this computer.  I'll dig them out :) The positions of the pointed fingers seem, somehow, to be commenting on the game in question -- a position, perhaps?

And was something else being hinted at in these medieval images from Alfonso to de Cessolis?  Something that perhaps even they did not fully understand?

If a study of these pointing figures has been done, I'm not aware of it. I would like to know what other people think.

Personally, Goddesschess has long connected the Goddess (the great Mother Goddess, an archetype) with the earliest forms of games from the earliest times when "boards" were first scratched out in dirt and divination took place in one form or other.  We believe the association goes back to the very beginning of "games" - from the time when they weren't actually games but the last word (from the gods, as transmitted by a shaman or priest, male or female) sometimes a predictor of who lived and who died.

"Checkerboard" drawings go WAY back in time.  Just by way of example, a 3x3 colored "checkerboard" (red/buff/black) was found in the Lascaux cave complex in France and is about 17,000 years old.  It may (or may not) be closely associated with a bovine figure (probably an auroch) sort of hovering above it, with distinctly curved horns.  Those ancient auroch horns remind me of the horns/crescent moon headdress worn by the very old Egyptian Mother Goddess Hathor, who heralds from pre-dynastic times. 

Sometime closer to written history, people made an intellectual leap and internalized the connection between the divination (the Divine) that shamans and priests undertook on behalf of the community and a more personal revelatory experience in becoming a "player" on the board.  Sort of the ultimate "Game of Life!"  It was from this point, whenever it occured, that the development of ancient games - and more permanent forms of boards (carved from wood, etched into stone, painted in Egyptian tombs, etc.) - took off like a rocket and either spread through trade and cultural contacts or simultaneously developed in independent ancient enclaves of people who had no contact with the "outside world." 

Take a look at this image, scanned from Marilyn Yalom's excellent book "Birth of the Chess Queen" - this particular engraving is from de Cessolis' "Book of Chess," Italian edition, 1493:

Here we see a beautiful woman with abundant, curling hair, a substantial crown, garbed in an elegant and luxurious gown, sitting on what appears to be a substantial throne. 

The crown is perhaps the easiest of the symbols to decipher - it harks back to the "horn" of prehistoric days that was worn by figures of authority in the earliest societies.  Was it a representation of the power of the beast itself from which the horn had been taken, taking us back, way way back?  It must have been a fearsome prospect to kill a horned (or tusked) animal with clubs and stone-tipped spears (maybe not even those tools, in the case of our more distant ancestors).  A throwback to the "horn" symbolism that was especially prevalent in surviving artwork and seals recovered from digs around the ancient Middle East is yet worn today by Roman Catholic bishops in their distinctive headdress.  A similar headdress was worn by Pharaoh as part of the united crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.  Perhaps the oldest Egyptian depiction of this conical headdress from pre-dynastic Egypt is in the Narmer Palette. 

It also appears that she is wearing a sort of partial body armor covering her breasts, which is suspended over her chest on some kind of cord hung around her neck.  The design on the covering over the right breast appears to be a rosette (ancient Goddess symbol in Mesopotamia) and the covering over the left breast appears to have a serpent design (another ancient goddess symbol in many cultures).  She is pointing with what appears to be her index finger on her left hand.  Pointing at what, and for what reason?  What does she represent?  Her right hand seems to be deliberately placed square on her right thigh, and she doesn't have her legs squeezed closed in a virginal aspect judging from the position of her knees, as one might expect from the time period. 

Notice the puffed sleeves of the lady's gown and what appears to be ribbons or perhaps lace hanging down from the seams around the "puffs" on the upper shoulders of the lady's gown.  Does that remind you of anything, hmmm???  It should.  Take a look at the gold costume worn by the lady observer in the painting in the post from last night. 

To me, the tip off that this is an important goddess, perhaps an aspect of Fortuna herself?, is in the eight-point stylized "rosettes" that decorate either arm of the throne and march across the bas relief that shows on either side of the throne.  The number eight appears again in the pattern of "diamonds" (alternating larger and smaller) that decorate the uprights of the arms of the throne on either side of the lady. 

This "lady of Fortune" has an interesting look on her face.  She is sort of smiling, but is she, really?  Compare her face to the face of the figure in gold in the painting in the post from last night.  I see distinct similarities. 

Got to go now - other projects are demanding attention.  More on this subject will follow.

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