Friday, March 30, 2012

Lewis Chessmen from Iceland - Argument Continued

Chessbase presents the latest in the continuing epic of whether the Lewis chess pieces were created in Iceland or created in Norway (most likely in Trondheim).

The Lewis Chessmen: Lilleøren's final remark
27.03.2012– The Icelandic-Norwegian battle over the origin of the famous (infamous?) Lewis Chessmen – a collection of chess pieces, handcrafted in the 12th century – has been waging for almost two years now. The Norwegian critic of the Icelandic theory, Morten Lilleøren, has sent us final remarks. With it we close our discussion of the subject, which may be continued in archeological and historical journals.

I won't go into blah blah blah - the denials are about the same, as per the usual "cannot see the forest for the trees" blinders that experts put on when challenged by non-intelligentsia.  The nerve of those non-intellectuals!

Really, darlings, what difference does it make to the greater picture that there are not any Icelandic sagas known to have survived that are older or date about to the date of the Lewis chessmen? That proves nothing.

It does, however, make a difference that bishop pieces - that is BISHOP - as in the Roman Catholic Church version of the cleric, are known to pre-date the Lewis pieces, including one piece presented in the Chessbase article by Morten Lilleoren.  He states that this piece:

which he identifies as: 

A chess bishop carved of walrus ivory. The ivory itself has been radiocarbon dated within the usual 95% probability to 770-990 CE.

Also, note that the bishop’s miter is worn facing sideways, to borrow Robinson’s description, rather that frontally. This miter orientation predates the frontally worn type, which is found among the Lewis chessmen.

Changing focus, and viewing the canopy/piece as a whole, the old Arabic abstract shape of the alfil piece (with horns) is visible, too.

The bishop that predates the Lewis chessmen. From the private collection of Jean-Jaques Marquet, curator of the Louvre.

is evidence that those arguing for an Icelandic origin of the Lewis pieces are full of baloney.

Hmmmm, seems to me, however, that this may prove just the opposite.  If the Bishop piece was this widespread elsewhere in Europe for a couple hundred years before the date the Lewis chess pieces were made, why would the Bishop as a chess piece not also have been known and used and made/carved/ and possibly even distributed abroad from a production center in Iceland?

In the greater picture, it is, in fact, quite possible.  The piece the writer uses to discount the Icelandic theory rather, in fact, would seem to support their argument just by virtue of its very existence and age!

I don't think this argument is over.  Let's see what develops.

This Chessbase article does include a list of the articles discussing the "argument" and it's worth reading them over, if  you're interested either in this argument or the development of medieval western chess in general.  Well worth the time.  So says this amateur chess "herstorian."


Anonymous said...

How can proof old Bishops are not unique to Iceland (which they are not) make one more likely to think the Lewis pieces must have come from Iceland? Because they might have come from anywhere it must be Iceland? That doesn't make any sense. It's more likely they come from Trondheim because of the mass of non-bishop related evidence of their origin there. The Iceland argument was pretty simply that sets made in Norway or anywhere else would have not have used Bishops, so sets with Bishops must have come from Iceland. The fact that sets from all over were using Bishops long before the Lewis men negates that argument. The arguments for Trondheim have to do with the style of art on the pieces, not just the presence of serpents and knotwork but the style of the knotwork which is distinctly Norwegian, combined with the size of the city and the availability of walrus ivory at the time (which wasn't big in Iceland, btw... note that the newly discovered Icelandic Bishop is not ivory and does not feature the same kind of ornamental carving present on the Lewis men.) These are the reasons to be believe the experts on the origin of the Lewis Chessmen. Why do people keep taking this Iceland argument so seriously?

Jan said...

Hello and thanks for your interesting post. It might be argued that the people in Iceland were using what they had at hand to make chess pieces. I do not know. It may turn out that there is nothing to the assertions about chess pieces found in Iceland. But I think it is important that the discussion be had. One thing life has taught me is that there are very few "absolutes" in the world. Perhaps if more archaeological evidence is discovered in the future, we will get clearer answers to some of our questions. You are probably right, but for the present, I will not close my mind entirely to an argument about the Lewis pieces being a produce from Iceland.

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