Saturday, January 14, 2012

Scenes from Toledo, Spain Part V

Continuation of photographs from the Cathedral of Toledo:

A view of the ceiling in the Refrectory - the priests' private domain. Unfortunately, my photo did not come out very clear, it is blurry.  Our guide told us this is the room where they changed into their robes to perform their priestly duties in the Cathedral.  I do not recall the name of the artist who painted the ceiling, but I believe he was an Italian master.  It is, to put it bluntly, Life in Heaven 101.

A not very clear shot of an El Greco masterpiece in the Refrectory.  It depicts Jesus Christ just before his robe is stripped from him in preparation for his crucifixion. 

This much clearer photo shows the very top part, the "crown," per se, of the El Greco painting, which is a wonderful work of art in its own right.  Check out the vases on either side and following around the corners, too.  Wow!  This photo also gives you a clearer indication of the room-spanning painting I call "Life in Heaven 101" on the Refrectory's ceiling! 

I do not know who this Madonna is, but she was inside the Refrectory, and she was encased in glass, so I figured she was important.  She was not shown in our tour.  In a Cathedral of this size, we saw several Madonnas.  I was not able to get photographs of all of them, unfortunately, as we often passed by so quickly and I did not want to lose the group!  If you look very closely in the lower left hand corner, you will see a reflection in the mirrored back of the case enclosing the Madonna.  That is Mr. Don!

Here is another gloriously beautiful Madonna, from the 17th century.  She is alabaster, marble, and bronze (that is not gold, but it looks like gold).  My photo is not the clearest, unfortunately.  Damn!  The entire construct around her was so massive, there was no way for me to get her into a single photo.  I wanted, however, to get that "sunburst" of bronze "rays" in the upper center part of the photo because that is actually a "window" that overlooks a chapel behind the wall.  Natural light is provided into the chapel through this window by another "window" that was chiseled out of the Cathedral structure, way way up in the roof!  I was not able to get a decent photo of it, but Mr. Don did:

I mean, really!  Check this incredible photo out!  Light from this 17th century "window" pours into the opening above the Madonna below (see photo, above) into the chapel that is on the other side of the wall.  I asked our guide if it provides enough light to see by and she said oh yes, it does.  And so look at what the artisans did to "camoflauge" the hole/window!  Absolutely breathaking.  They sculpted an entire gallery of saints and apostles to make them look like they'd always been there as well as the window!  And in the "window well" above, spectacular three-dimensional paintings were added! 

The chapel that got this light was not part of our tour but we did walk past a side of it (enclosed partially in glass and wrought-iron fencing) on our way to the main entrance/exit.  It is a a nicely-sized area (it seemed to be built on the golden mean proportions) and was very well lit.

On the wall opposite where we walked by, some important religious who-do's coffin is showcased! He, our guide told us, was an advisor to kings and queens during his long life. One of his fans (a queen) put his coffin up on the equivalent of stilts on the side wall of this chapel after he died. 

I don't even know in which direction I was facing when I took this photo, but it was the last interior shot I took.  Look!  An electric light bulb on the left!  Wowsers!  How did that get there? 

Goddesschess in 'Echec Magazine, by FQE

Hola Everyone!

It was hard to leave the beautiful city of Madrid and it's equally beautiful weather and kind people, but I won't lie, it's good to be back home in my own soft bed with my own soft down pillows and down blanket! 

Both Mr. Don and I are attempting to fight off some kind of viral invasion affecting our throats and sinuses.  Ach!  And I was so careful this trip, too, to wash my hands frequently, tried not to touch my face and used hand disinfectant and the little hand towels that come with the meals on the airplane...

Oh well.

It is now time to take down the Christmas decorations.  Tomorrow the ladies of the investment club are coming over and I have no doubt we will spend the entire time drinking coffee and looking at the photographs and videos that I and Mr. D took of Madrid and Toledo!  So beautiful!

But chess - and life - go on.  We have not been standing still.  Even while in Madrid, emails were flying back and forth.  Tonight I emailed off the second article in a series of articles about Goddesschess for 'Echec, a chess magazine published by the (in English) Quebec Chess Federation.  The website is  Normally the Federation does not publish articles from the magazine at the website.  However, the August, 2012 calendar is in place and the 2012 Goddesschess Canadian Women's Chess Championship is on it - from August 4 - 11, 2012.  Yippee!

There is a dedicated website where you can find out more about the 2012 Goddesschess Canadian Women's Chess Championship.   We are hoping to see a good turnout of female chessplayers for this great event, the winner of which will earn an expenses paid trip to the 2012 FIDE Women's World Chess Championship as Canada's female representative. 

Our sponsorship for this event is in its infancy.  We are hoping for a great turnout of female players and to grow our sponsorship and this championship in the years to come.

I scanned the first article about Goddesschess from the January-February, 2012 edition of 'Echec.  It was meticulously translated into French from English by Felix Dumont.  I believe the second article will appear in the March-April, 2012 edition of 'Echec. 

Trying to attach the article as a PDF didn't work.  Let's see if the photo scans of the 2-page article works.  Hopefully, you will be able to click on them to enlarge them to readable size and, if you can read Canadian French, you can read all about the beginnings of Goddesschess!

More on the "Haunted Lewis Chess Pieces"

See original post from November 30, 2011, from information forwarded to me by Judith Weingarten of the Xenobia, Empress of the East blog.

Geoff Chandler provides much information that is new to me about the background of the Lewis chess pieces.  One note: Chandler mentions a Captain Pyrie, while the information I published in my prior blog post came directly from H.J.R. Murray's A History of Chess (account of the discovery and subsequent history of the Lewis pieces) and he refers to a Roderick Ririe as being the person who first brought the pieces to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1831.  I double-checked the name and spelling this morning just to make sure I had it correct from Murray.

Not Even From Lewis, Mate
Geoff Chandler

Based on the date of the initial comments at the bottom of the article, I figure it was written in October, 2009.  Comments have continued to be made.  Please read them.  They contain some very interesting discussion.

In addition to providing more background information about the discovery and subsequent sale(s) of the Lewis pieces, Mr. Chandler provides an interesting theory that the Lewis pieces aren't chess pieces at all, but are hnefatafl pieces!  I'm no expert on the game, mind you, but I do not recall reading any accounts where there were more than two different types of pieces used in hnefatafl:  a king and the guardsmen (in some accounts, these were females).  That being said, my memory isn't what it used to be, and I haven't done much study on hnefatafl, so Mr. Chandler could be perfectly correct in his assertion that hnefatafl games sometimes used more than two types of playing pieces... [more information on hnefatafl at Wikipedia]

It is an interesting theory.

Three issues from Mr. Chandler's article and the subsequent comments thereto kept poking at me since I read it a week or so before Mr. D and I left for Madrid -- I didn't have time to write about it then. 


Mr. Chandler gets right to the heart of the issue surrounding the mystery of the Lewis pieces.  If they are chess pieces, where are the rooks? His discussion of why he thinks the warders were never meant to be rooks is very interesting, but so is the counter-evidence presented by a commenter by the handle of Pipistrel

It does not seem, contrary to what Mr. Chandler asserts, that the British Museum has changed its assertions that the Lewis pieces are chess pieces.  This summary from the British Museum website (today) continues to identify the pieces as chess pieces and the warders as "rooks."

The chess pieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.

They were found in the vicinity of Uig on the Isle of Lewis in mysterious circumstances. Various stories have evolved to explain why they were concealed there, and how they were discovered. All that is certain is that they were found some time before 11 April 1831, when they were exhibited in Edinburgh at the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland. The precise findspot seems to have been a sand dune where they may have been placed in a small, drystone chamber.
Who owned the chess pieces? Why were they hidden? While there are no firm answers to these questions, it is possible that they belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway to Ireland. This seems likely since there are constituent pieces - though with some elements missing - for four distinct sets. Their general condition is excellent and they do not seem to have been used much, if at all.

By the end of the eleventh century, chess was a very popular game among the aristocracy throughout Europe. The Lewis chess pieces form the largest single surviving group of objects from the period that were made purely for recreational purposes. The question of precisely where they were made is a difficult one to resolve.

When Sir Frederic Madden first published the finds in 1832, he considered them to be Icelandic in origin. This argument has been repeated recently by Icelandic commentators on the subject. Other authorities have thought them to be Irish, Scottish or English. Each of these attributions is possible.
What is known with certainty is that the chessmen are vigorously northern in their character and are strongly influenced by Norse culture. This is most evident in the figures of the warders or rooks which take the form of Berserkers, fierce mythical warriors drawn directly from the Sagas. The historic political, economic and cultural links between the Outer Hebrides and Norway and its dominance of the Norse world might suggest that Norway is the most likely place to have produced these high status, luxury commodities.

A board large enough to hold all the pieces arranged for a game played to modern rules would have measured 82 cm across. Records state that when found, some of the Lewis chessmen were stained red. Consequently the chessboard may have been red and white, as opposed to the modern convention of black and white.

Of the 93 pieces known to us today, 11 pieces are in Edinburgh at the National Museum of Scotland, and 82 are in the British Museum.

I was shocked, however, when I read this in Mr. Chandler's responsive comment dated May 20, 2011:

They are not chess pieces and this is now accepted even by the museum.

They have recently replaced the shield biting man with a stone tower in the Lewis Sets they sell - go an see for yourself.

This Tower is a PR job to make it look more like a chess set.

WHAT?  That really set me back.  I mean, how could the British Museum possibly do such a thing -- substitute a different "rook" piece altogether in replica chess sets that are meant to be the Lewis pieces???

I happen to own a replica Lewis chess set.  It was a gift to me in 2002 and means a great deal.  I haven't played with the set at all but I did take some of them out (kings, queens, knights) and photographed them once when I got my digital camera in 2006 and I was playing around, learning how to use it properly and trying my hand at "staging: a scene.  The set has a certificate that says it is "entirely hand made at S.A.C. Ltd, Studio Anne Carlton, Hull, England."  I took it out and opened the box - lo and behold!  The rook is not the crazed warder chewing on his shield!  It is, in fact, a four-sided rectangular tower!  The same tower design was used for both sides.

[After initial posting, it is now 1:31 p.m., I visited the British Museum shop online and discovered that the three types of Lewis chess sets they are selling - small, medium, and delux, all feature the warder as the "rook" and the "tombstones" as pawns -- no substituted tower for rook to be found!  So -- what does it all mean???]

[After writing the above, I did some image searches.  This set looks identical to mine. I learned that S.A.C. was sold in 2003 and production of the pieces was subsequently moved to China!  Ohmygoddess!  If my "Certificate of Authenticity" is to be believed - and the fact that I KNOW the set was gifted to me in May, 2002 - my set was produced in Hull, England, not in China.  Note: my rooks (towers) and my pawns (miniature warders) are the same as in this image, and the colors look about the same.  Compare these figures to some of the figures in the sets depicted below and you will readily see differences in the amount of detail inscribed on the pieces.]


The issue of the color of the Lewis pieces.  Yes, it is well known that over time color put on things wears off or fades away.  I recall reading descriptions of the Lewis pieces that authoritatively said that some of the pieces had traces of red.

Except -- Mr. Chandler proposed a very interesting theory for how some of the pieces obtained their traces of red color!  In 1831, would anyone have been able to detect such a fraud, if indeed some of the pieces had been newly colored with "beetroot?"

From the little reading I've done on hnefatafl, the pieces were brown and natural ivory.  Some chess sets, on the other hand, often featured red and natural-colored pieces.  "The Book of Games" of King Alfonso X of Spain, for instance, holds many depictions of such sets. 

The mere fact that the pieces were mostly ivory colored at the time of discovery doesn't mean they were not parts of chess sets.


The missing pawns.  It has been said that the Lewis pieces comprise parts of four different chess sets.  Four chess sets would mean 64 pawns.  However, only 19 pawns are known to exist.  Mr. Chandler correctly pointed out that 45 are missing, and this seems a great deal of missing pawns when one considers that most of the other primary pieces for comprising some four different chess sets are NOT missing.

Consider what this might mean.  It could mean that the pawns aren't pawns at all, but something else -- perhaps pieces from a different game altogether.  We do know that 14 other game pieces (Murray called them "tablemen") were included in the Lewis "hoard" that was purchased by the British Museum and it seems that they were never considered as being chess pieces.  Or, perhaps one of the commenters to Mr. Chandler's article was correct when he (or she) suggested that the "pawns" were meant for use with both chess and hnefatafl.  That still does not solve the mystery of the great number of missing pawns, however.

The foundation of hnefatafl that differentiates it from other forms of "tafl" ("table") games is that the attackers have twice as many pieces as the king.  So, if the king has 8 defenders around him, the attackers total 16; if the king had 12 defenders, the attackers total 24.  With 19 pawns at hand, a hnefatafl set would have the king and 6 defenders and there would be 12 attackers, with 1 piece left over.  Murray's illustration of the Lewis pawns shows four (possibly five) different types:

I do not know how many exist of each type of pawn.
Where are the other 45 pawns?  Did they sink into the sea long ago?  Are they still buried somewhere?  I don't know - were excavations or a good old-fashioned treasure hunt ever conducted around the area where the sellers said the original Lewis pieces had been discovered?  One would assume so, but then again --

In a search I found several images of Lewis replica sets still for sale featuring the "warder" as the "rook" with the "tombstones" as pawns (the first two pawns in Murray's drawing, above, remind me of Islamic pieces):

An S.A.C. set in red/white.

Brookstone set in brown and white. Brookstone was a relatively expensive set - and comparing the quality of these pieces to the others depicted - thumbs down!

Design Toscano set with checkers set.
There looks to be a lot more research that could and should be done about the Lewis pieces.  Perhaps someone has written a thesis?  I sure would like to read it if that's the case.  I've learned things today that I never knew before just putting this little blog piece together .  How much more might we be able to learn?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Scenes from Toledo, Spain Part IV

The Cathedral:

Working from memory here.  Construction of the cathedral was begun approximately 1250 CE and completed about 240-250 years later, but thereafter, subsequent monarchs of Spain added internal improvements and new "chapels" so construction never really stopped.

I don't know if the pictures can give you the sense of space inside this structure.  It's incredible.  I could hardly tilt my head back far enough to see the vaulted roofs far overhead.  I have no idea how tall they are, they look hundreds of feet up there! 

A final word - unfortunately several of my photos turned out blurry even though my camera did not give me a blurred notice and option to delete the image and so I thought I was getting clear images.  Damn.  I think it must be the lack of light in some instances, we were not allowed to use flash (I totally understand).

We approached the Cathedral from a rear side street, on foot.  This is the domed end at the main entrance of the Cathedral; the other side of the main entrance is anchored by a mighty, peaked spire.

A close-up of the main facade.

The mighty spire on the left of the front facade.

The dome on the right of the front facade.

A close-up of the top area over the big central doorway.

An unfortunately blurred shot of the main altar-piece.

Another blurred photo of the main altar-piece, this one giving a view of the vaulted arches and windows at the top.

A massive eagle backs a large book-rack for a Bible.  In this side-chapel, tall-backed elaborately carved wooden chairs surround the pulpit.  On the left, above, you can see part of one of the massive pipe organs in the Cathedral.  On the opposite wall, another massive pipe organ of a different vintage.  I got photos of both, below, but they are not very clear, unfortunately.  We saw two more massive pipe organs on our tour but we were whisked by them so quickly, I did not have a chance to get any photos of them.

The White Virgin.  She was sculpted in France of alabaster, and dates to the 12th century CE.  Evidently this area is called the "Choir" -- see photos directly above -- the two organs, the pulpit, and this photo of the sculpture that appears to be floating in front of the massive and beautiful stained-glass window that you can see in the background of this photo.  The name of the White Virgin will show up again in Toledo in a subsequent post.  Of important historical note - this Virgin is considered a Black Madonna (Virgin Morena) because of the tone of her skin!  She is called the White Virgin because of the color of her robes and for other historical reasons that relate "whiteness" to purity, a being unblemished.  And so this Madonna and child was, and is, known by the local population by both names. 

You know, I can't make out what this is at all.  It looks almost Buddah like to me, at least, in this photo.  This is the image that is seen in the background of the photo of the White Virgin, above.

More photos of the interior of the Cathedral in the next post.

Scenes from Toledo, Spain Part III

I had my camera out nearly the entire tour and snapped shots as we scampered up and down the streets, lanes, and alleys of Toledo, going to and coming from the various monuments and stops on the tour:

No wonder there aren't any fat residents in Toledo...

Through the maze our group goes...  The steel poles are to keep the buildngs from leaning further into the street and toward each other.

While we saw several of Del Greco's paintings on this tour, we did not go to his house.

Scenes from Toledo Spain Part II


Our tour group at the Church of St. Tomas and attached Monastery.
The lady who took our photo wasn't very familiar with such things as light and shadow...
I also look very fat in this photo.  Blech!  Honestly, I have three layers on!

Our group walking down one of the many twisty-turny cobblestone side streets.  Fortunately in this
photo, we were all walking downhill!

In the gift store, featuring Damascus steel swords and Damascene works,
as well as other costly items.
Mr. Don with Don Quixote at the gift shop.  This was the better of two shots I took;
unfortunately, I didn't get Don Quixote very well, but you can see a definite resemblance in the tall, stringy figures...

Outside the restaurant where we had a not very good meal - tough beef, overcooked vegetables
in tasteless soup, and more french fries!  Everywhere, french fries!  Mr. D ordered me a bubbly (carbonated) bottle of agua
to drink with my meal.  It tasted like selzer water and was awful, but he drank his down with relish.  It gave me terrible indigestion later that night and into the next morning!  Blech!

Me, resting my weary bones in the Plaza Espana while Mr. D took countless photos of the monument to Cervantes and the fountain.  Julia Tours was just down the block, where we had gotten off the bus after a long long day.  And we still had a good 40 minute walk ahead of us to get back to our hotel...

Scenes from Toledo, Spain

We were a small group that set out with Julia Tours on Monday, January 9th, to visit Toledo.  The price was right (70 euros each) for a English/Spanish language tour and the online advertisement wasn't kidding that this was a true "walking tour."  Up, down, all around, clamoring and rattling over cobblestone streets and tiny alleys and endless stairways, we got a workout, and some fantastic photographs!

On the road!

A blurry shot from my seat on the bus - oh well.

Amazing views!

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