Mirror case showing knight and lady playing chess


This fine elephant ivory mirror case (made in Paris, c. 1300) shows a knight and a lady flirtatiously playing chess, like Ferdinand and Miranda in Act 5, Scene 1 of The Tempest.

Chess as a feature of romance

In the medieval era, chess symbolised both the game of love and the art of warfare, often being used to suggest a playful tension between the two. As a prestigious pastime connected with the nobility, chess gave aristocratic men and women the freedom to meet on equal terms in a way not otherwise permitted. In this intimate scene, framed by curtains, the man sits expectantly forward while the woman leans back more suggestively.

Chess was frequently represented, as it is here, on mirror cases, wedding chests, combs and plaques in 14th-century France and Germany. As part of the courtship between high-born lovers, chess was also a common feature of romances such as Huon of Bordeaux, a 13th-century French epic, translated and printed in English around 1515 and probably known to Shakespeare.

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Mirror-case, ivory, a game of chess, French (Paris), about 1300
c.1300, Paris
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