To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Green Vault museum in Dresden, the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation bestowed the institution with a rather special gift: a Baroque masterpiece chess set costing just under €1m (£862,000) which had been unknown until 2018.
Made of ivory, ebony, tortoiseshell and silver, this set dates from the early 18th century, the time of the museum’s founder, August the Strong.
The intricately carved figures include war elephants on both sides which, according to the Green Vault, suggests a reference to the Syrian Wars (192-188BC), in which the Romans were victorious over the Seleucid forces.
They are attributed to the sculptor Paul Heermann (1673-1732) because one of the bishops carries a tiny piece of paper in their hand marked with Her/mann.
The pieces’ gold-plated and silver bases carry marks for the Augsburg goldsmith Paul Solanier (1635-1724), whose workshop is believed to have also made the board.
At least three comparable chess sets once belonged to the collection of the Green Vault, but they were lost. This one had been in private hands until it appeared at Christie’s in 2018 when it was bought for a premium-inclusive £416,750.
Paris dealership Galerie Kugel then exhibited it at TEFAF Maastricht in 2022 before it was acquired by the foundation in a transaction announced in the summer of this year.
The board measures 22¼ x 22¼ x 4½in (56.5 x 56.5 x 11.5cm) and the tallest piece is 3in (8cm) high.
White on right
One thing that ever so mildly frustrates one of us here at ATG Towers is when we see a chess set arranged incorrectly in an auction house’s catalogue.
The valuer or photographer usually puts the pieces on the appropriate squares but occasionally puts the board the wrong way round. The correct set-up is with a white square in the right-hand corner - which is easy to remember as ‘white on the right’.
This arrangement is not new. It was stipulated more than 500 years ago by Portuguese pharmacist Damiano de Odemira (1840-1544) - also known as Pedro Damiano - who wrote a book published in Italian and Spanish in 1512 titled Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li partiti.
A translation of this book from 1562 is the first work in English on the game of chess. A copy of The pleasaunt and wittie playe of the cheasts renewed with instructions both to learne it easely, and to play it well. Lately translated out of Italian into French and now set furth in Englishe by Iames Rowbothum was offered at Forum (26/25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on July 13.
It was printed by Roulande Hall for Rowbothum who states in the dedication that he is not the translator.
Estimated at £3500-5000, it sold for £6000.