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Chess in Art : History of Chess in Paintings 1100 – 1900

Chess in Art : History of Chess in Paintings 1100 – 1900 : Peter Herel Raabenstein

Chess in Art : History of Chess in Paintings 1100 - 1900, Peter Herel Raabenstein
Chess in Art : History of Chess in Paintings 1100 – 1900, Peter Herel Raabenstein

From the publisher :

“Chess has been very important skill of human mind, part of many intellectual arguments, and a vital part of social life, for more than 1000 years. It has also mesmerized Peter Herel Raabenstein, who around 2003 craved to immerse himself deep into the story of chess. On that occasion, he was looking for a gift for his uncle, who shared the same passion for chess, art and history. He was aiming to buy a special book focused on chess and art. Unfortunately, he found out there was no such book. He decided to create the gift himself. After collecting 12 paintings with chess theme, he used them to create a calendar.

Peter’s uncle was amazed by the gift and proposed making a whole book with chess as a main theme. Later whilst living in Amsterdam and studying at local art school to master painting skills, Peter kept his interest in chess. He regularly visited chess museums and cafes. He was persistent in pursuit of creation of his own book, all thanks to his dedication and passion for art and chess, and also his uncle’s excitement about the idea. The book that was also finished as a result of many coincidences.

He shared his idea with a friend during a chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee in 2009. Peter’s friend was so passionate about the idea that he immediately wrote a prologue for the book and motivated Peter even more. Soon after they parted their ways Peter sadly realized that he has not got his friends contact details. However, he continued writing and collecting materials remembering his uncle’s and his friend’s supportive words.

Now, after 10 long years, Peter can offer his collection of chess themed paintings by more than 700 artists during 1000 year long period, including 20th century. Peter hopes to meet his Greek friend again to thank him for motivation to finish the book. He would also like to thank everyone who supports his art projects and follows his work. ”

Peter Herel Raabenstein
Peter Herel Raabenstein

When Chess in Art arrived at the BCN office it was clear we needed one thing to go with it : a coffee table! Together with The Thinkers by David Llada this is not a book you would fail to notice or ignore. You are drawn to pick it up and leaf through the pages.

Weighing in at an impressive 1.8 pounds this is a beautiful volume. One thing we cannot possibly convey via this review is another (generally ignored) dimension : its olfactory qualities! The smell is absolutely wonderful, it lingers and combined with the additional high qualities of paper, production and printing it is a simply a gorgeous book. Eat your heart out Mr. Kindle or any pdf scan and upload merchants.

For your amusement you might like to guess how many chess books include the word “Art” in their title. As usual with this type of question the answer is larger than you might think…Try it! Apart from that books on the same subject as this one are few and far between so this title makes a welcome appearance.

For those interested in perusing this subject then

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess Hardcover, May 2009
Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess Hardcover, May 2009

may be of interest. Prices are high for this volume.

Despite binge watching BBC One’s excellent Fake or Fortune? (our knowledge of art is superficial) we felt a strong degree of fear and trepidation in starting this review. We could not possibly review this book from an art perspective and so we settled on a chess player’s point of view.

The book is divided into eight main sections / chapters with five main sections covering eras from 1100 AD onwards :

    • Prologue
    • 1100 – 1500

38 colour plates

    • 1500 – 1600

17 plates

    • 1600 – 1700

21 plates

    • 1700 – 1800

38 plates

    • 1800 – 1900

186 plates

  • Artists
  • Epilogue

which is a total of around 300 plates most of which are in full colour. These five sections are followed by a listing of all of the artists with brief biographical details. Finally there is an index to all the artist’s works to be found in this book.

The prologue may well be (for chess enthusiasts) the most interesting section of the book. For example we have (page 9) “The lack of chess paintings in the beginning of the sixteenth century is attributed to the difficulty of establishing chess rules.” Quite how true this is we are not sure but it is worth considering. Maybe a more detailed study of HJR Murray is in order?

Here is an example of a double page layout from the 1100 – 1500 era section :

From pages 42 and 43 : Israhel van Meckenem (1445 - 1503)
From pages 42 and 43 : Israhel van Meckenem (1445 – 1503)

To whet your appetite further from page 55 we have this work by Caravaggio :

CARAVAGGIO (Michelangelo Merisi da) (1571 – 1610) Schachspieler.
CARAVAGGIO (Michelangelo Merisi da) (1571 – 1610) Schachspieler.

(By a strange coincidence in the BCN office we had recently watched Caravaggio via Amazon Prime!)

and there is this famous work depicting Faust on page 102 by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch 1779-1857 :

Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch 1779-1857
Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch 1779-1857

and finally (but not least) this work from 1818 by Johann Erdmann Hummel :

HUMMEL Johann Erdmann (1769 – 1852) Die Schachpartie. 1818
HUMMEL Johann Erdmann (1769 – 1852) Die Schachpartie. 1818

We found ourselves becoming engrossed in the book wanting to know more about the individual art works. Indeed, this was the most frustrating and disappointing aspect. For almost all of the images we did not need the skills of Anthony Blunt (can we mention this name?) or Tom Keating to discover the chess background via Wikipedia or other online sources. So why not provide even a few lines of description for each or most of the images. These extras would have made reading this book even more of a joy. Perhaps space reasons provided a restriction? Surely both the art and chess lover would like to read more.

There were a couple of trivial typos : “editrorial” but nothing substantive. Almost certainly not caused by the author.

The book has been widely reviewed : one of our favourites is from Carl “Chess in Prisons” Portman who hits the nail neatly on the head with an enjoyable piece.

If you are still not convinced then see this ChessBase review by André Schulz.

Finally we come to the price of €111. You might, at first, baulk at this: “I could buy five books on the Sveshnikov instead”.

However, this book is a real beauty, definitely a collectors item with a volume to cover 1900  to the present day in the pipeline. If you have a coffee table and want to cheer it up at Christmas then this book is for it and you!

We’d recommend you visit the Chess in Art web site If this review does not convince you then their web site just might.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 15th November, 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardback : 317 pages
  • Publisher: HereLove
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-8090577657

Official web site of Chess in Art

Chess in Art
Chess in Art