Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X The Wise

Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X The Wise

Toledo (Spain) — 1283

Games as an allegory for society: the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Arabs, and Jews in Spain during the 13th century

  1. Counted among the most significant and beautiful treatises on dice and board games

  2. Commissioned by King Alfonso the Wise (1221–84), a great patron of art and the sciences

  3. Proof of the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Arabs, and Jews in 13th century Spain

Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X The Wise

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  4. Facsimile Editions (3)
Description
Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X The Wise

The Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X the Wise from the year 1283 is counted among the most significant and beautiful treatises on board and dice games. The commissioner of the magnificently furnished manuscript was the Castilian King Alfonso X, who bore the epithet of the Wise. He has gone down in history as a patron of art and the sciences. His Book of Games, which is housed today in the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de el Escorial, is the most famous of the manuscripts commissioned by Alfonso. On barely 100 pages, it collects 150 miniatures, which visually clarify 64 chess problems and the rules of other board and dice games. The book is introduced with the philosophical-theological question regarding the influence of human fate. Yet at the same time, the splendid miniatures of the Book of Games are proof of the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Arabs, and Jews in 13th century Spain.

Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X the Wise

The Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X the Wise from the year 1283 is counted among the most significant and beautiful treatises on board and dice games. The commissioner of the magnificently furnished manuscript was the Castilian King Alfonso X, who bore the epithet of the Wise. He has gone down in history as a patron of art and the sciences. His Book of Games, which is housed today in the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de el Escorial, is the most famous of the manuscripts commissioned by Alfonso. On barely 100 pages, it collects 150 miniatures, which visually clarify 64 chess problems and the rules of other board and dice games. The book is introduced with the philosophical-theological question regarding the influence of human fate. Yet at the same time, the Book of Games with its splendid miniatures is proof of the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Arabs, and Jews in 13th century Spain.

Game Scenarios in Magnificent Miniatures

In each case, two players sit to the left and right of the chessboard. Usually depicted against a luminous blue background, the games occur in various locations, e.g. in the tent of a Mongol, or in a splendid palace garden. Thus, various players such as kings, commoners, men and women, or people from various cultures and religions play peacefully with one another. Counselors often stand behind the players, whom they seek to influence. King Alfonso the Wise wanted to present, as was also recorded in the text, games for all groups of people, for women, old men, the solitary, and the captive. Additionally found in the Book of Games with its magnificent, colorful, and impressive miniatures were also representations of the craftsmen who made the games. 98 large format pages present a total of 150 miniatures, some even full-page.

The Wise King

The commissioner of the still famous manuscript was Alfonso X (1221–1284), called the Wise. He was King of Castile and Leon and the uncrowned anti-king of the Holy Roman Empire. Up to today, Alfonso the Wise – as his name indicates – is less known as a powerful ruler than as an important patron of art and science. He busied himself in the manner of a poet and scholar, especially in astronomy. He significantly influenced the Toledo school of translators and was active as a great patron. Alfonso X commissioned many significant and splendid manuscripts. The Book of Games is undoubtedly the most famous among them.

The Joy of the Game

At the beginning of the manuscript there are 64 chess problems. As the most noble and masterful game, the most room was made for chess. In the Book of Games, a total of 103 game tasks are debated, alongside chess other board and dice games such as Morris, backgammon, etc. The manuscript follows an arrangement in three groups of games, chess, dice games, and backgammon. At the end of the book, two interesting astrological games are presented. The Book of Games is introduced with a philosophical-theological problem: with the question of whether man is responsible for his own destiny. In doing so, terms such as rationalism, pragmatism, or fatalism, are used, which also play an important role in games. In this way, the rules of the board games are conveyed to the reader along with hints to the game of life. Today the Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X the Wise is considered to be “probably the most beautiful book concerning the cultural history of the game altogether”, the impressive miniatures whereof can still amaze beholders.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Codex Alfonso
Libro de los Juegos de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas de Alfonso X el Sabio
Libro de acedrex, dados e tablas
Alfonso X el Sabio - Libro de los Juegos, de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas
El libro de los Juegos de Alfonso X el Sabio
Libros del ajedrez, dados y tablas
Buch der Spiele von König Alfons des Weisen
Size / Format
98 pages / 41.0 × 29.0 cm
Origin
Spain
Date
1283
Style
Language
Illustrations
150 miniatures

Available facsimile editions:
Libros de Axedrez, Dados et Tablas, de Alfonso X, El Sabio
Edilan – Madrid, 1987
Limited Edition: 2000 copies

Libros del axedrez dados et tablas (Libro del ajedrez)
Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1987
Limited Edition: 2000 copies
Detail Picture

Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X the Wise

Chess in a Mongol's Tent

This scene of a Christian and Mongol enjoying a friendly game of chess is remarkable for its ability to simultaneously depict both the exterior and interior of the Moor’s tent. The exterior of the tent is presented in the upper-half, showing the “dome” from the outside in white with blue stripes and the open flaps revealing a red interior. However, the interior scene depicted in the lower-half of the image confusingly shows the players lounging before a blue background.

Libro de los Juegos de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas de Alfonso X el Sabio (Parchment Facsimile)
Single Page

Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X the Wise

Chess in an Arab’s Tent

Aside from having the earliest known descriptions of these games, this manuscripts depicts Christians, Arabs, and Jews peacefully coexisting in 13th century Spain. Furthermore, it shows people from as far away from Spain as Mongols. Here we see two figures playing chess in an Arab’s tent, indicated by a green flag and Arabic writing at the top.

The interior of the tent is a lovely blue, and the figures sit on a striped carpet. A blonde Christian sits to the left wearing a tunic with a checkered collar and red tights, while an Arab wears traditional robes and wears a sword, indicating that they are warriors. However, two spears stuck in the ground outside indicate that they have met in the spirit of peace to play a friendly game.

Libro de los Juegos de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas de Alfonso X el Sabio (Parchment Facsimile)
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro de los Juegos de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas de Alfonso X el Sabio (Parchment Facsimile)

Scriptorium – Valencia, 2010
Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X The Wise – T.I.6 – Real Biblioteca del Monasterio (San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain)
Book of Chess, Dice and Board Games by Alfonso X The Wise – T.I.6 – Real Biblioteca del Monasterio (San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Scriptorium – Valencia, 2010
Limited Edition: 390 copies
Binding: Leather
Commentary: 1 volume by Manuel Fuertes de Gisbert y Rojo, Manuel González Jiménez, María Teresa López de Guereño Sanz, Laura Fernández, César Bordons Alba, Jesús Basulto Santo and José A. Camúñez Ruiz
Languages: English, Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Edition printed on natural sheepskin parchment
Price Category: €€€€€ (over 10,000€
Edition available
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#2 Libros de Axedrez, Dados et Tablas, de Alfonso X, El Sabio

Edilan – Madrid, 1987

Publisher: Edilan – Madrid, 1987
Limited Edition: 2000 copies
Binding: Leather stamped with the grill symbol from El Escorial
Commentary: 1 volume by Luis Vázquez de Parga, Ana Domínguez and Ricardo Calvo and Metchild Crombach
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

#3 Libros del axedrez dados et tablas (Libro del ajedrez)

Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1987

Publisher: Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1987
Limited Edition: 2000 copies
Binding: Hand dyed goatskin. Presentation dust jacket includes facsimile and commentary volume.
Commentary: 1 volume (392 pages) by Luis Vázquez De Parga, Ana Domínguez Rodríguez, Ricardo Calvo, Mechthild Crombach and Manuel Gómez De Pablos

Languages: English, Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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