Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

Prague (Czech Republic) — 1400–1425

Created in the famous Wenceslas workshop in Prague: the chess game in golden miniatures as an allegory of human society

  1. The spell of chess has enchanted people since it came to Europe in the Middle Ages

  2. In his chess book, Jacobus de Cessolis (ca. 1250 – ca. 1322) collects texts from sermons in which the game of kings served as an allegory for society

  3. The codex from Madrid was created in the Wenceslas Workshop and is appropriately masterfully illuminated

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Description
Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

The spell of chess has enchanted people since it came to Europe from Persia and Arabia in the Middle Ages. Treatises on chess enjoyed wide circulation from the 13th century onward. One of the first of these treatises that was concerned with the “royal game” was the chess book by Jacobus de Cessolis from the year 1330. The representation of the game of chess as an allegory of medieval society was widely distributed, sometimes in wonderfully designed manuscripts. The Spanish National Library in Madrid houses a truly splendid specimen that originated from Czechia at the beginning of the 15th century and enchants with its marvelous miniatures.

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

The spell of chess has enchanted people since it came to Europe from Persia and Arabia in the Middle Ages. Treatises on chess enjoyed wide circulation from the 13th century onward. One of the first of these treatises that was concerned with the “royal game” was the chess book by Jacobus de Cessolis from the year 1330. The representation of the game of chess as an allegory of medieval society was widely distributed, sometimes in wonderfully designed manuscripts. The Spanish National Library in Madrid houses a truly splendid specimen that originated from Czechia at the beginning of the 15th century and enchants with its marvelous miniatures.

The Famous Author of the Chess Treatise

Jacobus de Cessolis was an Italian Dominican monk from the 14th century. Cessolis published his chess treatise in 1330 under the title Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium ac popularium super ludo scacchorum (Book of the Customs of Man and the Duties of the Nobles and Commoners via the Game of Chess). With this document – one of the first that concerned itself with the strategy game in detail – Cessolis obtained great fame and was known across Europe. His chess book was one of the most widely read books of the Late Middle Ages.

King, Lady, Peasant…

In his chess book, Jacobus de Cessolis assembled texts from sermons, in which the game of kings served as an allegory for society. The various ranks of medieval society were conveyed in an exciting manner: there is a king and a peasant, but various other professions play a role as well. In this way, de Cessolis wanted to emerge morally-didactically as an arbiter of value, employing the symbolism of chess for this. This societally critical aspect is probably the what lent his entertaining chess book such great popularity**. After the Bible, it was probably the most widely read literary work of this time period!**

The Grandiose Artistic Furnishings

Jacobus de Cessolis’ chess book also offered wonderful examples for illumination. Numerous fascinating manuscripts attest to that. An exceptional specimen of these illustrated chess books was made in Prague ca. 1400–1425. The codex, which resides today in Madrid, collects impressive miniatures across 100 pages, which richly illustrate the Latin text. 15 mostly half-page miniatures present benign scenes of the game of chess before an elaborately designed gold background from both everyday life or with royal protagonists. For example, the spell of chess is clarified in a depiction of wildly gesticulating players, who have assembled around a board. That the artist who created these miniatures was a master of his trade is evidenced by the exceptional quality of the paintings. An amazing spatiality characterizes the miniatures, whether they be interior scenes or the depiction of a city. The figures were tenderly characterized and appointed with a variety of colors. Thus the artist was able to lend the simultaneously entertaining and educational chess treatise of Jacobus de Cessolis an appropriately artistic framework.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
The Play of Chess by Jacobus de Cessolis
Schachbuch des Jacobus de Cessolis
Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium sive super ludum scaccorum
Size / Format
100 pages / 17.5 × 11.5 cm
Date
1400–1425
Language
Script
Gothic minuscule
Illustrations
15 miniatures
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Cardinal Francisco Javier Zelada
Innocenzo Romano
Toledo’s Cathedral

Available facsimile editions:
Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum – Vit. 25 - 6 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2008
Limited Edition: 898 copies (co-edition with ArtCodex)

Trattato sul Gioco degli Scacchi
ArtCodex – Modena
Limited Edition: 898 copies (co-edition with Siloé)
Detail Picture

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

Playing Chess with a King

Three chess players are shown seated before tapestries illuminated with gold in what is presumably a parlor. Dressed in ermine-trimmed robes and wearing a golden crown, a king is shown playing chess against a nobleman dressed in blue. Another gentleman dressed in green with a floppy pink hat leans in and puts his arm on his shoulder. Is he advising the player on what move to make next, or is he counselling his friend that the safest strategy is to just let the king win?

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum
Single Page

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

The City of Babylon

Chess was often presented as a metaphor for the idealized city of Babylon, which was itself a metaphor for an orderly world during the Middle Ages. The chess board’s 64 squares both represent the length of Babylon’s city walls – 64 miles according to legend – and the neat grid pattern into which the city was divided. Ancient Babylon is presented here in the style of a late medieval city.

Two richly dressed men sit opposite one another playing chess in the bas-de-page miniature, the stylized folds of their clothing exhibiting the influence of the so-called Zackenstil. Elevated by a splendid green background with gold leaf filigree tendrils, an early attempt at perspective allows for many details of the city to be seen both inside and out.

Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum
Facsimile Editions

#1 Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum

Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2008
Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum – Vit. 25 - 6 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum – Vit. 25 - 6 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2008
Limited Edition: 898 copies (co-edition with ArtCodex)
Binding: Leather. Walnut-wood showcase-type box
Commentary: 1 volume by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, Joaqín Pérez de Arriaga
Language: 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.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!

#2 Trattato sul Gioco degli Scacchi

ArtCodex – Modena

Publisher: ArtCodex – Modena
Limited Edition: 898 copies (co-edition with Siloé)
Binding: Leather. Walnut-wood showcase-type box
Commentary: 1 volumeLanguage: Italian
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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