Life in the Middle Ages was not necessarily as gloomy as we often believe, in fact, medieval people enjoyed a good game as much as modern ones – perhaps more so. Game manuscripts produced during the Middle Ages represent some truly unique illuminated codices.

This genre includes purely theoretical treatises, but also texts that use games, especially chess as an allegory for medieval society or as a means for examining philosophical-theological principles, such as the role man has in determining his own destiny. These texts were especially popular during the Late Middle Ages when the art of illumination reached its zenith and as such, this genre is filled with some truly refined specimens.

Demonstration of a Sample Page

Chess Book of Jacobus de Cessolis

Chess Lecture

Appearing across from the patron’s magnificent coat of arms, this page features a masterfully created miniature, particularly with regard to the sense of space and perspective created for the octagonal chapel by the artist. The two closest columns have been removed to allow for an unobstructed view into this makeshift lecture hall, which is filled to the brim.

Standing at the pulpit, a Dominican priest holds the chess board with one hand and points with the other as he lectures the audience assembled before him on the fine points of the game. To the left, a blue “M” initial on a gold leaf background with stylized acanthus leaves introduces the instructive text by Jacobus de Cessolis, which is gorgeously presented in this Gothic German manuscript.