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)

Alternate Titles:

Codex Alfonso, Libro de los Juegos de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas de Alfonso X el Sabio, Libro de acedrex, dados e tablas, Buch der Spiele von König Alfons des Weisen

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Codex Alfonso
Libro de los Juegos de Ajedrez, Dados y Tablas de Alfonso X el Sabio
Libro de acedrex, dados e tablas
Buch der Spiele von König Alfons des Weisen

Type
Extent / Format

98 pages / 41.0 x 29.0 cm

Origin
Date
1283
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Alfonso X the Wise

Illustrations

150 miniatures

Short description

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.

Facsimile editions available

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 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.

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