Chess Book of Jacobus de Cessolis

Pal. lat. 961 - Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Alternate Titles:

Schachbuch des Jacobus de Cessolis

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Schachbuch des Jacobus de Cessolis

Type
Extent / Format

138 pages / 20.3 x 14.7 cm

Origin
Date
1458
Style
Genre
Language
Artist / School

Author: Jacobus de Cessolis

Illustrations

15 miniatures and 29 initials

Former owners

Bakkalaureus
Johann Pachmann

Short description

The Chess Book of Jacobus de Cessolis arose ca. 1330. It is the first treatise on the game of chess and is simultaneously an allegory for the medieval estate-based society. It is one of the most widely disseminated works of the Middle Ages. The German edition from 1485 contains 15 miniatures and numerous decorative initials, which illustrate the societally critical text.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Chess Book of Jacobus de Cessolis

Jacobus de Cessolis was an Italian monk of the Dominican Order who lived in the 14th century. He achieved fame through his chess book, which is one of the first tractates about the game of chess. It is a book about the customs of the people and the duties of the genteel and the base**, which he elucidates using the chess metaphor. This work is extant in over 100 manuscripts and represents one of the most widely disseminated works of the Late Middle Ages. The German edition of the document arose in Amberg in 1485 and is an especially appealing specimen with its 15 miniatures and numerous decorative initials.

The Game of Chess as a Metaphor

Based on the sermons of Cessolis, he uses the work to adduce the game of chess as an allegory for society. What is crucial, is that the noble figures, such as the king and queen, cannot accomplish anything on their own, and are dependent on the cooperation of the common figures, meaning the peasantry. These were even named with professional titles, including, among others, smiths, merchants, and doctors. As a result, the role of working people of the lower orders was emphasized. Not only did the people have obligations to the nobility and clergy, but also the other way around. The societally critical work did not lose its popularity over the following centuries.

Programmatic Miniatures

The German edition of the famous chess tractate contains 15 highly valuable miniatures. In the course of these there are not only individual pictures, but also iconographic programs. These stylized iconographic programs graphically show what the script of the work cannot express on its own. As a result, the miniatures serve not only as decoration, but also offer support for greater understanding of the work. Alongside the miniatures, the text is adorned by a total of 29 colored initials.

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