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Chess Set, c. 1850

India: Delhi region, 1825-1875
Ivory pieces, wood board inlaid with ivory
Pieces: 3-6 in. (7.6-15.2 cm); Board: 29-3/4 x 29-3/4 x 2-1/4 in. (75.6 x 75.6 x 5.7 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon
F.1978.20.01-33.S
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

The game of chess was invented many centuries ago in India, where it was conceived as a game of war and modeled after the confrontation of armies on a battlefield. The four components of an Indian army are the infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephant brigade. The two opposing sides of this set are depicted as a Sikh army, whose soldiers have beards in addition to moustaches, and an Afghan army. During the Middle Ages, chess was introduced to Europe, where it was transformed into a game of courtly intrigue. The prime minister was replaced by the queen, the elephant brigade by the bishop, the cavalry by the knight, and the chariot or camel brigade by the rook. In Indian chess, the camel is often substituted for the bishop and the elephant for the rook. This particular chess set, known as a “John Company” set, was crafted in New Delhi around 1850 for the British East India Company.

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