New Title | Ireland and the Picturesque

Posted in books by Editor on July 24, 2013

Due in August from Yale UP:

Finola O’Kane, Ireland and the Picturesque: Design, Landscape Painting, and Tourism, 1700–1840 (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2013), 240 pages, ISBN: 978-0300185386, $85.

coverThat Ireland is picturesque is a well-worn cliché, but little is understood of how this perception was created, painted, and manipulated during the long 18th century. This book positions Ireland at the core of the picturesque’s development and argues for a far greater degree of Irish influence on the course of European landscape theory and design. Positioned off-axis from the greater force-field, and off-shore from mainland Europe and America, where better to cultivate the oblique perspective? This book charts the creation of picturesque Ireland, while exploring in detail the role and reach of landscape painting in the planning, publishing, landscaping and design of Ireland’s historic landscapes, towns, and tourist routes. Thus it is also a history of the physical shaping of Ireland as a tourist destination, one of the earliest, most calculated, and most successful in the world.

Finola O’Kane is lecturer in the School of Architecture, Landscape and Civil Engineering, University College Dublin.

Exhibition | Prized and Played: The Jon Crumiller Chess Collection

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 24, 2013

From the World Chess Hall of Fame:

Prized and Played: Highlights from the Jon Crumiller Collection
World Chess Hall of Fame, St Louis, 3 May 2013 — 15 September 2013

Prized and Played showcases over 80 beautiful, antique chess sets from across the centuries and around the world, as well as many interesting artifacts related to the history of chess.


East India ‘John’ Company Chess Set, ca. 1800–1850,
Berhampore, India, ivory. King is 5 1/2 inches high.
(Jon Crumiller Collection). Photo © Bruce M. White, 2013

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Intended to be shown as objets d’art rather than used in play, ornamental chess sets are testaments to the artistic skill of their creators, as well as the refinement of the wealthy patrons who commissioned them. Freed from the confines of practicality, artists created chess sets of great beauty and originality. Master carvers flaunted their expertise in manipulating luxury materials such as ivory, gold, silver, pearls and precious stones in these ornamental chess sets. Many feature elaborate gilded decoration, delicate carving, and tall forms that made them less than ideal for playing, but perfect as demonstrations of wealth, or as a generous gift for a friend.

Dieppe Europeans vs. Africans Ivory Set, c 1800  Dieppe, France Ivory King: 3 1/4 in. Photo © Bruce M. White, 2013

Dieppe Europeans vs. Africans Ivory Chess Set, ca. 1800, Dieppe, France, Ivory. King is 3 1/4 inches (Jon Crumiller Collection)
Photo © Bruce M. White, 2013

Ornamental sets were also symbols of the erudition and sophistication of their owners. Several of the ornamental sets in this show have themes drawn from history, mythology, or religion. The Good Versus Evil set contains bishops holding copies of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, while another set pits Venus and Bacchus, two figures from Roman mythology, against each other. Other artists turned to contemporary military conflicts for inspiration. The army of the British East India Company combats Indian military forces in John Company sets, while other sets celebrated the exploits of Emperor Napoleon. Ornamental sets could also show that a person was well-traveled. A set from Dieppe, France, where master carvers produced lovely ivory products could indicate the owners had traveled to the popular resort town. Swiss Charlemagne sets, produced in Brieze, Switzerland, were also marketed to tourists in catalogues. These sets were so prized by their owners that, despite their delicate nature and rich materials, they have survived centuries later as examples of the excellent craftsmanship of their makers. They continue to be valued, not only for their aesthetic qualities, but also for the fascinating stories they tell.


François-André Danican Philidor, L’analyze des E’checs (London: 1749)  Photo © Bruce M. White, 2013

François-André Danican Philidor, L’Analyze des échecs (London: 1749)
Photo © Bruce M. White, 2013

In Prized and Played, superb examples of antique playing sets from across Europe and Asia illuminate the fascinating history of stylistic evolution of chess pieces. Though some of the sets in this half of the exhibition feature elaborate decoration, they were all intended for use in play. Their widely varied appearances testify to the imagination and stylistic preferences of the artisans who created them, as well as the artistic tastes of the players who used them over the centuries. They were made of durable materials like wood, ivory, bone, and metal so that players could regularly use them for play over many years. While the style of the simple, brightly colored, and dome-topped Islamic sets in the show stands in contrast to that of the European sets, diverse styles of playing sets were often manufactured within the same country. Some examples include the Directoire, Régence, and Lyon style sets produced in France, or the Barleycorn and Northern Upright style sets manufactured in England.

The nineteenth century brought the rise of modern organized chess tournaments and clubs, which highlighted the need for standardized chess pieces. The regional styles that had proliferated in previous centuries led to confusion and contention when the great players of numerous nations gathered to compete. Prominent chess manufacturers in early-to-mid-nineteenth century England began to stabilize the designs of playing sets into recognizable precursors of the sets we use today. John Calvert set up shop in 1791 at 189 Fleet Street, London, and mass-produced several designs that grew in popularity. These designs, as well as fancier playing sets imported and sold by James Leuchars and other retailers in the initial years of the nineteenth century, influenced subsequent well-known London chess manufacturers such as George Merrifield, Thomas Lund and his son William, and Charles Hastilow.

Finally, the iconic Staunton chess set, designed by architect Nathaniel Cooke and endorsed by the famous English player Howard Staunton, emerged during this period. The sets were first manufactured and sold in 1849 by John Jaques and Son, Ltd, of London, and later became the standard for tournament play. (more…)

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