Chess piece

DATE:
late 18th–early 19th century
MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE:
Gilt and polychromed ivory
CLASSIFICATION:
Sculpture
DIMENSIONS:
5 3/4 × 4 1/4 × 1 5/8 in. (14.61 × 10.8 × 4.13 cm)
DEPARTMENT:
Arts of Asia
LOCATION:
303 ISLAMIC GALLERY
CREDIT LINE:
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of David T. Owsley
OBJECT NUMBER:
2017.35.2

General Description

This sculptural piece is a chess-game king in the form of an elephant carrying three riders. Like the silver-over-wood Mughal shrine and the inlaid ivory backgammon board [1995.77.A-GG and 2017.35.8], the piece reflects courtly Indian life under Mughal emperors. Made from precious ivory, an entire set of these figures would have been owned by a member of the landed elite with considerable leisure time. The elephant chess piece is ridden by a mahout (elephant handler) and two men ensconced in a boxlike platform. The men's beards and their turbans, which leave room for a bump of uncut hair, indicate that they are Sikhs, followers of a religion established in the 15th century that combines Muslim and Hindu beliefs. Sikhs are admonished from cutting their hair and hence have special turbans. Sikhs are also associated with martial skills, and their inclusion on this piece may invoke their abilities in combat and competition.

Adapted from

  • Catherine B. Asher, "Chess piece" in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 122.

  • Anne Bromberg, Label text, 2003.