Chess piece

Scandinavian (possibly Denmark)
early 12th century

Object Place: Scandinavia (possibly Denmark)


6.4 x 3.5 x 5.4 cm (2 1/2 x 1 3/8 x 2 1/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Ivory, eyes inlaid with blue glass

Not On View





This king is perhaps the only remaining piece of an unusually elaborate early Romanesque chess set of walrus ivory. The figure is seated in a high-backed throne and holds in his right hand the hair of a warrior in mail who stretches out in submission. The throne back is decorated with intertwined dragon-like beasts, one of which is biting the warrior’s behind. The decoration on the left side of the throne is missing, but one can assume that it continued to the back and right around the throne. The iconography may allude to Sigurd overcoming the wicked Regin, a favorite theme in Norse poetry, or may represent the conquered monsters of the netherworld. The intricate carving with its free and restless rhythmic motion recalls the style of the incised drawings on the earlier Viking tombstone on the Isle of Man and the Swedish runestones of Sparlosa and Ramsund, 3 which depict the story of Sigurd and Regin.


David David-Weill (b. 1871 - d. 1952), Paris and Neuilly-sur-Seine, France; by descent within the family [see note 1]; June 16, 1971, David David-Weill sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, lot 74. 1973, John Goelet, New York; 1973, gift of John Goelet to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 10, 1973)

[1] In 1971, following the death of Mr. David-Weill's widow, over 500 objects from his collection were sold.

Credit Line

Gift of John Goelet