A Rare Early Islamic Bone Chess piece BISHOP fil Elephant with RIDER
We are delighted to offer this rare and early Islamic chess or gaming piece c8th-11th Century.
This exquisite and rare chess piece is very tactile and is beautifully carved.
This piece is exceptional because:
(1) It retains it’s rider which is very rare in itself
(2) It is in very good condition
Early Islamic chess pieces in the form of an elephant to represent the Bishop are widely documented and can be found in several major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum (see image provided).
The early form of elephant with trunk, ears and tusks was used in Persia and Egypt from where it was exported to Sicily and then into Europe (see “Al Sabah Catalogue of Early Islamic Chess and Gaming Pieces” by Deborah Freeman Fahid, London 2018).
The rider is very rare to find as they often were broken, lost, damaged etc so they just do not survive. Two ancient Islamic elephant chess pieces that have sold at prices in excess of £10,000 both had their riders missing.
There is a clear link between the rider on this piece and Coptic Egyptian bone ‘dolls’* that were made in Egypt and Palestine in the 8th-11th centuries. This rider has the same shaped head, protruding ears, projecting nose, oval eyes and general appearance of these ‘dolls’.
If you look closely you can see that the rider has his arms in a folded position.
On the remnants of a rider on an elephant (shown above) sold at Christie’s, you can also see the folded arm.
Chess is known as the “Game of Kings” as who else had the time and felt secure enough to play such an absorbing game in ancient times.
Ancient chess and gaming pieces were made for the elite in society.
A missing piece from the famous Lewis Chess Set recently emerged and sold for over half a million pounds.
Early Islamic chess pieces have a track record for attracting record amounts when they come up for sale. The record price for an Islamic chess piece is £900,000 (including fees) for a SINGLE piece that sold at Christies in April 2000 (see image above).
There are some remnants of red dye/colouring on the base near the rear legs.
There are also remnants of black dye/colouring under the elephant’s chin, tip of the trunk and the underside of the legs.
This piece has been in the same private collection for several decades, safely stored in a display cabinet.
This piece stands just 7cm in height but is a true heavyweight among ancient chess pieces.
There is some wear such as small age related splits around the piece as shown on the images above. Please remember that these ancient chess pieces rarely survive in any decent or complete condition.
If you look closely, you can see that an additional base has been added.
It is interesting to note that the additional base is of very high quality and a lot of effort was taken to add this base which means that whoever did it, they really valued this chess piece. It is clear that this base itself was added a few hundred years ago. The additional base has bevelled edges and has two tiny pegs that can be seen from the underside.
This beautifully carved piece has some wear and tear blemishes as shown.
Please have a look at our other rare and unusual art and antiques.
*Shatil, A “Bone Figurines of the Early Islamic Period: The So Called ‘Coptic Dolls’ from Palestine and Egypt“, in: S. Vitezović, editor. Close to the Bone: Current Studies in Bone Technologies (Belgrade 2016) 296-314.