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Grödnertal / Val Gardena Chess Set, mid 20th Century

A figural chess set made in Grödnertal / Val Gardena, South Tyrol, Italy some time in the second half of the 20th century. The pieces with a king size of 9.5 cm are carved from wood and finished with a polychrome paint. Black and white pieces are of the same design, but the black side is painted with slightly darker colors and with dark brown bases, while the white side has lighter colors and light brown bases.

The pieces are depicted as a medieval court. The kings with crown, wearing a long robe and holding a scepter. The queens with a coronet, wearing a gown and holding a fan. The bishops as courtiers with a large shield in front of them and holding a parchment (which indicates their connection to the German chess tradition in which the bishop is called "Läufer", which in this case means messenger). The knights as riders with helmet and a small shield on rearing horses. The rooks as towers erected on a rock.

This type is very popular among the carvers of Val Gardena and usually sold under the name "Knight's Chess" (Ritterschach) or "Royal Chess" (Königliches Schach). The set resembles the Montsalvat type made in large numbers by Anton Rifesser (ANRI) from the 1950s onwards. It was very likely made by one of the other families in Val Gardena with a long carving tradition, such as Moroder, Comploj or Demetz. While ANRI and Dolfi sets are fairly common, sets made by other carvers are rather rare. I assume, however, that these sets, like ANRI sets, were also not fully handcarved, but machine carved with a pantograph on the basis of a hand made bronze model. Nevertheless, the carving detail - emphasized by the polychrome painting - is great, which makes this a true gem of a set for any collector.

Many thanks to Holger Langer for the description.

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