Snapshots of Internationally Known Chess Games in the Works of Simone
Chess Games and Chess Figures Intensifying Feelings, Creating Relationships and Accentuating the Impact of a Person, Nation or Event
The game of chess is one of the oldest board games in the world, and an important motif in the work of the Italian artist Simone Domeniconi.
The origin of the word “chess” - “šāh” - means “ruler” in the Persian language, but the origin of the game itself seems to be somewhere in India. In European states like Spain and Italy it has been known since the 10th century, but its current shape developed by the end of the 15th century when it began to be produced via manufacture.
The frst fgures of chess game, which are known only from written sources, were large and created with precious materials. In the Arabian-Islamic world they were shaped geometrically in materials such as ivory or quartz and the board was made of textile (see Olbrich (Ed.), 2004). But those geometrical fgures changed at the end of the 13th century so that the fgures were created in the sculpture style of contemporary Europe. During the 17th century chess fgures refected events of the time such as wars – for instance the Habsburg Empire’s battles with the Turks were presented in Meissen porcelain fgures (see Olbrich (Ed.) 2004). The chess were smaller sized and made of gold, silver, bronze, gemstones, amber, and other precious materials. By the end of 18th century the fgures were shaped like butterfies, or as mystical creatures and were made of porcelain or glass.
The chess boards from the 1300s could be folded and were created with precious materials. Later, in the 1600s chess boards were transformed into boxes.
In art in the Middle Ages the motif of chess and its rules were used in a symbolic way to present ideas about behaviour, or to represent leading personalities at royal courts of that time. The oldest known of these representations in art is a 12th century mosaic on the foor of the San Savino church in Piacenza.
Later, modern artists painted chess playing and chess boards in their work, such as Duchamp (Portrait of Chess Players, 1911) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (Otto Muller 1874-1930, Playing Chess, 1913). Matisse used the metaphor of playing chess in several paintings (for example; The Painter's Family, 1911; Odalisques, 1928), while Pablo Picasso’s Chess (1911) focused on the board itself.
The contemporary artist Simone Domeniconi uses this motif in a unique form, making connections between years when specifc chess games were played and the dates of the creation of historical artworks. He presents snapshots of known historical games and arranges them within the represented historical pieces of art.
Domeniconi's artworks that are based on historical art pieces are re-created by him in his own way through an art style and technique which is a collage of chess and mixed media (resins, polyurethane, glue, glitter, acrylic, enamel, etc) on canvas or wood. The relief-like fgures are presented over a chess board, while the chess fgures are integrated within the surface sometimes overall and sometimes only as accentuation for some represented motifs. Furthermore, the chess fgures are adapted to create a harmonized overall impression by painting them with similar colours and patterns. Sometime it seems like the chess fgures make traces over the surface, sometime they are focused only in one element, sometime they even look like bullets in the body of the chess fgures. In some works the artist makes the movement of the fgures visible through thin lines over the chess board, or he presents the chess board itself. Even if the chess board is missing, the chess fgures are positioned within the artwork following the original rules of the game. Presenting snapshots of real situations in historically known chess games, the chess fgures intensify tensions within the themes that Domeniconi employs.
Until now examples of art that use chess as a motif have presented the game and the players, so that the meaning of the works was representative of the players or of the society in which the art was created. In the works of Domeniconi, where chess is combined with historical examples of art, the game is pointing to a specifc time, representing life circumstances and stories which used to happen at that time and are relevant again in contemporary society. But these integrated artworks also represent emotions, those belonging to an individual and those between a couple. The intensity of pain or sadness has been illustrated upon chess fgures so that they wear the face of a sad female as if they were in tears, or have a puncture in the area of heart.
Domeniconi also presents artworks in which the chess pieces are combined with comic fgures. This recalls pop art culture of the 1970s when fgures chosen from magazines and comics were processed and integrated into art. In Domeniconi's artworks heroes from comic magazines are used as motifs. Here the chess fgures intensify the emotions of battle, of fear, of anxiety, of pain, or even the feeling of the heroes’ triumph against evil. This is supported also by the dynamic presentation of comic heroes. The heroes communicate with those fgures also looking at them.
In combination with maps and fags and specifc autochtone decorations belonging to different cultures, the chess fgures and the game itself contextualises political international affairs between different states, clarifying the meaning of relationships between nation-states and continents, and the chess fgures can symbolise the infuence of a country upon the whole world. For example, the impact of the Maori culture on the world was pointed out by the decorative motifs from New Zealand.
The artist Simone Domeniconi is remarkable for every art historian because of this unique usage of the chess game motif, and also due to the innovative technical integration in the presentations. The successful dialog between the chess game and the represented themes, in content as well as technical execution, such as the integration of chess fgures into the background or in the presentation itself, and also the surprisingly positive effect that the viewer obtains by observing these artworks, that consist of known elements combined in an unknown way, takes a unique place in contemporary art history. This makes Domenicioni’s art remarkable.
Harald Olbrich (Ed.). Lexikon der Kunst. Architektur, Bildende Kunst, Angewandte Kunst, Industrieformgestaltung, Kunsttheorie, Band VI, E.A. Seemann 2004, Leipzig.
Dr. phil. Penesta Dika