5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

Exhibition Highlights

Sisters Playing Chess

Sofonisba Anguissola
1555 Cremona
Oil on canvas

Located in a fictional exterior landscape, this animated scene depicts three sisters dressed in exquisite clothing playing chess while their maid looks on. Chess was seen as a game of 'brains, skill and memory'. This gentility made it socially acceptable for educated women, unlike some other pastimes.

Games were an integral part of social life. Chess and backgammon were popular among the upper classes, but cards had a more universal appeal. There were also many new games involving gambling. These were prohibited or regulated by the authorities because of the large sums of money involved.

A Turkish carpet is placed on the table where the sisters are playing. Italian inventories of the time refer frequently to 'carpets for tables'. Made primarily in the Middle East and exported to Europe, they were a popular feature of interiors across Italy, particularly in Venice, because of its strong trade links with the Middle East. Carpets were draped over furniture to conceal plain surfaces, but only sometimes put on the floor.

Unusually, this painting is by a female artist who enjoyed an exceptional education and career, despite not having access to formal artistic training. She frequently used her sisters as models, and this painting is inscribed in Italian, 'The maiden Sofonisba Anguissola, Amilcare's daughter, painted her three sisters and a maid from life 1555'.

Sisters Playing Chess Enlarge

Muzeum Narodowe, Poznan,The Raczynski Foundation

Click on the images above for more information and an enlargement.