The Rouen gamesboard tray

In the 18th century, the French city of Rouen was famous for its innovative production of colourful earthenware, known as faience. The intricate design and decoration on this large ceramic tray would have captivated any viewer, yet its most striking feature is its function as a board game. Board games were becoming increasingly popular at the time, particularly in France, and were used to educate as well as entertain. This game is called 'Nouveau Jeu de l'Himen' (The New Game of Hymen), after Hymen the Greek god of marriage, and offers its players a few lessons in love. Much like our modern-day snakes and ladders, players must advance around the board, avoiding pitfalls such as 'indescretion', attempting to be the first to reach Hymen's palace, where they achieve love through a fulfilling marriage, and win the game.

The game starts in the bottom left square and ends in the middle of the board. Explore the game below:

Background image: The Rouen gamesboard, about 1725 – 35, Rouen, France. Museum no. C.11-1941. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London