...nor of this...
...nice though they are, and very Christmassy.
It is a red that seasoned readers of the blog may remember, and others might enjoy for the first time.
It is the red in this...
...the red of a Cardinal's robe - perhaps that's Cardinal Red.
It is rendered above by José Gallegos y Arnosa, as it appeared in the blog's first Chess in Art post in the sequence published by Justin about five years ago. Although Spanish by origin, Gallegos y Arnosa practiced in Italy (see here), which may account for the style. But, the old-master manner is a bit deceptive as his dates were 1857-1917. So it's likely it was painted in the latter part of the 19th century, or even just into the 20th - but as noted by Justin, the exact year is unclear (and the same goes for the other works below).
One can relish the characterisation, the animation, and the detail in such a work; and one can ponder (should the fancy take you) on the significance the contorted figure (Saint Sebastian?) visible in the background, standing in stark contrast to the well-upholstered clerics seated around the board. Other Cardinal pictures also draw you in, so let's have a close look at a few more - it turns out there are rather a lot of them. We'll start our sample with a simple case, and a single figure.
|Late for the game|
Andrea Langini (1847-1912)
For a game, and two figures, the solitary Cardinal needs an opponent. But - heaven forfend! - here he is in secular company.
Playing with a lay brother may be defensible, even if the position on the board is not defendable; but if you play indiscreetly à deux with a lady, better give the servant the day off.
|A secret afternoon|
Cipriano Mannucci (1882 - 1970)
|A Game of Chess|
|Schachmatt dem Kardinal|
There are examples aplenty, the one below employing (in an all-clerical contest) the usual pictorial devices in surroundings verging on the decadent. There may be subtleties on the board, but the decor is decidedly de trop.
| Kept in check |
George Croegaert (1848 - 1923)
Now here's a thought, prompted by J.M.W.Turner, and an additional reason for their enrapture with red: it may have been just naked attention-seeking, if you know what I mean, by the artists themselves. In the absorbing film (recently released) directed by Mike Leigh you will see the cantankerous Mr Turner (played by Timothy Spall) at the Royal Academy upstaging the hapless John Constable with a last minute dab of vermillion.
Initially he dropped in an incoherent splodge, leaving his admirers perplexed...
...to which he later returned to deftly transform it into something altogether more meaningful...
...to the astonishment of the critics; and the chagrin of Constable hung alongside (if you know what I mean).
This may go a little way in explaining why an ambitious artist might resort to Cardinal Red. But why chess should be prayed in aid is a bit of mystery: much as we chess players might like to fantasize, the game, as we play it, seldom affords opportunities for indiscretion or excess.
A second thought is that in the early decades of the 20th century, when Mannucci was active, the new inorganic pigment Cadmium Red (a powerful colour, and also good for pinks) became available: and that may have encouraged further anti-clerical escapades.
At the risk of Cardinal overkill here is another exquisite Gallegos y Arnosa: he gives us the most densely populated pictures, and so a grand finale.
|A Game of Chess|
But if this is subversive, then it is at a level almost subliminal. Opulence, yes; dereliction, quite possibly; but yet no bling, flirtation, or playing to the gallery. All is surveyed under the affectionate regard of the artist, with an even-handedness that spreads the tasteful detail across the scene and grants no superiority to either side in the game. But, as we noted above, Gallegos y Arnosa practiced in Italy, with therefore rather a lot of Cardinals looking over his shoulder. Too much provocation and they might have seen red, and summoned the Vatican Guard. Anti-clerical France, with its passion for laïcité was, it seems, the active site of Cardinal bashing.
Now that we have given them a good going-over, we can observe that in the magisterial sweep of Yves Marek's wonderful book Art échecs et mat, with all its astute thematic analysis and copious illustrations, there is not a single Cardinal chess picture. He might, perhaps, have included one or two in the chapter on chess as divertissement - though given their relative chasteness, and whatever the coquetry on display, to have filed them under érotisme would obviously have been a clerical error.
Have we identified a new Chess-in-Art theme? It would be distinguished by the singular criterion of Cardinals at play - i.e. engaged in extra-curricula activity apparently at odds with their teaching - kitted out in robes of a distinctive hue. After due consideration, I think we can take it as read.
Thanks to Richard Tillett for the tip.
Chess in Art Index