Visiting Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Nhora Lucía Serrano is the author of a peer-reviewed essay published in the interdisciplinary volume Playthings in Early Modernity: Party Games, Word Games, Mind Games. The volume is part of the Ludic Cultures 1100-1700 series (February 2017) from Medieval Institute Publications, based at Western Michigan University.
In her essay, “Visual Frames and Breaking the Rules of the Reconquista: Chess and Alfonso X, el Sabio’s Libro de ajedrez, dados y tablas,” Serrano focuses on Alfonso X, el Sabio’s Castilian illuminated manuscript, the Libro de ajedrez, dados y tablas (Book of Chess, Dice, and Tables, 1283). The manuscript contains visual depictions of the game of chess that represent not just a leisurely pastime of ‘play’ but also a subtle, socio-political strategy of tolerance.
Serrano said the clash of cultures among the dominant 13th-century Iberian Peninsula cultures (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) was played out in the battlefield, but the acceptance of diverse cultures was displayed on the chessboard and in the playing of chess. In the Libro de ajedrez, for example, Christians, non-Christians, women and men are depicted playing each other.
A close study of the illuminations leads Serrano to suggest that “the Libro de ajedrez offers a social window into the multiplicity of cultures and religions coexisting within the Iberian kingdoms, and a different strategy than a mere representation of warfare.”
She proposes that “ultimately, Alfonso X and his scriptorium play the role of political critic, challenging the accepted Christian rules of the Reconquista (from the Islamic conquest of Hispania in 711 to the fall of the last Islamic state in Iberia at Granada and the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1492), and breaking the rules of chess as a game of dominance through the visual representation of chess on the pages of the Libro de ajedrez.”