Recent links of note:
“Chess and Other Games Pieces from Islamic Lands”
Mariam Rosser-Owen, The Burlington Magazine
In Tbilisi, Georgia, one of my favorite walks took me through a cool, shaded park by the riverside, in the center of which stood a Soviet modernist building known to the locals as the “Chess Palace.” Inside, competitors gather in a several-hundred-seat arena, while outside, old men sit and play chess over jugs of beer and conversation. It was a delightful spot of local flavor, and also a telling marker of the Soviet Union’s state-sponsored obsession with the game. The tradition of excellence in chess in the Caucasus goes back much further than Soviet times, of course. The history lies in the name: the Russian word for chess, shakhmaty, comes from the Persian for “the king is dead,” which corresponds with the English “checkmate.” The origin of the Georgian word ch’adrak’i is even older, dating back to a Sanskrit military term via Persian. It makes sense, as the Georgian capital once lay within the borders of the Safavid Persian Empire.
The pieces themselves tell a story too. “Abbasid Baghdad in the 9th and 10th centuries has been compared to the Moscow of the 1980s as the intellectual centre of chess, where grandmasters and theoreticians flourished,” writes Deborah Freeman Fahid in a new catalogue of chess pieces from the Islamic world. Read Mariam Rosser-Owen’s review of the book in The Burlington Magazine for more on chess and the influence of Islamic culture on its appearance and enduring popularity.
“Chattering Stony Names”
Nicholas Penny, London Review of Books
Poets across the millennia have measured their posthumous reputations against the longevity of the various media used in the visual arts. It was the Roman poet Horace who assured us that he had built with his poetry “a monument more lasting than bronze.” He failed to foresee that the bigger brag would have been against marble: of all classical Greco-Roman art, works made of the metamorphic rock have come down to us today in the greatest quantity, certainly more than bronzes, which are easily melted down for valuable metal. Perhaps Horace’s Renaissance disciple Robert Herrick was wise to hedge his bets when he promised that his “Pillar of Fame” would “Out-dur[e] Marble, Brasse, or Jet.” Read Nicholas Penny’s delightful review of a new book on the history and “poetics” of marble from antiquity to the Enlightenment for the London Review of Books.
“Music for a While #44: Stomping, singing, exulting.”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“A young prizewinner plays,” by Jay Nordlinger. On a recital by the pianist Eric Lu.