This curious treaty on chess, which entered the National Library Manuscript section in 1869, comes from the Cabildo Bookshop in Toledo’s Cathedral. It had previously belonged to the Librarian Cardinal of the Vatican, Francisco Javier Zelada (1717-1801). On page 47 there is the name of Innocenzo Romano, who might have owned the codex before Cardinal Zelada.
An Example of a Work Today Forgotten
Its elegant gothic lowercase lettering, some of its abbreviation sign modes, as well as the characteristics of its delicate figures suggest an origin in the Bohemian Circle, which had its centre in Prague under Wenceslaus IV (1378-1419).
It is evident that our text has a relation to a work today forgotten, but that had an enormous popularity all around Europe by the end of the Middle Ages: the Moral Treaty of Chess, composed by a Dominican, whose name seems to be Jacobo de Cessolis, but whose life is hardly known, who wrote it in the late 13th century. However, despite the obvious analogy, the Tractatus de Ludo Scacorum must not be considered an abbreviation or summary of Cessolis’s work since there are important discrepancies. Therefore, a different source could be considered. Nevertheless, the model for the illustrations might have been some luxurious copy of the book by Cessolis.
A Glimpse in the Spirit of Medieval Times
The work is representative of a whole state of spirit in the medieval man and contains 15 brightly coloured miniatures, some of them full page, divided into two or more scenes which illustrate the text. They represent court scenes, game scenes and others like war or works and tasks, all of them moralizing.
It contains eight chapters with the following titles: I. Of its invention; II. Of how the chess board represents the city of Babylon; III. Of how the chess board presents two kingdoms in opposition; IV. The meaning of chess figures; V. Of how the location of chess figures teaches how to set up a camp; VI. Of how the movement of chess figures represents straight and praiseworthy actions; VII. Of how the movement of the chess figures represents the way of organizing the armies in the line of battle; VIII. How the ulterior movement of chess figures represents the meeting of the armies.