Mysterious Lewis Chessmen launch tour with major exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland

By Kirstie Brewer | 12 April 2010
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A photograph of a woman looking at a chess set.

(Above) Lindsey McGill, assistant curator at the National Museum of Scotland with a selection of the Lewis Chessman. © Steve Lindridge.

The famous Lewis Chessman are to go on tour in Scotland this May for a major new exhibition opening at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Reuniting the famous Norse chessmen from National Museums Scotland and the British Museum, The Lewis Chessman: Unmasked, promises to be the most comprehensive exhibition on the characters for over a decade.

“These iconic objects have a special place in the public imagination, which will be reflected in this comprehensive exhibition on their creation, discovery and enduring legacy,” said Dr Gordon Rintoul, Director, National Museums Scotland.

The exhibition will draw on new research by National Museums Scotland to bring a fresh perspective on the mysterious figures, which have been a source of intrigue ever since their discovery on the Isle of Lewis in 1831.

The National Museum of Scotland is the first venue for the exhibition, which will later travel to Aberdeen Art Gallery, Shetland Museum & Archives and Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway.

A photograph of a some chess pieces.

As the largest and finest group of early chessmen to survive, they are one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland. © Steve Lindridge.

The chessmen are rare survivors of the Middle Ages, probably made in Norway in the late 12th or early 13th century.

As well as looking at Norwegian craft tradition at the time, the exhibition will also explore society in 12th century Lewis, and take a guess at who the important owners of the chessmen were.

Chessmen of their quality, intricacy and humour are an exceptional find and are regarded as one of Scotland’s most treasured archaeological discoveries.

“This tour provides a wonderful opportunity for these extraordinary objects, which are of European and worldwide significance, to be seen by audiences across Scotland,” said Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum.

Tour dates are

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
21 May – 19 September 2010

Aberdeen Art Gallery
7 October 2010 – 8 January 2011

Shetland Museum & Archives
29 January 2011 – 27 March 2011

Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway
15 April 2011 – 12 September 2011

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