Frolicking in the Middle Ages

'Man and Woman Playing Backgammon'With a swing that would be welcome among today’s Orioles, a robed fellow wielding a bat-like stick aims for a ball being tossed by a similarly attired pal. A man and woman sporting long conical hats square off at backgammon. A couple of monks play blind man’s bluff. Boys out on a wintry Flemish meadow toss snowballs at each other.

Welcome back to those frolicsome Middle Ages, when folks could pursue any number of diversions, in between outbreaks of plague and multi-year wars. This lighter side is the focus of an exhibit opening this weekend at the Walters Art Museum: “Checkmate: Medieval People at Play.”

The show anticipates an exhibition opening this fall devoted to Walter Wick, the children’s book illustrator known for his use of games, puzzles and ciphers. “We wanted to find the medieval equivalent and tie in our collection with what he does,” says “Checkmate” curator Lynley Anne Herbert.

She combed through the museum’s prized rare books and chose more than two dozen manuscripts — most of them rarely, if ever, displayed — that illustrate leisure-time activity, sometimes right alongside the most somber of religious texts or images.

“This is not new to medievalists, but I think a lot of people will be surprised,” Herbert says. “There are the games, most obviously chess. And some not so expected sports — a very early version of baseball, also hockey and polo. I also included visual and intellectual games, and the game of love. Medieval people had fun, very much like us in many ways.”

“Checkmate” opens Saturday, July 17 and runs through Oct. 10 at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. Free admission. Call 410-547-9000 or go to

Source: The Baltimore Sun




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