A Venetian Games Board, late 16th Century
The V&A Museum, London.
In a year when when Covid-19 has spread and lockdown prevailed, we are told that sales of books and intricate jigsaw puzzles have soared. This magnificent games-board, on display in the Renaissance Galleries at the V&A in South Kensington, was made by an unknown artisan in Venice c.1570-90, in an era when the fearsome plague had re-emerged and quarantine was imposed. Long evenings of isolation - in a support bubble for two - would surely have been sweetened when playing backgammon, or chess using the reverse of the board, watching the reflection of candle-flames glimmer on the brilliant blue of polished lapis lazuli. This is a precious stone sourced from mines in Afghanistan, brought by merchants along ancient trade routes by land and sea. I would certainly end up losing the game whilst entranced by the gilded lines of leaf-tendrils, inspired by Islamic designs, shining on a background veneer of exotic South Asian rosewood.