White rook, chess piece, India, 1820 (c)
Carved ivory, made by an Indian artist, probably in Berhampur, from a chess set representing the Bengal Army and an Indian ruler's forces, 1820 (c).
This chess piece takes the form of an European soldier holding a staff in both hands upon a laddered platform on top of a crenellated tower. The soldier wears a short coat, double breasted with wings and a stylised tricorne hat.
Known as 'John Company' sets, finely-crafted chess sets of East India Company soldiers and Indian troops were popular with the British. Most pieces are carved from single sections of ivory.
This set was probably made in Berhampur, which was established as a centre of ivory carving during the 1700s. It was ideally situated for the European market because travellers and traders passed through on their way to and from Calcutta (Kolkata) and central and southern India. It was also a garrison town, so would have had a regularly-changing population of British officers. Exquisite chess sets like this continued to be made into the twentieth century.
NAM Accession Number
National Army Museum Copyright
National Army Museum, Study Collection
Browse related themes