The Book of Games (photo of the title page above) was the first encyclopedia of games in European literature. Alfonso X (1221-1284), the King of Castile (Spain) who is in the middle of the picture on the left, commissioned the book.
The original is kept in the Library of Philip II (d.1598) in the Monastery of San Lorenzio
del Escorial, in the foothills of the Guadarra Mountains, about 50 miles northwest of Madrid. The Library houses over 40,000 volumes, of which 2,700 are illuminated manuscripts such as the Libro de Juegos.
The Monastery of Escorial is the burial place of Spanish kings and queens since
Carlos I. It is extensive and consists of many buildings and galleries.
Complete reproductions of the entire 98 page Libro de Juegos are not available. The original was bound in sheepskin and included 0ver 150 drawings. (It is to be noted that this was before the printing press was invented, and so each page was hand painted and illuminated.) Various illustrations (such as the ones in this exhibit) have been photographed over the years from the original hand illuminated manuscript pages and these photographs have appeared in publications throughout the world. The graphics on this Webpage exhibit have been taken from a large variety of published sources. There are many Websites which include information about the Libro de Juegos - for example from England, Brazil, and of course Spain. Some of these Websites, in addition to exhibiting pictures also illustrate full pages with accompanying translations of the original text.
Alfonso was a brilliant scholar and was known as Alfonso El Sabio (The Learned). Under Moorish control, Castile was a somewhat enlightened European country for the times compared with other parts of Europe. Along with a rich and varied culture - it offered complete religious freedom. At his call were many scholars and artisans and Alfonso personally supervised a group of Jewish, Moorish, and Christian writers whose task it was to produce a series of books on all of the most important topics of his time - history, law, religion, astronomy, and games! In the illustration to the right, he appears to be deciding which games to include in the Libro de Juegos.
In the Introduction to the Libro de Juegos, Alfonso is quoted as saying:
Some pages of the book contain background information such as the illustration at the left which depicts scribes writing the text. The text accompanying an illustration is mostly commentary about the play of a game. For example, with one of the Chess illustrations the caption is “Black plays and mates white in eleven moves.” The bulk of the contents for the most part are a series of hand painted pages which illustrate various popular games of the time and types of people playing these games. A clever visual technique is used for the illustrations of the games themselves. As you view the illustrations of games, notice that the view of a game is from overhead, while the view of players is from straight ahead. The book included four sections: 1) chess, 2) dice games, 3) Backgammon, 4) miscellaneous games.
The Museum archive contains all of the graphics included on this Website, but does not include the entire Libro de Juegos. The balance of the Webpages in this exhibit contain some twenty-five additional illustrations from the Libro de Juegos with selected commentary on each game. Copies of a number of these games are in the Museum collection.
Last update February 11, 2010