“THE LIVING VS. THE DEAD”
Chess set, late 1700s / early 1800s
The wooden chess pieces consist of carved heads on bases that resemble column heads. The knights are two-headed horses, while the lathe-turned castle boasts a carved crenelation.
The dead have skulls for heads.
Ever since the early Middle Ages, it had been customary to describe life as a game which is always won by death.
Another common notion is that in death everyone is equal. When the pieces are replaced in the box, their relative rank loses its significance just as there is no difference between dead.
This type of sets probably became popular after the devastating experiences of plague and other epidemics.
Private Collection of Thomas Thomsen