Charlemagne Pattern: A Unique Legacy of Swiss Chess

The Charlemagne pattern, also known as the Selenus pattern, is a distinct style of chess set that originated in Europe, particularly in Germany and Switzerland, during the 17th and 18th centuries. The sets are named after Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, and Johann Selenus, the pseudonym of Augustus the Younger, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who wrote one of the first comprehensive books on chess in German.

The chess pieces in a Charlemagne pattern set are distinct from those seen in the later Staunton design, which is the current standard. The pieces are usually tall and slender, often beautifully carved from bone or ivory, and are typically much more ornate than those found in most other sets. Each piece is often topped with a symbolic figure or design.

For example, the king is often depicted with a crown and scepter, while the queen might feature a smaller crown and a flower. The bishop is typically represented by a mitre, the knight is often more abstract but could feature a horse's head, the rook is usually a turret or tower, and the pawns are typically represented as small obelisks or pillars.

One unique aspect of the Charlemagne pattern is the large number of pieces that have a distinctive ball or orb in their design, often held in the hand of the piece. This could possibly represent the orb of state, a symbol of authority used in Christian rituals and on royal regalia.

These chess sets are a testament to the craftsmanship of the period, and they offer a glimpse into the history of chess. Each set is not just a playable game but also a work of art, embodying the cultural and aesthetic values of the time when it was created.

While the Charlemagne pattern isn't used in modern competitive chess—where the Staunton pattern is the standard—it remains highly valued by collectors and historians for its aesthetic appeal and its rich historical and cultural significance.
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