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Mars and Venus playing Chess!

(Marte e Venere giocano a scacchi…)

This painting from circa 1630 is showing Mars and Venus who are playing chess. The painting is located in the Augusteum in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony.

It’s titled, “Marte e Venere Giocano a Scacchi” (“Mars and Venus Playing Chess”), painted by Alessandro Varotari (Il Padovanino) is in the Baroque style.

The artist was of the Mannerist, then Baroque Schools– sort of a bridge between Michelangelo and Reubens. Possibly influenced by the Valencian poem “Scachs d’amor,”

it recalls the well-known Greco-Roman mythological story in which Venus (or Aphrodite) cheats on her husband, Vulcan (or Hephaestus), with Mars (or Ares). They are discovered at first light by Apollo who tells Vulcan. Vulcan, in turn, sets a trap to find them cheating with his own eyes and with other witnesses. Neptune (or Poseidon) intercedes and let’s Mars off the hook by paying a ransom. Incidentally, Mars and Venus had a look-out man, Alectryon (, who fell asleep allowing Apollo to discover them ‘in flagrante delicto’; Mars turned him into a rooster and forced him to announce every sunrise from then on. This painting shows Mars and Venus playing chess (which is what makes this depiction quite unique among all the others. The game of chess, of course, symbolizing the game of love) and Vulcan getting drunk on wine in the background. Cupid (or Eros) is perched on Venus’ lap. Cupid, oddly enough, is the love-child of Venus and Mars. A monkey in the foreground is tugging on Mars’ knee-pad. I have no idea what that is about. Venus, who has just mated Mars…

(FEN: b7/8/8/b7/3k4/1P6/4K3/4q3 w – – 0 1)

Diagram of the position seen on the painting

….is shown in the simultaneous act of removing Mars’ helmet. The game of chess ends and the game of love begins.

(This article was based on a Facebook post by Sarah Beth Cohen, who writes great chess article, and has a deep research into chess history)

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