Dare to Know: Chess in the Age of Reason

Dare to Know: Chess in the Age of Reason showcases numerous chess sets, books, artwork, and other artifacts representing Enlightenment centers in Europe and the United States. Chess sets belonging to famous historical figures from the era, including Catherine the Great and Madame Tussaud, will be on view alongside humble playing sets and a display related to the “Mechanical Turk,” a famed chess-playing automaton.

Dare to Know: Chess in the Age of Reason

During the Enlightenment era, European and American scientists, philosophers, and other thinkers questioned the status quo, promoting ideas that would help shape today's society.  Intellectuals gathered in new public spaces--cafes, coffee shops, salons, and masonic halls--to discuss new ideas. Some dared to challenge the power of monarchs and question organized religion. Many thinkers promoted values of tolerance, interest in other cultures, rationalism, and liberty. At the same time that there were challenges to the monarchy, chess was transforming from a game played by the aristocracy to one played by people of all social standings. Dare to Know: Chess in the Age of Reason explores the history of the game during this period of remarkable change.

Chess, which was knowledge, foresight, and strategy, naturally became a favored pastime of many of the era's most famous thinkers, including Voltaire, Denis Diderot, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France. They took part in the lively social scene that existed in coffee shops such as the legendary Café de la Régence, a renowned chess mecca that attracted philosophes and the best chess players of the era, including François-André Danican Philidor. Dare to Know: Chess in the Age of Reason showcases chess sets, books, artworks, and other artifacts hailing from Enlightenment centers in Europe and what was to become the United States.

Curated by Emily Allred, Curator, World Chess Hall of Fame, with Tom Gallegos

Unfortunately, select advertised artifacts will not be on view during the exhibition due to COVID-19. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Read the full essay about the exhibition, by Tom Gallegos, here.

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06/25/2020: St. Louis Public Radio — On Chess: When the Game of Kings Became a Game of the People