There is an incomplete set of sixteen chessmen in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Médailles which comprises two kings, two queens, three chariots (castles), four mounted knights, four mounted elephants and one footsoldier (pawn). They are first recorded as having been in the royal inventory at the Abbey of Saint Denis in 1505.
A very small number of closely related pieces are known. Notable among these are two kings in the Bargello Museum, Florence which are very similar indeed to those here, again showing the figures within elaborate architectural surrounds, but which are also smaller in scale (Goldschmidt, A.: Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der Romanischen Zeit XI-XIII Jahrhundert, vol.2, 1926, 163 and 168). Goldschmidt shows further related peices, but none that come quite so close to the Paris set.
The Paris set has been studied at great length, notably by H.Pastoreau: L'échequier de Charlemagne, un jeu pour ne pas jouer, Paris 1990. From a study of the clothing worn by the various figures, particularly the arms worn by the various figures, he concluded that it was made between 1080 and 1100. There are also many similarities in style found with the ivory panels on the Paliotto in Salerno. Southern Italy at this period was experiencing the juxtaposition of several different cultures. The Normans had just invaded, but there was considerable influence both from the Moslem and the Byzantine cultures. The game of chess itself had travelled from the east; it is very probable that the creation of the Paris chess set and the related smaller set were the product of the interrelation of the Arab and Christian cultures.
The carving on this elephant also relates it to the series of oliphants and caskets attributable to Southern Italy of the 11th and early 12th century. While they depict numerous animals, the elephant only makes rare appearances; one can be seen on the oliphants in the Herzog-Anton-Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait (formerly in the John Hunt Collection, Dublin) and on the casket in the treasury of St. Servatius, Maastrict (Kuhnel, Ernst: Die Islamischen Elfenbeinskulpturen, Berlin, 1971, pls 80, 65, 64, 57 and 90). The carving of the eye and the ribbing of the trunk in particular are very close to that of the stet figures in this group.