One of the most popular Italian painters of the 19th Century, Raffaelo Sorbi was celebrated for his delicate, carefully-rendered depiction of the 'good life' of the Italian gentry and the beauty of the Tuscan countryside. After studying at the Accademia in Florence, Sorbi exhibited widely in Parma, Florence and Paris. In 1872, he entered into an exclusive deal with the influential dealer Goupil, which aided in establishing his career as one of the most beloved Italian painters. Later in his career he was awarded with the Commendatore del Regno, the highest Italian distinction.
Painted in 1886, A Game of Chess is one of Sorbi's most accomplished genre scene paintings and typifies the artist's celebrated style. The elegantly-clothed figures, dressed in 18th Century costume, engage in a leisurely game of chess en plein air. The scene is rendered in photographic detail with careful attention paid to the costume, architecture and atmosphere of the scene. In fact, a closer look at the chessboard reveals that the player at left has just confronted his adversary with checkmate. Especially captivating is Sorbi's ability to capture the diffused quality of light that pervades the work, a technique that hints his relationship to the Macchiaioli movement that developed in Italy mid-century. In response to newly-developed advances in scientific technology, the Macchioli movement focused, with near-scientific precision, on recording the effect of light, shadow and atmosphere in their depiction of quintessentially Italian subject matter.