In 2006 a manuscript was discovered in the historic collection of the library of Count Gugliemo Coronini Cronberg, who died in 1990. It was identified as the preparatory manuscript for De Ludo Scachorum, a lost manual, whose existence was known through the testimony of its author, the famous mathematician Frà Luca Pacioli
The Pacioli manuscript had a striking feature that did not escape the attention of a chess piece historian like Franco Rocco, who is an architect by profession: the chess pieces had an unprecedented appearance, and nothing comparable appeared in the publications of the time. What was the explanation for this singular design?
Franco Rocco explains that the chess pieces represented in the Pacioli manuscript were not simply unusual: they were completely different to those used until the end of the 15th century. Furthermore, he points out that while they were revolutionary, they were also exemplary of the classical design elements that were the subject of much research and admiration at the time of the manuscript’s planning, writing and illustration.
The pawns, rooks, knights, bishops, kings and queens are superbly graceful, in every respect a pure expression of the aesthetic of that period, conceived with the free nonconformist creativity that we recognise as unique to Leonardo’s genius; the originality and invention that characterise the pieces and their geometric ratios are other unmistakable aspects of his highly personal style.
Franco Rocco analyses the 96 pages of the manuscript from every viewpoint in minute detail, demonstrating that Leonardo personally drew the chess pieces and boards for half of the pages plus one. Moreover, he composed some new problems of particular interest.