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Marostica: human chess game

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An interesting story from the charming town of Marostica, north of Venice in the Veneto region.

The legend of the human chess game dates back to 1454 when Marostica belonged to the Venetian Republic.

Horta Victor (1861-1947), Hotel Tassel, Br¸ssel. (Aus: Moderne St‰dtebilder Abt. 1. Neubauten in Br¸ssel, 1900): Innenansicht Detail Treppenhaus. Lichtdruck auf Papier, 32,5 x 48,6 cm (inkl. Scanrand). Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universit‰t Berlin Inv. Nr. B 1926,12.

Two noblemen fell in love with the beautiful Lionora, daughter of Taddeo Parisio, the Lord of Marostica. As was customary at the time, they challenged each other to a cruel duel to win Lionora’s hand. To avoid enmity or loss of life in the duel, the Lord forbade the encounter. He decided that the two rivals would compete in a game of chess: Lionora would marry the winner, while the loser would, in any case, marry Lionora’s younger sister, Oldrada.

The encounter took place in the square in front of the Lower Castle on a feast day, with armed living figures bearing the noble insignia of white and black, in the presence of the Lord, his noble daughter, the Lords of Angarano and Vallonara, the noble court, and the entire populace.

Live people in the square act as chess pieces


Armed men entered the field: archers and halberdiers, foot soldiers and knights, then the Lord and his noble court with the anxious Lionora, who was secretly in love with one of the two rivals, her faithful nurse, noblemen and their ladies, the master of arms, falconers, pages, maidens, standard-bearers, musicians, farmers; the whites and blacks with their kings and queens, rooks and knights, bishops and pawns. Then there were fireworks and music according to the Lord’s orders.

This event is repeated today just like the first time, in a framework of sumptuous customs, multi-colored banners, martial parades, and exquisite elegance. It is noted that a unique courtesy pervades everything; it inspires the entire re-enactment of this ancient story, which, from the darkness of remote times, still lives today as a miracle of fantasy.

Orders are still given to the characters and cast today in the “Serenissima” dialect.

Now we come to Mario Mirko Vucetich:

Mirko Vučetić

Francesca Cappelli and Giovanni Vucetich were his parents, his father being of Dalmatian origin and employed by the State Railways.
Mirko was artistically inclined. His initial artistic education began in the city of Felsinea (modern-day Bologna), after which he moved with his family to Naples. He continued his studies until he obtained a chair in architectural drawing at the Royal Institute of Fine Arts in 1917.

In May 1929, he traveled to New York, where he stayed for two years, working as an assistant director and stage manager at the Forty-second Street Theatre with Henry Dreyfuss (1930) and at the Roxy Theatre (1931). He returned to Italy and moved to Vicenza, where he stayed and continued to work for the rest of his life.

In 1954, he wrote the set design,  texts, and directed the “Living Chess Game” in Marostica, which he directed until the mid-seventies.

Mirko Vučetić Marostica

Many studies have been written about him in Italy, and he is recognized as a versatile artist. In Croatia, he is hardly known. I wouldn’t have known about him either if I hadn’t found myself in the lovely town of Marostica, which is located about 80 km north of Venice. In the main square, there is a large chessboard on which a game of living chess is played every year at the beginning of September. Live people and horses participate. The squares are red and white, like those on the Croatian coat of arms. Some say this is Mirko’s work. The costumes, the story, the figures, and everything around them were conceived by Mirko Vucetich himself.

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