Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Last Wednesday, I helped do a funeral at St. Lukes. The departed was a long time member of the parish community, though she and her husband had been living in Michigan for several years now, I take it. Despite that, they wanted to have the funeral at St. Luke's, so arrangements were made, and her Michigan priest came down here (from vacation actually) to preach and celebrate.

The woman who died was an avid art enthusiast, I learned after talking with her husband. It was therefore appropriate that during the sermon, the visiting priest told an anecdotal story featuring a piece of art to help make his point. I was very impressed with the tale and thought it really worked well in a funeral sermon, particularly for celebrating the life of an art lover.

The story went something like this:

In the National Gallery of London, there hangs a painting. Depicted in the painting are two men sitting at a small table. On the table is a chess board, and, if one looks closely enough, one can see that the game is nearing its conclusion. On the far side of the table, bigger than life, is an old man, head thrown back in macabre laughter, smoking a cigar. On the near side of the table is a young man, head held low in defeat. Some have suggested that these two represent Mephistopheles and Faust. The painting is entitled "Checkmate". While on a school trip to the gallery, a young man sat for almost the entire duration of the field trip in front of this work, staring at it. When his teachers came to collect him at the end, he stood up and shouted, "It's a lie! The king has one move left!" And, if you look at the game, you will see that the young man is correct. It is not checkmate after all.

As you can imagine, this worked very well in a funeral sermon. That which seems to be the end is not the end, because the king has one move left. The power of Jesus' resurrection - defeating death - overcomes death's checkmate maneuvers.

I liked it. In fact, I liked it so much that today, I decided I would love to see the actual picture. I wanted to see what it looked like and I also wanted to see if I could find the king's one last move. So I did a google search. I came up with no images. I looked in art sites, at the National Gallery of London's site, and at poster print sites. Nothing. What I did find though were lots of paintings called "Checkmate", but not this one and tons of funeral sermons wherein this story had been used. So, the preacher wasn't as clever or original as I had thought. That is disappointing enough. But, what I will really be disappointed about is if this painting doesn't exist at all. That someone, once upon a time, invented this story and preachers have been lifting it ever since. That would be really disheartening. We're celebrating the life of someone dear to us! How can we do that with a lie? If the preacher is unsure of the truth of the story, he should have looked it up as I did. Why would they not want to actually see this piece? Please, someone save the day and locate this art piece. Someone restore my faith in this preacher by pointing me to the piece, so I can see it with my own two eyes.



I also Googled up a number of versions of this story, and most share one fishy element: the oberserver is said to discover the king's available move after intense scrutiny. This is a transparent device to increase the gravity of the story: a novice player is easily able to tell if the king has "one move left" or is in fact mated.

The painting may well exist, but this false element suggests a genetic relation among the story's versions.

By Blogger G. Brooke, at 3:12 PM  

I took the other tack and looked for such a painting. Didn’t have any better luck than you; it looks as though this is one of those “preachers’ anecdotes” that may bear only the faintest relation to reality. . . .

By Blogger AKMA, at 10:31 PM  

This is just really disappointing...

By Blogger Ryan, at 9:55 AM  


I found a couple paintings that may be helpful.

Contact me at SADCNNE@aol.com

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:15 PM  

I think the message of the story about the painting is more importatant than the authenticity of either. To me the king's last move has to do with salvation and is more appropos for life than death. The King of Kings' last move is to rescue us, even if we have sold our soul to the devil.

I too would like to see this painitng if it exists. The little bit of research I have done indicates that it is located in a Scottish gallery and the story is told by a James Stewart. Maybe those leads can help us find this painting or lat least more about it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:08 PM  

I too am looking for this painting. I had no idea that there are others. I have also learned that there are several versions of this story concerning this painting.

Has anyone come up with this painting on line?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:59 PM  

Easter sermons revived this story. I find an opera, "The Damnation of Faust" by Berlioz. I have heard that the painting hangs in London Natnl Galleries or Prado in Madrid. I have toured London Galleries, and don't recall seeing it. The opera concerns Dr. Faust who sold his soul to the devil. I haven't been able to locate, but will keep looking.

By Anonymous Joy, at 5:32 PM  

Hiya, I know these postings were written a while ago but I have an old tin, very old, the printing is lithographed. This shows the scene and is actually titled checkmate. Hope this helps.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:07 PM  

I too have been searching for the painting on line - cannot find it. The version I heard was the "young man" viewing the art was actually a world champion chess player, I don't recall his name. Am disappointed that there doesn't seem to be a way to authenticate this story. Wish it were true.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:25 AM  

We had the same sermon today. Can't find the picture either. Any chance of a scan of the picture on the tin?

By Blogger david, at 8:48 AM  

The story has probably been a little changed through the years, but I think it is in reference to the chess player Paul Morphy during one of his tournaments in England. The painter is a German man by the name of Moritz August Retzsch and the title of the painting is Die Schachspieler.

The story is that Paul Morphy, the tournament champion, set-up a board in like manor to the painting and played the white to victory over the opponent (the devil). So don't lose faith in your preacher. There is truth to the story.

By Blogger Jason, at 11:13 PM  

I too have heard of a painting (possibly the same one that has been refered to as "Checkmate") depicting a chess match between what appears to be the devil and a young man. My Dad has had me looking for this painting for several years but sadly I have been unable to locate it. Dad vividly remembers seeing the picture in his grandmother's family Bible when he was a young child (around 1941). Dad says that the print was actually one of many prints published in that old Bible. Dad also says that he doesn't think that the young man's face was actually visible in the painting. Radio Bible Class has also published the story of this painting in "Our Daily Bread" for April 4, 2004 (see http://www.rbc.org/odb/odb-04-03-04.shtml) According to that version of the story the painting is on display in the Louvre in Paris. I sure hope someone locates the painting and that prints become available.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:30 PM  

You fail to acknowledge that the KING has ALREADY MADE HIS LAST MOVE....HE ROSE FROM DEATH. 'For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time' 1 Corinthians 15:3 - 8

By Anonymous PIXAPD, at 3:09 AM  

Here it is:

By Blogger Andrew James, at 2:26 PM  

I was interested in seeing this pictures as I just heard the story in church also. 6/22/08. The painter is a German man by the name of Moritz August Retzsch and the title of the painting is Die Schachspieler seems to be the correct one as it googled it. I don't think the angel looks sorry or disappointed the the game at all. I would say peacefully accepting of the the victorious outcome of the King. I am not a chess champion and can't tell how the game is coming along so I will trust that the King of kings has one more move and will be victorious.

By Blogger socalmomster, at 11:19 AM  

If the painting in question is the one by Moritz August Retzsch "die schachspieler" my german mother tells me that title means the chessplayer. if you google that title and painter under web search not image search you can find the painting

By Blogger revpwarren, at 6:27 PM  

I was able to find a picture since I am also going to use the story in a christian article. I am not sure that I can post the picture here. Not a geek!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:55 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Shelly, at 8:52 PM  

Hi, this painting does exist. I saw it at the National Gallery in London in 2000. Can't find the painting online- only poor copies of it. You might try calling the Gallery to see if they can give you the name of the artist. I looked at the painting by Moritz August Retzsch and this is not the one I recall seeing at the Gallery.

By Blogger Shelly, at 8:56 PM  

Oh yes it does exist.It is wonderful. The King does have one more move. Praise God.
Here it is.... http://lcacem.blogspot.com/2009/10/hope.html

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:05 PM  


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:48 AM  

The painting exists. The painter is Moritz August Retzsch.

A Mural of this painting was hanging in the hallway one year at the European Chess Championship Match. The painting shows the devil with a smirk because he has his opponent surrounded and it appears to be a checkmate.

A chess champion playing in the tournament while taking a break with some others, was starring at the chess board in the painting even after his friends left. After some time studying the board, he exclaimed...it's wrong! The king has one more move! It's not over!

The message the painter was trying to convey was...when you think the devil has you down and it all looks hopeless, God (The King) has one more move on your behalf. NEVER GIVE UP...God ALWAYS has the last say so.

If I could, I would attach the photo of the painting to this message.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:11 PM  

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