Retzsch’s painting masterpiece and our great, great grandfather’s extraordinary bronze bas relief replica of that work are arguably far more than carefully crafted and beautiful works of art. The spiritual symbolism of a young man risking his mortal soul in a confrontation with the Faustian figure of Mephistopheles evokes a certain level of respect even in this decidedly secular modern age.
The fact that each of Satan’s pieces on the chess board were fashioned by Retzsch to represent man’s common vices and the young man’s pieces to represent our greatest virtues infuses the chess match with a quality that seeks to capture the imagination, the admiration and fascination of even the most confirmed modern day religious skeptic.
Spiritual symbolism has existed from time immemorial. According to C Borr. Von Miltitz (whose explanation of the symbolism contained in Retzsch’s work is included when you click below), when such symbolism is combined with beautiful and meaningful art “which must fill our hearts with terror and delight” and when art’s noblest exertions strive “to address our human affections in the language of religious, pious, solemn contemplation, then art knows how to strike those notes which vibrate with such power and depth and echo so sweetly and so long”.
According to Von Miltitz when such art is found it “should be hung up above the table of every artist, in the oratory of woman’s prayers” and “over the cradle of sleeping innocence and childhood”.
For a flavor of the detailed discussion of the spiritual symbolism of the pieces displayed in Retzsch’s “The Chess Players” and our great, great grandfather's bronze bas relief also known as “The Game of Life” in the language of the 19th century click here.