Homage to Ingmar Bergman

by André Schulz
8/24/2018 – One of the most famous chess scenes in a film is the game between the knight Antonius Block and Death from Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" (1957). Bergman's film inspired the German director Margarethe von Trotta to become a director herself, and as a homage to Bergman she now made a documentary about her idol: "Searching for Ingmar Bergman", a film in which the chess scene from "The Seventh Seal" also plays a role.

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Searching for Ingmar Bergman

"And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hourAnd I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them."

One of the most famous chess images is not from a tournament but from a film: Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal". The game in the film takes place at a rocky shore and is about more than winning in chess. Life itself is at stake. 

Bergman's black-and-white movie plays in the late Middle Ages. After a crusade the knight Antonius Block, played by Max von Sydow, returns to his home country Sweden which is ravaged by the plague. At the sea the knight encounters the personification of death (played by Bengt Ekerot), who came to take Antonius away. But the knight declares that he is not yet ready to die and negotiates to play a game of chess for his life against death. The knight proceeds with the drawing of colours and is to play with White. "That is good," death comments. "I love Black."

In the form of a mystery play "The Seventh Seal" thematises the search of man for God, with death as the only certain thing in life. The film was released in 1957 and its depth and its powerful images made it an international success. For its Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, it was a breakthrough.

Bergman was born July 14th, 1918 in Uppsala and died July 30th, 2007 on Fårö, where he is buried together with his wife Ingrid Bergman, née von Rosen (not to be confused with the actress Ingrid Bergman who has the same name).

The Seventh Seal: The Chess Scene

The title of the movie refers to the Book of Revelation, the last chapter of the New Testament, in which the apocalypse is announced. The apocalypse takes place in seven steps. The "Book with the Seven Seals" is described in the second part of the prophetic visions:

1. The first four seals (the four horsemen of the apocalypse) 6.1–8.1.

1. The first seal 6.1–2
A white horse appears, the rider (the winner) has a bow.

2. The second seal 6.3–4
A fiery-red horse appears, the rider has a sword.

3. The third seal 6.5–6
A black horse appears, the rider has a balance.

4. The fourth seal 6.7–8
A pale horse appears, the rider is called "death" and comes to have power about one quarter of the earth.

2.The last three seals 6.9–8.5

1. The fifth seal 6.9–11
The souls of the martyrs appear and ask for judgment.

2. The sixth seal 6.12–17
After an earthquake and cosmic appearances "mankind hides themselves in the caves and mountains.

3. The saving of the parish 7.1–17
One hundred and forty-four thousand servants from the twelve tribes of Israel are sealed. A great multitude present themselves with palm branches in their hands.

4.The seventh seal 8.1–5
There is half an hour of silence in heaven. After that the seven angels get seven trumpets.

You meet interesting people at the chess board

The German director Margaretha von Trotta ("Two German Sisters", 1981) saw "The Seventh Seal" in the early 1960s in Paris and later said that Bergman's movie was the initial spark for her own artistic career. Now she finished a documentary about her idol: "Searching for Ingmar Bergman" which she presented at the Film Festival in Cannes.

The chess scene in "The Seventh Seal" is crucial in the documentary which reveals that Bergman himself had ordered his own coffin a long time before his death and that he also drew up the guest list for his funeral. 

Ater the death of the director the chess set used in the film was sold in 2009 for 1 million Swedish crowns (about 100,000 Euros) at an auction at Bukowski's, a Swedish auction house. The auction attracted 8,000 visitors.

Sold for 1 million Swedish crowns

Searching for Ingmar Bergman



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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