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Quick history: checkerboard floors – retrospect

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But checkerboard floors were not only found in palaces and estates. In this c. 1661-63 painting by Pieter de Hoogh, you can see a black-and-white checkerboard pattern in one room and a more natural-colored terra cotta checkerboard in the entry hall.

black and white marble floor


However, while painters like Vermeer and de Hooch depicted many Dutch interiors with marble floors in black-and-white checkerboard, historians insist that this was indeed painterly convention, and not a reflection of reality. Scholars like C. Wilemijn Fock argue that the class of houses painted by these artists would rarely have had costly marble floors, and if they did, they would be in hallways instead of reception rooms. One question is whether the painters were simply using the checkerboard to emphasize perspective, or whether they were also elevating the interiors depicted, with the marble checkerboard floor standing as a symbol of luxury.

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The checkerboard floor has also been an important symbol in Masonic iconography. To the Masons, the mixture of equal parts black and white in the pattern represents the duality of human life, a balance of good and evil. It also supposedly represents the floor of King Solomon’s Temple, though there is no archaeological evidence of what that actually looked like. Commentators have compared the Masonic checkerboard floor to the yin-yang of Chinese philosophy, a symbol of balance and harmony.

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