On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Attributed to Valerio Spada, Goose Game with a Poem starting ‘From a Door Lots of Pilgrims Left’, c. 1650, Italian; etching and engraving on paper, 471 x 340mm; acc. no. 2669.1.20

6 geese a-laying

This enchanting etching and engraving of the Goose game is one of the oldest examples of this traditional board game in the Waddesdon Collection, attributed to Valerio Spada, c.1650. Thought to have originated in Italy, the game is akin to the modern day game of Snakes and Ladders, which highlights the endurance of such activities. For hundreds of years, games have provided education and enjoyment, which still continues today with many families gathering around the table to play – especially at Christmas. Indeed, in the centre of the board, we see a family doing exactly that.

Rather than a modern day instruction sheet, the pictorial imagery and the verse explain ‘why’ and ‘how’ the game is played. The poem likens the game to a pilgrimage. All players enter through a single gate but do not travel together. They encounter perils along the way and only one pilgrim will reach salvation. The pilgrim is visualised as a man riding a giant goose, appearing at the beginning and again at the end, with his back to the players, entering through the gate.

The rise of printmaking allowed printed games to spread through all social classes, alongside playing cards and lottery tickets. [1]


[1] Jacobs, R. ‘Playing, learning, Flirting: Printed Board Games from 18th-Century France’ > 


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