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Publishers of award-winning illustrated books on art, history, archaeology, world cultures and more.

Edinburgh Festival Fever

People all over the country have been gripped by Festival fever this month and we at the BM Press are no exception! Not one but two of our authors were invited to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival: Irving Finkel, the curator in charge of the British Museum’s collection of cuneiform tablets – the largest in the world – and Henrietta Lidchi, Keeper of the Department of World Cultures at National Museums Scotland.

Charlotte Square looking beautiful in the sunshine

Charlotte Square looking beautiful in the sunshine

In his sell-out event, Irving took his audience on a roller-coaster tour of the 3,500 year history of the world’s oldest writing system – cuneiform. With his trademark enthusiasm, he explained that the strange, wedge-shaped markings invented in Mesopotamia represent syllables and so can be used to record any language, from Sumerian to Spanish. He then pointed out that we can find a surprising parallel in modern text-speak, in which symbols have  once again come to stand in for syllables or even whole words – just look at ‘c u l8r’. The audience were left full of questions and many stayed behind to talk to Irving, have their books signed and admire the real cuneiform tablet that he had brought along with him.

Irving addresses a huge crowd in the tent

Irving addresses a huge crowd in the tent

Irving was similarly well-received at the National Museums Scotland, where he taught a group of 90 local schoolchildren how to write their own cuneiform inscriptions. They used plasticine and lollipop sticks rather than clay and reeds, but the results still looked as if they could have come from the museum archives!

An impressive effort from the Edinburgh schoolchildren!

An impressive effort from the Edinburgh schoolchildren!

The weekend also saw Henrietta Lidchi launch her wonderful book Surviving Desires: Making and Selling Native Jewellery in the American Southwest – the product of twenty years of research. She captivated the audience with her talk about the iconic turquoise and silver jewellery and the transformations it has undergone in response the competing desires of traders, tourists, curators and government agencies. The audience were fascinated and at the end many came forward with their own pieces of Native jewellery, which Henrietta was able to put into context for them.

Henrietta signing books after her event

Henrietta signing books after her event

Many thanks to Henrietta and Irving for taking part in the Festival and to the National Museums Scotland for hosting the schools event. We hope to be back next year!

If you would like to find out more about either of the books, just follow the links below:

Cuneiform

Surviving Desires

Love Poetry ~ from the Vikings to Haiku

If you’re feeling romantic, why not share a verse with your loved one? Here we offer you the best of the British Museum’s collections of love poetry,
with a historical twist!

~

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From Viking Poetry of Love and War edited by Judith Jesch

Viking culture valued poetry highly and rewarded poets handsomely. The language of Viking poetry is colourful, intricate and is often light-hearted, even in the face of death and tragedy.

The pure, white headband-Nipt
of forearm-snow brought us wine;
the guys could see Ermengard’s
beauty when we met.
Sharp swords swing from scabbards
now, as the staunchly bold
guys get ready to attack
this castle here with fire.

Rognvald Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney (12th century)

~


From Medieval Love Poetry edited by John Cherry

The quest is the essence of medieval romance, whether it is for the Holy Grail or for the jewel of Love…

I know of a beauty, a beryl most bright,
As lovely to look on as silver-foiled sapphire,
As gentle as jasper a-gleam in the light,
As true as the ruby, or garnet in gold.
Like onyx she is, esteemed on the height;
A diamond of worth when she’s dressed for the day;
Like coral her lustre, like Caesar of knight;
Like emerald at morning, this maiden has might.
My precious red stone, with the power of a pearl.
I picked for her prettiness, excellent girl!

Anonymous

~


From Classical Love Poetry edited by Jonathan Williams and Clive Cheesman

From the first stirrings of passion to the true torture of unrequited love, from the lifelong bond between husband and wife to the pain of being left behind, the subjects of Classical poetry differ little from our preoccupations with love and romance today.

Great Aphrodite came to me once in my sleep
Leading little Eros by the hand – he
Stared shyly at the ground. She spoke,
‘Dear rustic swain, take this lad, and teach him to sing.’
She goes, and I, fool, teach Love my songs,
How Pan invented pipes, Athena the flute,
Hermes the lyre, weet Apollo the harp.
So I taught him, but he pays no heed.
He sings his own songs, of the loves
Of gods and men, his mother’s works.
What I taught him then I now clean forget,
But what he tauught me stays with me yet.

BION. 5

~

From Indian Love Poetry edited by A. L. Dallapiccola

Love is widely celebrated in Indian poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or the passionate and affectionate feelings between loves, husbands and wives, parents and children, family and friends.

He left me saying he would return tomorrow,
I covered the floor of my home
Writing repeadedly ‘Tomorrow’.
When dawn returned, they all enquired:
Tell us, friend,
When will your tomorrow come?
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I lost all hopes,
My beloved never returned.
Says Vidyapati: Listen beautiful one,
Other women lured him away.

Vidyapati, Girl playing with peacock

~

From Haiku Love edited by Alan Cummings

Although haiku poems are usually focused on the natural world, many poets have used haiku to capture the fleeting human experience. Elegant haiku poems explore all aspects of romantic love with humour, satire, wit and compassion.

over my shoulder
I saw her under her umbrella
just a glance

Nishiyanna Soin


a shooting star—
in love, not knowing
where it will lead

Mayuzumi Madoka


don’t cry, insects!
lovers must always part
even the stars

Issa

~

If you’d like to find out more about any of these books simply visit our website

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Inspirations from China ~ Happy New Year

As we look ahead to a new year on the Chinese calendar, we look back at some of the wonderful Chinese art that inspired our recent book.

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

Modern Chinese Ink Paintings

by Clarissa von Spee

An informative and elegantly illustrated introduction to Chinese ink paintings and calligraphies from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries


Modern Chinese ink paintings spreads_Page_1

The British Museum came to house one of the largest collections of classical and modern Chinese paintings in Europe. Many of these entered the collection in 1753 through Sir Hans Sloane who had acquired prints and paintings throughout his travels in many parts of the world.

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In 1903 the Museum acquired it’s most famous painting The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies, an eighth-century copy of the earliest and finest painting attributed to Gu Kaizhi.
~
Drawing on the British Museum’s rich collection, this book explores the development and diversity of Chinese ink painting in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States through the twentieth century to the present.

admon_l
1. The Admonitions Scroll
To celebrate the Chinese New Year Modern Chinese Ink Paintings will be on sale at an exclusive discount on The British Museum online shop. Find out more about the book here


Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation

By John-Paul Stonard

With the British Museum’s receipt of 34 works by 20thcentury German artists from Count Christian Duerckheim, we are publishing an exhibition catalogue written by John-Paul Stonard to accompany this significant collection of work.

GD final layouts 44

The book includes drawings and paintings by contemporary artists, such as Georg Baselitz, Blinky Palermo, Sigma Polke, that have never before been published. Starting with a fascinating introduction to the context of these works, Stonard delivers detailed biographical essays on each artist showing how the division of Germany into separate states affected their work.

GD final layouts 31

The free exhibition of Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation opens on February 6th and the exhibition catalogue is available to buy now

London Gay Pride 2013

Happy Gay Pride everyone!  For more information, visit http://www.londongaypride.co.uk/.

In the spirit of Gay Pride, we’ve included here a short extract from our new book, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson (British Museum Press, paperback, £9.99).

A Little Gay History front cover - low-resPacific Embraces

“In the early eighteenth century, European explorers recorded sexual practices between males in the eastern Pacific region. European missionaries and colonial officials in the following centuries strongly discouraged such activities.

In many parts of the eastern Pacific or Polynesia, same-sex acts were tolerated only between a gender-crossing male and a socially accepted man. Polynesian languages have terms such as mahu (Tahiti) and fa’a fafine (Samoa) that define men who act and dress as women and who, as in many areas of South-East Asia, represent a third gender between man and woman. However, not all man on man sex involved such individuals: in Hawaii, aikane were young masculine men who had sex with the king. David Samwell (1751 – 98), a Welsh surgeon on Captain Cook’s ship the Discovery, noted in 1779 with some surprise that

It is an office that is esteemed honourable among them & they have frequently asked us on seeing a handsome young fellow if he was not an aikane to some of us.

Treasure Box

Above: This ‘treasure box’ was designed to be stored, not on the ground, but suspended. New Zealand, late eighteenth century. Wood and shell, H. 9.4 cm; L. 43 cm; D. 9.8 cm.

Below: Detail.

Treasure box close-up

This box from eighteenth-century New Zealand is made of wood and decorated with shell. It is a so-called ‘treasure box’ that would contain the powerful personal ornaments of a high-ranking Maori person, such as a chief. Every surface (including the underneath) of this prestigious box is covered with designs which show fourteen highly stylized figures, intertwined and linked in various types of sexual union, several showing an embrace between two males.”

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

New this week is the first-ever British Museum audio recording on the subject of A Little Gay History, featuring British Museum curators, Simon Russell Beale and Maggi Hambling discussing a number of objects in the British Museum collection. A free guide to objects from A Little Gay History on display is also available from the British Museum website.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World is available from all good bookshops and from the British Museum shop online.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World

A Little Gay History 3D mock-up - high-res

How old is the oldest chat-up line between men? Who was the first ‘lesbian’? Were ancient Greek men who had sex together necessarily ‘gay’? And what did Shakespeare think about cross-dressing?

This week, we are excited to be publishing A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson. This exciting book draws on objects ranging from ancient Egyptian papyri and the erotic scenes on the Roman ‘Warren Cup’ to modern images by artists such as David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar to consider questions like these.

The concepts of human desire and gender have never been straightforward and have been shaped in many different ways, both throughout history and across the globe. This book takes over 40 artefacts from many cultures and from all periods to look at the intimate issues behind these objects and to ask a question that concerns us all: how easily can we recognize love in history?

Concise and beautifully illustrated with objects from the British Museum’s far-ranging collection , A Little Gay History provides an intriguing and valuable insight into the range, diversity  and complexity of same-sex desire.

Author R. B. Parkinson, a curator of ancient Egyptian culture at the British Museum, has chosen his three favourite objects from the book.

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 78), Avanzi del Tempio del Dio Canopo nella Villa Adriana in Tivoli. Rome, c. 1760 – 78. Etching on paper, 45.5 x 58.5 cm.

R.B.P.: This etching by Piranesi has great personal resonance: it shows the ruins of the emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli was one of the inspirations for Marguerite Yourcenar’s poetic novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), and a print of it hung over the fireplace in the house in Maine where Yourcenar lived with her translator and life-partner Grace Frick.  Whenever I travel, I take a copy of the novel with me.

R.B.P: One favourite object is the British Museum itself, which provided the setting for one of the greatest gay romantic moments in English literature: the scene in E. M. Forster’s novel Maurice, where the two heroes finally realise they are in love, superbly filmed by Merchant Ivory Productions in 1987.  Gay romance on a grand scale and with a happy ending.

You can view a clip from Maurice on the British Museum’s YouTube channel.

LGH image 3

R.B.P.: This badge from the 1980s by the wonderful cartoonist and illustrator Kate Charlesworth wittily caricatures stereotypes and assumptions about LGBT identity.

Images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World (£9.99) is published by the British Museum Press, and is available now in all good bookshops. For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum shop online.

The British Museum Press in Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013 Catalogue Cover

Our Autumn 2013 catalogue is now available!

Accompanying two major exhibitions in Autumn, we will be publishing Beyond El Dorado: power and gold in ancient Colombia and Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art.  In August we will publish Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome by the award-winning author Carrie Vout, bringing new insights to Greek and Roman culture and erotic imagery, past and present. In October, we will publish 5000 Years of Tiles, showcasing the incredible range of tile arts and production techniques, and revealing a fascinating history of design, colour and decoration.

Beyond El Dorado cover - low-resShunga cover 2-5-13 low-resSex on Show cover low-resThe Greek Vase cover low-res5000 Years of Tiles cover - low-resMasterpieces - Early Medieval Art cover low-resRoman Empire cover -  low-resCurious Beasts front cover low-resHaiku Love cover - low-resPersian Love Poetry cover low-resThe Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia low-res

These are just a few highlights from our Autumn 2013 list. To view the full catalogue, visit the British Museum Press website.

Happy reading this Autumn!

Masks: The Art of Expression

9780714151038

We’re pleased to announce that a new paperback edition of our beautifully illustrated book, Masks: The Art of Expression, is published today.

From ancient times to the present day, masks and the practice of masquerading have exerted a powerful fascination among people around the world. Through their ability to conceal, reveal and transfigure, masks have become a near-universal phenomenon yet their nature, functions and meaning of these disguises are strikingly different across cultures.

In ritual and religious use, as today in Africa or Oceania, mask-wearers may be thought to be possessed by – or even become – a spirit or a god. In ancient Egypt, funerary masks were intended to equip the dead with divine powers and attributes, but the masks used in Japanese Noh plays or in ancient Greek drama helped to portray character. The masks themselves are extraordinary objects made from every kind of material. Beautiful, elaborate, fierce, grotesque or elegant, they demonstrate the creative skills and aesthetics of many different periods and cultures.

This updated edition of a classic book showcases an array of magnificent masks from the British Museum’s collection and beyond. Including examples from eight principal areas – Africa, Oceania, Latin America, the Northwest coast of America, Japan, classical Greece and Rome, Egypt and Europe – Masks: The Art of Expression provides a fascinating insight into the great variety of masks and masking traditions around the world.

We’ve included here a short selection of masks featured in the book.

Mask 1

The mask of Hanna is one of the most well-known masks from Nō. It is used for the character of a jealous and revengeful demon who was once a beautiful woman. The eyes, originally of gilded metal, glare out, the mouth is drawn wide open in a ferocious snarl and the horns embody evil. Only the faint trace of eyebrows high on the forehead and the suggestion of delicate features indicate her former beauty. H. (without horns) 20.3 cm. British Museum 1946,1216.2. Donated by C. Winch.

Mask 2

North American wood mask, probably representing a creature of spirit associated with a specific family tradition in the Winter Ceremonial. Collected, before 1868, at Fort Rupert, the Hudson’s Bay Company post at the northern end of Vancouver island, where the Kwakwaka’wakw met and traded with other peoples from further north. H. 20 cm. British Museum Am.1562. Donated By Henry Christy.

AN00993384_002

Dance mask in the form of a demon’s face. Papier mâché covered with clay. Chorida, India, 1994. H. 57 cm; W. 51 cm; Donated by Daniel J. Ryscroft. British Museum As1995,17.3.

Mask 4

North American mask of wood and fur, from the Makah, Washington State, representing Bookwus, Wild Man of the Woods. 20th century. H. 23 cm. British Museum Am1941,01.1. Donated by Harry Geoffrey Beasley.

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Masks: The Art of Expression is edited by John Mack and is published by the British Museum Press at £25. For further information, please visit the British Museum shop website.