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Manga and the Museum

The latest temporary exhibition to grace Room 3 is well worth a visit if you haven’t been already – entitled ‘Manga now: three generations’, it’s the perfect introduction to an art form that most of us have heard of, but few of us understand.

It’s only relatively recently that the significance of manga as an art form has been widely recognised by the West – many people falsely assumed that manga equated to cartoons and was aimed primarily at children and teenagers. However, in Japan, manga is enjoyed by audiences of all ages and covers a wide variety of genres and societal issues.

In fact, the exhibition’s first surprise comes when it reveals just how far back Manga’s origins lie – the term was first coined by Hokusai (of The Great Wave fame) and can be playfully translated as ‘pictures run riot’. The art form was developed in the early 20th century but is based on traditional Japanese artistic and literary genres that stretch much further back – the narrative handscrolls that were produced from AD 1100 and illustrated printed books from the 1700s onwards.

Although the British Museum has collected manga for over 60 years, it has only recently begun to acquire drawings and paintings by contemporary manga artists. This display has been designed to celebrate these recent acquisitions, and features the work of three leading contemporary artists. Nakamura Hikaru is currently the seventh bestselling manga artist in Japan and represents the most recent generation of manga artists. Chiba Tetsuya is a specialist of sports manga that relate a young person’s struggle for recognition through dedication to sport.

Manga

Works by the three artists - Nakamura Hikaru, Hoshino Yukinobu and Chiba Tetsuya

In between these two generations we have Hoshino Yyukinobu, one of Japan’s best-known science fiction manga artists who also specialises in mystery. One of his most popular works has been Case Records of Professor Munakata, and following visits to London in 2008 and 2009, he decided to create a number of episodes set in the British Museum. In these, crime-fighting anthropologist Munakata Tadakusu investigates a spate of thefts from the museum. The British Museum Press had the pleasure of publishing these in English as Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure in 2011, and you can see some of the illustrations in the gallery. In this compilation of ten episodes Professor Munakata embarks on a series of exciting adventures at the British Museum, featuring some of its most iconic objects – from the Rosetta Stone to the Lewis Chessmen.

Professor Munakata visiting the British Museum

We hope that you learn as much from the display as we did, and enjoy seeing one of our books in the limelight! If you’re feeling inspired you can pick up a copy of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure from the gift shop on your way out, or online here if you can’t wait til then!

Professor Munakata

We’ve had a very exciting day over at the British Museum as our next major exhibition has been announced! From 24th September, Celts: art and identity will be exploring the truth behind our romanticised imaginings of the so-called Celts and discovering how this diverse group of people actually defined themselves.

Celts: art and identity

We at the British Museum Press have been working hard to produce a catalogue and giftbook that do justice to the beautiful objects on display, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you!

Over 250 remarkable objects have been selected from the collections of the British Museum, National Museums Scotland and other key European institutions to illustrate the narrative and highlight the artistic accomplishments of craftspeople through the centuries.

You’ll see everything from jewellery to feasting accoutrements, weaponry to illuminated manuscripts – much of it decorated in those distinctive swirling patterns that, upon closer inspection, transform into images of fantastical men and beasts.

Stone cross

Come and join us on a journey tracing what it means to be Celtic. The more you look, the more you’ll see…

Defining Beauty at the Hay Festival

After a long hiatus, the British Museum Press blog is back!

Our summer got off to an exciting start when Ian Jenkins, curator of the Greece and Rome Galleries and the blockbuster Defining Beauty exhibition, was invited to speak at the Hay Festival at the end of May.

Founded in 1987, the Hay Festival is now an international phenomenon, with spin-off festivals bringing writers and readers together on five continents throughout the year. The original, held in Hay-on-Wye, prides itself on its community spirit and rightly so – we were welcomed at Hereford station by a local volunteer who ferries authors around the festival every year. He was happy to share all his stories about the area, the history of the festival and, of course the celebrities who’ve shared his car!

Festival-goers relaxing

Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills and blue skies, the festival site looked like an idyllic village fȇte – snowy white tents interspersed with flowering plants and trees, and all bedecked with 16 miles (!) of bunting. There were bookshops selling both new and secondhand books, and plenty of deckchairs to relax and read them in. There was food for the body as well as the mind – special mention goes to the red London bus selling oysters and cocktails!

Ian was introduced by history author Jerry Brotton, and took an enthusiastic audience of around 100 people on a verbal tour of the current Defining Beauty exhibition. They were amused to learn that the exhibition opens with a view of the Queen’s bottom – because Her Majesty owns the crouching Venus sculpture that beckons viewers into the gallery.

Ian takes the stage

He explained that the first room showcases the work of the three greatest Athenian sculptors – Myron’s iconic Discobolus (or ‘Discus Thrower’), which is a study of opposites; Praxiteles’ Doryphoros (‘Spear-bearer’), whose beauty comes from its perfect mathematical proportions, and finally, Pheidias’ river god Ilissos, made famous earlier in the year by his trip to Russia, but remarkable here for being the only Greek original, and the only one whose realism seems intuitive and effortless.

Next came the revelation that far from being the polished white figures that we are familiar with today, many Greek statues would originally have been brightly painted or even gilded, sometimes with metal accessories or weapons attached. Even the bronze statues could be embellished with copper lips and glass eyes, as with the amazing statue only recently recovered from the depths of the Croatian sea – named the Apoxyomenos, or ‘The Scraper’, after the fact that he is scraping the oil, dust and sweat from his skin after a long workout.

The exhibition compares and contrasts Greek art with that from other world cultures to show just how unique the Greeks’ perspective on nudity was. Scenes from the Parthenon Frieze, where the nude figures are the city’s noble warriors, are paired with an Assyrian relief, where the naked figures are defeated enemies being humiliated and killed. However, whilst nudity was a heroic signifier for a man, we see that it was altogether more problematic in the case of women, who were thought to be wild and uncontrolled. This aligned them with mythical groups such as centaurs, satyrs and Amazons – all represented in the exhibition, and all seen as ‘other’ – their representations symbolising the darker side of human nature.

The audience had plenty of questions, and many stayed to have their books signed by Ian. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I’d recommend the Festival to anyone – I’m looking forward to Hay 2016 already!

See our authors at the Oxford Literary Festival

A Little Gay History

Desire and Diversity across the

World

Richard Parkinson
Tuesday March 25th

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British Museum curator and egyptologist Richard Parkinson and author of A Little Gay History examines a series of artefacts to see what they tell us about love and sexuality in the ancient and modern world. How old is the oldest chat-up line between men, who was the first lesbian, and were Greek men who had sex together necessarily gay? Parkinson uses objects ranging from Egyptian Papyri and the Roman Warren Cup to work by modern artists including David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar in his search for answers.

Parkinson is professor of egyptology at the University of Oxford and a curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum.

Find out more about the event and book your ticket!

The Cyrus Cylinder and

Ancient Persia

Tuesday 25th March
John Curtis

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The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived the ancient world and has become a symbol of respect and tolerance for different peoples and different faiths. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform at the behest of Persian King Cyrus in the sixth century BC and is often referred to as the first bill of human rights. It appears to allow freedom of worship in the Persian empire and for deported people to return to their homes.

The Cyrus Cylinder is held by the British Museum and was the centrepiece of an exhibition touring the United States in 2013. John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum’s Middle East collections and curator of the exhibition,  and author of The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia, explains the history and importance of the Cyrus Cylinder.

Find out more about this event

Parthenon: Power and Politics

on the Acropolis

David Stuttard
Thursday 27th March

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Classicist, author of The Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis and theatre director David Stuttard tells the dramatic story of the conception and creation of one of the world’s most iconic buildings, the Parthenon in Athens. It symbolises Greece today and, in the fifth century BC, was the embodiment of the power of the city’s empire and of its politicians, artists and citizens. Stuttard places the Parthenon in its historical context, examines its place in the wider ancient world and looks at its subsequent history.

Stuttard has a background in classics and drama. He is well known for translating and directing Greek plays and is also author of several books including AD410, The Year That Shook Rome; and The Romans Who Shaped Britain, both co-written with well-known archaeologist Sam Moorhead.

Find out more about this event

‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’

A guest blog by John-Paul Stonard

Last week the great literary critic James Wood gave a lecture at the British Museum, titled ‘On Not Going Home’. He spoke about the condition of exile, of living one’s life away from home, and of the strange unreality of this experience.

His own compelling account is based on the experience of having lived for the last two decades in America (he was born and raised in Durham) – a sort of voluntary ‘homelessness’ that he is at pains to distinguish from the wrenching experience of exile. ‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’, he cites Edward Said, one of the great thinkers on the subject.

Wood’s brilliant lecture raised many questions that illuminate the works of art included in the book and exhibition Germany Divided: Baselitz and his Generation. The title might make you think of the Berlin Wall, and the political division that ended in 1989; but the sense of division is of something much deeper, much more personal and psychological.

All of the six artists included in the exhibition were born in eastern Germany, but sooner or later moved to make their lives in the West. Markus Lüpertz and Sigmar Polke were born in the eastern territories, lost to Germany in 1945, and were forced with their families west. Blinky Palermo moved with his foster family at the age of nine. Georg Baselitz transferred from East to West Berlin during his training (before the borders closed in 1961), just as Gerhard Richter completed his training as a Socialist Realist in Dresden, before moving to Düsseldorf and starting over again, working, as he (ironically) termed it, as a ‘Capitalist Realist’.

The most dramatic case was that of A.R. Penck, who crossed the East-West German border on foot in 1980, after years of working underground in opposition to the East German State. He had already made a career in the West, thanks to the dealer Michael Werner, who would smuggle his paintings out (by car), and showed them in his Cologne gallery. It seemed inevitable that one day Penck himself would follow.

The lives and works of all these artists were inflected in different ways by this experience of migration, and by the political division of Germany. I think of James Wood’s comment on his own experience of living in America, and the ‘light veil of alienation thrown over everything’. I wonder if this ‘veil of alienation’ might explain the way in which those such as Baselitz and Richter saw West Germany, somewhere apart from their ‘heimat’ – that untranslatable German word which suggests the intimate connection with the landscape in which one was born and raised.

For the philosopher and critic György Lúkacs (cited by Wood), the modern novel was an expression of the ‘transcendental homelessness’ of the modern age. Modern life was defined by the experience of exile, and the novel was the most direct expression of this experience. ‘Transcendental homelessness’ seems to float over the images created by Baselitz in his early series of drawings, prints and paintings of ‘heroes’, lonely figures walking through desolate landscapes. It is a feeling of restlessness that I also sense in the way Markus Lüpertz and A.R. Penck made drawings, producing vast quantities, as if constantly searching for something, some form of resolution. Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter’s early works are marked by a cool irony, and a feeling of keeping a distance from ‘art’ itself — Richter used photography, Polke an absurdist humour, as a way of avoiding ‘going home’ to older ideas of making art. And the myths that have gathered around the life and work of Blinky Palermo, whose name is itself a token of not-belonging (he was born Peter Stolle, and went through a number of change of surname, before alighting on the pseudonym as a student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie), make of him one of the most romantic, and elusive artists of all the ‘Baselitz generation’.

Listen to James Wood’s lecture via the London Review of Books website

Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation is on show at the British Museum until 31st August 2014.

Read more about this period of art and history by John-Paul Stonard in the beautifully illustrated catalogue which accompanies the exhibition.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum

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A beached whale near Beverwijk, The Camelopard, The Monstrous Pig, The Famous Porcupine, Dürer’s Rhinoceros: these are but a few of the beautiful and bizarre creatures that feature in Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum by Alison E. Wright, due out from the British Museum Press on 16 September.

The invention of printmaking in Europe coincided with a rapidly increasing curiosity about the natural world. Before photography, printed images were crucial to communicating information (or misinformation) about new and familiar species. At the same time, animals were viewed primarily in relation to the human world. Many animals in prints were designed to be interpreted symbolically or as holding moral lessons for humanity, while images of hunting, farming and menageries show that people have always turned to animals both for the necessities of life and for entertainment.

Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum draws on the British Museum’s exceptional collection of prints from the fifteenth early nineteenth century to offer a glimpse into a vibrant visual culture. Visually appealing, entertaining and intriguing, this book explores humankind’s enduring curiosity about the animal world.

We’ve included a sneak peak of our forthcoming book here ahead of publication.

The monstrous pig

Curious Beasts 73

The monstrous pig of Landser

c. 1496

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528)

Engraving, 118 x 126 mm

E,2.157

On 1 March 1496 a piglet was born in the village of Landser, in Alsace, with one head, two bodies and a surprising number of legs, tongues and ears. It lived for just one day, but its fame spread far beyond its small village with the production of printed broadsides with simple woodcut illustrations and long moral texts, indulging the public’s curiosity and dread about what it signified. Birth abnormalities (‘monstrous births’) were often interpreted in the early modern period as portents or bad omens. Dürer must have seen one of these broadsides and, characteristically fascinated by the variety of animal form, made this investigative engraving of what such a creature would like, informed by his own studies of pigs. In the background, the castle and Landser locates the ‘monster’ in a solid, verifiable setting, persuading the viewer to accept its unlikely appearance – and perhaps, to speculate on the doom about to visit the inhabitants.

Text and image © The Trustees of the British Museum

Extracted from Curious Beasts: Animal Prints from the British Museum, published by the British Museum Press in paperback at £9.99. To read more about Curious Beasts and to look inside the book, you can visit our website here.

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.

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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.