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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!

The art of influence: Asian propaganda

The art of influence cover

The art of influence: Asian propaganda will be published next Monday by the British Museum Press.

Revolutionary art generally means propaganda – art with a political message that is intended to motivate or persuade. However, propaganda is not just a sinister manipulation, as inferred in the West since the early twentieth century.

In revolutionary and wartime societies, propaganda is considered a vital part of education and political participation. Propaganda encourages or condemns; reinforces existing attitudes and behavior; and promotes social membership within nation, class or work unit.

The art of influence: Asian propaganda by Mary Ginsberg draws on the British Museum’s wide-ranging collection of Asian art to explore the use of political propaganda in Asia from about 1900 to 1976. This fascinating and provocative catalogue features over 100 works of art from countries such as China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and India. Posters, cartoons and ceramics are among the art forms that Ginsberg uses to illustrate the power of propaganda in twentieth century Asia.

The art of influence: Asian propaganda is published to complement an exhibition at the British Museum opening on 30th May, which presents a selection of the British Museum’s rich collections of unpublished and rarely seen political art from Asia.

Ahead of publication, we’ve included here an extract from the book in addition to several striking artworks.

From the introduction:

This catalogue focuses on the twentieth century in Asia, an era of almost continual war and revolution with ever-evolving styles and techniques of propaganda. The account presented here takes the relatively neutral position that the main goal of propaganda – and propaganda art – is to create involvement. Not all propaganda is bad; it is not always lies. Propaganda aims to inspire action and belief in a common cause. It builds nations and defies enemies. It informs as well as persuades; promotes and admonishes; includes, excludes and shapes identity politics. It motivates obedience or resistance using a host of methods and modes of appeal.

Page 77

Dawn of Victory, Liu Lun. China, 1941. Woodcut, ink on paper, 24 x 15.5 cm. Purchase funded by Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund.

Liu Lun (b. 1913) is a native of Guangdong province, where he trained in printmaking, actively worked in the wartime resistance movement, and taught for many years in higher institutions of art. The British Museum has nine of his works, eight (including this one) from the Thompson collection and one from the international exhibition organized by Jack Chen. Almost all his works are realistic; one print (fig. 16) records the carnage from an actual battle in 1942.

This remarkable patriotic print – heroic cavalry-men charging through the air on a cloud – is unlike any other by Liu Lun. It is rare to know the exact circumstances of a work from this period, but Liu Lun still remembers making it. It was created in 1941, during the second United Front between the Communists and Guomindang. Liu Lun was arts editor for the Creative Committee for the number 4 war district in Guangdong. The Committee published a magazine called New Construction, and this print was made for its cover, to promote resistance and inspire the public. This was the only wartime print he made in what he calls the romantic style, inspired by contemporary Western pictorals.

Page 70

Plate, 1930s (probably), India, Bamboo, split and coiled, and lacquered, Diameter: 15.2 cm.

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869 – 1948), one of the leaders of the Indian independence movement, was committed throughout his life to principles of non-violence (ahimsa) and Indian self sufficiency (swadeshi). In the long campaign for self-rule (swaraj), Gandhi promoted boycotts of foreign goods (mainly British and Japanese) for both political and economic reasons.

His tool was the spinning wheel (charkha), with which he is depicted here. India exported ever-increasing amounts of raw cotton, but would not become a net exporter of cloth piece goods until the 1940s. Gandhi exhorted villagers – especially women – to revive the rural economy by spinning cotton yarn to supplement household agricultural income. The yarn production also supported the carders, weavers and dyers of the cloth. Gandhi’s charkha became the symbol of swadeshi and appeared on the flag adopted by the Indian National Congress in 1931.

This small plate was made in Burma (possibly Pagan) by the laborious and expensive shwe-zawa technique using black lacquer and gold leaf. Many Indians settled in Burma in the colonial period.”

Page 138

Long live Marxism, Lenism, Mao Zedong Thought.  Late 20thcentury, China. Papercut, 16.3 x 27.6 cm. Given by Andrew Bolton.

Papercuts were traditionally made in China as decorations for festivals and rituals. This was an art of the common people, for holidays, weddings and marking the seasonal activities of village life. Particularly at the time of Spring Festival (New Year), farmers and craftsmen made ‘window flowers’ to invoke blessings for the coming year. Among the earliest surviving examples are the ninth-tenth-century flowers found in the so-called Library Cave (Cave 17) at Dunhuang, now in the British Museum.

Communist arts policy transformed this centuries-old folk art into a progressive tool. Decoration for its own sake was anti-revolutionary, but traditional crafts were to be encouraged, their content altered in the service of politics. Gu Yuan and other trained artists at Yan’an produced papercuts during the Resistance War. They were an attractive, comprehensible vehicle to promote production, literacy and support for the army. Propaganda papercuts are still made today.

Papercuts are made with scissors or with knives. Knife-cutting is used for production in large quantities, and professional artists execute topical sets for domestic and foreign consumption. There is nothing left of the bold, colourful folk style in this group portrait of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao – where Mao is nearest to the viewer, and just a bit larger than the others.

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.

For further information on The art of influence: Asian propaganda and to look inside the book, please visit the British Museum online shop.

Mary Ginsberg will be speaking about The art of influence: Asian propaganda at The Telegraph Hay Festival on Sunday 2nd June.

5000 Years of Glass

Next week, the new edition of 5000 Years of Glass will hit the shelves! The 2012 edition of this definitive world history of glassmaking and decorative techniques from 2500 BC is now updated to include the period 1940 to the present day.

5000 Years of GlassThis classic book traces the history of glassmaking in its many forms, from its origins in Western Asia some 5000 years ago through the invention of glassblowing around the first century BC, to the introduction of mechanized processes and finally to new styles in the 19th and 20th centuries. Highlighted are the flourishing industries of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the extraordinary achievements of the Roman Empire, the elegant vessels of the Islamic Near East, the superb mastery of Renaissance Venice and the wide-ranging experiments of modern Europe and America, all written by a team of distinguished experts from Britain and America.

We’ve showcased here some examples of the beautiful glass works featured in 5000 Years of Glass.

Image - Page 40

Tall core-formed alabastron of sea-green glass. Said to be from Pozzuoli (ancient Puteoli) in Italy, but probably made in western Asia in a Phoenician glasshouse in the 7th or the 6th century BC.


According to the bold inscription on the body, this lamp was made for Saif al-Din Shaikhu’’l-‘Umari, a prominent Mamluk official and powerful supporter of Sultan Hasan. The lamp was probably intended for the mosque, monastery (Khanqah) and tomb which he built in Cairo between 1349 and 1356. The three roundels on the neck contain Shaikhu’s blazon, a cup, which indicates that he held the office of cup-bearer. Syria or Egypt, about 1350.


Nef (or ship) ewer of cristallo with added details in blue glass and two mould-pressed satyr-mask medallions. This is one of the few genuine specimens of this fragile Renaissance table decoration to have survived, although they were being made in Venice from 1521 by Ermonia Vivarini under a special privilege. Hitherto it has been universally accepted that they were also being made at the leading façon de Venise centre in the Southern Netherlands, the Colinet glassworks at Beauwelz, but the evidence – a sketch (with commentary) in the MS pattern book shown as the ‘Catalogue Colinet’ (Rakow Library, Corning Museum of Glass) – can no longer be regarded as authentic. This sketch purports to be a record of the very large glass nef offered to the emperor Charles V in 1549. Venice, about 1525- 50.


‘Inari’ bowl, designed by Tapio Wirkkala in 1967 for Iitala. Produced 1967 – 81. Inari is the area in the far north of Finland on the arctic border. Wirkkala was fascinated by the experiences of everyday life in this harsh frozen landscape, recreated here in glass. Mould-blown and partly cut glass.

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

5000 Years of Glass, edited by Hugh Tait, is published by the British Museum Press (paperback, £25) and is available from the British Museum online shop, and will be available in bookshops starting on Monday 26th November.

Shakespeare: staging the world – An Interview with Curator Dora Thornton

The British Museum is currently presenting a major exhibition on the world and works of William Shakespeare, supported by BP. Shakespeare: staging the world is part of the World Shakespeare Festival and the London 2012 Festival. The exhibition provides a new and unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city four hundred years ago, interpreted through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.  The exhibition features over 190 objects, more than half of which are lent from private and national UK collections, as well as key loans from abroad. The book, Shakespeare: staging the world by Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton complements the exhibition and is published by the British Museum Press.

We spoke to author and British Museum curator of Renaissance Europe Dora Thornton about the project, the London 2012 Festival and the world in Shakespeare’s time.

Dora Thornton

Dora Thornton

Shakespeare has been studied for centuries by hundreds of scholars from around the world. What is new about this project?

We reveal a very different Shakespearean landscape when we use objects to illuminate dramatic texts and texts to illuminate objects. We bring together a selection of ordinary and extraordinary things from the early modern world and examine them through the lens of Shakespeare’s plays, creating a dialogue between his imaginary worlds and the lived experience of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. This is very much a British Museum approach, in that we use objects to take us directly to the issues that mattered to Shakespeare and his audiences; we examine world cultures in his day but as they were imagined or encountered from London; and we work across the range of the British Museum collection and way beyond it.

This summer, the world has focused on London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games: how important do you think Shakespeare is to the capital and to Britain itself ?

He is still very significant to us as a writer whose name is synonymous with theatre, with poetry and with Britain’s contribution to world culture. Through his plays, which explored human experience in the new arena of the London playhouse for a wide and diverse audience, Shakespeare gave us a vocabulary and a vision of what it meant to be English, then British, and finally a citizen of the world. The exhibition and the book, Shakespeare: staging the world is the British Museum’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad, a series of events to showcase British creativity and culture. As Britain moved onto the international stage in the 18th and 19th centuries, so did the national poet, proving the universality of his appeal and his friend Ben Jonson’s claim that “He was not of an age, but for all time!” The World Shakespeare Festival, of which contribution is just a part, will demonstrate how his plays continue to live, and give life, four centuries on, across the great theatre of the world.

What would the city have been like for a foreign visitor in Shakespeare’s time?

We explore ways in which the world came to London in his day; the traffic of people passing through the city as well as in the plays; the way in which Shakespeare appears to be lip-reading an increasingly global conversation, as John Hale once put it. We look at how cultures meet and mingle within some of the objects discussed in our book. The visitor’s experience is something we discuss in the opening chapter of our book—particularly in relation to the importance of the royal tombs in Westminster Abbey as documenting English history and kingship, and what that meant in making early modern memory. The tombs were very much on the tourist trail, which was becoming established for London around 1600 as it had long been for more famous trading cities like Venice. Some of the comments made by foreign visitors are still telling about London and Londoners today—for example, Thomas Platter says that “London is said not to be in England, but rather England to be in London” and notes that the English are armchair travellers who “prefer to learn foreign matters and take their pleasures at home”.

The range of objects in Shakespeare: staging the world is astonishing – is there one which, for you, sums up the world that Shakespeare was living and writing in?

As curator of the exhibition who has found all the objects, and thought long and hard about their status and significance, I find it difficult to choose just one: it’s the inter-relationships between the objects and Shakespeare’s words, and the groupings, which matter more in layering experience. But I am particularly fond of the way in which we relate a drawing after John White of Kalicho, an Inuk brought to England by Frobisher in 1577, with a doit coin, which take us very directly to Trinculo’s comment: “when they [the English] will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian”. The doit was the coinage of cheap celebrity entertainment. Juxtaposing a real doit coin with the image of Kalicho does much more than illustrate Trinculo’s words: it takes us to the issue of “this new prey”; human beings brought back as trophies from the New World. What were the British to make of this “brave new world” which was opening up all around them?

Shakespeare: staging the world is £40 in hardback, £25 in paperback and can be purchased through the British Museum online shop.

Grayson Perry Wins at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards

Winners of Sky Arts South Bank Awards

Congratulations to Grayson Perry for taking home the award for Visual Art for The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at last night’s South Bank Sky Arts Awards! Leaders of the contemporary and classical arts scene gathered at The Dorchester in London to celebrate this year’s artistic triumphs and present the chosen few with a South Bank Sky Arts Award.

According to South Bank Sky Arts Awards, Perry’s British Museum exhibition explored “a range of themes from holy relics to identity and contemporary culture, [and] was a smorgasbord of creativity and a personal lifetime’s ambition that he was delighted and surprised to see come to life.

You can view the full list of winners here, and read more about the book here.

Competition: Win a signed copy of Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

You may have seen the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum (6 October 2011 – 19 February 2012), well now here’s your chance to win a signed copy of the exhibition catalogue Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.


Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman


Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry uses the seductive qualities of ceramics, tapestry, metalwork and other art forms to make stealthy comments about societal injustices and hypocrisies, and to explore a variety of historical and contemporary themes.

Offering an insight into the artist’s fantastic imaginative world, the book draws on themes such as pilgrimage, transvestitism, shamanism and tomb guardians to take the reader on a journey to an imaginary afterlife.

Including an introduction by Grayson Perry and lavishly illustrated with over 200 colour illustrations, this book takes us to the fantasy world of a contemporary artist who never fails to challenge and unsettle his audience.

It is the perfect accompaniment to the exhibition and a great showpiece for your book collection.

To win a copy of Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, signed by Grayson Perry himself, please comment below and answer the following question:

What is the name of Grayson Perry’s 50 year old teddy bear?

Competition closes Sunday 15th January 2012 at 5.00pm GMT. The winner will be drawn and notified by Tuesday 17th January 2012. The winner will be selected at random providing they answer the question correctly.

For more information and to book tickets for the special exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman (6 October 2011 – 19 February 2012) , head to

Shop this book and many other titles online through the British Museum Shop

Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam


This week millions of Muslims will begin their journeys home from Saudi Arabia after Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, and the following celebrations of Eid-al-Adha draw to a close.  One of the five pillars of Islam central to Muslim belief, every year the Hajj pilgrimage draws millions of Muslims from around the world to the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad -the holiest site in Islam. It is a ritual journey that every Muslim who is physically and financially able must make at least once in their lifetime.

We’ve had a special interest in Hajj this year as we are busy working on our next exhibition catalogue, Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam. Publishing to accompany a major British Museum exhibition of the same name (26 January -  15 April 2012)  the catalogue will trace the footsteps and personal experiences of pilgrims who have embarked on Hajj across the centuries, taking the reader on a physical and spiritual journey. The book won’t be released until January next year, but read the rest of this entry for some exclusive preview images of some of our favourite spreads, or visit the British Museum shop online now to preorder your copy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Women in the Ancient World

Yesterday saw Forbes announce their annual list of the  World’s 100 Most Powerful Women with Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and Dilma Rouseff topping a list that includes politicians, CEOs, bankers, cultural icons, billionaires and entrepreneurs.

This inspiring reminder of the achievements of women in modern day society was closely followed by the arrival of our forthcoming title Women in the Ancient World (available from 26 September), offering us an alternative roll-call of women whose lives and roles went far beyond the traditional view of a ‘woman’s work’;  here are Drusilla, the first Roman woman to be recognized as a goddess;  Hatsheput, who bolstered her authority as Queen of Egypt by boldly adopting a male persona; Hypatia of Alexandria, an admired philosopher; and Sappho, one of the most famous musicians in antiquity.

9780714130772_Women in the Ancient World_Jacket

Juxtaposing these  public figures with themes such as domestic life, motherhood, stereotypes and depictions of the female body, Women in the Ancient World explores the different traditions, trends and attitudes towards women in ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Near East, as well as revealing some surprising resonances with our own time.

Read the rest of this entry for some of our favourite images from the book:

Read the rest of this entry »

Retail Recommends

Specialist booksellers from the British Museum Bookshop give their recommendations for the best illustrated titles across art, archaeology history and world cultures.  This week,  Akemi and Carlos go head to head with their favourites from our Masterpieces series:

UK JKT_Masterpieces_4c

Masterpieces of Ancient Egypt is full of powerful images of the Ancient Egyptian collections in the British Museum. With concise and clear text providing a valuable introduction to the magnificent history of Ancient Egypt it’s ideal as both a gift and an educational resource.” Akemi, bookseller

BMP_MCA(UK Jkt)27mm.qxd:Masterpieces cover

“Masterpieces of Classical Art is the definitive introduction to the arts of the Classical World. Lavish images and accurate descriptions will take you on an amazing journey of discovery through the British Museums’ splendid collections.”  Carlos, bookseller

Can’t make your mind up? Masterpieces of the British Museum offers an introduction to over 250 of the museum’s higlights. Available now from the British Museum shop.

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman


Here’s a sneak preview of our forthcoming exhibition catalogue Grayson Perry: The Tomb of Unknown Craftsman (publishing on the 3rd October).

Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry will be curating an installation of his new works alongside objects from the British Museum’s collection this autumn. To accompany the exhibition we will be publishing this beautiful catalogue; written by the artist and including over 200 colour illustrations.

Offering an insight into the artist’s fantastic imaginative world, the book draws on themes such as pilgrimage, transvestitism, shamanism and tomb guardians to take the reader on a journey to an imaginary afterlife….

Be one of the first to own a copy – pre-order yours now through the British Museum shop .

Find out more and book your tickets for the special exhibition Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman (6 October 2011 – 19 February 2012) now at