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

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…

Vikings: life and legend at Bath Literary Festival

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Last Saturday we spent the day at Bath Literary Festival with Vikings life and legend curator and author Gareth Williams. If you didn’t manage to come to the brilliant talk that he gave at the Guildhall, never fear – here are the highlights:

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Why choose to do an exhibition on the Vikings?
• Suitable topic for Anglo-Danish co-operation
• Vikings seen as ‘sexier’ than other past civilisations
• Vikings one of the most popular subjects for museum visitors
• The exhibition provides an opportunity to conserve and present a spectacular ship

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The Viking Ship – Roskilde 6

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This is the longest Viking ship found to date, at over 37m in total! It has never previously been displayed, and conserved and mounted specially for this exhibition.

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The ship is at the heart of the history of the Vikings, and of the exhibition and the related books.

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Don’t miss the Vikings: life and legend exhibition which opens today!
We’re publishing a wonderful array of Viking titles which are a great way to get acquainted with the Viking world before attending the exhibition or to follow up on your particular interests afterwards.

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Exhibition essentials:

Vikings life and legend edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff (paperback £25)

The Viking Ship by Gareth Williams (£9.99)

Further reading for Viking fanatics:

Runes by Martin Findel (£9.99)

The Vikings in Britain and Ireland by Jayne Carroll, Stephen H. Harrison and Gareth Williams (£10.99)

For little Vikings:

The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure by Thomas Williams (£7.99)

Make your own Viking ship (£5.99)

The Lewis Chessmen and what happened to them by Irving Finkel (£4.99)

‘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.

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

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The monstrous pig of Landser

c. 1496

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528)

Engraving, 118 x 126 mm

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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.

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.

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

The Telegraph Hay Festival: 31 May – 10 June 2012

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This summer, the Hay Festival celebrates its 25th year with a stunning programme of international writers and thinkers. The British Museum Press is delighted to be partnering with Hay to present a lecture and talk for our recent release, Shakespeare: staging the world.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Shakespeare 1 – Staging the World

Barclays Pavilion

1.00PM

Written by internationally-acclaimed author and editor Jonathan Bate and the curator of Renaissance Europe at the British Museum, Dora Thornton, Shakespeare: staging the world provides a unique and fascinating insight into the early modern world, seen through the lens of Shakespeare’s plays.

The event will be chaired by Clemency Burton-Hill, and will be the first of three Shakespeare sessions.

The full festival programme is available here.

Bath Literature Festival – 2-11 March 2012

While the outlook is cold and gloomy, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bright spot on the horizon for literature lovers. The full line up for the Bath Literature Festival (2-11 March 2012) has now been released and as predicted, it looks fantastic. The British Museum Press is delighted to be joining up with this event for the first time and presenting lectures and talks from the Authors of three of our most recent releases.

The full programme is available here or read the rest of this entry for details of all featured British Museum Press events:

FRIDAY 9TH MARCH 2012

Indigo
Guildhall, G5
1.00pm – 2.00pm, This event has now sold out.

Writer, artist, traveller and lecturer, Jenny Balfour-Paul has researched and worked with indigo for over two decades. In today’s multi-coloured world, it is hard to imagine the incredible impact indigo must have had on the many civilizations that chanced upon it. Jenny uncovers all aspects of this subject: historical, agricultural, and scientific; sociological, medicinal, and folkloric.

Ticket holders can enjoy a FREE screening of Mary Lance’s documentary film Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo from 2.45 – 4pm.

SATURDAY 10TH MARCH 2012

David Stuttard on The Olympics
Bath Masonic Hall, H2
1.00pm – 2.00pm, £8 (£7 concessions)

Power: The power of the gods, the power of Greek cities, the power of the human body; all of these were celebrated at the ancient Olympic Games. David Stuttard gets up close and personal and shows us what it was like to be there, to witness the rituals, official banquets, bloody contests, victory celebrations and subsequent political parleys. This is your chance for a ringside seat.

How the Olympics Came to Be
The Holburne Museum, H8
1.15pm-2.15pm £5
Ages 5 – 10, children must be accompanied.

Join Helen East, storyteller and author, to hear all about the excitement of the ancient Olympic Games and the gods, heroic mortals and adventures that inspired them! Helen will be telling stories around the museum so seek her out and find out more about the origins of the Olympic Games.

Event bookings are now open, head to the Bath Literature Festival site for more information.

Author Q and A: David Stuttard

In anticipation of the release of our new title Power Games : Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics we spoke to author,  playwright and classicist David Stuttard about Ancient Greece, London 2012 and which historical figure he most identifies with.

David Stuttard

David Stuttard

What did you find most exciting about embarking on Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Greek Olympics?

There have been lots of books written about the Ancient Olympics, but what I was really excited about doing was trying to capture what the atmosphere might have been like at one particular Games.  To do this, I had to know not only exactly what was going on at the time I’d chosen (416 bc) but also precisely what the actual site at Olympia looked like in that year.  I wanted to be able to take the reader on a journey through Olympia with all its temples and statues and administrative buildings, so I needed to be able to build my own 3-D map of the site (albeit in my head).  That meant reading ancient accounts and getting to know as much as I possibly could about the physical geography – and revisiting the archaeological remains at Olympia, too, which (although I’d been several times before) came as something of a shock.  I’d created a really vivid mental picture of the site as it existed in all its glory in 416 bc and today, of course, it’s in ruins.

The first recorded Olympic Games took place in 776BC; can you tell us why you chose the events of 416BC as the focus for Power Games?

416 bc was a pivotal year for the ancient Olympics.  For one thing, it came at the end of a few years of phoney peace in the middle of a war (the Peloponnesian War) which involved pretty much the entire Greek world, stretching from modern Turkey to Sicily, as well as the Aegean islands and the Greek mainland itself.  For another, it involved big personalities, and the biggest of them all was Alkibiades.  In the 416 bc Games he entered a staggering seven teams in the chariot race, so that he came first, second and (depending on who you believe) either third or fourth. He was, in fact, using the Games as a vehicle for propaganda – not only for himself but for his city, Athens. We know that other important politicians from all over the Greek world were at the Games, too, using the occasion as an opportunity to hold talks and broker deals, so, given the fact that the book explores not just the athletic side of the Festival but the political and religious aspects too, it really did seem that 416 was the ideal year to focus on.  And it was.  I didn’t once regret the choice.

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