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

Last chance to see: Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

The acclaimed British Museum exhibition  Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum will be closing this Sunday 29th September. Don’t miss your last chance to see it!

Preserved under ash, Pompeii and Herculaneum lay buried for just over 1,600 years, their rediscovery providing an unparalleled glimpse into the daily life of the Roman Empire. This spectacular exhibition, sponsored by Goldman Sachs, is the first ever held on these important cities at the British Museum, and the first such major exhibition in London for almost 40 years. It is the result of close collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Naples and Pompeii, bringing together over 250 fascinating objects, both recent discoveries and celebrated finds from earlier excavations. Many of these objects have never before been seen outside Italy.

From the bustling street to the intimate spaces of a Roman home, this celebrated exhibition will take you to the heart of people’s lives in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

If you don’t get the chance to see it by the end of the week, check out the accompanying catalogue published by the British Museum Press.

Praise for Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum:

“[Encapsulates] the latest research and opinions on these once living cities, invaluable in preparation for a visit there”. – Brian Sewell, The London Evening Standard

“Paul Roberts’ book, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, is a brilliant piece of work and gives a full description of a unique event in the history of the world… hugely absorbing.” – EdinburghGuide.com

“Undoubtedly one of the most momentous archaeological exhibitions ever staged” – The Guardian

“A wonderful show of wonderful things. Unmissable” – The Independent

“Nothing I’ve seen or read before tells the story in the way the British Museum does’ – The Daily Telegraph

“A brilliantly told story of love, life, sex and death” – Metro

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, by Paul Roberts, is published by the British Museum Press in paperback (£25) and hardback (£45). To look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

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 Edinburgh International Book Festival 2013

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We are delighted to announce that the British Museum Press will be a partner of the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the first time in 2013. Senior curator and head of the Roman collections Paul Roberts will discuss life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, deputy keeper of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic material Jill Cook will discuss groundbreaking works of art from the Ice Age, and world-renowned Shakespeare historian Jonathan Bate and curator of Renaissance Europe Dora Thornton will explore the world and works of William Shakespeare.

Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

12:30pm on Monday, 12th August 2013 | Peppers Theatre | Adult Programme

New line

Jill Cook

Jill Cook

Ice Age art

arrival of the modern mind

4.00PM on Friday, 16th August 2013 | Peppers Theatre | Adult Programme

New line

Dora ThorntonJonathan Bate low-res

Jonathan Bate & Dora Thornton

Shakespeare

staging the world

New line

12.30PM on Sunday, 25th August 2013 | Peppers Theatre | Adult Programme

For full information on the above events and to find out more visit the Edinburgh International Book Festival website.

We hope to see you there!

Pompeii Live

Tonight is Pompeii Live, an exclusive new event from the British Museum. See the wonders of the exhibition from the comfort of your local cinema, introduced live by Peter Snow and Bettany Hughes, with Mary Beard, Rachel de Thame, Giorgio Locatelli, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, exhibition curator Paul Roberts and British Museum director Neil MacGregor.

For a full list of participating cinemas and for further information, visit the Pompeii Live webpage.

For a taster or what’s to come, we’ve included here a couple of spreads from our exhibition gift book, Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum by Paul Roberts with Vanessa Baldwin: a visual treasury of the art of these two cities. With page after page of exquisite details of frescoes, mosaics, marble reliefs, jewellery, statues, glass and silverware, these close-ups of masterpieces evoke the skilled hands and practiced eye of accomplished classical craftsmen.

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Left page: Fresco showing Theseus and the Minotaur. Pompeii, House of Gavius Rufus (VII,2,16). H. 97 cm, W. 88 cm. Naples, MANN 9043

Right page: Fresco showing Perseus and Andromeda. Pompeii, House of Dioscuri (VI, 9,6). H. 128 cm, W. 106 cm. Naples, MANN 8998

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Left page: Gold snake bracelets. Herculaneum, ancient shoreline, vault IX, skeleton 65. Diam. 9. 3 cm. Herculaneum, SAP 7835809.

Right page: Painted marble panel showing women playing knucklebones. Herculaneum, House of Neptune and Amphitrite (V,6-7). H. 42 cm, W. 49 cm. Naples, MANN 9562.

For more information and to look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

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.

LGH Page 120

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 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.

Masks: The Art of Expression

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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.

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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.