Book Club


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

Are you watching Lost Kingdoms of South America on BBC Four?

BBC Four is currently airing an exciting four-part series on the Lost Kingdoms of South America, fronted by Dr Jago Cooper, curator of the Americas at the British Museum.  In tonight’s episode, Dr Cooper will explore the Bolivian landscape to investigate the origins and explore the ruins of the Tiwanaku, a monolithic temple city that was abandoned 1,000 years ago.

Want to learn more? Ancient American Art in Detail, edited by Colin McEwan and published by the British Museum Press, features finds from Tiwanaku and below are some exclusive extracts.

Ceramic male portrait vessel.

Ceramic male portrait vessel.
Tiwanaku , Bolivia, 6th-10th century AD.

The accomplished execution of this rare portrait of a Tiwanaku lord bears comparison with the better-known Moche portrait vessels. He wears a fez-like circular woven round hat rather than a four-cornered hat – examples of both have been found preserved in burials. His ear spools and lip plug are standard emblems for high-ranking males. The surface has been assiduously burnished to achieve a uniform buff-coloured appearance. The headpiece finished in a dark red slip and a roughened strip on one side suggests there was once an appliqué appendage of some kind that has since broken off.

Tunic of camelid wool and metal dangles.

Tunic of camelid wool and metal dangles.

Tiwanaku-Wari, Peru/Bolivia, 7th-10th century AD.

Elite tunics such as this were produced at the great pre-Inca urban centres of Wari and Tiwanaku, whose territory spanned much of highland Peru and Bolivia. Their textile arts show a bold visual vocabulary of abstract motifs that signalled vital information concerning ethnic identity, lineage, rank and office. Analysis of the attached circular metal dangles confirms that the metal is ancient, but that modern thread has been used to sew them to the tunic. No known precedents exist for this on textiles of the period and they seem to have been added more recently, perhaps in order to enhance the appeal and contemporary value of the piece.

Ancient American Art in Detail low-res

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

Extracts and images from Ancient American Art in Detail, edited by Colin McEwan, available for £14.99 from the British Museum shop.

Lost Kingdoms of South America will be broadcast tonight on BBC Four at 21.00.

Indian Love Poetry – New Edition!


Love is widely celebrated in Indian love poetry, whether mystic love for the divine or the passionate and affectionate feelings between lovers, husbands and wives, family and friends. Although the literary forms and language may be unfamiliar, the poems evoke many universal themes of love and romance that will be recognizable to all.

The British Museum Press is pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of Indian Love Poetry by A. L. Dallapiccola, on shelves today. This attractive collection combines a selection of translations from various languages of the best Indian poetry with illustrations drawn from some of the finest examples of Indian art in the British Museum. With a brief introduction to the Indian poetic tradition and a short biographical note about each of the poets, this beautiful anthology is the perfect way to discover the treasures of Indian literature and art.

We’ve featured here some sample poems to celebrate the publication of this new edition.

Page 15

The Month of Chaitra (March/April)

The charming creepers are in bloom and once more the trees are young, covered in blossoms. Flowers fill streams and pools; elegantly dressed women, burning with passion, abandon themselves in the enjoyment of love. The parrot, the mainia and the cuckoo warble songs of love. In such a charming season, no-one should embrace the thorns of separation, abandoning the flower of union. Why thing of going away?

-Keshava Dasa

Page 43

A lady awaits her lover at a tryst in the forest (utka nayika). Despite his promises, he has not arrived at the trysting place, so she addresses her sylvan surroundings:

Oh brother bower, Oh friend jasmine, Oh beloved mango tree, Oh night, compassionate mother, Oh darkness as loving as a father – tell me why my lover, whose countenance is as bewitching as the rain cloud (Krishna) has not come.

I drenched myself in the rain, dwelt in the depths of the forest, worshipped Kama (god of love) with sandal paste and flowers, passed a sleepless night, forgetting my modesty. What penance have I not done? And still, my Lord does not bless my eyes with his presence.

-Bhanu Datta

Page 45

How can someone separate you from me: your soul from mine?

Distance makes no difference,

The kite may float and fly where it will,

But, at all times, it is attached to someone’s hand.

-Bihari Lal

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

You can look inside Indian Love Poetry exclusively on the British Museum shop website.

Anniversary of the British Museum

Today is the anniversary of the British Museum! The British Museum opened to the public on 15 January 1759. It was first housed in a seventeenth-century mansion, Montagu House, in Bloomsbury on the site of today’s building. Entry was free and given to ‘all studious and curious Persons’.

With the exception of two World Wars, the Museum has remained open ever since, gradually increasing its opening hours and moving from an attendance of 5,000 per year to today’s 6 million.

In celebration of the Museum’s 254th year, we’ve published below an extract from the Treasures of the British Museum, by Marjorie Caygill.

The Trustees' Mace

The Trustees’ Mace, which lay on the table at Board meetings and was reputed to have been carried before the Trustees during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on their visitations to Museum departments. Made of silver hallmarked 1758/59 and inscribed ‘The Trustees of the British Museum 1759’, the year that the Museum opened to the public. L. 2.4 m. The mace rests on a copy of the Act of Parliament ‘for the purchase of the Museum or Collection or Sir Hans Sloane, and of the Harleian Collection’, 1753.

A visitor to the British Museum a few years after its foundation in 1753 would have had to negotiate a massive entrance gate on Great Russell Street. On crossing a cobbled courtyard he, or she, would have entered Montagu House, a hastily although lavishly converted mansion, built on the previous century on the edge of London. Inside, after admission tickets had been collected, a small group of about ten people would have been conducted on a guided tour, lasting about two or three hours, past natural history specimens – both attractive and disgusting, but always interesting – and a miscellaneous collection of antiquities, ethnography and what could only be termed curiosities. Before leaving, the visitor would be able to inspect the outside of the books on the library shelves and might perhaps be shown some fine paintings of flowers. There were at that time in the Museum’s collections around 88,000 books and volumes of manuscripts, 24,000 coins and medals, 43,000 natural history specimens and perhaps 5,000 antiquities and ‘modern’ curiosities. This vast collection was curated, protected against the influx of the London mob, and kept clean, by twelve staff. Today the British Museum houses 6 – 12 million objects (if sherds and other small items are counted separately), and has a staff of over 1,000. Its offshoot the Natural History Museum has 70 million specimens and the more recently separated British Library holds 150 million items.

The origins of the British Museum lie in the will of the eminent physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660 – 1753), the greatest collector of his age, particularly noted for his assemblage of natural history specimens, who bequeathed his vast omnium gatherum to King George II for the nation in return for £20,000 for his two heirs. The king was somewhat indifferent but Parliament had the foresight to accept the offer. The British Museum Act received the royal assent on 7 June 1753. Funds to buy a repository and to run the Museum were raised by a state lottery, noticeably corrupt even for the eighteenth century. Parliament seized the opportunity to add to Sloane’s miscellany the historical and literary manuscript collections of the Cotton and Harley families. In 1757 George II donated the Old Royal Library of the sovereigns of England and with it the privilege of copyright deposit. A body of powerful Trustees with perpetual succession, was appointed to govern the Museum on behalf of the nation.

The Museum and its small reading room opened to the public on 15 January 1759.

Text and image © Trustees of the British Museum

You can read more about Treasures of the British Museum by Marjorie Caygill on the British Museum shop website.

British Museum Objects in Focus: The Franks Casket

Objects in Focus - The Franks Casket

The latest in the British Museum Objects in Focus series, The Franks Casket by Leslie Webster is published today by the British Museum Press!  The whale-bone box known as the Franks Casket has intrigued and puzzled viewers since its discovery in the nineteenth century in France. Made in northern England in the eighth century AD, the sides and lid of the rectangular casket carry some of the most intricate and intriguing carvings from Anglo-Saxon times. The lively scenes depicted are drawn from a variety of sources, including Germanic and Roman legends and Jewish and Christian stories. They are accompanied by texts in both Old English and Latin, using the runic and Roman alphabets.

Setting the Franks Casket in its political and religious context, and looking at the significance of its ingenious images and inscriptions, this book explores the meaning, function and history of this extraordinary icon of Anglo-Saxon culture.

Detail from the casket’s front panel, showing Weland the Smith at his forge. Along the left edge, the runes read hronaes ban, ‘whale’s bone’, describing the material from which the casket is made.

Detail from the casket’s front panel, showing Weland the Smith at his forge. Along the left edge, the runes read hronaes ban, ‘whale’s bone’, describing the material from which the casket is made.

Page 24

The left end of the casket illustrates the Roman legend of the twins Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf.

Page 38

The helmeted general Titus, who leads the assault on Jerusalem, resembles in his bearing and battle-gear the leading warrior on the lid.

Text and images © Trustees of the British Museum

British Museum Objects in Focus: The Franks Casket is available for £5 in good bookshops and on the British Museum shop website.

Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain

The British Museum free exhibition, Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain, will be closing this Sunday 6th January. Don’t miss your last chance to see it!

This spectacular exhibition brings together for the first time prints and drawings by mainly Spanish and important European artists working in Spain from the mid-16th to the mid-19th century, many of which have never been on display before.

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

Praise for Renaissance to Goya: prints and drawings from Spain

“The well-written and superbly and generously illustrated publication that accompanies the exhibition is a narrative history of graphic arts in Spain, and an important addition to the standard bibliography. No such survey in English was ever attempted before, and those published in Spanish by Pérez Sánchez on drawings or Antonio Gallego on prints a generation ago were never translated and not widely distributed, and lacked the scale of comparative illustrations provided by the British Museum publication. There is also a useful chapter contributed by Clara de la Peña McTigue on paper and papermaking in Spain, with excellent photographic details. The author’s lucid, engaging prose in the book reflects the clear organisation and telling juxtapositions of prints and drawings in this informative and beautiful exhibition”. – The Burlington Magazine

“Pioneering… collectors may find [it] even more gripping than the exhibition”. – The New York Times

“The catalogue, as vade mecum through both the exhibition and the wider context, is in its depth and range invaluable”. – The London Evening Standard

You can have a look inside the book on the British Museum shop website – simply click on the image below.

Renaissance to Goya

Happy New Year from the British Museum Press!

The British Museum Press is delighted to be publishing a wide and exciting range of titles for the next season.  Accompanying two major exhibitions in early Spring, we will be publishing Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind.  In May we will publish a contextual survey of political art across Asia in Propaganda: Asian art of war and revolution, and in June we will publish an exploration of human desire and gender across time in A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World.




Art in Pompeii and Herculaneum 9-11-12


London Final Cover 97807141283069780714122809


These are just a few highlights from our Spring 2013 list. You can read about the others in our 2013 books catalogue here.

Happy reading in 2013!