Book Club


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

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!



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!



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.



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



If you’d like to find out more about any of these books simply visit our website


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.


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.

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.

GD final layouts 44

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.

GD final layouts 31

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

Highlights for Spring 2014

Preview some of the books we are publishing later this year!


Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation

By John-Paul Stonnard

Explores the previously unpublished and unseen works by some of the leading names in contemporary art.


Vikings latest cover

Vikings: life and legend

Edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff

A rich and vivid account of the impact of the Vikings throughout the world.

Now available



The Vikings in Britain and Ireland

By Jayne Carroll, Stephen Harrison and Gareth Williams

A fascinating illustrated introduction to the cultural influence and legacy of the Vikings in Britain and Ireland.



The Tale of King Herald: The Last Viking Adventure

By Thomas J.T. Williams

An illustrated adventure telling the story of King Harald Sigurdsson, the last king of the Vikings.




By Robin Cormack

A beautifully illustrated introduction to the history and power of Byzantine and Russian icons.

Now in paperback



Thomas Bewick: Graphic Worlds

By Nigel Tattersfield

A new approach to the celebrated naturalist engraver Thomas Bewick, highlighting his brilliant engravings designed for the world of the Industrial Revolution.


BM watches jkt


By David Thompson

A beautiful and intriguing illustrated history of watches.

Now in paperback


Lewis Chessmen front cover

The Lewis Chessmen: and what happened to them

By Irving Finkel

A charming and original illustrated story for children, following the adventures of the world’s most famous chessmen.


View all of our recent titles here

Author David Stuttard at the Heffers Classic Festival in Cambridge

The Heffers Classics Festival in Cambridge

Saturday 2nd November 2013, 9:30-18:00

Parthenon cover low-res

Heffers are hosting the annual Heffers Classics Festival with a wealth of celebrities from the worlds of Classics Fact and Fiction.

Be transported back to the ancient world with experts, historians and comedians, as we explore everything from long-forgotten cities, heroes and gods, detectives and villains to current exhibitions

This dynamic day long Festival celebrates the Classical World. The programme is a diverse celebration of all that the Classical world has to offer. The programme this year runs over three streams: facts for the academic historians, philosophers and students; fiction for those of you who like your history stories set in the Classical period and, finally, something for our younger friends with storytelling and interactive fun.

Talking at the event is David Stuttard, author of Power Games: Ritual and Rivalry at the Ancient Olympic Games and co-author of AD410: The Year That Shook Rome and 31 BC: Antony and Cleopatra and the Fall of Egypt.

David will be talking about Greek Tragedy at the Classics Festival, from 3:15-4:15.

David’s new book Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis is published by British Museum Press this month. Parthenon takes the reader through the dramatic story of the conception and creation of the Parthenon, setting it against a turbulent historical background and rooting the building firmly in the real and mythological landscape of Athens. Written as a pacy, narrative history, the text features a cast of memorable characters, including Themistocles, the general whose decision to evacuate Athens led to the Persian sack of the acropolis; Pericles, visionary statesman and mastermind of the Athens’ building project; and Pheidias, who created the cult statue of Athene, and narrowly escaped impeachment for embezzlement.

Beautifully illustrated with evocative site photography, details from the Parthenon sculptures and other related artworks from the superb collection of the British Museum, this book explores the Parthenon as the spiritual heart of a network of commanding buildings, devised by Pericles and continued by his successors to promote the power of Athens as leader of the Greek world.

Visit the Heffers events page for further details about the Festival and how to book.

Or you can go straight to the ticket page here.

Click here to pre-order David Stuttard’s Parthenon on the British Museum’s website now.

Author Carrie Vout speaks at Heffers shop in Cambridge

Cambridge Heffers Classics Festival Warm-upTuesday, October 15th at 18:30

Join Heffers for a fascinating evening with three authors presenting glimpses from their new books with Q&A afterwards.

Caroline Vout presents Sex on Show: Seeing the erotic in Greece and Rome. Caroline Vout examines the abundance of sexual imagery in Greek and Roman culture. Were these images intended to be shocking, humorous, or exciting? Are they about sex or love? Caroline provides fascinating insights into ancient attitudes toward religion, politics, sex, gender, and the body. They also reveal how the ancients saw themselves and their world, and how subsequent centuries have seen them.

Tim Whitmarsh – Beyond the Second Sophistic. Tim offers new readings of some of the best-known and most influential authors of Greek antiquity, including Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, Aristophanes and Plato, as well as introducing many lesser-known figures.

Paul Cartledge – The Oath of Plataea. Through an analysis of this oath, Cartledge provides a wealth of insight into ancient Greek culture.

Visit the Heffers events page for further details about the talk and how to book.

Click here to buy Caroline Vout’s Sex on Show on the British Museum’s website now.

Melanesia book launch

Melanesia: Art and encounter

Introducing a new book from the British Museum

Professor Marilyn Strathern will lead a panel of scholars to discuss this exciting new contribution to the ethnography of the Pacific, followed by a reception with the editor and contributors.

6pm, Friday 11 October, in the Stevenson Theatre of the British Museum

The book will be on sale at a discount.

No booking is required, but an advance note of attendance would be appreciated. Please email

The artistic traditions of Melanesia are among the most rich and diverse of any region of the world, and this book examines them in an unprecedented depth. As the culmination of a five-year research project into the collections of the British Museum, it draws upon the experience of cultural experts and artists from Melanesia and around the world to interpret an enormous range of artefacts.

The book is edited by Lissant Bolton, Nicholas Thomas, Elizabeth Bonshek, Julie Adams and Ben Burt. A total of 57 chapters cover, with editorial introductions, West Papua, Papua New Guinea (north and south), Soloman Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. In dealing with ‘art and encounter’, the book presents the British Museum’s outstanding Melaneisan collections, illustrated by 300 colour photos, in the context of historical relational relationships between Melanesias and Europeans over the past two hundred years.

British Museum Press

ISBN 978 0 7141 256 1
£75 hardback

Click here to buy.

Beyond El Dorado opens soon; preview at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Beyond El Dorado_front cover Lowres SmlA fascinating and unique British Museum exhibition: Beyond El Dorado will be opening 17 October 2013 and running until 23 March 2014.

For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of El Dorado – literally ‘the golden one’. Many different stories were told of El Dorado – sometimes it was imagined as a lost city of gold, sometimes as a man covered in powdered gold who plunged into the middle of Lake Guatavita (near modern Bogotá). The exhibition uncovers the fascinating truth behind some of these myths. Unlike in Europe, gold was not valued as currency in pre-Hispanic Colombia. Instead it had great symbolic meaning, facilitating all kinds of social and spiritual transformations. It was one way the elite could publicly assert their rank, both in life and in death.

The exhibition features over 200 fascinating objects from Museo del Oro, Bogotá, and around 100 from the British Museum’s collection. They show technologically advanced and sophisticated goldworking techniques, including the use of an alloy composed of gold and copper, and the use of textiles, feathers, stones and ceramics. These beautiful and detailed works display a level of complex craftsmanship that perfectly marries art and skill, and show the differences in techniques and designs across the region.

To get the chance to see it you can book your tickets here. The accompanying catalogue is also available to purchase and is published by the British Museum Press.

Beyond El Dorado, by Elisenda Vila Llonch, is published by the British Museum Press in paperback (£19.99). To look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

Elisenda will be giving a preview of the exhibition and book in her talk at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday 7 October 2013. Visit the festival’s website to book your tickets.

Elisenda’s book expands on the exhibition and looks at the myths and rituals of El Dorado as well as the uses and importance of gold in the northern Andes.

In fact among the cultures of the northern Andes, gold has been revered above all other materials. Gold was believed to be a product of the Sun, the supreme procreator, and as such had special associations with fertility and power. For the people of Colombia, the value of gold lay in the symbolic and transformative properties associated with its colour, aura and malleability and it was used to fashion some of the most visually dramatic and technically sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact.

Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome

The ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about sex. Sex scenes starring anonymous mortals or heroes and gods met their eyes at every turn. Phallic imagery and scenes of seduction graced drinking cups, oil-lamps and walls. In Athens sculptures with erect penises served as boundary stones and signposts. In Pompeii people wore penis pendants and their necks, or hung them from doorways. Two thousand years later, this exhibitionism can appear strange or surprising, even embarrassing.

Sex on Show cover low-res smlSex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome will be published by the British Museum Press on 30 September. Drawing on the British Museum’s extensive collection of classical works, award-winning author Caroline Vout examines the abundance of sexual imagery in Greek and Roman culture and the questions that arise from it: are we right to see this material as ‘sexual’? Are the images about sex or love? Were they intended to be stimulating, moralizing, shocking or humorous? Are our responses to them akin to those of the ancients? The answers to these questions provide fascinating insights into ancient attitudes to art, religion, politics, sex, gender and the body. They reveal how the ancients saw themselves and their world, and how subsequent centuries have seen them.

Covering the sixth century BC to the fourth century AD, and embracing Renaissance and post-Renaissance material, Sex on Show uses detailed visual analysis to ask not what but how, why and to what effect. Beautifully written and lavishly illustrated, this book does not simply address theories of sexual practice or social history; it is a visual history – about what it meant and still means to have sex stare us in the face.

To celebrate the publication of Sex on Show, we’ve included an exclusive extract here.

‘One man’s nakedness is another man’s nudity. Each of these assessments of an image configures its seductiveness or shock value differently. This is why our discussion of sex on show starts with exposure in an attempt to understand which ancient bodies were vulnerable or heroic, and which made viewers feel empathy or desire. Not that the desiring gaze is itself straightforward – if we stare at a statue and are turned on by it, are we in thrall to it or is it in thrall to us? What does the statue know? Is it complicit about being looked at? This last question may sound a curious one to ask of an inanimate object but it is key to how the statue makes us feel. Were the figure of Venus on the wooden casket from Roman Egypt (fig. 37) to meet our gaze head on, she would be as provocative as Manet’s Olympia – closer in kind to the prostitute, or Phryne, on whom Praxiteles’ famous Aphrodite of Knidos was supposed to have been modeled, than to the cult statue itself.

Fig 37

Wooden painted panel showing Venus putting on a necklace in her shrine. Fayum, Egypt, AD 250-300.

Instead it is her coyness that captivates, letting the viewer remain a voyeur. The falling boxer on a cup painted in Athens, by contrast, looks straight at us, painfully aware of his own subjugation . His audacity, and the openness of his body, is made all the more pointed when we see inside the cup (fig. 39) where a single nude athlete turns his back to us and bends towards an altar, exposing his buttocks and obscuring his face.

Fig 39

Interior of the same red-figure drinking cup. Attica, Greece 500 – 490 BC.

Although there are kalos inscriptions (meaning ‘what a beauty!’) on the cup, it is hard to enjoy the physical display as men did the statue of Aphrodite in her shrine at Knidos. We feel too exposed for that. The frontal gaze is a powerful thing, as gorgons’ heads inside other drinking cups show (fig. 40). In these cases, the drinkers’ eagerness to drain his wine and see what joy lies within is met by a leering stare that can turn him to stone.

Fig. 40

Black-figure drinking cup with an image of a gorgon in its interior. Attica, Greece, 500 – 475 BC.

Renaissance moralists were not the first to acknowledge that looking can be dangerous. In antiquity, those who came to Knidos had Greek mythology pumping through their veins, mythology which warned of the dangers of stumbling upon a goddess bathing. The seer Tiresias was blinded as a result of seeing Athena in such a state, and Actaeon turned into a stag by the goddess Artemis and then ripped apart by his own hunting dogs.

fig. 41

Heavily restored marble statue of Actaeon being attacked by his hunting dogs. Second century AD.

In light of these stories, it is rather wonderful that in the fourth century BC an Athenian pot painter chose to represent a third divine bather, the sea-nymph Thetis, mother of Achilles, in a pose which was soon the preserve of the ‘crouching Aphrodite’ type – an overlap made more obvious by the fact that he distinguishes both Thetis an Aphrodite’s son Eros in white and that Aphrodite herself is seated top left, observing the scene. Our seeing Aphrodite a second time instead of Thetis not only plays to the latter’s ability to assume forms other than her own but enables us to see and not see her simultaneously and so to look, and have the painter look, with impunity. She is not caught off guard without her clothes, she is no even herself, she resembles a living statue. For Praxiteles and those in Knidos, there is no such ‘let out’: the full force of his statue lies not in the desire it stimulates, but in the inescapable fact that this Aphrodite they are witnessing and that all of them are, therefore, at risk. What happens next? The man foolish enough to try to penetrate her is forced to throw himself from a cliff.

This blurring between flesh and marble is at the heart of the Pygmalion myth, which tells how the artist Pygmalion became so enamoured of the ivory girl he had created that he willed it to change into a real woman. It also underpins the story of Pandora, the first ever woman, whom the gods supposedly modelled out of clay to be irresistible to Epimetheus, who took her as his wife, and with her, the jar of trouble she brought as her dowry. And it was not only female figures who asked for animacy. The sculptures of myth’s first artist, Daedalus, ‘seemed to move and to see’ and if ‘not fastened up’, to ‘play truant and run away’. Statues were born imitators –though some were better at it than others: a commemorative statue by Myron in honour of a runner called Ladas was so lifelike that one author commented: ‘soon the bronze will leap to seize the crown and the base will hold it no longer’. Nor were the best paintings barred from competing: Alexander the Great’s court artist Apelles painted the flesh of a boy so that it seemed to pulsate with life. In Rome, images of Augustus and his successors could literally stand in for the emperor; and the emperors’ treatment of images reveals much about their characters. Not content with Parrhasius’ painting of Meleager and Atalanta, the emperor Tiberius so loved the statue of an athlete scraping himself with a strigil, which had been made by another of Alexander’s artists, Lysippus, and was then on display near the Baths of Agrippa in Rome, that he took it to his bedroom. Almost immediately he was forced to return it by a general public who were also in love with it.

The verb used to describe Tiberius’ love for the statue (adamare, ‘to fall in love’) is the same that Cicero uses of Verres’ motivation; it unequivocally stresses that both of them are taking too much visual pleasure in Greek art. In contrast, Augustus’ wife, Livia, is an example of good practice when she saves the life of a man who appears naked before her with the claim that to a chaste woman like herself, looking at such a man was like looking at a statue. Self-controlled viewers should be able to look at an artwork and channel their enjoyment into aesthetic as opposed to sensual pleasure. They should be able to maintain their superiority and the artwork its decency. But good art makes this hard work; as soon as it imitates nature and, more, casts a goddess as a girl, it brings nudity and nakedness worryingly close together. It is not only members of the imperial family whose sexual proclivities are tapped and whose self-restraint is tested. All viewers are tested.’

Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum. Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome by Caroline Vout is published by the British Museum Press in hardback at £25. To look inside the book, visit the British Museum online shop.

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.” –

“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.