This Women’s History Month we’re shining a light on women artists in the collection. Here we take a closer look at the life and work of Mary Delany, who at 72 years of age began producing 985 extraordinarily detailed floral collages – a sophisticated combination of art and science.
20 March 2019
26 February 2019
Curator William Greenwood explores the themes connecting objects from a vast and fascinating area, now on display in our Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic world.
14 February 2019
Love is everywhere on Valentine’s Day and the Museum is no exception. Join us on a tour of love stories from across the globe.
20 December 2018
We’ve rounded up 12 objects from across the Museum’s collection that capture the magic of winter. From 13,000-year-old reindeer to fur coats and cold-weather prints, discover some of the Museum’s wonderful winter objects…
18 October 2018
To celebrate the opening of the new Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic world, curators of the gallery take a look at eight highlight objects from the collection.
26 September 2018
Organics conservator Tania Desloge discusses the conservation work undertaken on a newly acquired set of samurai armour.
25 September 2018
Courtesans (high ranked sex workers) were expected to provide glamorous and cultivated company, as well as sexual services, to those wealthy clients who could afford the extravagant expense. In reality though, their lives could be harsh. In Utamaro’s art this exploitation was only rarely alluded to, although it was significant at the time that he represented it at all.<dl id=”attachment_17171″ class=”wp-caption alignnone” style=”width: 1960px;” data-mce-style=”width: 1960px;”><dt class=”wp-caption-dt”><img class=”size-full wp-image-17171″ src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-full.jpg” alt=”” width=”1960″ height=”2986″ data-mce-src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-full.jpg” /></dt><dd class=”wp-caption-dd”>Kitagawa Utamaro (d. 1806), Courtesan reading a letter. Ink and colour on paper, about 1805–1806.<br />Purchase funded by the Theresia Gerda Buch Bequest in memory of her parents, Rudolf and Julie Buch, and with Art Fund support (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), and by the Brooke Sewell Bequest.</dd></dl>Utamaro’s greatest prints and paintings, including this rare hanging scroll, invite us to spy on apparently intimate private moments in the lives of these fabled women. Few could even catch a glimpse of them in real life. The courtesan in the painting is barefoot, so she must be in her luxurious apartments in Yoshiwara, the large government-licensed brothel district in Edo, modern Tokyo. Yoshiwara was the epicentre of the so-called ‘floating world’ of pleasure-seeking – mainly for men – and artist Utamaro was in a way its chief publicist.Look at how the woman seems to be intently reading the love letter from her suitor – her mouth open, lips slack and eyes angled as she eagerly devours its contents. It was this clever psychological dimension, as well as the skill of his brush, that set Utamaro above all his contemporaries and many imitators.<dl id=”attachment_17168″ class=”wp-caption alignnone” style=”width: 1960px;” data-mce-style=”width: 1960px;”><dt class=”wp-caption-dt”><img class=”wp-image-17168 size-full” src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-close-up.jpg” alt=”” width=”1960″ height=”1391″ data-mce-src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-close-up.jpg” /></dt><dd class=”wp-caption-dd”>.</dd></dl>In 1804, however, Utamaro was punished by the samurai authorities for an infringement of censorship laws. He was sentenced to house arrest, with his hands manacled for 50 days, a symbolic punishment designed to hinder and humiliate artists and writers who, of course, lived by their brushes. The consensus has been that after this – until his early death in 1806 – Utamaro’s career was in decline. However, the fashions and hairstyle of the woman in this powerful and accomplished painting can only date from 1805-1806, undermining the old theory.One interesting piece of evidence was a small courtesan print by Hokusai in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The Hokusai print is dateable to 1806 and it features on a sash hanging over a kimono stand the same ‘lucky jewel’ pattern seen around the padded hem of the robe in the Utamaro painting. This is the emblem of a particular club of poets who wrote so-called ‘crazy verses’ (<em>kyōka</em>). Did a wealthy member of the poetry club perhaps commission both works?<dl id=”attachment_17233″ class=”wp-caption alignnone” style=”width: 1960px;” data-mce-style=”width: 1960px;”><dt class=”wp-caption-dt”><img class=”size-full wp-image-17233″ src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Fitzwilliam-Hokusai-web.jpg” alt=”” width=”1960″ height=”1590″ data-mce-src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Fitzwilliam-Hokusai-web.jpg” /></dt><dd class=”wp-caption-dd”>Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Haru Akebono. Ukiyo-e colour woodblock print, 1806. © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.<br />This print was part of a series made for the Tsubogawa poetry group whose emblem is seen on the draped <em>obi</em> (sash) and on the robes of the attendants.</dd></dl><dl id=”attachment_17169″ class=”wp-caption alignnone” style=”width: 1960px;” data-mce-style=”width: 1960px;”><dt class=”wp-caption-dt”><img class=”size-full wp-image-17169″ src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-dress-pattern.jpg” alt=”” width=”1960″ height=”1071″ data-mce-src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-dress-pattern.jpg” /></dt><dd class=”wp-caption-dd”>Detail of the courtesan’s robe in Utamaro’s painting, revealing the same ‘lucky jewel’ pattern design.</dd></dl>The powerful sweep of the woman’s robes and her statuesque pose, show that Utamaro was experimenting with a bold new style right up to the end of his life. The historian Saitō Gesshin, writing in 1844, tells us that when publishers realised that the artist was not going to recover from his final illness, they searched around for other artists to match his skill. There was no-one. So, influenced by Utamaro’s late work, the next generation of artists of the popular ‘floating world’, or ukiyo-e, school – such as Eizan, Eisen and Kunisada – all took up stylistically where this painting leaves off.I first saw this painting in 2013. It was previously unknown and unrecorded. To say my heart skipped a beat is an understatement. The (not quite) half-million dollar question: was the painting genuine? I spent a long time comparing it in detail with other paintings accepted as genuine – only around 50 have survived –and searching out various other bits of evidence to help date the work. In due course, all of the Utamaro scholars around the world, whose opinions I most respect, came to agree that the painting is genuine, and so I felt confident to recommend it for acquisition by the British Museum.When the painting came to the British Museum it had been cut down from a full-size hanging scroll. The top and the bottom of the mounting were missing and there was minor cracking of the painting surface in several places. After much discussion with conservators, we decided that we should try to preserve not only Utamaro’s painting itself, but also the beautiful mounting fabric, with its maple leaves that are partly dyed and partly embroidered. This fabric undoubtedly comes from an old kimono – though this particular mounting was probably added to the scroll about a hundred years after the work was painted.<dl id=”attachment_17167″ class=”wp-caption alignnone” style=”width: 1960px;” data-mce-style=”width: 1960px;”><dt class=”wp-caption-dt”><img class=”size-full wp-image-17167″ src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-backing.jpg” alt=”” width=”1960″ height=”2708″ data-mce-src=”https://blog.britishmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Utamaro-scroll-backing.jpg” /></dt><dd class=”wp-caption-dd”>Detail of the mounting fabric on the scroll, likely to have originated from a kimono.</dd></dl>Now that the Yoshiwara beauty has been restored to her full glamour, it is time for her to make her debut in the British Museum’s newly-refurbished Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries.
21 March 2018
Curator Yu-ping Luk takes a closer look at a remarkable painted scroll that illustrates scenes from early Chinese poetry.
16 March 2018
Sushma Jansari looks at the lives of four women collectors, and some of the objects they collected that are now in the British Museum.
16 March 2018
Oungan (Vodou priest) and ethnomusicologist Gerdès Fleurant and Caribbean historian Kate Ramsey tell us more about a Vodou drum, on display now for the first time, in Room 3.
8 February 2018
Curator Richard Blurton takes a closer look at a remarkable processional chariot from Shrirangam in south India, and explains how it relates to the Hindu god Vishnu.
11 January 2018
The Parthenon in Athens is one of the most famous buildings from the ancient world. Its sculptures are greatly admired today. Here we take a closer look at why the building was so famous, and why these iconic works mark a key moment in the global history of art.
27 December 2017
Curator Richard Blurton tells the story behind an exciting new acquisition – a sitar owned and played by the great Indian musician Ravi Shankar.
14 December 2017
To celebrate the opening of our new gallery of China and South Asia, eight of our curators have each picked a key object on display.
10 October 2017
Ahead of the exhibition Living with gods, Jill Cook takes a closer look at one of the exhibition’s key loans – the Lion Man, an incredible survival from the last Ice Age.
28 September 2017
Know your ode from your elegy? Your spondee from your dactyl? Then take a look at some of the poetry found within the Museum.
8 September 2017
Curator Thorsten Opper reveals some of the secrets of the so-called Sword of Tiberius – the most famous sword to have survived from the Roman world.
1 September 2017
British Museum Scientist Joanne Dyer talks about the new scientific techniques that are casting ancient objects in a new light.
21 August 2017
As a solar eclipse crosses the United States on 21 August 2017, Curator Jonathan Taylor takes a look at what the Babylonians thought of this celestial phenomenon.
8 August 2017
Oceania Curator Polly Bence talks about her work with the UK’s Kiribati community through the Object Journeys project, helping to bring the British Museum’s Micronesia collection into focus.
14 July 2017
You’ve probably heard of the Rosetta Stone. It’s one of the most famous objects in the British Museum, but what actually is it? Take a closer look…
30 June 2017
Dora Thornton, Curator of Renaissance Collections, details how Queen Elizabeth I used her portrait to manipulate her public and private image.
31 May 2017
London’s history has always been closely connected to the River Thames, one of the UK’s longest and deepest rivers. On London History Day, Jennifer Wexler, Digital Research Project Producer, dredges up some of the fascinating objects found in this famous river.
21 May 2017
As the project to conserve Dürer’s Triumphal Arch reaches the final stages Sam Taylor and Agnieszka Depta work with the Hirayama Studio to prepare the print for future display.
29 April 2017
For International Tabletop Day 2017, British Museum curator Irving Finkel challenged YouTuber Tom Scott to a round of the oldest playable board game in the world – The Royal Game of Ur – a game Irving discovered and deciphered the rules to himself.
10 April 2017
The statue of King Idrimi arrived at the British Museum in 1939. The inscription that stretches across the front of the statue is now recognised as one of the 20 most important cuneiform documents ever found. James Fraser, Project Curator, Middle East Department, discusses the importance of Idrimi’s story, and how new scanning techniques are allowing us unravel the inscription in more detail.
1 April 2017
Take a closer look at five fakes, forgeries and things designed to fool in the Museum’s collection. Only a fool would fail to read this…
14 March 2017
March is Women’s History Month, so we’ve asked Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and Classics editor of the TLS, to give us a quick countdown of five female figures from the ancient world.
7 March 2017
This week, six of the iconic Lewis Chessmen went on display at Lews Castle in Stornoway as part of a long-term loan from the British Museum. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at five things you should know about these medieval masterpieces.
20 February 2017
Hazel Gardiner is working on the Ur digitisation project, continuing the work started in the 1920s and 1930s by archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley. In this blog Hazel Gardiner describes using X-radiography and analysis to unearth the mysteries of a third millennium BC copper-alloy cauldron.
10 February 2017
The project to conserve Dürer’s Triumphal Arch reaches the next stage. Sam Taylor takes technical photographs of the sheets discovering long-hidden details in the handmade paper, delicately unpicks old glue and gives the work a bath.
17 January 2017
Over 50 years ago, excavations near the town of Jericho revealed a mysterious human skull. But it was only recently that Museum researchers have been able to learn more about the person behind the plaster, thanks to modern technology.
9 January 2017
The hidden colours of an ancient Egyptian coffin are revealed through a combination of analysis and non-invasive multispectral imaging techniques. Here Joanne Dyer and Nicola Newman shed light on the process.
6 December 2016
Object Journeys is a new three-year partnership project at the British Museum. Generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund the programme will see the Museum support and collaborate with community partners to research and explore ethnographic collections and to work directly with staff towards a gallery intervention in response to these objects.
15 March 2016
In the next part of our blog series on the project to conserve Dürer’s Triumphal Arch, Agnieszka Depta begins the delicate process of removing the print’s fragile linen backing and separating the work into its original 38 sheets.
3 March 2016
Hazel Gardiner is working on the Ur digitisation project, continuing the work started in the 1920s and 1930s by archaeologist C. Leonard Woolley. In this blog Hazel describes one of her current tasks, working on the metal objects and in particular a third millenium copper-alloy cauldron.
16 February 2016
Through the combination of CT scans and archaeological research, the display of a four-metre long mummified crocodile introduces visitors to the beliefs of ancient Egyptians, to whom this mummy was an incarnation of the crocodile god Sobek.
5 February 2016
Bink Hallum and Marcel Marée discuss hieroglyphic texts on display in the Egypt: faith after the pharaohs exhibition and in particular the 18th-century copy of the Book of the Seven Climes.
4 January 2016
Ilana Tahan explains the significance of a selection of fragments from the First Gaster Bible, on display in the Egypt: faith after the pharaohs exhibition.
29 December 2015
3 August 2015
Whilst carrying out a student placement Lauren Buttle, a candidate for a Masters of Art Conservation at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, was involved in the first stage of the conservation process of Albrect Dürer’s Triumphal Arch, assisting in cleaning the 3.5 m x 3 m, 16th- century print.
3 July 2015
The project to conserve Dürer’s Triumphal Arch reaches the next stage. Ivor Kerslake and Joanna Russel lset out to take a series of high-resolution images as well as infrared and ultraviolet imaging to reveal information about the work, vital for the next stage in the conservation process.
19 March 2015
In autumn 2014, Albrecht Dürer’s monumental Triumphal Arch went on display in the Asahi Shimbun Display in Room 3 to great success. In this blog, Joanna Kosek, discusses the delicate operation of dismantling such an exhibition.
20 February 2015
Ian Jenkins, Exhibition Curator, at the British Museum is currently working on Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art. In this blog Ian discusses the role of nudity and the male body in Ancient Greek society as an expression of social, moral and political values.
19 November 2014
Computer 3D technology is being increasingly adopted in museums to aid with conservation, curatorial research and interpretation. Here Matthew Cock explains how scans of the British Museum’s collection of Assyrian reliefs take by a team CyArk provide a fantastic resource that we can use to help people better understand and engage with these objects.
12 September 2014
In preparation for The Asahi Shimbun Display of Dürer’s paper triumph: the arch of the Emperor Maximilian a team of specialists gathered to move the famous woodcut of the Triumphal Arch by Albrecht Dürer. Joanna Kosek describes how they managed to move and dismantle the print over the course of one night.
21 August 2014
Duygu Camurcuoglu is working on the Ur digitisation project. In this blog Duygu introduces us to the project and describes what her role entails.
14 July 2014
The Early Egypt Gallery (Room 64) has undergone a full-blown refurbishment with new themes and displays throughout. Here Renée Friedman explains some of the highlights of the gallery including the new acquisitions from the site of Jebel Sahaba and the return of the popular virtual autopsy table allowing a deeper look into the Gebelein Man.
3 July 2014
Using a CT scanner to look beneath the surface, Alexandra Fletcher was able to reveal new details about one of the the oldest human remains in the British Museum collection, the Jericho skull.
7 May 2014
As a reaction to the sinking of RMS Lusitania by torpedo on 7 May 1915, German artist Karl Goetz produced the Lusitania medal satirising the subject. Henry Flynn explains the symbolism behind the medal which will be on display in The other side of the medal: how Germany saw the First World War.
19 April 2014
Judith Jesch, Professor of Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham discusses viking women, warriors and Valkyries.
11 April 2014
One of the most recent acquisitions made by the Department of Coins and Medals is a highly unusual object – an ancient punch or ‘die’ used to manufacture coins in the second century BC. Curators Ian Leins and Emma Morris hope the ‘die’ will shed new light on when the first coins were made in Britain.
24 March 2014
Recently, Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University gave a London Review of Books Winter Lecture at the British Museum on the public voice of women today. In this blog Mary discusses whether women had a public voice in Ancient Greece and Rome.
24 January 2014
Irving Finkle discusses the object at the heart of his new book, a cuneiform tablet with a sixty-line passage from the ancient Babylonian Story of the Flood.
2 November 2012
Following our post last week about a cross-cultural statue of Horus, British Museum scientist, Joanne Dyer explains how we know what he once looked like.
26 October 2012
While preparing the limestone sculpture of Horus for display, Curator Elisabeth R. O’Connell had a chance to work with British Museum Scientist Joanne Dyer to identify some of the pigments that were used on the sculpture. Along with some additional analysis using an innovative imaging technique to detect pigment in areas not visible to the naked eye, the pair was able to suggest a colour reconstruction. Here Elisabeth discusses the outcome.
14 December 2011
In 2011 when only a few months earlier a hoard of over 90 coins and hacksilver was discovered in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, a second discovery of a Viking silver hoard was unearthed in Silverdale, Lancashire. Ian Richardson talks about what happened when the two Viking silver hoards were discovered..
5 July 2011
Lesley Fitton shares some exciting news around one of the latest additions to The Cycladic Gallery an extremely rare marble figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type.
22 September 2010
John Taylor is the curator of the ‘Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead‘ exhibition, a hugely popular programme that opened at the British Museum in November, 2010. In this article he expands on one of the most popular and fascinating objects to have appeared: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.