British Museum blog

Exploring the First Gaster Bible: a British Library Hebrew manuscript

Ilana Tahan, M.Phil. OBE, Lead Curator of Hebrew & Christian Orient Studies, British Library

The Hebrew Bible, commonly termed in the Christian West as ‘The Old Testament’ but known to the Jews as the Tanakh, is a literary mosaic made up of tales, laws and commandments, ritual directives and precepts, genealogical records, prophecies, poetry, speeches, royal chronicles, decrees and much more. The Tanakh’s three main divisions are: the Torah (i.e. Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im meaning Prophets, and the Ketuvim or Writings. The word Tanakh is in fact an acronym based on the first consonantal letters of these principal sections.

In antiquity the ancient text of the Hebrew Bible was penned on scrolls made either of strips of parchment or papyrus. Bound books with pages known as codices (singular codex) appear in Judaism around the 8th century AD, although they may have been in use before then. Codices of the Hebrew Bible became abundant in the 10th century AD, and some, similar to the First Gaster Bible, have survived to this day.

The First Gaster Bible currently displayed in the British Museum’s exhibition Egypt: faith after the pharaohs, shows visible signs of wear and tear. Its parchment pages boasting fine calligraphy, masoretic rubrics and gilded decorative motifs, testify nonetheless to its former glory. What would have originally been a complete codex of Ketuvim (Writings), the third main division of the Hebrew Bible, has survived in a fragmentary state comprising just sections from the Books of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ruth and Daniel.

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Psalm 71 with palmette (top left) and ornamental fillers. The First Gaster Bible, Or. 9879 f.17r © British Library Board

When turning the manuscript’s pages one’s eye is caught by the small script annotations that accompany the biblical text. These are collectively known as the Masorah from the Hebrew root msr denoting to hand down. The Masorah is a body of rules on the pronunciation, reading, spelling and cantillation of the scriptural text that ensured the correct transmission of the Hebrew Bible. It was developed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes (conveyors of tradition) who were active in Tiberias, in the Holy Land, between the 7th and 10th century AD. The Masoretes’ greatest achievement was the compilation of a system of vowels and signs that established in writing the exact way of reading the consonantal Hebrew script, which had been previously riddled with ambiguities and uncertainties.

There are two main types of masoretic notation both of which have been penned in the First Gaster Bible: the large Masorah (masora magna) which is inscribed at the top and at the foot of pages, and the small Masorah (masora parva) which is written between the columns of text or in the margins. The former is keyed to the words in the text and contains old traditional readings and grammatical notes. It serves as a quality control system and protects the scriptural text from modifications. The latter is ampler and includes lists of entire passages from the biblical text distinguished by typical orthographic variants or other peculiarities.

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Psalm 102 with divisional motifs and a decorative chain executed in Islamic style; the masora magna in very small script can be seen above and beneath the textual columns. The First Gaster Bible, Or. 9879 f.23v © British Library Board

Named after its illustrious last owner Dr Moses Gaster (1856–1939), the spiritual leader of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation in London, the manuscript was created most probably in Egypt around the 10th century AD. The colophon – a statement at the end of a manuscript supplying facts about its production – is missing, thus nothing is known about the original commission. Its date and place of production have therefore been established through comparison with extant Hebrew Bibles written in Egypt and/or the Middle East between the 9th and 10th century.

It is interesting to note that, with very few exceptions, most of the surviving oriental Hebrew Bibles dating from the 9th–11th centuries are incomplete. The Aleppo Codex copied c. AD 930 – the oldest and most authoritative extant manuscript of the Hebrew Bible that was proofread and vocalised by Aaron ben Asher, one of the greatest Masoretes from Tiberias – is held in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. The manuscript is incomplete, having lost apparently 196 of its 491 original pages. The oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible is the Leningrad Codex. Copied most probably in Egypt and dated to around AD 1010, it is preserved in the Russian National Library (Saltykov-Schendrin Public Library), St Petersburg.

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Section from the Book of Ruth (3:14–4:7) with masora parva penned between the columns and marginal decorations in Islamic style. The First Gaster Bible, Or. 9879 f.23v © British Library Board

Nineteenth-century scholars argued that the early masoretic bibles were created by Karaites. Funded by Anan ben David (c. AD 715–795 or 811) in Babylonia, the Karaites were a Jewish sect who split up from mainstream Judaism accepting the Tanakh as their only norm of religious authority. Some scholars went as far as maintaining that the most prominent Masorete Aaron ben Asher may have been a Karaite. Recent scholarship has firmly rejected this view claiming that he was in fact a rabbinic Jew. An illuminated specimen of a Karaite biblical text is displayed in this exhibition.

It is very likely that the First Gaster Bible was commissioned by a wealthy patron for a synagogue rather than for personal use. The manuscript is a very good example of manuscript illumination from the Islamic East, i.e. Babylonia, Egypt, Persia, Syria and the Holy Land. Islam’s aniconic approach had a profound and lasting impact on Hebrew manuscripts created in Muslim lands. The decorations found in extant Hebrew Bibles produced in these areas strongly suggest that Jewish scribes and artists would have had access to decorated Islamic handwritten books which influenced their art. Like Qur’ans, early Hebrew Bibles are devoid of human and animal imagery and their ornamentation is clearly functional.  Carpet pages with geometric and arabesque designs, micrography (patterned minute lettering) and divisional motifs adapted from Islamic art typify their decoration. In the First Gaster Bible there is an abundance of gilded decorative elements executed in Islamic style. These include undulating scrolls and spirals, foliage, interwoven buds, palmettes and golden chains.

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Section from Ecclesiastes (2:24–3:12) with masora magna and masora parva (above and between the columns of text) and Islamic style embellishments. The First Gaster Bible, Or. 9789 f.32v © British Library Board

The First Gaster Bible is on display in the British Museum’s exhibition Egypt: faith after the pharaohs and is on loan from the British Library.

 Egypt: faith after the pharaohs is at the British Museum until 7 February 2016.

 Generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

 The accompanying book is available from the British Museum shop online.

Filed under: British Museum, Exhibitions, , ,

Faith after the pharaohs: Egyptian papyri conservation

Bridget Leach, Conservator: Pictorial Art, British Museum

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Examination under the microscope (prior to repair) of the Egypt Exploration Society’s papyri.

In preparation for the Egypt: faith after the pharaohs exhibition five papyri, kindly loaned from the Egypt Exploration Society, came into the Paper Conservation studio. As papyrus conservator at the British Museum I have worked on a wide range of manuscripts held by our Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan over the years. The collection includes many fine examples of papyri from ancient Egypt such as temple accounts from Abu Sir dating from approximately 2400 BC, some of the longest and beautifully illustrated funerary rolls from throughout Egypt’s long Pharaonic history, as well as literary texts and day to day legal documents. Working on such material has always been fascinating but I was particularly delighted to be able to work on these five papyri as they were excavated at Oxyrhynchus. The story of this excavation had fired my initial interest in papyrus as a paper conservation student many years ago.

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A group of papyrus rolls as excavated. (Courtesy of The Egypt Exploration Society and Imaging Papyri Project, Oxford)

The ancient town of Oxyrhynchus, meaning ‘city of the sharp nosed fish’, modern al-Bahnasa lying 120 miles south of Cairo, was excavated between 1896 and 1907 by papyrologists Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt. This excavation began as part of a systematic exploration of the sites of Greco-Roman settlements and their discoveries were made in the sandy mounds on the outskirts of the town. The mounds turned out to be ‘drifts’ of rubbish tips which proceeded to yield approximately half a million fragments of papyri with ancient texts including early Christian literature. Grenfell and Hunt spent six seasons at Oxyrhynchus and their discoveries were by far the most exciting of the time in terms of quantity and range of the manuscripts found. Here was found several centuries worth of archives where official and private documents collectively provided a rare insight into the everyday life of this Roman town’s inhabitants during the 1st to 6th centuries AD. The papyri that came to the paper conservation studio included a rental agreement between two female monks leasing part of their home to a Jewish man (P.Oxy 3203) excavated in the first season, a small fragment containing the Greek Septuagint (P.Oxy 3522) and another depicting an informal drawing of Daniel in the lion’s den, both excavated in the fourth season. It is unknown during which season the last two papyri were found but they addressed matters relating to the Roman requirement for all citizens to sacrifice to the gods and include a Certificate of Sacrifice (P.Oxy 3929) and a letter from a Chrisitian man named Copres about a way to avoid the obligation (P.Oxy 2601).

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The Cyperus papyrus L. plant. 

Undoubtedly helped by the dry climate of Egypt, papyrus has proved to be a very durable writing material with remarkable powers of preservation. Made from Cyperus papyrus L., a sedge plant about four metres high that grew plentifully along the banks of the Nile in antiquity, a sheet a papyrus was made from sections of the lower part of the stem where it was at its thickest. The outer rind is peeled off to reveal a spongy white inner pith which can be sliced longitudinally to make thin strips. These strips are laid side by side to form one layer before laying a second layer on top at right angles, then pressing and drying the whole. Individual sheets made in this way could then be joined to form a roll.

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A peeled section of the lower stem showing the pith inside being peeled into strips.

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Two layers of strips are laid at right angles over each other. The two layers are then pressed together to form, when dry, a sheet of the writing material.

The five papyri for the exhibition were in need of minor repair and all except the small fragment of Daniel were in need of remounting between new sheets of glass. It was decided to exhibit Daniel in a passe-partout without glass to try and enhance viewing for the visitor. Generally papyri are so fragile that glass mounts are necessary for their protection but in this case, the fragment being small and in reasonable condition, an exception was made for the duration of the exhibition.

1. Before conservation and remounting

The papyrus in it’s old mount.

2. With the papyrus removed, the density of the salt bloom on the glass is visible

The old mount with the papyrus removed showing a thick salt bloom.

3. After conservation

The papyrus in a new glass mount.

All the papyri were examined under magnification before opening the old glass mounts and starting any treatment. Once opened a bloom or ‘halo’ could be immediately seen on the old glass, in the case of P. Oxy 3203 it was very pronounced. This is a common feature with papyri enclosed in glass, particularly those found by excavating rubbish tips where they are found together with other material such as potsherds, ash, charcoal, rags, straw, and various kinds of kitchen waste. In this type of archaeological context papyri will absorb soluble salts. When later enclosed in glass, and even in conditions where relative humidity changes very little, the salts absorb small amounts of moisture from the surrounding air. As the air slowly dries out again these soluble salts migrate outwards and deposit themselves on the nearest surface which in this case is the glass. This can happen repeatedly over the years and a substantial ‘bloom’ can build up inside the mount making the papyrus quite hard to read. Scientific analysis has found the bloom to consist of mainly sodium chloride, common salt, and it can be wiped off the glass very easily. However the Oxyrhynchus papyri were all remounted in new glass for the exhibition.

Repairing fractured areas using small tabs applied with tweezers

Repairing a loose fragment of P.Oxy 3203 using small ‘tabs’ applied with tweezers.

Before remounting some conservation work was undertaken on the manuscripts. This involved laying back loose or twisted fibres and repairing along fractures. Repairs – in this case small pieces of Japanese paper, used for its strength and quality and toned to a sympathetic colour – are applied to the papyri with starch paste. The newly mounted papyri now take their place in the exhibition alongside the other fascinating objects that tell the story of faith after the pharaohs.

Egypt: faith after the pharaohs is at the British Museum until 7 February 2016.

Generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

The accompanying book is available from the British Museum shop online.

 

 

Filed under: British Museum, Conservation, Exhibitions, , , , , ,

The makers of Codex Sinaiticus

Cillian O’Hogan, Research Fellow, University of Waterloo, formerly Curator of Classical and Byzantine Studies, British Library

Most books from Graeco-Roman antiquity only survive in fragmentary form – scraps ranging in size from a postage stamp to (if we’re lucky) a few leaves from a codex, or a long section of a papyrus scroll. For books to survive in anything close to their original form is very unusual. It’s with that thought in mind that we should approach Codex Sinaiticus, currently on display in the British Museum’s Egypt: faith after the pharaohs exhibition.

Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest copy of the complete New Testament. Dating from the middle of the fourth century, the manuscript originally contained some 743 leaves (1,486 pages), each measuring some 380 x 345mm – a massive book even by today’s standards. Remarkably, over half of these leaves survive today. The book’s scale was only made possible by the use of parchment (animal skin) rather than papyrus, and the fine quality of the manuscript indicates that substantial resources lay behind its production.

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A rare occurrence of striation (bunching of the animal skin that can occur in the parchment-making process). Codex Sinaiticus, Q64 F4v (Proverbs 7:27–8:34). © British Library Board

Who were the people involved in commissioning and producing this manuscript? Although we will probably never know their names, the detailed research conducted as part of the Codex Sinaiticus Project has shed new light on its creators and scribes. For instance, close examination by conservators revealed that the material chosen contains very few imperfections (which could be caused by ticks or skin diseases, or could occur during the treatment of the animal skin). The scarcity of such imperfections is remarkable. It tells us that the animals were raised with considerable care, that there was some selectivity in deciding which skins to use for parchment, and that the workers who manufactured the parchment were highly skilled. All of this points to considerable resources lying behind the production of Codex Sinaiticus, and suggests that the manuscript was created in a location where skilled workers were already present and accustomed to producing high-quality parchment.

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Offset of the ink on the facing page visible towards the right-hand edge of the column. Codex Sinaiticus, Q63 F3r (1 Maccabees 12:28–13:3). © British Library Board

After the parchment had been prepared came the exacting task of writing out the text. As a result of the transcription of the entire manuscript for the Codex Sinaiticus Project, four distinct scribes can now be identified in the manuscript. They are referred to as Scribes A, B1, B2, and D. Each scribe appears to have been responsible for producing his own ink, since the differences in degradation of the inks imply that a slightly different preparation recipe was used by each individual scribe. Based on the surviving leaves, it has been suggested that Scribe A copied the bulk of the manuscript (some 995 out of 1,486 pages); while the other three scribes shared the remaining pages roughly equally (scribe B1 copying slightly more than the other two). The scribes also corrected their own work (some also correcting the work of others), and some books within the Codex were clearly worked on by more than one scribe. Based on the patterns of correction, it has been suggested that Scribe D, though he copied relatively few pages himself, was the head scribe, directing the work of the others and correcting it as needed – he appears to have been the most competent of the four scribes.

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Reading of ΑΝΤΙΠΑΤΡΙΔΑ instead of ΠΑΤΡΙΔΑ in the fourth line, corrected by a later reader of the manuscript. Codex Sinaiticus, Q74 F8v (Matthew 13:41–14:15). © British Library Board

Copying a manuscript is a time-consuming and often tedious task, and there are naturally errors that occur in a scribe’s work. Two particularly intriguing errors in Codex Sinaiticus, however, have often been taken as evidence of where the manuscript itself was copied. Both occur in New Testament pages copied by Scribe A. The first, at Matthew 13:54, reads ΕΙΣ ΤΗΝ ΑΝΤΙΠΑΤΡΙΔΑ instead of the correct reading, ΕΙΣ ΤΗΝ ΠΑΤΡΙΔΑ (‘to his homeland’). Antipatris, the placename introduced by Scribe A, is the name of a (relatively minor) town about thirty miles from Caesarea. The second error, at Acts 8:5, gives us ΚΑΙΣΑΡΙΑΣ (Caesarea) instead of the correct ΣΑΜΑΡΙΑΣ (Samaria). (Both readings were corrected by later readers of the manuscript.) When scribes make mistakes, it is often because their minds wander, and it is not uncommon to find words from daily life entering a manuscript instead of what should have been copied. Do these two errors, then, reveal that the manuscript was copied at Caesarea? This would fit with other evidence, such as the fact that the manuscript contains what is known as the ‘Eusebian apparatus’, a method of numbering the Gospels devised by Eusebius of Caesarea probably in the AD 320s. Some have gone even further than this and linked the manuscript with the workshop of Eusebius himself, by pointing to the famous evidence provided in the Life of Constantine (4:36), where Constantine asked Eusebius to provide him with fifty copies of ‘the divine Scriptures’ (θείων γραφῶν). On the other hand, there are counter-arguments to such a hypothesis (most recently set out by Harry Gamble in his contribution to the new book Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript) and we cannot, after all, discount the possibility that the manuscript from which Codex Sinaiticus was copied was the one that contained these errors. Regardless of what one thinks about where the manuscript was produced, however, such errors, along with the many other habits of individual scribes, remind us of the human figures behind the production of this great manuscript.

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Reading of ΚΑΙΣΑΡΙΑΣ instead of ΣΑΜΑΡΙΑΣ in the third line, corrected by a later reader of the manuscript. Codex Sinaiticus, Q87 F3v (Acts 7:55–8:25). © British Library Board

Further information about Codex Sinaiticus can be found on the Codex Sinaiticus website, and in two books published as part of the project: Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible, by D. C. Parker, and Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript, edited by S. McKendrick et al.

 

The Codex Sinaiticus is on display in the British Museum’s exhibition Egypt: faith after the pharaohs and is on loan from the British Library.

 Egypt: faith after the pharaohs is at the British Museum until 7 February 2016.

 Generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

 The accompanying book is available from the British Museum shop online.

 

Filed under: British Museum, Exhibitions, , ,

Announcing the new Waddesdon Bequest collection explorer

 

George Oates, Director of Good, Form & Spectacle

We’re pleased to share the new Waddesdon Bequest collection explorer with you. The collection contains almost 300 objects made of all sorts of things, perhaps united by their exceptional craftsmanship and of course their collectors, Baron Anselm von Rothschild, and his son, Baron Ferdinand Rothschild.

One of the key design themes for our work on the explorer was to easily help people who might be lucky enough to be in Room 2a to find out more about the object they’re in front of, as quickly as possible. We decided that using the actual floorplan and general layout of the gallery as our central organising principle would be more useful than a search box.

Here’s Case 7i, for example, which contains some amazing high relief boxwood carvings, such as Portrait of a young man, aged 18:

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Screenshot of Case 7i, in the collection explorer.

Wherever you are in the gallery, or even if you’re exploring from somewhere else in the world, all the photographs of objects are grouped and arranged to reflect their locations in the gallery. It’s a gentle way to express their curatorial arrangement, and leads to some nice thematic surprises. You can see these subject groupings throughout the collection explorer – one group, for example, includes objects that relate to birds in some way.

We’ve also introduced some fun and simple arrangements of the objects to help people figure out how they interrelate, such as by weight, by height, where things were made, and what things are made of. There’s nothing like an ordered list of things to clearly show relationships. These sorts of lists can quickly show people that the heaviest object is this Iron Coffer weighing 16.5 kilograms, and the lightest the Gaming piece with portrait of a woman, at three grams.

Looking at the who, where and when or how the collection came to be also reveals some interesting stories. You can see that just over half the collection was made in Germany and France. You can see how techniques and makers changed over time. The Rothschilds assembled the collection from all sorts of other collections and characters.

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Within the collection explorer, there is a chart showing when each of the objects were made.

When you’re exploring a collection online, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine the objects in real life when all you see is photos on a screen. In addition to arranging everything to reflect the arrangement in Room 2a, we also wanted to help people get a sense of the scale of some of these things – some of them are very small and remarkably ornate. We created a visualisation that shows you the size (or volume, actually) of everything, and uses a tennis ball as a ‘universal scale’ object. We picked a tennis ball because lots of people will have seen one, we reckon, and it’s also an object that falls somewhere between the biggest and smallest objects in the collection.

You can see all the objects’ volumes and corresponding tennis balls in a big list here (and also on each object’s page):

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Personally, one of my favourite aspects of working on the project, and on this collection specifically, was witnessing the incredible craft in the objects that the Rothschilds collected. When we made the zoom interface, it was a thrill to see the amazing and intricate detail in these objects, particularly in this prayer nut, which is smaller than a tennis ball!

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The prayer nut in the Waddesdon Bequest.

We hope you enjoy exploring the collection.

The Waddesdon Bequest gallery (Room 2a), funded by The Rothschild Foundation, is open. You can find out more about the gallery and the Bequest here.

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An interview with manga artist Nakamura Hikaru

In the final of our three interviews to celebrate the Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations An Van Camp, Curator of Dutch and Flemish drawings and prints, interviews the up-and-coming manga artist Nakamura Hikaru. Her series Saint Onisan follows the adventures of Jesus and Buddha as two young men on their gap year in Japan and has already garnered a cult following.

Combining metaphysical dilemmas with playful humour, this manga sees the two divine beings confronted with the problems of everyday life in suburban Tokyo. Individual episodes see them negotiating the Tokyo Metro during rush hour and exploring how Christmas is celebrated in Japan. In this interview, Nakamura Hikaru talks about her inspiration for the series, the effect digital technology has had on her work, and the possibility of Jesus and Buddha visiting the British Museum.

Nakamura Hikaru (b. 1984), Jesus and Buddha drawing manga. Cover artwork for Saint Oniisan vol. 10. Digital print, hand drawn with colour added on computer, 2014. (© Nakamura Hikaru/Kodansha Ltd)

Nakamura Hikaru (b. 1984), Jesus and Buddha drawing manga. Cover artwork for Saint Oniisan vol. 10. Digital print, hand drawn with colour added on computer, 2014. (© Nakamura Hikaru/Kodansha Ltd)

An Van Camp: Can you tell us how you came up with the concept of a young Buddha and Jesus sharing a flat in Tokyo?

Nakamura Hikaru: I was asked to create a four-page manga using an inspirational figure for Morning 2 in August 2006. I immediately thought about Jesus Christ. But realised it would be best to depict him with another figure having fun in Tokyo. I did not want a disciple, so Buddha came to mind. I believed this manga would be a one off, so I just enjoyed creating it. I chose Tachikawa (a suburb of Tokyo) as I am from a rather rural Shizuoka and my older sister went to university in Tachikawa. For me Tachikawa was the big city.

An: What has been the reaction to your manga in Japan?

Nakamura Hikaru: I have had surprisingly positive reactions to my manga. Most letters are from religious specialists, university professors, Buddhist priests and Christian clergy. I have also had requests to use my manga in universities for teaching purposes. The readership seems quite broad judging from the letters from young adults to people in their sixties.

An: How do you create your story lines? What is your inspiration?

Nakamura Hikaru: I plan everything out seasonally and also through yearly events, such as Christmas or Halloween. I think about what would surprise them about what they saw occurring in Japan and how they would interpret what was occurring around them.

An: Will Buddha and Jesus visit the British Museum?

Nakamura Hikaru: They would of course like to but they have no funds at the moment to do so sadly. Perhaps if they win the lottery…

An: How does technology affect the way that you create your manga?

Nakamura Hikaru: Recently technology has made a big difference in the creation of my manga. For the first eleven volumes I drew each individual sheet and when colour was needed I scanned the sheets to the computer and coloured them by hand. But from volume twelve onward I create the manga entirely on a tablet or computer. This is because the G pen has become much more sensitive and easy to use. There is no smudging and mistakes can be redrawn. The resolution is amazing and even small marks can come out crisply in print. In addition the whole process is in fact much quicker.

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Nakamura Hikaru (b. 1984), Jesus and Buddha  seated at a low table eating dinner. Cover artwork for Saint Oniisan vol. 7. Coloured digital print, 2011. (© Nakamura Hikaru/Kodansha Ltd)

The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations is on display in Room 3 at the British Museum until 15 November 2015. Supported by The Asahi Shimbun.

The cover illustration for volume 7 of Saint Oniisan is on display in the Mitsubishi Corporation Galleries from October 2015 until April 2016. 

Filed under: British Museum, Exhibitions, , , ,

The British Museum: A Museum for the World

Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum

The British Museum was founded in 1753 by an act of Parliament and is the embodiment of Enlightenment idealism. In a revolutionary move, it was from its inception designed to be the collection of every citizen of the world, not a royal possession and not controlled by the state. Over the succeeding 260 plus years it has gathered and exhibited things from all over the globe – antiquities, coins, sculptures, drawings – and made them freely available to anyone who was able to come and see them. Millions have visited and learned, and have been inspired by what they saw. Today the Museum is probably the most comprehensive survey of the material culture of humanity in existence.

The world today has changed; the way we access information has been revolutionised by digital technology. We live in a world where sharing knowledge has become easier, we can do extraordinary things with technology which enables us to give the Enlightenment ideal on which the Museum was founded a new reality. It is now possible to make our collection accessible, explorable and enjoyable not just for those who physically visit, but to everybody with a computer or a mobile device. Our partnership with Google allows us to further our own – extraordinary – mission: to be a Museum of and for the World, making the knowledge and culture of the whole of humanity open and available to all.

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History connected: ‘The Museum of the World’ microsite allows users to explore and make connections between the world’s cultures.

But this isn’t just about putting the collection ‘online’. Through our partnership with Google, we hope to give people new ways to experience and enjoy the Museum, new ways to learn, new ways to share and new ways to teach. Thousands of objects from the Museum’s collection will be available to view through the Google Cultural Institute site and through a special microsite ‘The Museum of the World’ which will allow users to explore and make connections between the world’s cultures. One of the Museum’s most important Chinese scrolls, the 6th-century Admonitions Scroll has been captured in super high-resolution to give you a closer and more intimate view than could be achieved with the naked eye. We’ve captured the whole Museum via Street View, meaning that if you can’t get to the Museum in person, you can do a virtual walking tour of every permanent gallery, and all its outdoor buildings. And virtual exhibits allow you to see Celtic objects from across UK museums brought together in a unique tour, or a thematic exhibition detailing Egypt’s history after the pharaohs. None of this is to deny the power of seeing an object in the flesh in a gallery, nothing will replace that experience, but it does allow a far greater public access to the Museum and its unparalleled collection.

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Take a tour: all of the British Museum’s permanent galleries are now on Street View.

Virtual exhibits: snapshots of a specially curated tour of Celtic objects from museums across the UK (above) and

Virtual exhibits: snapshots of a specially curated tour of Celtic objects from museums across the UK (above) and a thematic exhibition on Egypt’s history after the pharaohs (below).

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And this is just the beginning. We’re in a brave new world of information dissemination. As we are transformed by globalisation, it is more important than ever to understand the past of the whole world. The breadth of the British Museum’s collection, the authority of the Museum’s scholarship and the skill with which it is presented and mediated: all these are now ready and available for anyone anywhere on the planet. The more we can work with partners in the technology sphere, and the more we rise to the challenge of making our world a digital one, the greater will be our impact on community cohesion and understanding, domestically and internationally. Through technology, the Museum’s collection can become the private collection of the entire world. And so our great Enlightenment vision moves into a phase our founders in the 18th century couldn’t even have dreamed of.

Visit the British Museum on the Google Cultural Institute

Visit the Museum of the World microsite

Take a tour of the Museum via Street View

Egypt: faith after the pharaohs virtual exhibit

Celtic life in Iron Age Britain virtual exhibit

See more exhibits

Take a closer look at the Admonitions Scroll

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An interview with manga artist Hoshino Yukinobu

In the second of our interviews to celebrate The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations Nicole Rousmaniere, the IFAC Handa Curator of Japanese Arts, interviews the manga artist Hoshino Yukinobu. A specialist in science fiction and mystery manga, Hoshino Yukinobu has recently created a new series Rainman, first published in Big Comic in June 2015. The display features a portrait of Rainman’s protagonist Taki Amamiya, who, through an accident of birth can unintentionally see the dead.

One of Hoshino Yukinobu’s most enduring characters is the crime-fighting anthropologist Professor Munakata, who appeared in his own British Museum adventure in 2011. In this interview Hoshino Yukinobu discusses his creative process, connection to the British Museum and the inspiration behind his new series Rainman.

Nicole Rousmaniere: Can you tell us how you go about creating a manga?

Hoshino Yukinobu: In an ideal world, I would like to create manga which I would like to read. But once I start, this ideal becomes difficult to achieve. It is not an easy task to surprise myself. After having selected many key elements required for the story and managing to begin the series, what I would like to read or draw do not seem to matter. You like it or not, the deadlines approach and surviving each of them pushes me forward.

An illustration from 'Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure'.

An illustration from Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure.

Nicole: How did you go about creating the story for Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure?

Hoshino Yukinobu: This story had to be part of the series which I had been working on so I could not begin with a completely original plot. I made a story based on my great admiration for the British Museum, to introduce the Museum and its history, collections and what goes on behind the scenes, which I myself had seen and learned first hand when I visited in 2008.

Nicole: Will Professor Munakata return to the UK and to the British Museum?

Hoshino Yukinobu: When there is an opportunity someday. Both Professor Munakata and I adore the United Kingdom.

Nicole: What do you feel about manga as an art form being displayed and represented in the British Museum’s collections?

Hoshino Yukinobu: Personally for me, I had never dreamed that my manga would have been displayed and collected at the British Museum. It is an honour beyond any words. I cannot thank those involved with the project enough. I also admire from my heart the British Museum’s spirit to accept Japanese manga in its collection along with other artistic objects from all times and places.

Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954), ‘Rainman’. Ink on paper, 2015. (© Hoshino Yukinobu)

Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954), Rainman. Ink on paper, 2015. (© Hoshino Yukinobu)

Nicole: What is your inspiration for Rainman?

Hoshino Yukinobu: For a long time, I have been creating manga with themes ranging from science and space to Japanese history. What I had been interested in even long before then provides the basis of the Rainman. That is to say the issue of human consciousness, the soul, life and death. No one can ignore these issues. It appears to me that the scientific and spiritual worlds are getting very close through quantum physics today. I am hoping to get these two worlds to connect in Rainman.

The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations is on display in Room 3 at the British Museum until 15 November 2015. Supported by The Asahi Shimbun.

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An interview with manga artist Chiba Tetsuya

The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations, explores manga’s diverse appeal through specially commissioned pieces by three contemporary manga artists. To celebrate the display, the exhibition’s three curators have each interviewed one of the featured manga artists.

In the first interview, Head of Japanese collections Tim Clark interviews Chiba Tetsuya – the leading master of manga in Japan. Born in Tokyo in 1939, Chiba Tetsuya has been creating best-selling works for over 50 years. He specialises in sports manga, in which an individual overcomes obstacles, experiences failure and finds eventual redemption. Chiba Tetsuya has a particular passion for golf and is known for his series Stay Fine (Ashita tenki ni naare), which tells the story of Mukai Taiyō’s journey from humble origins to the Open Championship at St Andrews. For this British Museum display, Chiba Tetsuya created a one-off scene of a young Japanese golfer crouching to contemplate a difficult putt on the green of Fair Isle Lighthouse Keepers golf course – one of the most remote courses in the world.

Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939), Extract from 'Stay Fine' showing Mukai Taiyō in the Open Championship at St Andrews playing against Jack Niklaus. Ink on paper, 1990. (© Chiba Tetsuya)

Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939), Extract from ‘Stay Fine’ showing Mukai Taiyō in the Open Championship at St Andrews playing against Jack Niklaus. Ink on paper, 1990. (© Chiba Tetsuya)

Tim Clark: How do you create your storylines for your manga?

Chiba Tetsuya: Each work is different. It is always a human storyline intertwined with a particular sport. I go to where the sports are being played and watch the players – be it high school baseball or a Sumo dôjô. With golf there are so many tournaments all over Japan and the world. But the top is of course the British Open at St Andrew’s Old Course. I decided to travel there and play the course to understand it. Based on my personal experience, the Old Course played a pivotal role in Stay Fine.

Tim: What do you take as your inspiration?

Chiba Tetsuya: I read books, watch movies and meet people. I think that in the end individual people are my inspiration. One person whom I am inspired by is Helen Keller.

Tim: Do you play sports? What do sports mean to you?

Chiba Tetsuya: To be honest when I was young I did not have much to do with sports. But at one point I became unwell in my 20s for two years, from working too many long hours on manga, and I ended up staying at home. Then an editor asked me to try to write a baseball manga, which then I knew little about. He took me outside and we started throwing a ball around for a few hours. That evening I slept well for the first time in years and have not looked back since. I will try any sort of sport. It helps not only your body but also importantly your mind and well-being.

Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939), 'Fair Isle Lighthouse Keepers Golf Course, Scotland'. Ink and colour on paper, 2015. (© Chiba Tetsuya)

Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939), ‘Fair Isle Lighthouse Keepers Golf Course, Scotland’. Ink and colour on paper, 2015. (© Chiba Tetsuya)

Tim: Does golf have a special place for you?

Chiba Tetsuya: Golf does have a special place for me. While I enjoy all sports, I feel golf is less a sport and more of a game against oneself. It is different from all other sports and so has a special place for me. I worked hard at my golf game and often went to the Arakawa River near my home in a local park to practice. It is hard to create a manga on golf as it is a solitary pursuit but that turned out to be a wonderful challenge for me.

Tim: Can you tell us how you created the protagonist of Stay Fine, Mukai Taiyō? What was your inspiration?

Chiba Tetsuya: There is a high school golf tournament in Japan called Midori Koshien. One team that surprising consistently won the tournaments was a rather average high school in Osaka. I went to see them practice. I realised they had an amazing coach, who, while rather chubby and silent, was inspirational and had the respect of the entire team, leading them to triumph. I based Mukai Taiyō loosely on that person.

The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations is on display in Room 3 at the British Museum until 15 November 2015. Supported by The Asahi Shimbun.

Filed under: British Museum, Exhibitions, , , ,

The spirit of Mexico’s Day of the Dead

Laura Osorio Sunnucks, Project Curator, British Museum

In Mexico, on 1 and 2 November, which fall on the Roman Catholic Church’s All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days respectively, the spirits of the dead are invited into the world of the living. At home and in cemeteries, the family and friends of these spirits make offerings of fragrant marigolds, pine resin incense, food, drink and light. Unsure of direction, time or space, the smells and colours help to lead the spirits home.

Families and friends will usually also provide the food and drink enjoyed by the person when they were alive. A sweet bread, called pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and food or drinks made from maize, a central component of Mexican diet, are among other traditional gifts. Home altars are decorated creatively, perhaps with coloured tissue paper and garlands, while markets are flooded
with seasonal flowers and sugar skulls.

Cemetery offering of candles, marigolds and incense. (Photo: Altar: Antonio Olmos)

Cemetery offering of candles, marigolds and incense. (Photo: Altar: Antonio Olmos)

The Day of the Dead is not a static tradition. Celebrated diversely across the country, it is multi-faceted, evolving and personal. From 30 October until 2 November the British Museum will celebrate the Day of the Dead with a free festival, supported by BP and in association with the Government of Mexico as part of 2015: Year of Mexico in the UK. Designed as a fully immersive experience, this Mexican tradition will be honoured with a series of events that will focus on performance, participation and dialogue. One of the central display features will be Betsabeé Romero’s conceptual altar and intervention in the Great Court. Dedicated to migrants worldwide, this hanging installation captures the importance of the Days of the Dead in Mexico. The artist has reduced her palette to the colours traditionally associated with this festival: pink, purple, orange and white. These symbolise celebration, mourning, the life-giving properties of the sun and purity. Paper banners, printed with images of figures moving by foot and by boat, framed with barbed wire, are perhaps a reference to the many Mexicans who die crossing the USA/Mexico border. Romero not only explores the contemporary politics of migration, but also its heritage as a vehicle of cultural contact and exchange. The sharing and blending of beliefs and practices through the movement of peoples, images, objects and ideas, is at the core of the Day of the Dead festival, which contains elements from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican and European religious practice.

contemporary art installation based on a Day of the Dead altar.

Betsabeé Romero’s contemporary art installation based on a Day of the Dead altar.

Another participative installation invites visitors to leave a message or flower for their deceased loved ones on trees. These trees stand on a page from the Tepetlaoztoc Codex (from the British Museum’s collection), a painted book written in the 1500s by the inhabitants of Tepetlaoztoc, a town near Lake Texcoco in modern-day Central Mexico. The image shows four feather crests (penachos) crowned with cactus leaves. Beneath one of these crests is a gaping mouth, an ancient symbol representing a cave. In pre-Hispanic and colonial Mexico, locations were often described using geographical features and Tepetlaoztoc derives from the Nahuatl words for stone-mat cave. Shown as being born from trees, earth, rivers and caves, rulers were connected to the sacred landscape. Caves were sites of ritual practice and often burial places, as they were linked with the transition between cosmological spheres, such as the world of the living and that of the dead. Trees were also important metaphors in Mesoamerican iconography, symbolising strength, growth, genealogy and the earth’s fertility. Pictorial manuscripts often depict rulers gaining legitimacy for their power by communicating with community ancestors in the sacred landscape, marked by trees and caves.

The Tepetlaoztoc Codex. Pre-Columbian Mexico, 16th century. 21.5 x 29.5 cm. British Museum Am2006,Drg.13964

The Tepetlaoztoc Codex. Pre-Columbian Mexico, 16th century. 21.5 x 29.5 cm. British Museum Am2006,Drg.13964

These interventions, alongside the Museum’s permanent collection of ancient to modern objects from around the world, can create a deep understanding of diversity. Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead in order to remember their deceased loved ones and, as such, the festival is necessarily poignant and personal. It is with this tenderness for humanity that we can engage with the personal history behind all of the objects in the Museum’s collection, which represent our world heritage.

The Days of the Dead Festival is on at the British Museum from 30 October to 2 November 2015
Supported by BP
In association with the Government of Mexico
as part of 2015: Year of Mexico in the UK

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Discovering hidden Celtic creatures

Jane Findlay, Head of Schools and Young Audiences Education and Emilia McKenzie, Education Manager: Digital Content, British Museum

Our newly-opened special exhibition Celts: art and identity has been developed with visitors of all ages in mind, and we’ve enjoyed discovering the animals hidden in the designs of many of the objects. If you’ve visited the exhibition already, you’ll know that the more you look at Celtic art, the more strange and wonderful creatures seem to appear!

2,000 years ago, people across much of Europe shared an art style that today we call ‘Celtic art’. Their fascination with animals is one of the common artistic traits that links them together. For the Celts, animals were more than just subjects for art, they played a key role in these people’s lives: as pets, livestock, mythical creatures and symbols of power.

Take this boar. We don’t know exactly what this fierce little pig would have been used for, but it would have been proudly displayed; perhaps on top of a helmet. Perhaps people wanted to evoke the qualities associated with boars – strength and courage – to make them feel brave and look ferocious going into battle.

An Iron-Age boar figurine found in Ashmanhaugh, Norfolk (Photo: © Norwich Castle)

An Iron-Age boar figurine, 100 BC–AD 100. Found in Ashmanhaugh, Norfolk. Copper alloy. L. 8.7 cm (Photo: © Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery)

We liked this boar so much we even used him as the mascot for our family labels. You’ll find these dotted throughout the exhibition, full of fun tips and ideas to help families unlock the stories behind the objects together.

Some animals are more obvious than others in the exhibition. For example, take a look at this image of the dazzling Gundestrup cauldron – how many different creatures can you spot? You might want to challenge others in your family too.

Cauldron. Silver, partially gilded, 100 BC–AD 1. Gundestrup, Denmark. Diam. 69 cm; H. 42 cm. (c) The National Museum of Denmark.

Cauldron. Silver, partially gilded. Gundestrup, Denmark, 100 BC–AD 1. Diam. 69 cm; H. 42 cm. (Photo: (c) The National Museum of Denmark)

How did you get on? Some animals look familiar, while others are strange and mysterious. Did you notice the man riding the fish? What about the horned man in the middle, holding a snake? We think he might be a god.

Other objects demand even closer inspection to unpick their secrets. Take the shield pictured below, from near Lincoln. Look closely at the patterns at the top and bottom – what do you see? Can you make out the long-faced bull or cow? Why do you think the artist might have chosen to include this on the shield? Perhaps it was meant to give protection to the shield’s owner, or maybe it was a symbol of their family or tribe, a bit like a coat of arms.

Witham shield. River Witham, Lincolnshire, England, Iron Age, around 300–200 BC. L. 110 cm. British Museum 1872,1213.1

Shield, with detail shown on the right. River Witham, Lincolnshire, England. Iron Age, around 300–200 BC. L. 110 cm. British Museum 1872,1213.1

Visit the Celts: art and identity exhibition with your family to decipher more secrets and find out what else you can discover when you look a little closer at the objects. Don’t forget – if you’re planning a trip in October half term you can also immerse yourself in a Celtic world with free family activities taking place in the Great Court. Add your own creatures to our cauldron art installation, try your hand at Celtic crafts (you can take yours home!) and listen to some Celtic music. You’ll find something to enjoy no matter how old you are!

Celts: art and identity is at the British Museum until 31 January 2016.
Organised with National Museums Scotland

Supported by
In memory of Melvin R Seiden
Sheila M Streek
Stephen and Julie Fitzgerald
Fund for the Future donors

The accompanying book is available from the British Museum shop online

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The 9,000-year-old Coldstream Stone is an incredibly well-preserved example of early human art. Found on top of a burial of the same age in South Africa, the artist has used red and white ochre to draw three human figures. The person in the middle holds hunting equipment, and all three have blood streaming from their noses. They could be shamans involved in a trance or a healing dance, based on San|Bushmen tradition.

See objects with fascinating stories to tell in our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition – follow the link in our bio to find out more.

Coldstream Stone, about 9,000 years ago. On loan from Iziko Museums of South Africa, Social History Collections, Cape Town.
#history #SouthAfrica #BritishMuseum Around 3 million years ago our early ancestors collected and valued objects for their appearance. This pebble was perhaps picked up by an Australopithecus africanus because its natural shape suggests a face. Objects like this identify South Africa as one of the places where modern human behaviour began.

Experts have different views on whether this found object might be the first evidence of artistic thought. What do you think – is this art?

Discover this deep history in our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition – follow the link in our bio to find out more about this special exhibition.

The Makapansgat Pebble. Collected about 3 million years ago. On loan from Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 
#SouthAfrica #history #prehistory This is a great shot of a sarcophagus by @ss.shri – it shows how well preserved the 2,600-year-old craftsmanship is. It was made for Sasobek, who was the vizier (prime minister) of the northern part of Egypt during the reign of Psamtek I (664–610 BC). His face is naturalistic and shows the use of makeup, but it’s probably not an accurate likeness. Many human-shaped sarcophagi had exaggerated facial features during this period. 
Don’t forget you can share your photos with us by using #mybritishmuseum
#regram #AncientEgypt #statue #sculpture #Egypt #history #BritishMuseum Our Egyptian Sculpture Gallery (Room 4) spans over 3,000 years of history! The gallery contains iconic objects such as the Rosetta Stone – the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs – and the colossal 7.25 ton statue of the pharaoh Ramesses II. What’s your favourite object in this gallery?
#AncientEgypt #Egypt #Thebes #RosettaStone #sculpture #statue #history #BritishMuseum #mybritishmuseum We love this strong image taken by @nickyhofland. These powerful figures of King Senwosret III stand in our Egyptian Sculpture Gallery (Room 4). He reigned from 1874 to 1855 BC. These representations of him are interesting because they aren’t idealised – you can see expressive lines and furrows on his face. This contrasts to earlier kings who appear youthful throughout their reign. The king also has peculiarly large ears in these statues, which perhaps symbolised his readiness to listen. If you’d like your photos to be regrammed, tag #mybritishmuseum

#regram #AncientEgypt #statue #sculpture #Egypt #history #BritishMuseum This striking mosaic was made around 500 years ago in Mexico. It’s a pectoral – a type of jewellery designed to be worn on the chest. Double-headed serpents (known as maquizcoatl) were considered to be the bearers of bad omens and were associated with figures of authority who may have worn this type of jewellery as part of a ritual process. The object is expertly decorated with tiny pieces of turquoise that create textures and shapes on the serpent’s ‘skin’. The eye sockets could have been inlaid with dark gemstones giving the impression of flickering eyes. 
#turquoise #Aztec #Mixtec #serpent #jewellery #Mexico #🇲🇽
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