Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Treasurable gift books: art & artifacts from world history

Looking for special gift books to recommend, I found a fantastic one that should appeal to almost anyone: the British Museum's History of the World in 100 Objects. Above are a hand ax from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, that is 1.2 – 1.4 million years old and the "Tetradrachm of Lysimachos," a coin from Turkey with a head of Alexander the Great from about 305–281 BC. His head bears royal and divine symbols: the diadem and the horns of Zeus Ammon. At right is a statue of the Buddhist bodhisattva Tara. Below are the Lewis Chessmen (or Uig Chessmen, named after the bay where they were found): a group of 78 12th-century chess pieces, most of which are carved in walrus ivory. They were discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland (photograph © Andrew Dunn).
Another item replete with history and culture is The Age of Chivalry. Not to be confused with Bulfinch, it's a beautifully illustrated overview of the whys and wherefores of the incessant warfare that characterized the period. "To call this a coffee-table book would be unjust" wrote Britain's Spectator. "It is an intelligent and attractive guide to Europe’s middle ages, quite satisfactory to the specialist, but just as accessible to a precocious teenager. It will make plenty of people very happy if they find it wrapped beneath the Christmas tree."
If one wants to see firsthand how folks went about their daily affairs in the early 1400, look no further than the exquisite Très Riches Heures, a reproduction of a volume painted by the Limbourg Brothers for Jean, Duc de Berry at a time when commissioning such a marvel was the equivalent to buying a house today. Below is August from the section that depicts months of the year.


  1. I was going to say that I really like the depiction of August with the beautiful sky colors. Before I could, the following things caught my eye: the man on the front horse holding a bird in a quite awkward fashion (the guy leading the horses seems to also be distraught by his methods) and the people skinny dipping in the river (one appears to have a tail?).

    I guess I have more questions about life in the 1400s than I previously thought!

  2. Good eye, Molly! You can almost hear the chap in black whispering, "The Duke's son doesn't know two pips about falconry, but he sure can throw a party!"
    And the chess tableau: "When In-Laws Meet!"

    Do they have rehab for caption addiction?

    1. Thankfully, no. and it's something I hope you never get over!