Very few people (other than Anthony Janson in his monumental History of Art, published in 1968) would attempt to write a history of an entire country’s art, and even fewer could do it in one volume and cover a period from 15,000 BCE right up to the present day. Professor Tsuji does this for Japanese art with ease, elegance, humor and consummate erudition in an attractive volume printed on first-class paper and packed with quality color and black-and-white illustrations. What’s more, it isn’t a large format coffee-table book like Janson’s, which means a reader can actually curl up on a chair and read it quite comfortably. As Tsuji says, though, “to survey the vast sweep of Japanese art history was a great challenge and a daunting task;” but we are lucky that he also tells us “not only did no such book exist, but I needed one myself!”
Earnshaw Books, an independent publisher specializing in China matters, has recently issued two books featuring westerners sojourning in China over a period of a century and a half. Frances Wood, a respected scholar of Chinese history, presents the account of Aeneas Anderson, who served as a valet to Lord Macartney when the latter led an embassy to the court of the Qianlong emperor (1792) and Graham Earnshaw introduces a book of photographs taken by Isabella Bird on her travels through China in 1898.
In Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s 1733 comic opera La Serva Padrona (“The Maid Made Mistress”), a maid sets her sights on her boss, and through a combination of flirtatious behavior and well-meant duplicity, convinces him that he has really loved her all along. The work is small and intimate with a deceptive simplicity that belies the sophistication of the music, allowing a fusion between comic theatre and comic opera.
The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. When Tosca sings in Giacomo Puccini’s opera of devoting her life to art and love, she speaks not just for herself but for a tradition of divas connecting Rome’s Teatro Argentina to Shiraz’s mystical soirées, to the pleasure pavilions of Delhi, to the entertainment quarter of Yangzhou.
The 2019 editions of Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg during the 136th Wagner Festival in Bayreuth were reminders why the Festival is famous for outstanding singing and controversial staging.
When novelist Sonali Dev recently launched her new novel, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, she mentioned at her release party that it is one of a handful of Jane Austen rewrites with South Asian characters. It doesn’t take much to work out that Dev’s book is a take on Pride and Prejudice, and other authors like Soniah Kamal and Uzma Jalaluddin have also written their own takes on Pride and Prejudice while Debeshi Goopta has a new novel inspired by Persuasion.
It has been more than three decades since the passing of the great French economic historian, Fernand Braudel, but his adventurous influence runs deep in Angus Forsyth’s remarkable illustrated essay on the Silk Road—the lanes of transport between East and West that linked China, India, Africa and the Mediterranean before the era of motor vehicles. Braudel’s genius was in his ability to highlight the intimate detail against the grand canvas of history, and his approach to storytelling fundamentally shifted the way history is presented, whether in the curating of museum exhibitions or histories of leaders and transformative events. It’s the detail that counts.