In 1844, a young Japanese artist named Sakurada Kyūnosuke (1823-1914) happened upon a daguerreotype, an early form of photography that had been invented in France five years earlier. Sakurada, who generally went by the name of Renjō, was at the time an apprentice in the studio of a painter of the Kanō school, a loosely organized group whose members had served for more than two centuries as the official artists of the Tokugawa regime. Renjō was astonished by the verisimilitude of the image he saw, but what shocked him was how it had been made: not with dyes and ink, but with a machine and chemical solutions. His stupefaction was such that he “broke all his brushes” and resolved henceforth to commit all his time and energy to learning photography. 

The title of Women across Asian Art cannot do justice to the edited volume’s rich and varied content. Ranging over 3,000 years, the book is not only about women, but also gender. It is not limited to “art”, but takes on a more wide-ranging body of material culture and its associated disciplines, including archaeology and architecture. Geographically, it spans East and South Asia and beyond, albeit skewing sinocentric.

“In the early summer of 1819, a British hunting party was heading through thick jungle near Aurangabad when the tiger they were tracking disappeared into the chasm of a deep ravine.”  With that romantic and somewhat Indiana Jones-like opening, William Dalrymple begins his Foreword to this new and updated edition of Benoy K Behl’s classic The Ajanta Caves: Ancient Buddhist Paintings of India.

It’s amazing that art historians like Robert Hillenbrand got to study the “Great Mongol Shahnama” at all. 500 pages of Firahdosi’s epic poem, with 300 illustrations, in a manuscript whose leaves are as wide as an ordinary person’s arms. Never completed, never bound, smuggled out of Iran by corrupt dignitaries, and separated and padded out by an unsavory Belgian art dealer.

Travelers to Turkey often return with a ceramic plate or tile as a souvenir of their sojourn, many of these have designs based on or inspired by the ceramics from Iznik (the ancient Nicaea, across the Marmara from Istanbul), a major center of production between the 15th and 17th centuries, a history probably unknown to most of the buyers.