The Tokaido is the most famous route in Japan, linking its two major population centers: Kanto (essentially Tokyo and its suburbs) and Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto). Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the Daimyo, local rulers of Japan’s regions, were required to spend one year out of every two at the capital (then named Edo), and so had to cross the country on a regular basis. The Tokaido was the main route for those coming from the West, making it the central artery of early modern Japanese travel.
Art of course is often more than just art. When the National Opera of Ukraine reopened in May, defying the thud of artillery and wail of air-raid sirens, it was a political and social statement as much as an artistic one. Less dramatically, public performances of Cantonese opera in Hong Kong have for decades contributed to the formation and perpetuation of a local identity.
Textiles have long been used by various cultures and ethnic groups to convey socio-cultural and religious messages, which in turn can also reflect the community’s identity. Hmong embroidered clothing and textiles are a rich resource not just for understanding the rich culture of the Hmong people but for textile knowledge generally and traditional needlework techniques.
South Asian history is so complex and layered that making sense of it can take considerable effort. T Richard Blurton’s richly-illustrated India: A History in Objects emphasizes precisely this complexity and diversity—“The variety of South Asia is remarkable in terms of language, script, ethnicity, religion and architecture”— rather than a single narrative throughline.
Royal patronage gave impetus to great works of art. In a period when artists’ craft required years of apprenticeship, when the raw materials included costly powders and rare preparations, when collaboration among a large number of artists was required, the final result is practically a celebration of the presiding monarch. So it is with two manuscripts from the British Museum, covered in Treasures of Herat, Addendum 25900 and Oriental 6810. They represent the apogee of the Herat school of art, under the last great Timurid ruler, Sultan Husayn Bayqara (1438-1506).
The question as to whether fashion is art or there is art in fashion has long been disputed. If so, how would one define the art of fashion? Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, presented by The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (SFMOMA), is a companion volume to the Beijing-based couturier’s 2022 exhibition showcasing her fine talent in fashion. Held at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the exhibition of couture costumes is a blockbuster on fashion in an art museum that casts an interesting light on why fashion aesthetics is a good reason to be considered for an exhibition in museums.
Kevin Lygo’s The Emperors of Byzantium is what it says on the tin: an orderly man-by-man (and occasional woman) account of the Eastern Roman emperors, from Constantine I who founded the capital city in his own name, to his namesake who presided over the fall more than 1100 years later. All are there, except the so-called Latin emperors who ruled over Constantinople in the decades after the Fourth Crusade. Contemptuous, Lygo cannot even bring himself to name them.