From the hematite used in cave paintings to the moldavite that became a TikTok sensation; from the stolen sandstone of Scone to the unexpected acoustics of Stonehenge; from crystal balls to compasses, rocks and minerals have always been central to our story.
3,000 years ago Babylonians constructed lapidaries – books that tried to pin down the magical secrets of rocks. In Lapidarium, renowned art critic Hettie Judah explores the unexpected stories behind sixty stones that have shaped and inspired human history, from Dorset fossil-hunters to Chinese philosophers, Catherine the Great to Michelangelo.
Discover why alchemists sought cinnabar and sulphur. Unearth the mystery of the tuff statues of Rapa Nui, the lost amber room of Frederick of Prussia and the scandal of Flint Jack. Find out how a Greek monster created coral, moon rock explains the history of Earth's only satellite and obsidian inspired the world's favourite computer game.
Stone by stone, story by fascinating story, Lapidarium builds into a dazzling, epoch-spanning adventure through human culture, and beyond.
Hettie Judah is chief art critic on the British daily paper The i, a regular contributor to The Guardian’s arts pages, and a columnist for Apollo magazine. She writes for Frieze, Art Quarterly, Art Monthly, ArtReview and other publications with 'art' in the title, and is a contributing editor to The Plant magazine. Following the publication of her 2020 study on the impact of motherhood on artists’ careers, in 2021 she worked with a group of artists to draw up the manifesto How Not To Exclude Artist Parents, now available in 15 languages. She regularly talks about art and with artists for museum and gallery events, and has been a visiting lecturer for Goldsmiths University, London and Dauphine University, Paris. A supporter of Arts Emergency she has mentored artists and students through a variety of different schemes. As a broadcaster, she can be heard (and sometimes seen) on programmes including BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and Art That Made Us. She is currently working on an exhibition and book on art and motherhood, among other things.
"A collection of extravagant stories about artists, miners, princes, chancers, criminals – and above all collectors [...] a real cabinet of curiosities"
– Sunday Times
"Delightful [...] a charming book, full of surprising insight"
"A storybook, and a delightful one [...] The essays are shaped with great skill and Judah finds curious and pleasing symmetry and coincidences in the varied stories she tells [...] a portrait of our whole world created from the contents of the ground"
– Literary Review
"A beautifully illustrated collection of insightful essays [...] This clever outing fascinates"
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A gem of a collection [...] a highly accessible guide delivered in a light, informative tone. Quietly authoritative, the author sustains our attention through the pithiness of her essays and the verve of her storytelling"
– Business Post
"Lapidarium sifts through the quarry spoil of history and uncovers gems. Judah's pages are filled with eccentrics and inventors, with the obsessive pursuit of beauty, the hopeful constructions of belief and the thirst for progress and improvement. Her stories also bear out the tragic pattern of so much engagement with the natural world – what begins in wonder leads to greed andrapacious extraction. Behind the glitter of jewellers' windows lies the shadowy back-rooms of polluted water sources, conflict diamonds and the mercury poisoning of artisanal goldworkers."
– Philip Marsden, The Spectator