THE ART OF SMALL THINGS by John Mack. London: British Museum Press, 2007, 224 pp., with 200 color
illustrations, £19.99 (cloth)

Here is a splendid catalog of the world made small — miniature works in the collection of the British Museum: Elizabethan rings, Benin masks, Netherlandish rosary beads, Chinese jade carvings, Japanese netsuke (kimono ornaments).

Small, even tiny, they loom huge in their photographs, suggesting, as states the author in his stimulating ethnographic essay, that "the most important, symbolically motivated or powerful may be the least in scale . . . the miniature occupies a contained space. It may be controlled, possessed, but has at its heart an inherent mystery."

This mystery may be various things. Anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss said "all miniatures seem to have an intrinsic aesthetic quality," and one thousand years earlier Sei Shonagon penned in her "Pillow Book": "All things small, no matter what they are, all things small are beautiful."