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Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Museum
Main Museum Entrance
Established 1683; 333 years ago (1683)
Location Beaumont Street, Oxford, England

51°45′19″N 1°15′36″W / 51.7554°N 1.2600°W / 51.7554; -1.2600{{#coordinates:51.7554|-1.2600|type:landmark|||||| | |name=

Type University Museum of Art and Archaeology
Director Dr Alexander Sturgis

The Ashmolean Museum (in full the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677. The museum reopened in 2009 after a major redevelopment. In November 2011, new galleries focusing on Egypt and Nubia were also unveiled.


The collection includes that of Elias Ashmole which he had collected himself, including objects he had acquired from the gardeners, travelers, and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son, John Tradescant the younger. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens—one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo ever seen in Europe; but by 1755 the stuffed dodo was so moth-eaten that it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on 24 May 1683, with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper. The first building, which became known as the Old Ashmolean, is sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.[1]

After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the "Old Ashmolean" building on Broad Street was used as office space for the Oxford English Dictionary. Since 1924, the building has been established as the Museum of the History of Science, with exhibitions including the scientific instruments given to Oxford University by Lewis Evans (1853–1930), amongst them the world's largest collection of astrolabes.[citation needed]

The present building dates from 1841–45. It was designed by Charles Cockerell[2] in a classical style and stands on Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylor Institution, the modern languages faculty of the university, standing on the corner of Beaumont Street and St Giles' Street. This building dates from 1845–48 and was also designed by Charles Cockerell, using the Ionic order of Greek architecture.[3] The main museum contains huge collections of archaeological specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery, and English silver. The archaeology department includes the bequest of Arthur Evans and so has an excellent collection of Greek and Minoan pottery. The department also has an extensive collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan, and the museum hosts the Griffith Institute for the advancement of Egyptology. Charles Buller Heberden left £1,000 to the University, which was used for the Coin Room at the museum.[4]

In 2012, the Ashmolean was awarded a grant of $1.1m by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish the University Engagement Programme or UEP. The programme employs three Teaching Curators and a Programme Director to develop the use of the Museum's collections in the teaching and research of the University.[5]


File:Ashmolean Museum Atrium Oxford 2009.jpg
Renovated Ashmolean central atrium

The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernised in recent years and now includes a restaurant and large gift shop.[6]

Between 2006 and 2009, the museum was expanded to the designs of architect Rick Mather and the exhibition design company Metaphor, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The $98.2 million[7] rebuilding resulted in five floors instead of three, with a doubling of the display space, as well as new conservation studios and an education centre.[8] The renovated museum re-opened on 7 November 2009.[9][10]

On 26 November 2011, the Ashmolean opened to the public the new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. This second phase of major redevelopment now allows the Museum to exhibit objects that have been in storage for decades, more than doubling the number of coffins and mummies on display. The project received lead support from Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust, along with the Selz Foundation, Mr Christian Levett, as well as other trusts, foundations, and individuals. Rick Mather Architects led the redesign and display of the four previous Egypt galleries and the extension to the restored Ruskin Gallery, previously occupied by the Museum Shop.[11]

The Sackler Library, incorporating the older library collections of the Ashmolean, opened in 2001 and has allowed an expansion of the book collection, which concentrates on classical civilization, archaeology and art history.[12]

In 2000, the Chinese Picture Gallery, designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects, opened at the entrance of the Ashmolean and is partly integrated into the structure. The gallery was inserted into a lightwell in the Grade 1 listed building, and was designed to support future construction from its roof. Apart from the original Cockerell spaces, this gallery was the only part of the museum retained in the rebuilding. It houses the Ashmolean’s own collection, but is also used from time to time for the display of loan exhibitions and works by contemporary Chinese artists. It is the only museum gallery in Britain devoted to Chinese paintings.[13]


File:Ägyptischer Maler um 1360 v. Chr. 002.jpg
Detail from a fragment of wall painting depicting Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their daughters
File:Taichi arch 8124242.JPG
Taichi Arch on the museum's forecourt, a sculpture by artist Ju Ming

Highlights of the Ashmolean's collection include:

Recent major bequests and acquisitions include:

  • In 2012 the museum acquired Édouard Manet's Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus, painted in 1868, after a public campaign to raise £7.83million while a temporary export bar was placed on it by the RCEWA The campaign received £5.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and a grant of £850,000 from The Art Fund.[16]
  • In 2013 the museum was left a 500 piece collection of gold and silver objets d'art, including many pieces of Renaissance silverware, assembled by the antique dealer Michael Welby.[17] The bequest will be displayed in a new gallery.[17]
  • In 2013 the museum was given the sculpture 'Taichi Arch' by Taiwanese artist Ju Ming, which was installed on the Museum’s main forecourt. It was given to the museum by the Juming Culture and Education Foundation in memory of art historian and collector Michael Sullivan.[18]
  • In late 2013, art historian and collector Michael Sullivan bequeathed his collection of more than 400 works of art to the museum. The collection, which includes paintings by Chinese masters Qi Baishi, Zhang Daqian, and Wu Guanzhong, was considered one of the world's most significant collections of modern Chinese art. Ashmolean Museum has a gallery dedicated to Sullivan and his wife Khoan.[19]
  • In October 2014 the Ashmolean acquired a collection of historic English embroideries which was given to the Museum by collectors Micheál and Elizabeth Feller. The gift comprises 61 pieces which span the whole of the seventeenth century.[20][21]
  • In October 2014 the Ashmolean acquired a painting by John Constable titled 'Willy Lott’s House from the Stour (The Valley Farm). The painting was accepted by the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The farm building depicted in the painting is also seen from a different angle in The Hay Wain, painted 1821 and now at the National Gallery.[22][23][24]

Collections Gallery

Major Exhibitions

Major exhibitions and temporary displays in 2014 and 2015 include:

  • Great British Drawings: An exhibition open from March until August 2015 showing more than one hundred British drawings and watercolours from the Ashmolean's collection, spanning three hundred years.[25]
  • Love Bites: Caricatures by James Gillray: An exhibition open from March until June 2015 to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of British caricaturist James Gillray (1757–1815). The caricatures on display will be from the collection of New College, Oxford.[25]
  • An Elegant Society: Adam Buck, artist in the age of Jane Austen: Open from July until October 2015 this exhibition will explore the work of Adam Buck, Irish Regency era portrait and miniature painter.[25]
  • Drawing in Venice: Titian to Canaletto: Open from October 2014 until January 2016, this exhibition will feature a hundred drawings from The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Ashmolean, and Christ Church, Oxford. It will be based on new research tracing continuities in Venetian drawing over three centuries, from around 1500 down to the foundation of the first academy of art in Venice in 1750.[25]

Major exhibitions in recent years include:

  • William Blake: Apprentice and Master: Open from December 2014 until March 2015, this exhibition celebrates the work of William Blake.[26]
  • Discovering Tutankhamun: a special exhibition, open from July until November 2014, explored Howard Carter’s excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Original records, drawings and photographs from the Griffith Institute were on display.[27]
  • The Eye of the Needle: English Embroideries from the Feller Collection: a special exhibition, open from August until October 2014, of 17th-century embroideries from the Feller Collection, together with examples from the Ashmolean’s own holdings.[28]
  • Cézanne and the Modern: a special exhibition, open from March to June 2014, displaying Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and sketches from the Henry and Rose Pearlman Collection[29]
  • Francis Bacon / Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone: a special exhibition, open from September 2013 until July 2014, displaying paintings by Francis Bacon and sculptures and drawings by Henry Moore.[30]
  • Stradivarius: a special exhibition, open from June until August 2013, exploring the life and work of Antonio Stradivari. It was the first time twenty-one of his instruments, from guitar to cello to violin, were on display together in the UK.[31]
  • Master Drawings: a special exhibition, open from May until August 2013, displaying a selection of the Ashmolean's on western art collection. The exhibition surveyed drawings of all types by some of the biggest names in art history, including Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, as well as Gwen John, David Hockney and Antony Gormley.[32]
  • Xu Bing: Landscape Landscript: a special exhibition of the work of Xu Bing, open from February until May 2013. It was the Ashmolean's first major exhibition of contemporary art.[33]

Keepers and Directors

Keeper From To
Robert Plot 1683 1691
Edward Lhuyd 1691 1709
David Parry 1709 1714
John Whiteside 1714 1729
George Huddesford[34] 1732 1755
William Huddesford[34] 1755 1772
John Shute Duncan 1823 1829
Philip Duncan 1829
John Henry Parker 1869
Sir Arthur Evans 1884 1908
David George Hogarth 1909 1927
Edward Thurlow Leeds 1928 1945
Sir Karl Parker 1945 1962
Robert W. Hamilton 1962 1973

Beginning in 1973, the position of Keeper was superseded by that of Director:

Director From To
Sir David Piper 1973 1985
Professor Sir Christopher White 1985 1997
Dr P.R.S. Moorey 1997 1998
Dr Christopher Brown 1998 [35] 2014[7]
Dr Alexander Sturgis 2014

In popular culture



  • Philip Pullman's novel The Subtle Knife, in the His Dark Materials series, references the Ashmolean Museum. The two main characters, Lyra and Will, pretend to be looking for the Ashmolean in order to fool a pair of police officers because half of the story is based in Oxford.

Stage productions


  • The Alfred Jewel was the inspiration for the Inspector Morse episode "The Wolvercote Tongue" (1988), in which the museum's interior was used as a set.[36]
  • The Ashmolean also figures prominently in several episodes of the successor series Lewis, particularly the episode "Point of Vanishing" where the painting The Hunt in the Forest (ca. 1470) is a key plot element; the characters visit the painting at the museum and are instructed on its features by an art expert before solving the case.


On 31 December 1999, during the fireworks that accompanied the celebration of the millennium, thieves used scaffolding on an adjoining building to climb onto the roof of the Ashmolean Museum and stole Cézanne’s landscape painting View of Auvers-sur-Oise. Valued at £3 million, the painting has been described as an important work illustrating the transition from early to mature Cézanne painting.[37] As the thieves ignored other works in the same room, and the stolen Cézanne has not been offered for sale, it is speculated that this was a case of an artwork stolen to order.[38][39]

See also


  1. ^ Salter, H. E. & Lobel, Mary D. (editors) (1954). "Victoria County History". A History of the County of Oxford 3: 47–49. 
  2. ^ Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 105. 
  3. ^ Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 103. 
  4. ^ Kraay, C. M. & Sutherland, C. H. V. (1972). The Heberden Coin Room: Origin and Development (PDF) (Revised 1989 and 2001 ed.). Oxford: Ashmolean Museum. 
  5. ^ "News". Retrieved October 8, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Eating and Shopping- Ashmolean Museum". April 15, 2012. Retrieved June 20, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Vogel, Carol (June 20, 2013). "Director of Ashmolean Museum at Oxford to Step Down". New York Times. 
  8. ^ The galleries are quirky and unpredictable, full of nooks and crannies and yet completely navigable even to the dyspraxically challenged, like me. That’s as much to do with the layout by the exhibition designers Metaphor as with the architecture.Dorment, Richard (2 November 2009). "The reopening of The Ashmolean, review". Telegraph (London). Archived from the original on 5 November 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2009. 
  9. ^ "Ashmolean Museum opens to public". BBC News. 7 November 2009. Archived from the original on 8 November 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009. 
  10. ^ "Transforming: Transformed- Ashmolean Museum". Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  11. ^ "Transforming: Egypt- Ashmolean Museum". 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  12. ^ Park, Emma (9 November 2009). "Ashes to Ashmolean". Oxonian Review of Books. Retrieved 6 December 2009. 
  13. ^ "Chinese Painting Gallery, Ashmolean Museum - van Heyningen and Haward Architects". Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  14. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  15. ^ Vickers, Michael, "The Wilshere Collection of Early Christian and Jewish Antiquities in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford," Miscellanea a Emilio Marin Sexagenario Dicata, Kacic, 41-43 (2009-2011), pp. 605-614, PDF. Vickers describes the whole collection, on loan to the museum from Pusey House until bought in 2007. The glass is described at 609-613
  16. ^ "Manet portrait of Mademoiselle Claus stays in Oxford". BBC News Website. 8 August 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  17. ^ a b Kennedy, Maev (31 January 2013). "Ashmolean museum in Oxford bequeathed £10m hoard". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  18. ^ "Ashmolean Acquires Monumental Sculpture". 15 November 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  19. ^ "Ashmolean acquires major Chinese art collection". BBC. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "Museum_gets_hooks_into_butcher's_500k_collection". 27 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "Ashmolean acquires Feller collection of English Embroidery". 29 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  22. ^ "John Constable painting transferred to public ownership in lieu of £1m tax". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  23. ^ "Constable painting donated to the nation". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Ashmolean acquires painting by John Constable". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  25. ^ a b c d "Ashmolean Museum future exhibitions". Ashmolean website future exhibitions. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  26. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  27. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  28. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  29. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  30. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  31. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  32. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  33. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  34. ^ a b M. St John Parker, ‘Huddesford, William (bap. 1732, d. 1772)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 16 Feb 2010
  35. ^ Ashmolean Annual Report 1997-1998 Oxford University Gazette (9 December 1998)
  36. ^ "Itinerary for Inspector Morse Tour". Oxford, England. TourInADay. Retrieved 4 July 2008. The Ashmolean Museum is home to The Alfred Jewel that inspired the Inspector Morse episode, The Wolvercote Tongue. This episode ... used the inside of the Ashmolean as a set. 
  37. ^ "FBI — Cezanne". 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  38. ^ Lyall, Sarah (3 February 2000). "Art World Nightmare: Made-to-Order Theft; Stolen Works Like Oxford's Cezanne Can Vanish for Decades". Arts (The New York Times). Retrieved 4 July 2008. ... the thief carried with him exactly what he had come for, a $4.8 million Cézanne oil on canvas, 'Auvers-sur-Oise,' which was painted between 1879 and 1882 ... 
  39. ^ Hopkins, Nick (8 January 2000). "How art treasures are stolen to order". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 

External links

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