Ashmolean Museum

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Ashmolean Museum
Main Museum Entrance on Beaumont Street
Ashmolean Museum is located in Oxford
Ashmolean Museum
Location in Oxford
Established1683; 331 years ago (1683)
LocationBeaumont Street, Oxford, England
Coordinates51°45′19″N 1°15′36″W / 51.7554°N 1.2600°W / 51.7554; -1.2600
TypeUniversity Museum of Art and Archaeology
DirectorDr Christopher Brown
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Ashmolean Museum
Main Museum Entrance on Beaumont Street
Ashmolean Museum is located in Oxford
Ashmolean Museum
Location in Oxford
Established1683; 331 years ago (1683)
LocationBeaumont Street, Oxford, England
Coordinates51°45′19″N 1°15′36″W / 51.7554°N 1.2600°W / 51.7554; -1.2600
TypeUniversity Museum of Art and Archaeology
DirectorDr Christopher Brown

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 built 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, travellers and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son of the same name. 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.[5] 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.


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]


Rive des Esclavons, by J.M.W. Turner, ca. 1840

Highlights of the Ashmolean's collection include:

Recent major bequests and acquisitions include:

Major Exhibitions[edit]

Major exhibitions and temporary displays in 2014 include:

Major exhibitions in recent years include:

Keepers and Directors[edit]

Robert Plot16831691
Edward Lhuyd16911709
David Parry17091714
John Whiteside17141729
George Huddesford[27]17321755
William Huddesford[27]17551772
John Shute Duncan18231829
Philip Duncan1829
John Henry Parker1869
Sir Arthur Evans18841908
David George Hogarth19091927
Edward Thurlow Leeds19281945
Sir Karl Parker19451962
Robert W. Hamilton19621973

Beginning in 1973, the position of Keeper was superseded by that of Director:

Sir David Piper19731985
Professor Sir Christopher White19851997
Dr P.R.S. Moorey19971998
Dr Christopher Brown1998 [28]2014[7]
Dr Alexander Sturgis2014

In popular culture[edit]


View of Auvers-sur-Oise by Paul Cézanne

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 stealing 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.[30] As the thieves ignored other works in the same room and it has not been offered for sale, it is speculated that this was a case of an artwork stolen to order.[31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ H. E. Salter and Mary D. Lobel (editors) Victoria County History A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3 1954 Pages 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. ^ C. M. Kraay and C. H. V. Sutherland, The Heberden Coin Room: Origin and Development, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1972. (Revised 1989 and 2001.)
  5. ^ ^"". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  6. ^ "Eating and Shopping- Ashmolean Museum". 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  7. ^ a b Carol Vogel (20 June 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 major Chinese art collection". BBC. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  20. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  21. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  22. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  23. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  24. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  25. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  26. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ Ashmolean Annual Report 1997-1998 Oxford University Gazette (9 December 1998)
  29. ^ "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." 
  30. ^ "FBI — Cezanne". 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  31. ^ 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 ..." 
  32. ^ Hopkins, Nick (8 January 2000). "How art treasures are stolen to order". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2007. 

External links[edit]