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, 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 naturalistRobert 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.
Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) is largely responsible for the current Museum. He obtained agreement to combine the University Galleries with the Ashmolean as a 'Museum of Art and Archeaology' in the Cockerell building. It was largely prompted by the bequest from Charles Drury Fortnum (1820-1899) who insisted it was put on a sound footing. Evans found that the Keeper and the Vice-Chancellor (Prof Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893)) had managed to lose half of the Ashmole collection and had converted the original building into the Examination Rooms. Sir Arthur Evans was appointed keeper in 1884 and retired in 1908. It was a depository for some of the important archaeological finds from his excavations in Crete.
Engraving of the Ashmolean c. 1845
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.
The present building dates from 1841–45. It was designed by Charles Cockerell 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 wing of the building dates from 1845–48 and was also designed by Charles Cockerell, using the Ionic order of Greek architecture. 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.
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.
Renovated Ashmolean central atrium
Ashmolean Rooftop Terrace 2014
The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernised in recent years and now includes a restaurant and large gift shop.
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.
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.
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 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. The renovated museum re-opened on 7 November 2009.
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.
In May 2016, the museum opened new galleries dedicated to the display of its collection of Victorian art. This development allowed for the return to the Ashmolean of the Great Bookcase, designed by William Burges, and described as "the most important example of Victorian painted furniture ever made.".
In 2015 the Ashmolean raised the money needed to acquire a major painting by J. M. W. Turner. With lead support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a grant from the Art Fund, and a public appeal, the fundraising target was met to secure Turner's only full-size townscape in oils: The High Street, Oxford (1810). The painting was accepted by the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.
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.
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.
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. The Ashmolean Museum has a gallery dedicated to Sullivan and his wife Khoan.
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.
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. The bequest will be displayed in a new gallery.
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.
In 2013 a museum was opened in the 17th-century "Tudor House" at Broadway, Worcestershire, in the Cotswolds, in partnership with the Ashmolean Museum. In 2017 the museum became known as the Broadway Museum and Art Gallery. The collection includes paintings and furniture from the founding collections of the Ashmolean Museum, given by Elias Ashmole to the University of Oxford in 1683, and local exhibits expand upon elements of the timeline of the village.
The Ashmolean Museum
Major exhibitions and temporary displays in 2018 include:
Spellbound: Magic, Ritual & Witchcraft: Open from August 2018 until January 2019, this exhibition explores the history of magic over eight centuries. On display will be 180 objects from 12th-century Europe to newly commissioned contemporary artworks.
Major exhibitions in recent years include:
America's Cool Modernism: O'Keeffe to Hopper: Open from March until July 2018 this major exhibition of works by American artists in the early 20th-century included over 80 paintings, photographs and prints, and the first American avant-garde film, Manhatta. Many of the paintings had never before travelled outside the USA.
Imagining the Divine: Art and the Rise of World Religions: Open from October 2017 until February 2018 this exhibition explored Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, and was be the first to look at the art of the five world religions as they spread across continents in the first millennium AD.
Raphael: The Drawings: Open from June 2017 until September 2017 this exhibition brought together over a hundred works by Raphael from international collections and aimed to transform public understanding of Raphael through a focus on the immediacy and expressiveness of his drawing.
Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural: Open from October 2016 until January 2017, this was the first major exhibition to explore the supernatural in the art of the Islamic world. The exhibition included objects and works of art from the 12th to the 20th century, from Morocco to China, which have been used as sources of guidance and protection in the dramatic events of human history. These include dream-books, talismanic charts and amulets.
Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas: Open from June until September 2016, this exhibition explored the roots of Sicily's multi-cultural heritage through the discoveries made by underwater archaeologists – from chance finds to excavated shipwrecks. The exhibition will also featured what has been described as a "flat pack" Byzantine church interior, intended for assembly at its destination, with marble items raised from a wreck off the southeast coast of Sicily in the 1960s by archaeologist Gerhard Kapitan.
Andy Warhol: Works from the Hall Collection: Open from February until May 2016, this exhibition featured over a hundred works, by Andy Warhol, from the Hall Collection (USA), plus loans of films from The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh. Curated by Sir Norman Rosenthal, the exhibition spanned Warhol’s entire output, from iconic pieces of the 1960s Pop pioneer to the experimental works of his last decade.
Drawing in Venice: Titian to Canaletto: Open from October 2015 until January 2016, this exhibition featured a hundred drawings from The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Ashmolean, and Christ Church, Oxford. It was 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. The exhibition also featured 20 works on paper and canvas by contemporary artist Jenny Saville, produced in response to the Venetian drawings in the exhibition.
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.
An Elegant Society: Adam Buck, artist in the age of Jane Austen: Open from July until October 2015 this exhibition explored the work of Adam Buck, Irish Regency era portrait and miniature painter.
Love Bites: Caricatures by James Gillray: An exhibition in 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.
William Blake: Apprentice and Master: Open from December 2014 until March 2015, this exhibition celebrated the work of William Blake.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
^Evans, Joan. Time and Chance: The story of Arthur Evans and his forebears. London, Longmans, 1943.
^Johnston, Stephen. "Astrolabes in Medieval Jewish Society". The Warburg Institute. University of London, School of Advanced Study. Archived from the original on 28 November 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2015. The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has the world's largest collection of astrolabes.
^Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 105.
^Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 103.
^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.
^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
^"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.
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