Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The cabinet of curiosities that became the world’s first public museum

Oxford is a city where time seems to have stopped. Between the walls of its beautiful colleges, in the light of the orange streetlamps that illuminate its cobbled streets and the gardens through which great scientists and writers have walked, the years have faded away. This feeling, which invades anyone visiting the city, is intensified when crossing the threshold of the Ashmolean Museum, a center dedicated to art and archaeology, which became the first public museum in the United Kingdom in 1683 and has been the site of many According, in the first in the world.

Walking through the corridors of the Ashmolean is like traveling through centuries and civilizations, from Greece to Rome, Egypt to Persia or Europe to Asia in just a few steps. It delves into archeology as well as sculpture, painting and drawing, discovering a temple dedicated to telling human history through different cultures and the passage of time.

Elias Ashmole’s Cabinet of Curiosities

The origins of this museum date back to the end of the 17th century, specifically to the year 1677, when Elias Ashmole, a famous antiquarian, being above all a father of Freemasonry, decided to donate his cabinet of curiosities. University of Oxford… In his youth, Ashmole studied at that university’s Brasenose College and, later, devoted a large part of his life to collecting objects from different parts of the world: manuscripts, engravings, fossils, works of art and a variety of tool civilizations, among others. many other artifacts.

Already being sixty years old, Elias Ashmole donated his extraordinary collection to the institution where he was trained and in 1683, Oxford University inaugurated the museum named in his honour. Little by little the exhibition grew: at first it included only natural objects and specimens that Ashmole had collected or obtained from other travelers or collectors (for example, the stuffed body of the last dodo bird seen in Europe). , but later many other elements were added that filled the rooms and floors of the museum, covering a variety of subjects.

In 1860, the museum left its first location on Broad Street to move to a new, larger location on Beaumont Street. As such, the Ashmolean Museum moved in 1845 to the neoclassical building designed by Charles Cockerell in which it is located today, and the site previously occupied by the “Old Ashmolean” became Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science.


Panoramic view of the gallery of sculptures in the first building of the Ashmolean Museum, 1814.

Ashmolean Museum today

Currently, the Ashmolean has the largest Minoan collection outside of Crete and the oldest Greek chronological table in the world (Chronicle of Paros), as well as many objects and sculptures from ancient Egypt and other civilizations. It also houses the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon artefacts after the British Museum and one of the best collections of Chinese artefacts in the West.

Its rooms highlight sketches by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the largest collection of paintings by Raphael Sanzio, Turner watercolours, paintings by Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Titian or Rembrandt, Lawrence of Arabia costumes and among the best selections There is one. painting.

Also in the museum are the Griffith Institute, devoted to the study of Egyptology, and the Taylor Institution, the modern languages ​​department of the University of Oxford. Thus visitors and curators, students and experts, meet under the roofs of this great building, where wonders of all ages and countries can be seen without leaving a single room.

Nation World News Desk
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