Monday, 9 November 2009

The Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, believed to be the oldest museum in the world, dating back nearly four centuries, has recently reopened after a £60 million transformation. Its great Neoclassical fa├žade, by Sir Charles Cockerell, dating from 1845, remains unaltered, but behind it is a spacious high-modernist extension of steel and glass, more than doubling the existing display area and exhibiting a widely ranging collection of treasures too diverse to detail. As well as Greek and Roman sculpture, there are galleries devoted to ancient India and China, a marvellous collection of European painting and sculpture, jewellery, silver and curiosities such as the hawking glove of Henry VIII, and the very lantern Guy Fawkes was carrying when arrested in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament in 1605.

Study of a Kingfisher, by John Ruskin

The Ashmolean dates back to the early 17th century, to the enthusiasm of John Tradescant the Elder, who was Charles I’s Keeper of Gardens, Vines and Silkworms, a famous botanist and an avid collector of just about anything. His house, the Ark in Lambeth, full of his curiosities, was open to the public at sixpence a head, making it the world’s first public museum. Later his collection, by somewhat murky means, was inherited by Elias Ashmole, who eventually donated it to Oxford University. Over the years it has grown into the world’s greatest university museum of art and archaeology, and with its stunning redesign has truly entered the 21st century.

Hunt in the Forest, by Paolo Uccello

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