Ashmolean Museum

Ashmolean Museum

Main Museum Entrance
Location in Oxford
Established 1683 (1683)
Location Beaumont Street, Oxford, England
Coordinates 51°45′19″N 1°15′36″W / 51.7554°N 1.2600°W / 51.7554; -1.2600
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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

The present building dates from 184145. It was designed by Charles Cockerell[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]


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.[8]

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[9] 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.[10] The renovated museum re-opened on 7 November 2009.[11][12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15]


Rive des Esclavons, by J.M.W. Turner, ca. 1840
Detail from a fragment of wall painting depicting Akhenaten and Nefertiti with their daughters
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:

Collections gallery

Branch museum

In 2013 the museum opened Ashmolean Museum Broadway in the 17th-century "Tudor House" at Broadway, Worcestershire, in the Cotswolds.[28]

Major exhibitions

The Ashmolean Museum

Major exhibitions and temporary displays in 2016 include:

Major exhibitions in recent years include:

Keepers and Directors

Keeper From To
Robert Plot 1683 1691
Edward Lhuyd 1691 1709
David Parry 1709 1714
John Whiteside 1714 1729
George Huddesford[48] 1732 1755
William Huddesford[48] 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 [49] 2014[9]
Dr Alexander Sturgis 2014

In popular culture



Stage productions



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 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.[51] 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.[52][53]

See also


  1. MacGregor, A. (2001). The Ashmolean Museum. A brief history of the museum and its collections. Ashmolean Museum & Jonathan Horne Publications, London.
  2. Salter, H. E.; Lobel, Mary D., eds. (1954). "Victoria County History". A History of the County of Oxford. 3: 47–49.
  3. Johnston, Stephen. "Astrolabes in Medieval Jewish Society". The Warburg Institute. University of London, School of Advanced Study. Retrieved 5 November 2015. The Museum of the History of Science in Oxford has the world's largest collection of astrolabes.
  4. Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 105.
  5. Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 103.
  6. Kraay, C. M. & Sutherland, C. H. V. (1972). The Heberden Coin Room: Origin and Development (PDF) (Revised 1989 and 2001 ed.). Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.
  7. "News". Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  8. "Eating and Shopping- Ashmolean Museum". 15 April 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2012.
  9. 1 2 Vogel, Carol (20 June 2013). "Director of Ashmolean Museum at Oxford to Step Down". New York Times.
  10. 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.
  11. "Ashmolean Museum opens to public". BBC News. 7 November 2009. Archived from the original on 8 November 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  12. "Transforming: Transformed- Ashmolean Museum". Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  13. "Transforming: Egypt- Ashmolean Museum". 2011-11-26. Retrieved 2012-06-20.
  14. Park, Emma (9 November 2009). "Ashes to Ashmolean". Oxonian Review of Books. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  15. "Chinese Painting Gallery, Ashmolean Museum - van Heyningen and Haward Architects". Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  16. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  17. 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
  18. "Manet portrait of Mademoiselle Claus stays in Oxford". BBC News Website. 8 August 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  19. 1 2 Kennedy, Maev (31 January 2013). "Ashmolean museum in Oxford bequeathed £10m hoard". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  20. "Ashmolean Acquires Monumental Sculpture". 15 November 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  21. "Ashmolean acquires major Chinese art collection". BBC. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  22. "Museum_gets_hooks_into_butcher's_500k_collection". 27 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  23. "Ashmolean acquires Feller collection of English Embroidery". 29 September 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
  24. "John Constable painting transferred to public ownership in lieu of £1m tax". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  25. "Constable painting donated to the nation". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  26. "Ashmolean acquires painting by John Constable". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
  27. "Ashmolean has raised the money needed to acquire a major painting by JMW Turner". 6 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  28. Ashmolean Broadway official website
  29. "Ashmolean Museum exhibition Power and Protection". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  30. "Art Fund What To See - Exhibition Power and Protection". Art Fund website. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  31. "Ashmolean Museum exhibition Storms War and Shipwrecks". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  32. "The Storms, War and Shipwrecks' at the Ashmolean Museum in 2016". Archaeology News Network Blog Post. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  33. "Ashmolean Museum exhibition Andy Warhol". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  34. "Andy Warhol Cultural Icon Celebrity and Provocateur New Ashmolean Exhibition Announced". Artlyst web article: Ashmolean 2016 Andy Warhol exhibition. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  35. "Ashmolean Museum exhibition Elizabeth Price A RESTORATION". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  36. "CAS Annual Award Winner Elizabeth Price's new work to open at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford". Contemporary Art Society website. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  37. "Ashmolean Museum exhibition Titian to Canaletto". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  38. "Ashmolean Museum exhibition Titian to Canaletto Jenny Saville Drawing". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  39. 1 2 3 "Ashmolean Museum future exhibitions". Ashmolean website future exhibitions. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  40. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  41. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  42. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  43. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  44. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  45. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  46. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  47. "Ashmolean Museum". Ashmolean website. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
  48. 1 2 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
  49. Ashmolean Annual Report 1997-1998 Oxford University Gazette (9 December 1998)
  50. "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.
  51. "FBI — Cezanne". 1999-12-31. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  52. 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 ...
  53. Hopkins, Nick (8 January 2000). "How art treasures are stolen to order". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2007.

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