- Presents begin to enrich the collection 5. Shift towards history
- Reason for extension 6. Location of the museum
- First famous exhibits 7. New collections for the new building
- One on the basis of two 8. New field for the old museum
A. The present Ashmolean Museum was created in 1908 by combining two ancient Oxford institutions: the University Art Collection and the original Ashmolean Museum. The older partner in this merger, the University Art Collection, was based for many years in what is now the Upper Reading Room in the Bodleian Library.
B. The collection began modestly in the 1620s with a handful of portraits and curiosities displayed in a small room on the upper floor. In the 17th century there were added notable collections of coins and medals later incorporated into the Ashmolean coin collection. The objects of curiosity included Guy Fawkes’ lantern and a sword given by the Pope to Henry VIII, and a number of more exotic items.
C. In the 1660s and 70s, the collection grew rapidly and, in 1683, the Bodleian Gallery was left to develop as a museum of art. At first, it was a gallery of portraits of distinguished contemporaries, but from the mid 1660s, it began to acquire a more historical perspective with the addition of images of people from the past: college founders, scientists, soldiers, monarchs, writers and artists.
D. In the eighteenth century, several painters donated self-portraits. They also added a number of landscapes, historical paintings and scenes from contemporary life. Other donors, former members of the University, added collections of Old Masters so that by the early nineteenth century, it had become an art gallery of general interest and an essential point of call on the tourist map. The public was admitted on payment of a small charge. Catalogues were available at the entrance and the paintings were well displayed in a large gallery.
E. It was only with the gift of a collection of ancient Greek and Roman statuary from the Countess of Pomfret in 1755 that the need for a new art gallery became urgent. The marble figures were too heavy to be placed in an upstairs gallery and were installed in a dark ground-floor room in the library pending the creation of a new museum.
F. Before the new museum was finished, a major group of drawings by Raphael and Michelangelo was purchased by public subscription for the new galleries, establishing the importance of the Oxford museum as a centre for the study of Old Master drawings. The new museum also attracted gifts of paintings. In 1851, a collection of early Italian paintings, which included Uccello’s «Hunt in the Forestone of the museum’s major works of art was presented.
G. In the 1850s, the University established a new Natural History Museum, which is now known as the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. And all the natural history specimens from the Ashmolean were transferred to the new institution. Having lost what had become the most important element in its collection, the Ashmolean was to find a major new role in the emerging field of archaeology.