Ashmolean Museum
Front façade of the museum
Ashmolean Museum is located in Oxford
Ashmolean Museum
Location in Oxford
Interactive fullscreen map
Established1683; 341 years ago (1683)
LocationBeaumont Street, Oxford, England
Coordinates51°45′19″N 1°15′36″W / 51.7554°N 1.2600°W / 51.7554; -1.2600
TypeUniversity Museum of Art and Archaeology
Visitors930,669 (2019)[1]
DirectorAlexander Sturgis

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology (/æʃˈmliən, ˌæʃməˈlən/)[2] on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is Britain's first public museum.[3] 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. It is also the world's second university museum, after the establishment of the Kunstmuseum Basel in 1661 by the University of Basel.[4]

The present building was built between 1841 and 1845. The museum reopened in 2009 after a major redevelopment, and in November 2011, new galleries focusing on Egypt and Nubia were unveiled. In May 2016, the museum also opened redisplayed galleries of 19th-century art.


Broad Street

The museum opened on 24 May 1683,[5] with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper. The building on Broad Street (later known as the Old Ashmolean) is sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.[6] Elias Ashmole had acquired the collection from the gardeners, travellers, and collectors John Tradescant the Elder and his son, John Tradescant the Younger. It 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.[7]

Beaumont Street

Wood-engraving of the Ashmolean c. 1845

The present building dates from 1841 to 1845. It was designed as the University Galleries by Charles Cockerell[8] 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 was also designed by Charles Cockerell, using the Ionic order of Greek architecture.[9]

Sir Arthur Evans, who was appointed keeper in 1884 and retired in 1908, is largely responsible for the current museum.[10] Evans found that the keeper and the vice-chancellor (Benjamin Jowett) had managed to lose half of the Ashmole collection and had converted the original building into the Examination Rooms. Charles Drury Edward Fortnum had offered to donate his personal collection of antiques on condition that the museum was put on a sound footing.[11] A donation of £10,000 from Fortnum (£1.21 million as of 2024) enabled Evans to build an extension to the University Galleries and move the Ashmolean collection there in 1894. In 1908, the Ashmolean and the University Galleries were combined as the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology.[12] The museum became a depository for some of the important archaeological finds from Evans' excavations in Crete.[citation needed]

After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the "Old Ashmolean" building 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, amongst them the world's largest collection of astrolabes.[13]

Charles Buller Heberden left £1,000 (£47,000 as of 2024) to the university in 1921, which was used for the Coin Room at the museum.[14]

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.[15]


The museum's renovated central atrium in 2009

The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernised in recent years and now includes a restaurant and large gift shop.[16]

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. It 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. The gallery houses the Ashmolean's own collection and 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.[17]

The Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World 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.[18]

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[19] 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.[20] The renovated museum re-opened on 7 November 2009.[21][22]

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.[23]

In May 2016, the museum opened new galleries dedicated to the display of its collection of Victorian art.[24] 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."[24]


Rive des Esclavons, by J. M. W. Turner, c. 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 the artist Ju Ming

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 a 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.

Highlights of the Ashmolean's collection include:

Recent major bequests and acquisitions include:

Collections gallery

Arundel Marbles

Broadway Museum and Art Gallery

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.[44]

Major exhibitions

Upcoming planned exhibitions include:

Major exhibitions in recent years include:

Keepers and Directors

Name From To
Robert Plot 1683 1690
Edward Lhuyd 1690 1709
David Parry 1709 1714
John Whiteside 1714 1729
George Shepheard 1730 1731
Joseph Andrews 1731 1732
George Huddesford[84] 1732 1755
William Huddesford[84] 1755 1772
William Sheffield 1772 1795
William Lloyd 1796 1815
Thomas Dunbar 1815 1822
John Shute Duncan 1823 1829
Philip Bury Duncan 1829 1854
John Phillips 1854 1870
John Henry Parker 1870 1884
Sir Arthur Evans 1884 1908
David George Hogarth 1909 1927
Edward Thurlow Leeds 1928 1945
Sir Karl Parker 1945 1962
Robert W. Hamilton 1962 1972

Beginning in 1973, the position of Keeper was superseded by that of Director:

Name From To
Sir David Piper 1973 1985
Professor Sir Christopher White 1985 1997
Roger Moorey 1997 1998
Christopher Brown 1998[85] 2014[19]
Alexander Sturgis 2014

Notable people

See also: Category: People associated with the Ashmolean Museum

Current keepers

Former staff

In popular culture





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 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.[87] 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.[88][89] The Cezanne has not been recovered and is one of the FBI's Top Ten Art Crimes.[90]

In 2010 several of the Egypt Exploration Society's Oxyrhynchus Papyri held by the museum were allegedly stolen from the collection and sold to the American Museum of the Bible.[91]

See also


  1. ^ "ALVA – Association of Leading Visitor Attractions". Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  2. ^ "Ashmolean Museum". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  3. ^ MacGregor, A. (2001). The Ashmolean Museum. A brief history of the museum and its collections. Ashmolean Museum & Jonathan Horne Publications, London.
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  6. ^ Salter, H. E.; Lobel, Mary D., eds. (1954). "Victoria County History". A History of the County of Oxford. 3: 47–49.
  7. ^ Bryson, Bill (2003). A Short History of Nearly Everything (1st ed.). New York: Broadway Books, Random House, Inc. p. 470. ISBN 0-7679-0818-X. In 1755, some seventy years after the last dodo's death, the director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford decided that the institution's stuffed dodo was becoming unpleasantly musty and ordered it tossed on a bonfire. This was a surprising decision as it was by this time the only dodo in existence, stuffed or otherwise. A passing employee, aghast, tried to rescue the bird but could save only its head and part of one limb.
  8. ^ Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 105.
  9. ^ Alden's Oxford Guide. Oxford: Alden & Company. 1946. p. 103.
  10. ^ Evans, Joan. Time and Chance: The story of Arthur Evans and his forebears. London, Longmans, 1943.
  11. ^ MacGregor, Arthur (2001). The Ashmolean Museum: A Brief History of the Museum and Its Collections. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum Oxford. p. 56.
  12. ^ "The Ashmolean Museum Oxford Conservation Plan" Archived 2 June 2020 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 24 August 2018.
  13. ^ 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.
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  34. ^ "John Constable painting transferred to public ownership in lieu of £1m tax". 28 October 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2014.
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  86. ^ "Itinerary for Inspector Morse Tour". Oxford, England. TourInADay. Archived from the original on 17 August 2016. 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.
  87. ^ "FBI – Cezanne". 31 December 1999. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  88. ^ Lyall, Sarah (3 February 2000). "Art World Nightmare: Made-to-Order Theft; Stolen Works Like Oxford's Cezanne Can Vanish for Decades". 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 ...
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  90. ^ "Theft of Cezanne's View of Auvers-sur-Oise". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  91. ^ Charlotte Higgins: A scandal in Oxford: the curious case of the stolen gospel - What links an eccentric Oxford classics don, billionaire US evangelicals, and a tiny, missing fragment of an ancient manuscript? Charlotte Higgins unravels a multimillion-dollar riddle, series The long read, The Guardian. In: