British Museum, London
The British Museum in London is a museum of archaeology and ancient art, and a leading institution dedicated to human civilizations from all over the world.
Though world-famous for its collection of Greek and Roman classic art, the British Museum gives its best also in the outstanding galleries dedicated to art from the ancient Middle East and Egypt. Do not miss them!
History and architecture
Opened in 1759, the museum was initially based on the personal collection of the physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane, which was focused mainly on ethnography, antiquities, and natural history. In the 19th century, the museum moved to its current location and its collections were greatly expanded with a large number of archaeological findings, antique sculptures – including those from the Parthenon-, and new collections consisting of medieval artifacts and ethnographic pieces, while the natural history collections were moved to the then-new Natural History Museum on London’s Exhibition Road.
Located in the Bloomsbury district in London’s West End, the British Museum is housed in a visually imposing neoclassical building, originally designed by English architect Sir Robert Smirke, enlarged many times in the last two centuries. The most recent addition to the museum architecture is the impressive Queen Elizabeth II Great Court designed by Foster + Partners and opened in 2000.
The Great Court of the British Museum opened on December 6, 2000. Photo Justin Hickling.
Collections and permanent exhibition
The permanent exhibition of the British Museum presents about 80,000 objects from the huge 8-million-piece collection of the museum. The exhibition is divided into six thematic galleries.
Africa (lower floor) presents sculptures, textiles, and other artifacts, both ancient and modern, from the African continent (except Egypt).
Ancient Egypt (ground floor and upper floor) features an exceptional ensemble of artifacts – sculptures, architectural decorations, paintings, pottery, papyri, sarcophagi, and mummies – dating from 3100 BC to the 8th century AD -, including world-renowned pieces, such as the Bust of Ramesses II and the Rosetta Stone.
Ancient Greece and Rome (ground floor and upper floor) presents ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan artifacts – sculptures, golds, vases, architectural decorations, inscriptions, arms, and sarcophagi – dating from the Bronze Age to the Fall of the Roman Empire, including the Spinario and the Apollo of Cyrene Roman statues, the colossal Head of Asclepius of Milos and the Horse from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus Greek sculptures, and the famous (and controversial) marbles from the Parthenon.
Asia (ground floor and upper floor) is dedicated to the art and civilizations of China, India, Japan, Korea, and South Asia, and includes exceptional collections of sculptures, jades, drawings, and ceramics made in those regions from 5000 BC to the present.
Europe (upper floor) is mostly focused on European art from the early Middle Ages to the present – with notable collections of applied and decorative arts; yet, it also includes artifacts related to prehistorical and Roman Britain.
The Middle East gallery (ground floor and upper floor) presents works of art from a vast area, including ancient Assyria, Iran, South Arabia, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Syria. It is one of the most impressive galleries of the British Museum, and many masterpieces of ancient civilization and Islamic art are on show there, including gigantic Assyrian sculptures such as the colossal statues from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal, the Balawat Gates bronzes, outstanding Achaemenid Persian golds, and the Standard of Ur inlaid panel.
Finally, Themes is a gallery aimed to present a diverse and changing set of subjects, divided into thematic sub-sections.
A seventh gallery is reserved for special exhibitions.
It is also worth mentioning the Prints and Drawings collection, one of the world’s largest collections of works on paper, which comprises some 50,000 drawings and two million prints, including masterpieces by Albrecht Dürer, Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti), Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio), Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn), and Francisco Goya.
Because of their extreme fragility, pieces from this collection are rarely exhibited in the museum’s galleries.
Head and upper body from the colossal statue of Ramesses II (also known as The Younger Memnon), granite, 19th Dynasty. Photo Xiquinhosilva.
The program of activities and events of the British Museum includes changing exhibitions, seminars, learning classes, workshops especially aimed at children, families, and students, and special events.
Fully accessible to impaired people, the museum also contains a library, several study rooms, one restaurant, two cafes, and four shops.
Colossal winged lion statues from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, 883-859 BC. Photo Patrick Lauke.
A group of sculptures from the east pediment of the Parthenon, 438-432 BC. Photo Yann Caradec.
Cover image, the facade of the British Museum on Great Russell Street. Photo Neil Howard.
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copyright Inexhibit 2023 - ISSN: 2283-5474