The Ashmolean Museum (in full the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world’s first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmolegave 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.
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 theMuseum 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.
The present building dates from 1841–45. It was designed by Charles Cockerell 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. 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 ofArthur 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.
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.