The Ashmolean is owned by the University of Oxford and celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1983. It is undoubtedly one of the finest museums in the country. The nucleus of the original collection (the first of its kind in Britain) was the Cabinet of Rarities of John Tradescant, which was inherited by Elias Ashmole and donated to the University on condition that they provided somewhere suitable to house the exhibits. The University accordingly constructed the Old Ashmolean on Broad Street. This building, sometimes ascribed to Sir Christopher Wren, is now The Museum of the History of Science.
The present Ashmolean Museum building was completed in 1845. Its collections of Greek, Egyptian and Oriental antiquities are particularly extensive and there are many fine paintings in the galleries. Particular curiosities which may be of interest are the Alfred Jewel (enamel under rock crystal in a gold setting and inscribed "Alfred had me made") and the lantern used by Guy Fawkes under the Palace of Westminster.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. Wheelchair friendly. Next events at Ashmolean Museum
Chinese Landscapes from the Ashmolean Collection Thu 23 May: Free
Exotic Objects Thu 23 May
Reitlinger - collection of ceramics Thu 23 May: 5 - 5.45pm
The History of English Coinage Thu 23 May: 1.15 - 2pm
Passion, pomp & piety: the colour red Fri 24 May: 1.15 - 2pm
The Art of Still Life Fri 24 May: 2 - 4pm
Master Drawings Sat 25 May: £5 (£4)
Hands-On Coins Sat 25 May
Saturday Highlights Tour Sat 25 May
Gorgeous and golden - early Italian art Tue 28 May: 1.15 - 2pm
Love Lyrics And Love Letters Wed 29 May: 1pm-2pm
Indian Textiles Wed 29 May: 10.30am - 4pm
The Grand Tour Wed 29 May: 1.15 - 2pm
Master Drawings: Introduction to the Exhibition Thu 30 May: 3 - 3.45pm
People at work (Western art) Thu 30 May: 1.15 - 2pm
LiveFriday Fri 31 May: 7.00-10.30pm, free
Wilderness in the City Fri 31 May: 7 - 10.30pm
A little bit different Fri 31 May: 1.15 - 2pm
Anglo-Saxon Jewellery Sat 1 Jun: 10.30am - 4pm
The Invention of Drawing Sat 1 Jun: 11am - 12pm
Digital Photography Classes Tue 4 Jun: 6.30-8.30pm
Early English Porcelain Tue 4 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
OSJ Proms Wed 5 Jun: 7pm. £10-£25
History of gardens Wed 5 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
The Anglo-Saxons Thu 6 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Ivon Hitchens and Modern Painting Fri 7 Jun: 10.30am - 4pm
Grand Masterpieces Sat 8 Jun: 1 - 4pm
Gilgamesh Rising Sat 8 Jun: 3.00pm-3.30pm and 4.30pm-5.00pm
ClayLive: Sutton Taylor Sun 9 Jun: 10.30am - 4pm
The Slade School Phenomenon Tue 11 Jun: 2 - 3.30pm
Was Sickert ever an Impressionist? Wed 12 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Stradivarius Thu 13 Jun: £6 (£4)
Watches: Jewel or Machine? Thu 13 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Introduction to the ancient Near East Fri 14 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Textile Conservation in Eastern Art Collections Fri 14 Jun
Bernini: Art and Theatre Sat 15 Jun: 11am - 12pm
Painting watercolours of the natural world Sat 15 Jun: 10.30am - 4pm
Sunday Lunchtime Concerts: 'A step back in time' Sun 16 Jun: 12 - 1pm
Highlights of Western art Tue 18 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Stradivarius: Curator-led tour Tue 18 Jun: 11am - 12pm
Introduction to the Renaissance Wed 19 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
The Art of Violin Making Thu 20 Jun: 2 - 4pm
The building of Rick Mather's Ashmolean Thu 20 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
In conversation: Cornelia Parker and Iwona Blazwick Fri 21 Jun: 2 - 3.30pm
The Colour Blue Fri 21 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Playing Strad - Copying Stradivarius Sat 22 Jun: 11am - 12pm
Saints and their Worlds Tue 25 Jun: 10.30am - 3.30pm
Stories behind pictures Tue 25 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
The might of the Assyrian Empire Thu 27 Jun: 5 - 5.45pm
Come draw with me! Fri 28 Jun: 7 - 10.30pm
Sickert and the Camden Town Group Fri 28 Jun: 1.15 - 2pm
Painting Portraits Sat 29 Jun: 10.30am - 4pm
OSJ Proms at the Ashmolean Tue 2 Jul: 7.30pm - 9.30pm
Dinner at the Ashmolean Sat 19 Oct: 6.30pm-12pm
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Museum itself had various types of art collections that were quite entertaining. However, the service from the dining hall was bad - most of servers were not paying any attention to customers. We got our tea after a long delay, but the scones not until much later. We ended up drinking cold tea with rather dry scones! It took a long time to pay our bill as well.
Oxonian (Unverified), 29/05/11
It's very exciting to be allowed back into the Ashmolean at last. For nearly a year the building has been heavily veiled in builder's fabrics and cluttered with cranes. Was it worth it? Have they managed the tricky balancing act of making the museum more accessible without losing its erudite charm?
I think they have. I was hugely relieved to see the graceful pillars in the main foyer (the ones through which one used to reach China) still intact. And I was stunned by the light and space, sheet glass and general shininess of Rick Mather's new bit. There are now lots of unexpected glassed-in viewpoints where you can catch sight of your friends in other galleries on the far side of stairwells - rather fun. They've taken advantage of the space to present lots of extra displays - in fact they've got twice as much of their vast collections on show than ever before.
There's been a chance to reorganise some of the familiar collections, too. Western Art is now divided more logically into a sequence of phases - Pre-Raphaelites, Dutch & Flemish, 20th century etc. My favourite landscape paintings by William Inchbold now hang together rather than being isolated in separate rooms, so I've finally had the pleasure of comparing them directly.
Some of the rearrangements provide particular satisfaction to the staff. A new room of musical instruments is hung with precious tapestries (remember the tapir? And a fruit-hung garden with musicians and a peacock). As Timothy Wilson, the curator of Western Art explains "Not only do they benefit from the same conditions of temperature and air and light, but traditionally a music room would have been lined with tapestries to improve the acoustics". A happy thought, to reunite the two.
I noticed greater detail in labelling, providing not only more detail on individual items but more extensive explanations of displays as a whole. Next to the gigantic stone coin (a foot in diameter) from the Micronesian island of Yap, is a photographic montage explaining how our money is made today at the Royal Mint.
This is typical of the museum's new display strategy: Crossing Cultures, Crossing Times, using comparisons of objects to "trace the journey of ideas and influences through the centuries and across continents." One of the treasured memories of my anthropology degree was wandering around the Ashmolean with the late Andrew Sherratt, an enthusiastic and inspiring guide whose particular passion was the development of such cultural journeys. It's good to see the general application of this approach.
One of the glossiest new features is the restaurant on the top floor. The café, traditionalists will be pleased to hear, is still in the crypt, but there's now a gleaming restaurant with a splendid outdoor seating area at the very top of the museum. There's also an education centre and a brand new temporary exhibition space. And a lift (I hope they do something about the rather intrusive ping it makes on arrival though).
At the preview there were still some missing labels and even a few empty cases - staff have been working flat out to finish things off, and hopefully it'll all be complete in time for the public opening on the 7th November. But the design of the displays is very satisfying - everything's laid out with care and thought for the needs of each particular piece, and some lovely touches of humour.
For those who know it well, it's a little strange walking between the old and new buildings. But the new galleries have not been added insensitively and the set piece architecture is a lot of fun. It's fabulous to have access again to these exquisite treasures. The frog purse; the Alfred jewel; kettles, vases and screens covered in animals from dragons to mice; Roman, Greek and Egyptian scuplture; Chinese robes; the tiny jewel-like array of seals from Crete... The face-lifted Ashmolean is a world-class museum in the heart of our city, an amazing place to visit - and it's still absolutely free!
Images: The main stairwell
A glorious display of Greek vases
Looking through the glass walls, you can spot friends in other galleries
An extraordinary coin, over a foot in diameter, from the Island of Yap
Miranda Rose (DI Staff), 03/11/09
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