THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: JANUARY 15, 1759

The British Museum Opens

british-museumThe British Museum, in London, comprehensive national museum with particularly outstanding holdings in archaeology and ethnography. It is located in the Bloomsbury district of the borough of Camden.

Established by act of Parliament in 1753, the museum was originally based on three collections: those of Sir Hans Sloane; Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford; and Sir Robert Cotton. The collections — which also included a significant number of manuscripts and other library materials — were housed in Montagu House, Great Russell Street, and were opened to the public in 1759. The museum’s present building, designed in the Greek Revival style by Sir Robert Smirke, was built on the site of Montagu House in the period 1823–52 and has been the subject of several subsequent additions and alterations. Its famous round Reading Room was built in the 1850s; beneath its copper dome laboured such scholars as Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf, Peter Kropotkin, and Thomas Carlyle. In 1881 the original natural history collections were transferred to a new building in South Kensington to form the Natural History Museum, and in 1973 the British Museum’s library was joined by an act of Parliament with a number of other holdings to create the British Library. About half the national li- brary’s holdings were kept at the museum until a new library building was opened at St. Pancras in 1997.

After the books were removed, the interior of the Reading Room was repaired and restored to its original appearance. In addition, the Great Court (designed by Sir Norman Foster), a glass-roofed structure surrounding the Reading Room, was built. The Great Court and the refurbished Reading Room opened to the public in 2000. Also restored in time for the 250th anniversary of the mu- seum’s establishment was the King’s Library (1823–27), the first section of the newly constituted British Museum to have been constructed. It now houses a permanent exhibition on the Age of Enlightenment.

Among the British Museum’s most famous holdings are the Elgin Marbles, consisting mainly of ar- chitectural details from the Parthenon at Athens; other Greek sculptures from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus; the Rosetta Stone, which provided the key to reading ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs; the Black Obelisk and other Assyrian relics from the palace and temples at Calah (modern Nimrūd) and Nineveh; exquisite gold, silver, and shell work from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur; the so-called Portland Vase, a 1st-century-CE cameo glass vessel found near Rome; treasure from the 7th-century-CE ship burial found at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk; and Chinese ceramics from the Ming and other dynasties.

“British Museum.” Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2015. Web. http://library.eb.com/levels/ high/article/16526


Learn more about these and other treasures at the museum »

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s