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The Ashmolean Museum (in full the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology) on Beaumont Streetmarker, Oxfordmarker, Englandmarker, is the world's first university museum. Its first building was built in 1678–1683 to house the cabinet of curiosities Elias Ashmole gave Oxford Universitymarker in 1677.


The works include that of Elias Ashmole, which he had collected himself as well as those he had acquired from the gardeners, travellers and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son of the same name. 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 it was so moth-eaten 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 Ashmoleanmarker, is sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren and Dr. R. T. Gunther.

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 staff. Since 1935, 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 (1853–1930), amongst them the world's largest collection of astrolabes.

The present building dates from 1845. 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 Institutionmarker, the modern languages faculty of the university. The main museum contains the original collections of Elias Ashmole and John Tradescant (father and son), as well as huge collections of archaeology 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 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.


On 31 December 1999 (New Year's Eve), thieves used scaffolding on an adjoining building to climb onto the roof of the Ashmolean to break through a skylight, stealing a painting by Cézanne. As the thieves ignored other works in the same room and it has not been offered for sale, it is speculated that this was a case of an artwork stolen to order.


The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernised in recent years and now includes a restaurant and large gift shop. The Sackler Librarymarker, 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.

Between 2006 and 2009, the museum was extensively rebuilt and expanded to the designs of architect Rick Mather and the exhibition design company Metaphor, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The 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. The renovated museum re-opened on 7 November 2009.


Highlights of the Ashmolean's collection include:

Keepers and Directors

Keeper From To
Robert Plot 1683 1691
Edward Lhuyd 1691 1709
David Parry 1709 1714
John Whiteside 1714 1729
George Huddersford 1732 1755
William Huddersford 1755 1772
John Shute Duncan 1823 1829
Philip Duncan 1829
John Henry Parker 1869
Sir Arthur Evans 1884 1908
David George Hogarth 1909 1927
Edward Thurlow Leeds 1928 1945
Sir Karl Parker 1945 1962
Robert W. Hamilton 1962 1973

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

  • D. T. (later Sir David) Piper (1973 - 1985)
  • Professor Sir Christopher White (1985 - 1997)
  • Dr P.R.S. Moorey (Acting Director) (1997 - 1998)
  • Dr Christopher Brown (1998 - )

In popular culture

  • The Alfred Jewel was the inspiration for the Inspector Morse episode "The Wolvercotemarker Tongue", in which the museum's interior was used as a set. The Ashmolean also figures prominently in several episodes of the successor series Lewis.


  1. H. E. Salter and Mary D. Lobel (editors) Victoria County History A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3 1954 Pages 47-49
  2. Ashmolean Annual Report 1997-1998 Oxford University Gazette (9 December 1998)

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