Britain’s First Museum: Ashmolean Museum @ashmoleanmuseum3December 30th, 2011Culture
Ashmolean Museum‘s history is as interesting as the items and artifacts it holds. It lays claim to Britain’s First Museum and was named after Elias Ashmole, an aficionado of antiquities who studied at the University of Oxford while posted to the military
The collection began modestly in the 1620s with a handful of portraits and curiosities displayed in a small room on the upper floor. In 1636 and 1657, Archbishop Laud and Ralph Freke added notable collections of coins and medals, later installed in a strong room of their own and now incorporated into the Ashmolean coin collection.
From there it grew and merged with other significant collections. In 2009 it reopened after a major redevelopment which transformed the museum to a top notch modern museum with something for every visitor.
Although it labels itself as an Art and Archaeology museum, there is much variety over the six floors including West Meets East, Asian Crossroads, Ancient World, Exploring the Past and Special Exhibitions. There is also a Restaurant but we did not eat there.
The exhibitions run smoothly with a natural progression that is seamless. While we weren’t there long enough for us to look into the many Kids trails available, there were plenty of kids that were taking part and having fun with them. We did take part in the activities that were spread throughout the galleries, including using a sword and shooting arrows. Looking on their information site, I was impressed with the breakdown of ages which were Families, Young People, Post 16, etc.
I’m not a huge fan of Asian works but was very impressed with the exhibitions and displays. You don’t have to be a student of Eastern work to appreciate the work and detail that is involved in the works shown.
One exhibition showed how a violin is created. The attention to detail is an example of the work the curators put it as it was great to look at in a glance, but if you wanted more information, it was there too.
The West Meets East gallery was very interesting as it seemed to be very eclectic in display but was actually really cleverly thought out. It was spread across Japan from 1600, to China from AD 80, England 400-1600 to Arts of the 18th Century! On paper, it shouldn’t have worked but you found yourself feeling the connection as each section ended and a new one began. We particularly liked the German and Flemish Art and the Arts of the Renaissance.
The museum is free and disabled access available on all floors something I made a note of as I was so impressed with the attention to detail with the access. The shop was nicely displayed with items ranging from inexpensive to too expensive. I would have liked to have seen more items for kids.
I visited when my daughter was pre-school age. I had a small backpack which I kept over one shoulder but I got fed up being told to remove my backpack. Even when my daughter was having a tantrum a member of staff came to tell me to take my bag off my back while it was only over one shoulder but as I’d picked up my daughter it had moved behind her. Not a child-friendly or welcoming place, in my opinion, and sady more like one of those educational endurance tests.