British Museum

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British Museum,

the national repository in London for treasures in science and art. Located in the Bloomsbury section of the city, it has departments of antiquities, prints and drawings, coins and medals, and ethnography. The museum was established by act of Parliament in 1753 when the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, begun in the previous century and called the Cabinet of Curiosities, was purchased by the government and was joined with the Cotton collection (see Cotton, Sir Robert BruceCotton, Sir Robert Bruce,
1571–1631, English antiquarian. The Cottonian collection of books, manuscripts, coins, and antiquities became a part of the British Museum when it was founded in 1753.
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) and the Harleian LibraryHarleian Library
, manuscript collection of more than 7,000 volumes and more than 14,000 original legal documents, formed by Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford, and his son Edward, 2d earl of Oxford.
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 (see also Harley, RobertHarley, Robert, 1st earl of Oxford,
1661–1724, English statesman and bibliophile. His career illustrates the power of personal connections and intrigue in the politics of his day.
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). In 1757 the royal library was given to the museum by George II.

The museum was opened in 1759 under its present name in Montague House, but the acquisition of the library of George III in 1823 necessitated larger quarters. The first wing of the new building was completed in 1829, the quadrangle in 1852, and the great domed Reading Room in 1857. Later, other additions were built. Long a part of the museum, the British LibraryBritish Library,
national library of Great Britain, located in London; one of the world's great libraries. Long a part of the British Museum, the library collection originated in 1753 when the government purchased the Harleian Library, which belonged to Sir Robert Bruce Cotton,
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 was established as a separate entity by act of Parliament in 1973 and moved to new London quarters in 1997. After the relocation of the library, the famous Reading Room underwent extensive renovations, including the opening (2000) of a surrounding glassed-in Great Court and the installation of a billowing transparent roof, both designed by Lord Norman FosterFoster, Norman Robert, Baron Foster of Thames Bank,
1935–, British architect, b. Manchester, grad. Manchester Univ. school of architecture (1961), Yale school of architecture (M.A., 1962).
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. The space houses a gallery and a restaurant, as well as two small theaters and an education center beneath the courtyard.

The museum's collection of prints and drawings is one of the finest in the world. The natural history collection was transferred (1881–83) to buildings in South Kensington and called the Natural History Museum. One of the major exhibits of the Egyptian department is the granitoid slab known as the Rosetta Stone (see under RosettaRosetta
, former name of Rashid
, city (1986 pop. 51,789), N Egypt, in the Nile River delta. The city once dominated the region's rice market; rice milling and fish processing are the main industries of modern Rashid. Founded in the 9th cent.
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). The Greek treasures include the Elgin MarblesElgin Marbles
, ancient sculptures taken from Athens to England in 1806 by Thomas Bruce, 7th earl of Elgin; other fragments exist in several European museums. Consisting of much of the surviving frieze and other sculptures from the Parthenon, a caryatid, and a column from the
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 and a caryatid from the Erechtheum. The museum's special collections include a vast number of clocks and timepieces, ivories, and the Sutton HooSutton Hoo
, archaeological site near Woodbridge, SE Suffolk, E England, containing 11 barrows. Excavations here in 1938–39 revealed remains of a Saxon ship (c.660), which with its gold and silver treasures is now in the British Museum.
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See J. M. Crook, The British Museum (1972); Treasures of the British Museum (1972); E. Miller, That Noble Cabinet (1974); D. Wilson, ed., The Collections of the British Museum (1989).

British Museum


in London, one of the world’s largest museums. It was founded in 1753 and opened in 1759 (the building was constructed from 1823 to 1847 by R. Smirke. and the reading hall from 1854 to 1857 by S. Smirke). The British Museum contains monuments of primitive art (mainly of the British Isles), of the cultures of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (including the Rosetta Stone, antiquities of the city of Ur, reliefs of the palaces of Ashurnasirpal II in Calah and Ashurbanipal in Nineveh), of ancient Greece and Rome (including sculptures from the Parthenon and the Halicarnassus mausoleum, collections of vases and stones), of European medieval art, and of Asia and Africa (including Arabic, Iranian and Far Eastern ceramics, Benin bronze). There are vast collections of engravings, drawings, ceramics, coins, and medals. The huge ethnographic collections of the British Museum contain monuments of the cultures of the people’s of Africa, America, Oceania, and others.

The British Museum’s library has more than 7 million printed books, some 105,000 manuscripts, 100,000 charters and letters, and more than 3,000 papyruses. K. Marx, F. Engels, and V. I. Lenin worked in the reading room of the library. The natural history departments have been constituted as a separate museum. The British Museum began publishing the British Museum Quarterly in 1926.


Art Treasures of the British Museum. London, 1957.
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