Enlightening the British: Knowledge, discovery and the museum in the eighteenth century (None)

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9780714150109: Enlightening the British: Knowledge, discovery and the museum in the eighteenth century (None)
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The British Museum was born into a world of intellectual turbulence and intensive enquiry - the Age of Enlightenment. Established in 1753 by Act of Parliament as the first national museum of its kind in the world, it naturally reflected contemporary cultural enterprise throughout Europe and further afield. Exploration around the globe had already produced a vast range of new discoveries: collections had sprung up in which scholars attempted to comprehend and to categorize these materials, leading to the production of a stream of scientific treatises, catalogues and encyclopaedias. With the aim of setting the founding of the British Museum in context, this volume presents twenty-two essays by leading scholars. The Museum itself arose out of the activities of Sir Hans Sloane, whose private museum already encapsulated several earlier collections reaching back into the late seventeenth century. Sloane rose to become President of the Royal Society, a body that had already created its own collection of natural specimens, scientific instruments, etc. In its first half-century the British Museum was dominated by the influence of Sir Joseph Banks, who had accompanied Captain Cook on his voyages along with Daniel Solander, a former pupil of Linnaeus and an early recruit to the curatorial staff of the Museum. Banks and Solander respectively enhanced the collections with enormous numbers of specimens from the South Seas and introduced the principles of Linnaean taxonomy. At home in Great Britain the past was being explored and debated by the literati of the age, while the tenets of classical design exerted a profound influence on architecture, painting, sculpture and the decorative arts. The British Museum began to develop its collections of antiquarian material from the ancient world, a process that received a significant boost with the defeat of Napoleon in Egypt and the consequent diversion to Bloomsbury of many important objects originally bound for the Musee du Louvre. There is much in this volume that will throw new light on this, one of the greatest museums of the world, and show its intimate interconnection with contemporary scholarship, artistic endeavour and polite learning.

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About the Author:

Robert Anderson was Director of the British Museum from 1992 to 2002. Marjorie Caygill joined the British Museum in 1973 and has published a number of books and articles on its history and collections. Arthur MacGregor is a Senior Assistant Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and a former Director of the Society of Antiquaries. Luke Syson is Curator of Italian Painting 1460u1500 at The National Gallery.

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