Inside East Bedfordshire Magazine - March 2021 - Magazine - Page 10
China and South Asia (Room 33). The Sir Joseph
Hotung Gallery. Prehistory - present.
Reopening after a major refurbishment, this
beautiful gallery explores the cultures of China
and South Asia through a range of magnificent
objects. One half of the gallery presents the
histories of China from 5000 BC to the present.
The British Museum was founded in 1753, the
first national public museum in the world. From
the beginning it granted free admission to all
‘studious and curious persons’. Visitor numbers
have grown from around 5,000 a year in the
eighteenth century to nearly 6 million today.
The origins of the British Museum lie in the will
of the physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans
Over his lifetime, Sloane collected more than 71,000
objects which he wanted to be preserved intact after
his death. So he bequeathed the whole collection to
King George II for the nation in return for a payment
of £20,000 to his heirs.
The gift was accepted and on 7 June 1753, an Act of
Parliament established the British Museum.
The founding collections largely consisted of books,
manuscripts and natural specimens with some
antiquities (including coins and medals, prints and
drawings) and ethnographic material.
In the early part of the nineteenth century there were
a number of high profile acquisitions. These included
the Rosetta Stone (1802), the Townley collection
of classical sculpture (1805), and the Parthenon
sculptures (1816). The Museum was involved in
much excavation abroad. Its Assyrian collections
formed the basis for the understanding of cuneiform
(an ancient Middle Eastern script). In the same way
the Rosetta Stone had resulted in the unlocking of
Egyptian hieroglyphic script (a symbol-based script).
The twentieth century saw a great expansion in
public services. The first summary guide to the
Museum was published in 1903 and the first guide
lecturer was appointed in 1911.
The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, built in the
space vacated by the library, reflects the most recent
public expansion at the Museum. At two acres, it is
the largest covered public space in Europe. In the
centre is the restored Reading Room, while around
and beneath it new galleries and an education centre
From iconic Ming dynasty blue-and-white
porcelain to delicate handscrolls, from
magnificent Tang dynasty tomb figurines to
modern works of art, the displays feature the
richness of art and material culture in China,
including painting, prints, jade, bronze, lacquer
The other half of the
gallery presents South
Asia’s many histories
by region, from early
human occupation to
seals from the Indus
south Indian sculptures
of Shiva and one of
the finest statues of the goddess Tara from Sri
Lanka. Sophisticated paintings and objects from
the courts of the Mughal emperors can be seen
alongside 20th century paintings, including by the
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Egyptian death and afterlife:
mummies (Rooms 62–63) The Roxie
Walker Galleries. About 2686 BC – AD
Death and the afterlife held particular
significance and meaning for the
ancient Egyptians. Complex funeral
preparations and rites were thought to be needed
to ensure the transition of the individual from
earthly existence to immortality.
Mummification, magic and ritual are investigated
through the objects on display in Rooms 62–63.
These include coffins, mummies, funerary masks,
portraits and other items designed to be buried
with the deceased. Modern research methods
such as x-rays and CT scans are used to examine
the mummification process
Sutton Hoo and Europe, AD
300–1100. Room 41. The Sir
Paul and Lady Ruddock
Gallery & Sutton Hoo and
The centuries AD 300–1100
witnessed great change in
Europe. The Roman Empire
broke down in the west, but continued as the
Byzantine Empire in the east. People, objects
and ideas travelled across the continent, while
Christianity and Islam emerged as major
religions. By 1100, the precursors of several
modern states had developed. Europe as
we know it today was taking shape. Room
41 gives an overview of the period and its
peoples. Its unparalleled collections range
from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea,
and from North Africa to Scandinavia.
The gallery’s centrepiece is the AngloSaxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk –
one of the most spectacular and important
discoveries in British archaeology.
I hope you give The British Museum a try,
and enjoy it as much as I do! - Robin