From winter 2010, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK, will begin the redevelopment of its Egyptian galleries housed in Charles Cockerell’s Grade -1 listed Beaumont Street Building.
Leading the project will be the award-winning practice Rick Mather Architects, who designed the Museum’s new building. This next phase will complete the Ashmolean’s Ancient World Floor, comprising galleries that span the world’s great ancient civilisations – from Egypt and Nubia, Prehistoric Europe, the Ancient Near East, Classical Greece and Rome, to Early India, China and Japan.
With lead support from Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust, the new £5 million project will redesign and redisplay the four existing Egypt galleries, and create a fifth gallery in the space currently occupied by the Shop. It will address the problems of the old galleries which have crowded displays, poor lighting and limited environmental controls. The rooms will be linked with new doorways allowing the collections to be presented under broad themes which they so strongly represent: Egypt at its Origins; Dynastic Egypt and Nubia; Life and Death in Ancient Egypt; Egypt in the Age of Empire; and Egypt Meets Greece and Rome.
Beard Construction, who have successfully completed a number of small projects for the Museum in recent years, have won the contract to carry out the project’s building works, including the relocation of the Shop into a newly converted space next to the Café on the lower-ground floor. Starting in October 2010, the Egyptian galleries will begin to close to make way for the new displays and will be closed completely from 1 January 2011. The new galleries will open in winter 2011.
The Ashmolean is home to some of the finest Egyptian collections in the country, with Predynastic and Protodynastic material which ranks amongst the best in the world.
Collected over 300 years, the Ashmolean’s Egyptian holdings tell some of the most interesting stories of archaeological discovery, which have made Egyptology so popular and fascinating. Amongst the names associated with the Museum’s collections are the prolific nineteenth century traveller and collector GJ Chester; Arthur Evans who saw that the Ashmolean should receive a share of the excavations carried out in the 1890s; and WMF Petrie, the most famous of the early Egyptologists.
Over the years the museum has amassed iconic pieces such as Petrie’s excavation of the wallpainting of the Daughters of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, the complete free-standing Shrine of Taharqa discovered by Frank Griffith in 1930; and the fabulous limestone Min statues which date to 3300 BC. The Ashmolean’s Egyptian collections now number close to 40,000 artefacts.
The redevelopment of the Egypt galleries will build on the success of the first phase of transformation at the Ashmolean which addressed the most urgent challenges of the old museum, namely conservation, interpretation and accessibility. Housed in an extension designed by Rick Mather, the new Ashmolean was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen in December 2009 and has received both critical and public acclaim and a host of prestigious awards. Since it opened in November 2009 the museum has received more than one million visitors.