British Museum

a national depository and museum in London, England, housing important collections in archaeology, art, and natural history.

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Britain's national museum of archaeology and antiquities, established in London in 1753 when the government purchased three large private collections consisting of books, manuscripts, prints, drawings, paintings, medals, coins, seals, cameos, and natural curiosities.

In 1881 the natural-history collections were transferred to another building to form the Natural History Museum, and in 1973 the library collections were consolidated to form the British Library. Among the museum's most famous holdings are the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the Portland Vase, and Chinese ceramics. In 1808 the department of prints and drawings opened with over 2,000 drawings. It is now one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections.

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 in London, comprehensive national museum with particularly outstanding holdings in archaeology and ethnography. It is located in the Bloomsbury district of the borough of Camden.

 Established by act of Parliament in 1753, the museum was originally based on three collections: those of Sir Hans Sloane (Sloane, Sir Hans, Baronet); Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford (Oxford, Robert Harley, 1st Earl of, Earl Mortimer, Baron Harley of Wigmore); and Sir Robert Cotton (Cotton, Sir Robert Bruce, 1st Baronet). The collections (which also included a significant number of manuscripts and other library materials) were housed in Montagu House, Great Russell Street, and were opened to the public in 1759. The museum's present building, designed in the Greek Revival style by Sir Robert Smirke, was built on the site of Montagu House in the period 1823–52 and has been the subject of several subsequent additions and alterations. Its famous round Reading Room was built in the 1850s; beneath its copper dome laboured such scholars as Karl Marx (Marx, Karl), Virginia Woolf (Woolf, Virginia), Peter Kropotkin (Kropotkin, Peter Alekseyevich), and Thomas Carlyle (Carlyle, Thomas). In 1881 the original natural history collections were transferred to a new building in South Kensington to form the Natural History Museum, and in 1973 the British Museum's library was joined by an act of Parliament with a number of other holdings to create the British Library. About half the national library's holdings were kept at the museum until a new library building was opened at St. Pancras in 1997.

      After the books were removed, the interior of the Reading Room was repaired and restored to its original appearance. In addition, the Great Court (designed by Sir Norman Foster (Foster, Lord Norman)), a glass-roofed structure surrounding the Reading Room, was built. The Great Court and the refurbished Reading Room opened to the public in 2000. Also restored in time for the 250th anniversary of the museum's establishment was the King's Library (1823–27), the first section of the newly constituted British Museum to have been constructed. It now houses a permanent exhibition on the Age of Enlightenment (Enlightenment).

 Among the British Museum's most famous holdings are the Elgin Marbles, consisting mainly of architectural details from the Parthenon at Athens; other Greek sculptures from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Halicarnassus, Mausoleum of) and from the Temple of Artemis (Artemis, Temple of) at Ephesus; the Rosetta Stone, which provided the key to reading ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs; the Black Obelisk and other Assyrian relics from the palace and temples at Calah (modern Nimrūd) (Calah) and Nineveh; exquisite gold, silver, and shell work from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur; the so-called Portland Vase, a 1st-century-AD cameo glass vessel found near Rome; treasure from the 7th-century-AD ship burial found at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk; and Chinese ceramics from the Ming (Ming dynasty) and other dynasties.

      See also from Encyclopædia Britannica's 2nd edition (1777–84), which includes a partial list of the institute's holdings in the late 18th century.

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Universalium. 2010.

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