One of the topmost locations and sought-after tourist destination in Inspector Morse walking tour, Ashmolean Museum is house to the University’s collection of art and archaeology. Founded in 1683, the museum is named when the collection of Elias Ashmole (a friend of the Tradescant family) of rarities most popularly known as Tradescant’s Ark was considered as one of the best of its type all across the world in the 17th century. The collection consists of the objects that he collected by himself and also that he acquired from travelers and gardeners such as geological specimen, weapons, antique coins, carvings, serpents, paintings, engravings, fowls, feathers, fishes, flora and various zoological specimens.
In 1659, John Tradescant made over the collection to Ashmole before his death by a deed of gift. But after that he regrets for it by stating that the collection should go either to the university of Oxford or Cambridge. The decision about which of the university must receive the collection as a gift was left up on Mrs. Tradescant while she lived. The collection was moved to the house of Ashmole upholding his claim and following an attempted burglary when Mrs. Tradescant was found selling off the objects of the collection against the wishes of his husband John Tradescant.
Elias Ashmole handed the collection and his various items to the Oxford University in 1677 by putting a condition that building must be established to display the items. Most of the collections were neglected for the 18th century in the first Ashmolean Museum that was in Broad Street. In the 19th century, collections of various items that are of same nature are included such as bequest of prints and drawings from Francis Douce, Bodleian Library, marbles from the Arundel collection, ancient marbles bequeathed by John Selden. First time opened in 1845, new neo-classical building of modern Ashmolean Museum in Beaumont Street was designed by Charles Robert Cockerell in classical style.
The items holding ethnographical significance were moved to the Pitt Rivers Museum and the collection of Tradescant remains in the University Museum. In 1899, old Ashmolean Museum was given the title of the Museum of History of Science and new wing was applied to the name Ashmolean Museum. The museum was expanded to cover five floors instead of three to the designs of architect Rick Mather and Metaphor exhibition Design Company between 2006 and 2009. $98.2 million rebuilding resulted with the doubling of public viewing area, new education center, conservation studio and roof-top restaurant. The renovated museum with the beautiful and modern interior was re-opened on 26 November 2011 and new galleries were displayed on 26 November 2011.
New Ashmolean Museum displays the fine art from the medieval period, modern days and archaeological collections from all the major ancient civilizations, collection of Egyptian pre-Dynastic sculpture and modern Chinese painting.