The Ashmolean Museum
was designed by Sir Christopher Wren
and built in 1678
to house the collection of curiosities Elias Ashmole
gave Oxford University
-- the ones he had collected himself as well as those he had inherited from the travellers John Tradescant
, father and son. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens -- one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo
ever seen in Europe, but by 1755 it was so moth-eaten it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on June 6
After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the "Old Ashmolean" building was used until 1935 as office space for the Oxford English Dictionary
staff. It then became the "Museum of the History of Science" and was used to display the large collection of scientific instruments given to Oxford University by Lewis Evans, including the world's largest collection of astrolabes.
The present building dates from 1845. It was designed by Charles Cockerell in a Classical style and stands in Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylorian Institution, the modern languages faculty of the university. The main museum contains the original collections of Elias Ashmole and John Tradescant (father and son), as well as huge collections of archaeology specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernised in recent years and now includes a restaurant and large gift shop. The Sackler Library, opened in 2001, has allowed an expansion of the book collection, which comprises mainly works on the classics and ancient history.