British Museum Department of Asia


British Museum Department of Asia

The Department of Asia in the British Museum is one of the largest collections of historical artifacts from Asia, consisting of over 70,000 objects covering the material culture of the Asian continent (including East Asia, South and Central Asia, and Southeast Asia), and dating from the Neolithic age up to the present. [cite web|url=http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/departments/asia.aspx|title=British Museum - Asia|accessdate=2008-01-20] (The collection formerly included objects from the Islamic world, but these have recently been merged with the Department of the Ancient Near East to form the Department of the Middle East.)

History of the Department

The department's collection began with a donation from Sir Hans Sloane, which contained a small number of objects from the Asian continent, including a collection of Japanese material acquired from the family of the German traveller and physician Engelbert Kaempfer (who had led an expedition to Japan). Only a few objects were acquired from Asia between 1753 and the 1820s, but the collection expanded in the early 19th century to become one of the world's largest. This was mainly through a donation of a number of South Asian artifacts, such as the gilded bronze figure of Tara from Sri Lanka in 1830, the Bridge Collection of East and Central Indian sculpture in 1872, and the Amaravati Collection in 1880. The collection of Asian material continued during the tenure of Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks as Keeper of the Department of Antiquities from 1866 to 1896, and in 1921 the Sub-Department of Oriental Antiquities was established. In 1933, the Asian collections of the Prints and Drawings Sub-Department were united with the Department of Oriental Antiquities, forming one of the most significant collections of art and antiquities of Asia in the northern hemisphere. In 2003, the Department of Oriental Antiquities and the Department of Japanese Antiquities merged to become the current Department of Asia. [cite web|url=http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/departments/asia/history_of_the_collection.aspx|title=British Museum - History of the collection|accessdate=2008-01-20]

Highlights of the collection

Highlights include:
* The most comprehensive collection of sculpture from the Indian subcontinent in the world, including the celebrated Buddhist limestone reliefs from Amaravati. [ [http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/explore/galleries/asia/room_33a_amaravati.aspx British Museum - Room 33a: Amaravati] ]
* An outstanding collection of Chinese antiquities, paintings, porcelain, lacquer, bronze, jade, and other applied arts.
* A fine collection of Buddhist paintings from Dunhuang, and the Admonitions Scroll by Gu Kaizhi.
* A broad range of Islamic pottery, paintings, tiles, metalwork, glass, seals, and inscriptions.
* The most comprehensive collection of pre-20th century Japanese decorative arts in the Western world.

The layout and collections of the department

Most of the Department of Asia is located in the northern section of the museum. It is split into several rooms and four main geographic areas:

* The China, South and South East Asia section is located in rooms 33 and 33a on the ground floor.
* The Islam section is located in room 34 on the ground floor.
* The Japan section is located in rooms 92, 93 and 94 on the upper floor.
* The Korea section is located in rooms 67 and 67a on the upper floor.

China, South and South East Asia collection (including India)

The China collection is one of the largest collections of Chinese historical artifacts in the Western world. It focuses on porcelain, paintings, scripts and basic tools, with items ranging in date from the Neolithic era to the 20th century. One of the most important items is a collection of rare Buddhist paintings from Dunhuang. China was one of the first countries to use coins, and the museum also has a large collection of Chinese coins (housed in the Department of Coins and Medals).

Objects in the Indian collections of the Department date from some of the earliest civilisations in the Indus valley, about 7000 years ago. As well as ancient artifacts, the Indian collections include excellent examples of pottery, art (including many rare Mughal paintings), traditional scriptwork, and a large display of sculpture, including carvings from the Great Stupa at Amaravati. India is also represented in the money collections, with a large number of coins dating back to the 4th century BC.

Islam collection

The John Addis gallery (room 34) houses the museum's collection of Islamic art. This includes objects from the earliest centuries of Islam to the 20th century, and geographically from Egypt to Spain to India. The gallery's arrangement is mainly chronological, with western Islam — Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Turkey — on the left of the descending staircase, and eastern Islam — Iran, Afghanistan and India — on the right. At the end of the gallery are cases on Islamic Spain, science, arms and armour, coinage and a changing exhibition of contemporary graphics. The British Museum is actively collecting 20th century material from the Islamic world, including calligraphy, popular religious prints, political posters, studio pottery and a rare 11th century Qu'ran.

Japan collection

The Japanese section of the Asian department holds one of the most comprehensive collections of Japanese material culture in Europe. The Japanese galleries, Rooms 92–94 (the Konica-Minolta, Main and Urasenke galleries), were opened on 6 April 1990 [ [http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/departments/asia/galleries.aspx British Museum - Asia galleries] ] , and include prints, printed books, paintings, ceramics, swords, decorative arts, and early archaeological material. Part of the collection includes a tea house, sponsored and built by the Urasenke Foundation, which exhibits both modern tea utensils and historic tea ceremony wares.

Korea collection

The Korea Foundation Gallery houses the museum's collection of Korean art and archaeology, widely regarded as the finest in EuropeWho?. Objects from pre-history to the present day include stone sculpture, paintings, printed books, screens and folk art, as well as ceramics, lacquerware, gold and bronze. Highlights of the exhibition include a reconstruction of a traditional Korean sarangbang (a study in a Korean home) and fine examples of 15th century Korean script.

References

External links

* [http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/departments/asia.aspx The Asia Department Home Page]
* [http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/galleries/middle_east/room_34_the_islamic_world.aspx British Museum - Room 34: The Islamic world] "(Strictly no longer part of the Department of Asia)"
* [http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/galleries/asia/room_67_korea.aspx British Museum - Room 67: Korea]
* [http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/galleries/asia/rooms_92-94_japan.aspx British Museum - Rooms 92-94: Japan]


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