The world’s first public museum maintains a wonderful scope and range of exhibits within its warrens of gorgeous Regency architecture on Oxford’s Beaumont Street. The Ashmolean’s pedigree makes it a must-visit for any museum fan and its roots as a private collection are apparent in its diversity and depth, making for a slightly discombobulating experience.
You can recuperate in the caverns of the redbrick basement cafe which serves outrageously small scones and a lovely selection of local juices and beers, or you can make the ascent to the open air top floor restaurant which has a pricey menu and is disappointingly enclosed which limits views out across the city.
My favourite bits:
- The iron band used to detain Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, one of Henry VIII’s closest advisors and a Reformation figurehead, when he was imprisoned in Oxford (pictured).
- A 13th century ‘puzzle jug’ (pictured), a pub game where you had to get your ale by carefully twisting and pouring without it coming out of the hidden orifices.
- Wucius Wong’s Autumn Feelings, an elegant and abstract piece of calligraphic art.
- A large 17th century tapestry of unknown European origin, depicting A Musical Party in extraordinary detail (pictured).
- John Rose’s gorgeously carpentered viol, made in the 17th century, with a delicate woman’s head atop the pegbox (pictured).
- A 15th century Italian chessboard carved from bone, wood and horn (pictured). The first of MANY chessboards to feature on this blog, I assure you!
- The porcelain gallery, a kaleidoscopic experience created with the use of glass casing throughout to create a dizzying maze of colourful plates, bowls, jugs and trinkets (pictured).
- A trio of windows into real life in the Netherlands in the 17th century, David Tenier the Younger’s A Distillery with an Elderly Man Buying Gin and The Foot Doctor and Cornelis Bega’s The Blind Fiddler with the nigh-on photographic detail and use of light that I adore (pictured).
Exhibits: 9/10. A true treasure trove which justifies its pedigree.
Environment: 7/10. Beautiful architecture but rooftop’s a bit of a shame.
Refreshments: 7/10. Pricey but nice to have genuinely local produce available.
Cost & Location: 10/10. Free entry and slap-bang in the city centre.
Overall Score: 8/10.