‘A History of the World’
British Museum celebrates success of public service partnership and looks to the future
On the occasion of the publication of the Annual Review of 2009/10, the British Museum will announce future exhibition plans for 2010/11 alongside a review of international success in the last year.
Review of 2009/10:
The British Museum remained the most popular cultural attraction in the UK for a third year running, receiving 5.7 million visitors in 2009/2010, almost 200,000 more than in the previous year. On one day alone the Museum welcomed over 31,500 visitors for the Day of the Dead fiesta on 1 November which was supported by BP.
Virtual visitors continue to grow with the first phase of the online database completed in the last year. Collections Online now offers the public access to 1.85 million objects with over 15 million people visiting this resource for general interest and research purposes.
Temporary exhibitions continue to draw visitors, with Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler, supported by ArcelorMittal which concluded the Great Rulers series, receiving over 210,000 visitors. The success of Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa, sponsored by Santander with additional support provided by the A.G. Leventis Foundation, which has received over 66,000 visitors so far, led to the exhibition being extended by a month to 4 July 2010. Free exhibitions are hugely popular and continue to offer visitors a chance to explore more focused subject matter and provide unique insight into the British Museum’s unrivalled collection. The Museum’s display focusing on the great age of Mexican printmaking Revolution on Paper: Mexican Prints 1910-1960 supported by the Monument Trust and the Mexico Tourism Board, was seen by over 187,798 visitors.
The start of 2010 saw the launch of A History of the World, a public service partnership between the British Museum and BBC to tell a story of humanity through manmade objects. At the project’s heart is the BBC Radio 4 series “A History of the World in 100 Objects” written and presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, which charts the diversity and changes in global, human history through objects in the British Museum’s unparalleled collection. “A History of the World in 100 Objects” has been one of the most popular programmes on BBC Radio 4 this year, with a weekly omnibus edition on the World Service attracting listeners from across the globe. To date over 5,456,000 people have downloaded the podcasts globally. In addition to the BBC Radio 4 programme the project has included an online resource, where other museums and members of the public can upload their own objects and associated stories to create an online museum; the CBBC television series “Relic” which broadcast 13 episodes; activities and further collaborations in the Nations and Regions between local BBC broadcast outlets and museum partners in their area. There are now over 450 partner museums involved in the project, 100 more since it launched.
A major redisplay of the gallery of Europe and the Mediterranean between AD 300 and 1100 (Gallery 41) has been made possible by a generous donation from Paul Ruddock, funder of the recently opened Paul and Jill Ruddock Medieval Gallery at the British Museum. The British Museum’s collection on this period are among the best in the world and reach from North Africa to Scandinavia and from the Atlantic to the Asian Steppes. The decant of the current displays will take place in summer 2011 and the new display will open in late 2013.
Sharing the collection continues to be a vital part of the Musuem's work. In 2009/10 the BM loaned 1973 objects nationally across the UK and through the International loans programme, the Museum lent 1160 objects to 105 venues outside the country, including da Vinci drawings to Atlanta, the Lewis Chessmen to five venues in Scotland and the Roman Discobolus statue to Istanbul to celebrate its season of European City of Culture.
In 2009/10, the touring exhibition China: Journey to the East, supported by BP, a CHINA NOW legacy project, featured the largest UK loan of Chinese material ever undertaken by the British Museum. With over 150 objects covering 3000 years, this exhibition has been seen by over 183, 000 visitors so far, enabling audiences across the UK to encounter Chinese history through real objects – from shadow puppets to picnic boxes. The exhibition has travelled to Bristol, Coventry, Basingstoke and Sunderland. Currently on display at York Art Gallery the tour will conclude at Manchester Museum later this year.
Neil MacGregor recording
A History of the World in 100 objects
Looking ahead to 2010/11:
The Museum will commence a new series of Reading Room exhibitions exploring Spiritual Journeys starting with the BP Special Exhibition, Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead which opens on 4 November.
The exhibition will focus on the British Museum’s unparalleled collection of Book of the Dead manuscripts on papyrus to present and explore ancient Egyptian beliefs about life after death. This exhibition will be the first opportunity to see so many examples displayed together and many never seen on public display before due to their fragile nature.
The series will continue in 2011 with Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe and conclude at the start of 2012 with The Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam.
Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World will be a unique opportunity to see an exceptional collection of precious objects lent from National Museum in Kabul and which show how ancient Afghanistan was at the heart of cross-cultural connections. Each object tells a story of how the inhabitants traded with or were influenced by the fashions of their ancient neighbours. This exhibition will be in Room 35.
Additional information on forthcoming temporary exhibitions:
Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead
The BP Special Exhibition
4 November 2010 – 6 March 2011
The British Museum’s major autumn exhibition, supported by BP, will present and explore ancient Egyptian beliefs about life after death. Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead will showcase the rich textual and visual material from the British Museum’s unparalleled collection of Book of the Dead papyri. The ‘Book’, used for over 1500 years between c. 1600 BC and 100 AD, is not a single text, but a compilation of spells thought to equip the dead with knowledge and power which would guide them safely through the dangers of the hereafter and ultimately ensure eternal life. The British Museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of Book of the Dead manuscripts on papyrus in the world, and this exhibition will be the first opportunity to see so many examples displayed together.
Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World
3 March – 3 July 2011
This exhibition is a unique opportunity to see an exceptional collection of over 200 objects on loan from the recently rebuilt National Museum in Kabul and which show how ancient Afghanistan was at the heart of cross-cultural connections. It revolves around precious objects drawn from some of the most important sites in the country. Each tells a story of how the inhabitants traded with or were influenced by the fashions of their ancient neighbours. The core of the exhibition draws on excavated finds from the Greek frontier city of Ai Khanum on the Oxus which had been founded in the third century BC by a successor of Alexander the Great, some of the contents of a sealed strongroom from a first century capital of a local Kushan ruler, and gold ornaments from nomad graves at Tillya-tepe. Together they illustrate some of the tensions between settled and nomadic communities, and the fragility of cultural heritage.
Treasures of Heaven: saints, relics and devotion in medieval Europe
23 June – 9 October 2011
This major travelling exhibition will bring together for the first time some of the finest surviving sacred treasures of the medieval age. Drawing on the pre-eminent collections of the British Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio and the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore as well as European church treasuries, including the Vatican’s Sancta Sanctorum, the exhibition will explore the centrality of relic veneration in medieval religious devotion. The relics of Christ and the saints – objects associated with them, such as body parts or possessions – were valued from the earliest Christian times as a bridge between heaven and earth. They were accordingly set into lavishly ornate containers of silver and gold studded with precious stones. The extremely opulent materials that enshrined the relics were considered to have spiritual and symbolic value and were understood by medieval audiences as a reflection of the sacred matter within. Treasures of Heaven will document the development of these astonishing objects from the 4th century AD to the turbulent years of the Reformation and beyond.
The Hajj: journey to the heart of Islam
26 January – 15 April 2012
The first major exhibition on the Hajj bringing together a wealth of objects from a number of different collections including important historic pieces from Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well as new contemporary art works. The show will include treasures which are rarely on public display and have never been seen in Europe.
As the pilgrimage to Makkah, the Hajj is one of the five pillars of the faith of Islam and draws millions of pilgrims annually from across the world. The show will focus on the Muslim’s sacred duty to travel to the heartland of Islam where the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation in the early 7th century. The exhibition will contain objects from across time and place reflecting personal stories and the many cultures brought together by the Hajj including artefacts, fabrics, literature and works by contemporary artists. This exhibition will be the third in the British Museum’s new series on Spiritual Journey’s following the success of the Great Rulers series.