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Enlightenment (Room 1)
Art and civilisation
In 1824, Charles Townley’s famous collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, acquired on his Grand Tours in Italy, came to the British Museum. They joined the collections of prints and drawings, gems, coins, bronzes, vases and other classical antiquities that had come to the Museum from fellow connoisseurs such as Sir William Hamilton and Richard Payne Knight.
These men studied each other’s collections to learn about the ‘progress’ of art, from what they saw as its ‘primitive’ beginnings in early civilisations to what they considered to be the height of artistic achievement – the sculpture and architecture of classical Greece. This became the standard against which to measure all art and led, in eighteenth century Britain, to a classical revival in architecture and the decorative arts. Its influence can be seen here in Wedgwood’s pottery and in the Greek Revival style of the architecture of the room.