The Story of the British Museum, £8.99
Tom and Bob in search of the Antique, an anonymous cartoon
17 April AD 1822
The middle classes discover classical sculpture
In the early nineteenth century, two important collections of classical sculpture reached the British Museum and were put on display to the public. The 'Townley Marbles', sculptures collected (mostly in Italy) by Charles Townley, were purchased by the Museum after Townley's death in 1805. Sculptures from the Parthenon (the 'Elgin Marbles') were purchased by the Museum's Trustees in 1816. For the first time in England, major collections of sculptures from ancient Greece and Rome were accessible to those who had not travelled abroad or received a classical education.
This drawing pokes fun at a group of people who seem to be making their first visit to the British Museum. They have dressed in their finest clothes for the occasion, but they seem bewildered by what they are seeing. In fact, the elderly gentleman in the centre does not look at all impressed by the lecture he is receiving.
The sculptures in the drawing are not, however, exact copies of any sculptures which are actually in The British Museum. In 1822, when this cartoon was drawn, visitors were able to see the Parthenon sculptures in the temporary Elgin Room and the Townley Marbles in the Townley Galleries. All of these buildings were taken down before 1850.