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The British Museum
How to use this search
Names of people or organisations related in various ways to the objects: producer names (artists, makers, manufacturers, publishers, printers, etc.), acquisition names (donors, previous owners, funding bodies, etc.), associated names (people or deities portrayed or represented, authors of works, illustrated or otherwise referenced, etc.); authorities (rulers and others authorising the issue of coins, banknotes or tokens). It includes historical, mythological and religious names. Names can be searched for under variants, such as alternative titles, spellings and pseudonyms.
Includes place names in several contexts: place of production, findspot or place of excavation and associations such as topography (views of places), emblems, etc. This thesaurus includes places over time, many of which no longer exist, or which have changed their names, or boundaries, so many archaic place names are also included. In some cases, these are place terms in their own right linked to their modern equivalents as Broad terms or Narrow terms, in other cases, they are recorded as non-preferred terms - they can be searched for but only found in relation to their modern equivalent. Please note: Place of Production is often not known for Western prints and drawings. See also School/style below.
This field covers all the names of the types of objects in the collection, including many local or indigenous terms. Definitions of terms vary according to culture or curatorial practice, for example, watercolours are regarded as drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings, but as paintings in some other parts of the collection.
This covers subjects depicted on objects, or in the case of certain types of three-dimensional objects, notably figures, conveyed by the shape. It includes conceptual terms as well as those reflecting people and nature, and is generally used for higher level terms such as 'architecture' or 'fish', for example. For more specific terms use a basic search. Please note: named people and places should be searched for under People and organisations and Places. Named events or titles of works related to objects as subjects should be searched for in the basic search.
This covers specific historical periods and dynasties such as 'Qing dynasty' or 'Abbasid dynasty', as well as terms referring to broader periods or cultures such as 'Early Medieval' or 'Mesopotamian'.
This covers the techniques employed to make an object, such as 'carved', 'glazed', or 'woodcut'. Depending on scholarly convention, the terms 'drawn' and 'painted' have been used interchangeably for two-dimensional art. The Department of Prints and Drawings does not use the term 'painted', whereas some departments do use this term. Unlike prints, which have a variety of specific techniques recorded, the methods of drawing do not lend themselves to categorising in this way, and so drawings have only been entered under the term 'drawn', paintings under the term 'painted'. Terms for media, such as 'graphite' or 'pencil', 'watercolour' or 'chalk' can only be found through a basic search. Certain techniques have not been recorded as they are assumed for certain categories of objects: the most obvious examples are 'struck' for coins, 'cast' for bronzes, and 'carved' for many forms of sculpture.
This refers to an art-historical stylistic affiliation rather than any geographical or chronological origin. Eastern schools and styles are categorised traditionally according to the artistic style in which the works are made, for example, 'Persian' or 'South and South East Asian'. For Western art, the schools recorded here are usually those of the modern states: 'Italian', 'French', 'German', 'British' and so on. 'British' is not sub-divided into 'English', 'Scottish', 'Welsh', or 'Irish' (though since Irish independence artists are categorised as Irish). 'Netherlandish' becomes 'Dutch' or 'Flemish' in the late sixteenth century. For works dated since 1830 'Belgian' becomes a school. Italian artists (uniquely) are sub-divided into Venetian, Florentine and so on.
This covers the materials from which an object is made. It includes broader terms such as 'wood' or 'stone', as well as more specific terms such as 'oak', 'apple wood', 'granite' or 'marble'. It also records secondary materials, so searching, e.g. for ‘gold’ will retrieve records for gilded objects as well as those made of gold. For graphic art, this includes the material of the support on which the pigment is placed. In most cases this will be 'paper' (different types of paper have not been distinguished), but it can also be 'silk', 'bark', 'vellum', 'linen', etc. It does not cover drawing, painting or printing pigments.
This covers the names of peoples or tribes, or ethnic or language groups.
This covers the type of ceramics used to make an object, such as 'Arita ware' or 'Agano ware'.
This is the name given to the part of a clock or watch that controls the rate at which it functions. This rate is determined by the timekeeping element (the controlling device), usually a swinging pendulum or an oscillating balance. Whilst the controller locks and unlocks the escapement, the latter gives impulse to the former to keep it swinging or oscillating.
Many objects are referred to by using references to standard catalogues. Many of these have been published by the British Museum. Others, especially Western prints, are referred to by standard catalogues of the prints of a single printmaker (e.g. Bromberg on Sickert), or catalogues that cover a large number of printmakers (e.g. Bartsch and Hollstein).
Precise references in a publication. For example, one of the most commonly used print catalogues - by Adam Bartsch - should be entered as Bartsch, and then the citation number added in the form XIV.168.207. Wild cards (*) are strongly recommended for this field to capture sub-numbers or, in the case of print catalogues, states which are indicated by Roman numerals, e.g. to find 77.IV, enter 77*.
The most common type of Museum number begins with the year of acquisition. The database standardises these numbers in the form, for example: 1887,0708.2427 (year: comma: block of four numbers - usually representing a month and day: full-stop and final number). The final number can be of any length and may be followed by another full-stop and a sub-number. In some cases the same number is shared by two or more objects across departments.
In some of these cases a prefix has been added before a number (e.g. Oc1946,1027.5). To find an object using a museum number that has a prefix, you will need to enter that prefix as well as the number.
If the number you are entering has come from an old catalogue it could appear in the form 1887-7-8-2427. In this case, zeros will need to be inserted before the month and day numbers. Spacing or dashes should be removed, for example, 1887-7-8-2427, becomes 1887,0708.2427
In the case of some two-dimensional works from Asia and the Middle East a full stop may need to be inserted into the final number. This is only needed when the last set of numbers begins with a zero, for example, 1887,7-8-03 becomes 1887,0708,0.3
The second most common type of Museum number takes the form of one or two letters followed by two numbers. These need to be entered in the form, for example, Gg,1.461 (letters: comma: number: full-stop: numbers).
There are also some special cases including, for example, S.2534 (Sheepshanks collection, in which case the number will fall between 1 and 8000).
BM or 'Big' numbers
These are used in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan and the Department of the Middle East and are just a sequence of numbers. In the case of the Department of Egypt and Sudan, they are prefixed by EA, e.g. EA82276.
Other numbering systems
Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese Ceramics
The collection of Chinese Ceramics on loan to the Museum from the Percival David Foundation has a specific numbering system. To find the entire collection just search for PDF. Two different numbering systems are used, those of the form, e.g. PDF.1 or alternatively, some with a letter inserted, e.g. PDF,B.613.
Chinese and Japanese paintings
Numbers are in the form: Ch.Ptg.1 or Ch.Ptg.Add.45, and similarly Jap.Ptg.4 or Jap.Ptg.Add.5.
with the following terms:
Aliou Gueye (Made by);
Aliou Gueye (Made by);
Salcombe Cannon Site
mirror-case; mirror; locket;
Hadda Stupa 10
Ancient South Arabian;
Velikiy Ustyug; Moscow
Zum Heiter'n Blick; Leuna; Merseburg
watch-case; calendar watch;
Samuel Betts (Made by);
human remains; ear-ring; chain;
mirror-case; locket; case;
coin pendant; coin;
Bretzenheim an der Nahe; Waldhilbersheim; Bad Kreuznach