British Museum forthcoming exhibitions 2008

Please note that exhibition titles and dates are subject to change and should be checked before going to press.

Major new exhibitions for 2008

Hadrian: Empire and Conflict

24 July – 26 October 2008
Admission charge, sponsored by BP
Reading Room

Hadrian, emperor of Rome from AD 117 to AD 138, is best known for his interest in architecture, his passion for Greece and Greek culture and of course the eponymous wall he built between England and Scotland.

This exhibition will look beyond his established image and offer new perspectives on his life and rule, exploring the sharp contradictions of his personality and his role as a ruthless military commander. Set against the backdrop of the events of his 21-year reign, the exhibition will explore his immense legacy, incorporating recent scholarship and the latest archaeological discoveries from Tivoli, his spectacular villa near Rome.

Based upon highly important loan material seen together for the first time, the exhibition will examine Hadrian’s background as a member of the economically powerful and ascendant Spanish elite, his relationship with his lover Antinous, his military campaigns, the iconic architecture of his time, his extensive travels, his succession and impact and influence on the modern world.

This will be the second exhibition held in the Round Reading Room, the dome of which has been compared to the Pantheon in Rome, one of Hadrian’s architectural masterpieces.

The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock

10 April – 7 September 2008
Admission free, supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art and American Airlines
Room 90

The first half of the 20th century in America was a period of great change. This exhibition examines society and culture as viewed through the prints produced by some of the most important artists of the time.

The exhibition begins with John Sloan's Ashcan School etchings of everyday urban experience in the 1900s and concludes with Jackson Pollock and the triumph of abstract expressionism in the 1950s. Prints by Blanche Lazzell, Stuart Davis, Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Josef Albers, David Smith and Joan Mitchell are among the 150 or so works featured to show the principal themes and episodes in American printmaking during this period.

This exhibition will travel to four venues across the UK after its closure at the British Museum in September 2008.


13 November 2008 – 15 March 2009
Admission charge
Room 35

The city of Babylon, situated in modern-day Iraq, has engendered the richest legacy in art and thought from great paintings to contemporary film and music. The exhibition will bring together such works of imagination with archaeological treasures from ancient Babylon, to reveal the reality behind the legends.

The exhibition will focus on the period of Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 604 – 562 BC) bringing his capital to life through bombastic inscriptions on stone and clay, objects of cultic and daily life, magnificent enamel wall panels, and a newly-commissioned model of the architecture that made the city so famous. It will also examine the stories that have sprung from the city including the Tower of Babel, the Hanging Gardens, Nebuchadnezzar’s madness, the Babylonian Captivity and the city’s infamous Fall. The exhibition concludes with consideration of the city’s tragic recent history through video and photography.

The exhibition is organised by the British Museum, the Musée du Louvre and the Réunion des musées nationaux Paris and the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.

Other exhibitions

Fascination with Nature

10 January – 5 August 2008
Admission free
Room 91

Coinciding with Chinese New Year and following the phenomenal success of the Museum’s The First Emperor exhibition, this is the third in a series of annual themed displays focusing on the British Museum's permanent collection of Chinese paintings. Fascination with Nature will feature around 40 paintings of birds, flowers, plants and insects alongside a selection of porcelains decorated with images from nature. A highlight of the exhibition will be a 14th century handscroll titled Fascination of Nature by Xie Chufang, acquired in 1998 with the help of the Art Fund.

Icons of Revolution: Mao badges then and now

A coins and medals display
10 April – 14 September 2008
Admission free
Room 69a

China has changed enormously since Mao's death in 1976, but what has become of the revolutionary iconography of his Cultural Revolution?

This exhibition will explain some of the highly charged images on Chairman Mao badges and other relics of that time, and show how they have evolved over the last forty years. Some have survived, often in unexpected ways, and others have been replaced by newer landmarks of 21st century China.

Designing Change: the Coins of Elizabeth II

A coins and medals display
18 September 2008 – February 2009
Admission free
Room 69a
In 2008 new reverse designs will be introduced for all UK coins up to the 50p piece. These will replace the designs that have been in use since the decimalisation 40 years ago.

This small exhibition puts the new coin reverses into context, by looking at coin design during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Drawing on the rich collections of the British Museum and the Royal Mint Museum, it will include artwork from the current competition, and sketches, models and trials from previous designs.

China Landscape

3 May – 27 October 2008

In a unique partnership the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the British Museum are preparing to install a Chinese landscape in the Museum's forecourt - to be in place for May 2008 and running into the Autumn. China Landscape will follow on from the success of the Africa Garden constructed at the British Museum in 2005.

It will be designed to reflect natural habitats in China, but will also incorporate elements of more formal Chinese gardens. The plants will be selected by the experts at Kew to be broadly representative of the vast range of China's indigenous species. The landscape will allow a range of historical and contemporary issues to be explored and will show the relationship between the development of Chinese culture and the country's natural environment. It will make clear thematic connections with the British Museum's outstanding collection of Chinese objects. A wide ranging programme of public activities will be devised to complement the landscape.

Continuing exhibitions

The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army

13 September 2007 – 6 April 2008
Admission charge, sponsored by Morgan Stanley
Reading Room

Continuing until April 2008, The First Emperor is already the most successful exhibition at the British Museum in over thirty years. Featuring examples of the iconic terracotta warriors, alongside new discoveries the exhibition provides an insight into China's First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, and his legacy.  The First Emperor created what we know today as China, how that state has survived, developed and is viewed today will be explored through events, lectures and debates around the exhibition. A special event will be held to celebrate Chinese New Year in February 2008.

Inhuman Traffic: The Business of the Slave

A coins and medals display
24 May 2007 – 6 April 2008
Admission free
Room 69a  

This exhibition takes a broad look at the Transatlantic Slave Trade, touching on how it functioned, and how it was ended. The display examines the commodities involved in the slave trade and the way in which it linked Africa, Europe, the Americas, and Asia, into a global trade network: from gold and ivory which first took European traders to West Africa and tobacco, guns, textiles, sugar and rum which enabled the trade to flourish. A section about the ending of the trade examines both the abolitionists' campaign, which led to the passage of a bill in parliament in March 1807 banning the slave trade in the British Empire, as well as the part played by the enslaved peoples in their own liberation from the trade, such as the revolution of Henri Toussaint L'Ouverture in Haiti and the rebellions lead by Nanny of the Maroons in Jamaica.

Exhibitions at other venues in the UK

Throughout 2008, the British Museum will be touring exhibitions to venues across the country through the Partnership UK programme, as well as contributing to numerous other exhibitions and displays nationwide. Highlights include:

As a precursor to the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum, one of the star objects, a bronze head of the Emperor will travel to each end of Hadrian’s Wall in the North of England. The head was found in the Thames in 1834 and has never been seen outside London before. Face of an Emperor: Hadrian Inspects the Wall began at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery, Carlisle (11 February – 13 April 2008), followed by Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum, Wallsend (16 April – 8 June 2008). The tour is supported by BP and the Heritage Lottery Fund

Ancient Greece: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes, the first of a series of exhibitions covering the great civilisations of the world will continue its UK tour at Wardown Park Museum in Luton, Lincoln, South Shields and Glasgow. Funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Children, Schools and Families as part of the Strategic Commissioning Programme for Museum and Gallery Education 2006-9. Additional support is provided through the generosity of the Dorset Foundation.

Lindow Man: a bog body mystery (19 April 2008 – 19 April 2009) is an exhibition created by the Manchester Museum around the mid-1st century AD body from the British Museum that was found in a peat bog  at Lindow Moss in Cheshire in 1984. The body is accompanied by other loans of the same period from the British Museum’s collection, including a spectacular bronze shield boss found in the River Thames at Wandsworth.

Fabric of a Nation, the vibrant display of textiles shown at the British Museum in 2007 to mark the 50th anniversary of Ghanaian independence, will be on show at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead (14 June -2 November, 2008), then continue to Cartwright Hall, Bradford and two venues in Hampshire. Supported through the generosity of the Dorset Foundation.

Exhibitions at other venues internationally

A New World: England’s First View of America

20 October 2007 – January 13 2008: North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, US
6 March  - 1 June 2008: Yale Center for British Art
15 July – 15 October 2008: Jamestown Settlement

John White, a gentleman and artist, was key to shaping England’s first view of America though the extraordinary watercolours he produced whilst on the first English voyages to the New World in the 1580s. White was a member of the earliest expeditions to Roanoke, in what was then called Virginia, which were sent out by Queen Elizabeth’s sometime favourite Walter Raleigh. While there White drew the North Carolina Algonquian Indians, their surroundings and the local flora and fauna. These drawings are the only surviving visual record of this period of America’s history. All of White’s original drawings are in the British Museum’s collection and will go on public display for the first time in forty years alongside objects that help to explore these fascinating Elizabethan voyages.

Word Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East

6 February – 30 April 2008: Dubai International Finance Centre

Following a successful run at the British Museum in May 06, Word Into Art will travel to Dubai. The exhibition celebrates the creativity of Middle Eastern artists by focusing on the way writing has been used in modern art. From traditional Arabic scripts to present day graffiti, artists across the region have found innovative ways of using script. They write verses from the Qur’an, lines of poetry, use texts to highlight their preoccupation with politics, or simply show their delight in the shape of the Arabic letter. It is this rich diversity of approaches that this exhibition seeks to examine.

The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army

15 November 2008 – 26 April 2009: High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia US

Following on from the phenomenal success of the run at the British Museum, this major loan exhibition presents a reassessment of one of the best known discoveries in world archaeology, the Terracotta Army of the First Emperor of China. Featuring the largest loan of terracotta objects ever agreed by China, including exciting recent discoveries, the exhibition provides an insight into the life and legacy of China's First Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi. The First Emperor conquered the Warring States of the region and was the effectively created what we know today as China in 221 BC, making it the oldest surviving political entity in the world.


For images or further information please call the Press Office on +44 (0) 20 7323 8583/8522 or email

Communications Department contacts:

Hannah Boulton, Head of Press and Public Relations: +44 (0) 20 7323 8522

Katrina Whenham, Press Assistant: +44 (0) 20 7323 8583