Enlightenment (Room 1)

Classifying the world

The vast world of knowledge being gathered in the eighteenth century had to be classified and organized so that it could more easily understood and used. King George III’s library of nearly 70,000 books (which this room was designed to house) was encyclopaedic in its scope and arranged by subject.

The King loved medals and, as part of his library, these came to the Museum with his coin collection, all arranged by country and ruler to help bring past history alive. He was also keenly interested in the navy, navigation and scientific discoveries and collected instruments and working models.

In the early part of the century, Sir Hans Sloane had collected unusual or beautifully made instruments. His cabinets were filled with objects that aroused curiosity and they were catalogued and displayed in many different ways - by type, material, date or purpose. The ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton, catalogued his vases so that they might tell the history of Greek art. The beautiful illustrations to his book inspired a wide variety of the decorative arts in Britain.

Medals of the kings and queens of England by Jean Dassier

Medals of the kings and queens of England by Jean Dassier, AD 1731

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