The Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marble, and the Assyrian lion hunt are just some of the many art treasures we’ll cover in this three-hour, in-depth tour of the British Museum. Led by a trained archaeologist or historian, our critically acclaimed British Museum walk visits this fantastic collection, taking into account how the British Museum came into existence in the mid-eighteenth century during the period of Enlightenment. By limiting our group size, we’re able to take a deeper approach to the collections and conduct the visit like a true walking seminar.
We begin with the Enlightenment gallery, formerly known as the King’s Library; this room was the first part of the new museum building as it is seen today. Although each walk evolves differently depending on our docent's area of expertise and the interests of the group, we generally start with a thorough overview of how the British Museum came into existence in the mid-eighteenth century. We'll talk about how archaeology evolved from the work of antiquaries. Discussing how art history was born with the study of ancient Greek sculpture and vase painting and how Greek art set the standard for the next 200 years of what was considered the model of fully-evolved art.
From here we will traverse the halls of the museum, visiting its most important rooms. This includes the Egyptian collection. Here, we will discuss how ancient texts came to be deciphered in the first place and we will compare the ways in which hieroglyphs and cuneiform, the two earliest scripts, were cracked.
We will also look at several of the antiquities and languages of ancient Iraq and Iran, as material from these areas forms some of the earliest collections in the British Museum. Large-scale excavation in the ancient Middle East and the race to decipher hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts were inspired by the finds from Mesopotamia and Persia. The beginnings of the British Museum are inextricably tied to the European re-discovery of these ancient cultures.
Our discussion will be illustrated by the Rosetta Stone, which now lives in the British Museum, along with nearly 130,000 pieces of cuneiform tablets from ancient Iraq, some of which are on display. Depending on the interests of your docent and the group, we may then spend time looking more in-depth at the art of ancient Iran and/or of ancient Iraq in its earlier phases. From there we'll take in the palace reliefs of ancient Assyrian kings that form the best collection of ancient Iraqi sculpture outside Baghdad. Or, we'll spend the rest of our time looking at the Parthenon Marbles, which will bring us back to the beginning of our discussions of what the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European viewer perceived as the highest art form.