5-minute read

The Ashmolean Museum is part of the University of Oxford and is home to major collections of art and archaeology. The Museum’s collections and archives are a global resource containing over one million objects and works of art covering almost the entire span of human history. More than 300,000 of these are now available to search and browse online – visit the Online Collections.

Among many highlights, the Museum houses the world’s greatest collection of Raphael drawings, outstanding Anglo-Saxon treasures, an important collection of early Pre-Raphaelite artworks, one of the top coin collections in the world, the most important collection of Egyptian pre-Dynastic sculpture and ceramics outside Cairo, and a significant collection of modern Chinese paintings.

The Museum also holds important archival and documentary material, including the Pissarro Family Archive, archives related to local archaeology, the Sir John and Sir Arthur Evans Archives, and the Kish (Iraq) excavation archives.

The Ashmolean collections are also the cornerstone of our seasonal exhibitions and events programme.


The Museum has four major curatorial departments: Antiquities, Eastern Art, Western Art, and the Heberden Coin Room. In addition, the Museum has a Digital Collections Department, responsible for digitisation of the collection and the collection database, and a Conservation Department.


The collection of antiquities includes internationally renowned archaeological collections from Prehistoric Europe, the Ancient Near East, Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Minoan Aegean, Mycenaean and Classical Greece, Ancient Cyprus, the Roman world, Medieval and later Europe, as well as the museum's Founding Collection and historic archives.

It also includes one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved collections of casts of Greek and Roman sculpture in the UK.


In our Eastern Art collections you will find sculpture, textiles, ceramics and paintings from the Islamic Middle East, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India and the Himalayas.


The Museum’s Heberden Coin Room is one of the leading international coin cabinets with particular strengths in the fields of Greek, Roman, Celtic, Byzantine, Medieval, Islamic and Chinese coinages. It also holds collections of paper money, tokens, jetons and commemorative art medals.


The Western Art collections contain outstanding European fine and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the present day. They include Old Master and later paintings, drawings, watercolours, and prints; English and continental ceramics, sculpture, silver, watches, rings and musical instruments. The Ashmolean's exceptional print collection contains around 25,000 drawings and over 250,000 prints and many are accessible through our Western Art Print Room.


The founding collection of the Ashmolean was assembled in the early 1600s by the Tradescant family from items collected from around the globe. The collection contained treasures such as the ‘mantle’ (actually a wall hanging) of Pocahontas's father Powhatan, and the stuffed body of a dodo.

A visitor to this original museum commented that ‘a man might in one day behold…more curiosities than he should see if he spent all his life in travel.’ Almost 400 years on we hope you will feel very much the same about a visit to the Ashmolean.

The actual Ashmolean came into existence in 1682, when Elias Ashmole gifted this collection to the University, combined with an older University collection, which included Guy Fawkes’s lantern and Jacob’s Coat of Many Colours (long since lost). The Museum opened in Oxford, as Britain’s first public museum, and the world’s first university museum, in 1683.

Though the collection has evolved considerably, the founding principle remains: that knowledge of humanity across cultures and across times is important to society. A laudable intention, but the uncomfortable truth is that much of the collection was inevitably selected and obtained as a result of colonial power.


The Museum launched its new Collections Online platform in December 2023, and the Ashmolean continues to digitise the collection and prepare records for publication online.

Our online collections records include a representative selection of object records from across the Museum's curatorial departments. These range from basic inventory records – with object type, image and accession number – to full catalogue records that are cross-searchable by date, place, material, person, period and dimensions.


Staff member in the process of photographing a work on paper

Digitising the collections at the Museum

As only a portion of the Museum's physical collection is on display, being able to access more of the objects and items online is an additional benefit for all.




Collectively the University of Oxford’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) are home to over 8.5 million objects and specimens, 13 million printed items, and 6,000 different types of plants. They include the most important group of Raphael drawings in the world; the fossil bones of the first dinosaur ever to be described scientifically; four engrossments of Magna Carta; and some of the UK's oldest redwood trees.