Rediscovering the Past / The formation of museums

The 18th-century Age of Enlightenment had gifted the world an invaluable new way of thinking: reasoned argument based on the critical examination of evidence, particularly of objects, but of texts as well. It also gave the world a new type of institution – the museum. Here was an encyclopaedia of objects where expert and non-expert alike could examine the workings of the natural and man-made world for themselves.

In the 19th century, museum collections grew in size and scope. We learned more about each of the world’s cultures, past and present. Now, as the modern world grew smaller, we were able to discern the similarities and differences between cultures. What was it that made us human? The European model for museums spread around the world. In Turkey, museums displayed ancient cultures to promote an Ottoman imperial identity, then a Turkish national one.

Working NumberNameHolding MuseumDateMaterialsCurator Justification
AT 037Decoration of the Egyptian collection of Kunsthistorisches Museum in ViennaKunsthistorisches Museum, Egyptian Collection1873The museum display in Vienna evokes the ancient context in vivid style.
DE 002Ishtar GateMuseum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, State Museums605–562 BC; excavated in 1902Painstaking reconstruction results in awesome displays in Berlin.
FR 005The Great Hall of the Musée Assyrien in the LouvreNational Library of France 1862The first display of Assyrian remains anywhere in the world was at the Louvre in Paris.
IT2 029A Room in the Egyptian MuseumSoprintendenza Archeologia del Piemonte: Authority for the Archaeological Heritage of Piedmont1852 (Original engraving)The European nations come to see museum collections as a must-have feature of a modern, cultured state.
LB 019Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut1868The Archaeological Museum of the American University of Beirut is the third oldest museum in the Near East after Cairo and Constantinople. The museum collections are organised chronologically and thematically. It was founded in 1868 after Luigi Palma di Cesnola gifted a collection of Cypriot pottery to the newly formed American University of Beirut. Di Cesnola was an Italian-American who used his posting as a diplomat to conduct important archaeological work in Cyprus.
PT 001National Museum of Soares dos Reis1795The Carrancas Palace is a neoclassical palace built by the Moraes e Castro family. Later it accommodated English generals during the Napoleonic invasions, before becoming a royal residence. In 1833, King D. Pedro IV made it the National Museum of Soares dos Reis, Portugal’s first public museum. It was inspired by the spirit of protecting cultural and national heritage so typical of liberalism.
RO 031Egyptian mummyNational Museum of Romanian History22nd dynasty (c. 950–730 BC); beginning of the 20th centuryThe small private collections of travellers find their way into public collections.
TN 020Musée de Carthage19th century The Museum of Carthage houses magnificent Punic and Roman artefacts excavated at Carthage during the 19th century. It was founded in 1875 on the premises of the White Fathers seminary.
UK 108‘The Younger Memnon’The British Museum19th Dynasty; donated to the British Museum in 1817Comprehensive collections allow scholars and visitors to compare the world’s cultures.
DZ 099Library museumMusée Public National des Antiquités1863–1895Museums open in the Arab and Ottoman world, first in the west, then in the east.