+
3 Tutorials that teach Colonialism and the Museum
Take your pick:
Colonialism and the Museum

Colonialism and the Museum

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will examine the connection between colonialism and the founding of many encyclopedic museums of art in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

(more)
See More

Try Sophia’s Art History Course. For Free.

Our self-paced online courses are a great way to save time and money as you earn credits eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*

Begin Free Trial
No credit card required

25 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

221 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 20 of Sophia’s online courses. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

Tutorial

An overview of colonialism's role in the development of the encyclopedic museum.

Video Transcription

Download PDF

[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about colonialism and the museum.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms. Describe the historical context of the acquisition of today's works of art, and identify examples of colonial acquisitions of artwork.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is wunderkammer, a room usually in the house of a wealthy and/or well-traveled person, that is full of treasures and curiosities from faraway places. Kunstkammer, a room usually in the house of a wealthy person, where works of art were displayed.

Elgin Marbles, the sculptures from the Parthenon that were brought to England by Lord Elgin in the late 1700s. Benin Bronzes, sculptures from the West African city of Benin that the British seized when they attacked the city in 1897. An encyclopedic museum, a museum that attempts to provide a comprehensive view of history and/or art history.

The big idea for today is that many early museums developed from the idea of the wunderkammer or kunstkammer, a room filled with curiosities from other lands. So we'll be looking at the acquisition of artwork today that occurred between 1799 and 1897, a span of almost 100 years. We'll be traveling to Benin city, Nigeria, and Athens, Greece today.

Encyclopedic museums are museums that include examples of art and culture from all over the world and from antiquity through modern times. And good examples would be the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London, and the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois. Now examples that would not be considered encyclopedic museums would be the Museum of Modern Art or MoMA in New York and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The reason is that their scope is much more specific.

For example, modern art is the focus at the MoMA and the European art from the Middle Ages on is the focus at the Getty. There still remains plenty of controversy regarding how works of art are and were acquired. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, armies invading from Europe brought back artifacts and works of art from the lands they conquered and occupied.

And many of the collections, such as the British Museum's Egyptian collection and the Louvre's extensive collection of European art was obtained in this way. The Benin Bronzes, shown here, are examples of works of art that were acquired by questionable means, specifically the punitive raid on Benin in West Africa in 1897 when the British army seized 3,000 or so works of art from Africa.

Now the British weren't alone. Napoleon was notorious for his looting exploits in the countries he conquered during his empire expansion campaigns of the 19th century. In fact, the extent and scope of Napoleon's looting campaigns was only surpassed by the Nazis during World War II. There still remains considerable controversy regarding the rightful ownership of works of art and the role museums play and have played in the proliferation of looted or stolen art.

Now the Elgin Marbles are a collection of ancient marble sculptures that were largely from the Parthenon in Athenian Acropolis and currently reside in the British Museum in London. Now how were they acquired? Well, good question.

It would seem that the Greek government would love to have them in their own museum and you'd be absolutely correct. However, Thomas Bruce or Lord Elgin-- he was the Earl of Elgin-- acquired the sculpture through rather unscrupulous means it would seem during his tenure as the ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Now he finagled his way into getting approval to access the works of art in what was, at the time, an Ottoman-occupied Greece.

He subsequently worked out a deal, allegedly due in part to some last-minute bribery, to remove a considerable amount of sculpture and return it to his home in Great Britain. And he agreed to sell the sculpture to the British government to cover some debts. And after a parliamentary decision to legally justify Elgin's acquisition methods, they were entrusted to the British Museum where they reside today. A really interesting example of the shady underbelly that existed-- and to some degree still exists-- within the art market.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the historical context of the acquisition today's works of art? Can you identify examples of colonial acquisitions of artwork?

And once again, the big idea for today is that many early museums developed from the idea of the wunderkammer or kunstkammer, a room filled with curiosities from other lands. There you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Colonialism and the Museum"

Key Terms

Wunderkammer

A room, usually in the house of a wealthy and/or well-traveled person, that is full of treasures and curiosities from faraway places.

Kunstkammer

A room, usually in the house of a wealthy person, where works of art were displayed.

Elgin Marbles

The sculptures from the Parthenon that were brought back to England by Lord Elgin in the late 1700s.

Benin Bronzes

Sculptures from the West African city of Benin that the British seized when they attacked the city in 1897.

Encyclopedic Museum

A museum that attempts to provide a comprehensive view of history, and/or art history.

Citations

Image of British Museum Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:British_Museum_from_NE_2.JPG; Image of Louvre Creative Commons http:// /wiki/File:Louvre_2007_02_24_c.jpg; Image of Art Institute Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Art_Institute_of_Chicago_Michigan_Avenue.jpg; Image of MOMA Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MoMa_NY_USA_1.jpg, Image of Getty Museum Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aerial_Getty_Museum.jpg; Image of Benin Bronzes Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:*********************.jpg; Image of Elgin Marbles Hall Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elgin_Marbles_British_Museum.jpg; Image of Elgin Marbles Centaur Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ac_marbles.jpg; Image of Elgin Marbles Frieze West Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ac_marbles.jpg; Image of Lord Elgin Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:7th_Earl_of_Elgin_by_Anton_Graff_around_1788.jpg

 

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Encyclopedic Museum

    A museum that attempts to provide a comprehensive view of history, and/or art history.

  • Benin Bronzes

    Sculptures from the West African city of Benin that the British seized when they attacked the city in 1897.

  • Elgin Marbles

    The sculptures from the Parthenon that were brought back to England by Lord Elgin in the late 1700s.

  • Kunstkammer

    A room, usually in the house of a wealthy person, where works of art were displayed.

  • Wunderkammer

    A room, usually in the house of a wealthy and/or well-traveled person, that is full of treasures and curiosities from faraway places.