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The Museum Wormianum (1654), the cabinet of curiosities by Ole Worm
The Museum Wormianum (1654), the cabinet of curiosities by Ole Worm

"I had beside me several of the catalogues of the older collections [...]. I often consulted them and found both amusement and instruction in turning over their pages, and it seemed to me that from such sources one could learn something of the idea of what a museum ought to be, which the old collectors had, their schemes of classification and the science on which these were based."--Museums: Their History and Their Use with a Bibliography and List of Museums in the United Kingdom (1904) by David Murray

"A Museum, as now understood, is a collection of the monuments of antiquity or of other objects interesting to the scholar and the man of science, arranged and displayed in accordance with scientific method. In its original sense it meant a spot dedicated to the Muses, and secondarily, a place for study and for the intercourse of learned men, or, in other words, a place appropriated to literature and philosophy."--Museums: Their History and Their Use with a Bibliography and List of Museums in the United Kingdom (1904) by David Murray

"The term " museum " I have taken in its ordinary English acceptation, and have excluded galleries of painting and sculpture from my lists."--Museums: Their History and Their Use with a Bibliography and List of Museums in the United Kingdom (1904) by David Murray

"M. Viardot has had the advantage of visiting all the great picture galleries of Europe."--A Brief History of the Painters of All Schools (1877) by various authors

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A museum is a building or institution that cares for and displays a collection of artifacts and other objects of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific importance.


Early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families or institutions of art and rare or curious natural objects and artifacts. These were often displayed in so-called wonder rooms or cabinets of curiosities. Public access was often possible for the "respectable", especially to private art collections, but at the whim of the owner and his staff.

The first public museums in the world opened in Europe during the 18th century and the Age of Enlightenment:

These "public" museums, however, were often accessible only by the middle and upper classes. It could be difficult to gain entrance. In London for example, prospective visitors to the British Museum had to apply in writing for admission. Even by 1800 it was possible to have to wait two weeks for an admission ticket. Visitors in small groups were limited to stays of two hours. In Victorian times in England it became popular for museums to be open on a Sunday afternoon (the only such facility allowed to do so) to enable the opportunity for "self improvement" of the other - working - classes.

The first truly public museum was the Louvre Museum in Paris, opened in 1793 during the French Revolution, which enabled for the first time in history free access to the former French royal collections for people of all stations and status. The fabulous art treasures collected by the French monarchy over centuries were accessible to the public three days each "décade" (the 10-day unit which had replaced the week in the French Republican Calendar). The Conservatoire du muséum national des Arts (National Museum of Arts's Conservatory) was charged with organizing the Louvre as a national public museum and the centerpiece of a planned national museum system. As Napoléon I conquered the great cities of Europe, confiscating art objects as he went, the collections grew and the organizational task became more and more complicated. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, many of the treasures he had amassed were gradually returned to their owners (and many were not). His plan was never fully realized, but his concept of a museum as an agent of nationalistic fervor had a profound influence throughout Europe.

American museums eventually joined European museums as the world's leading centers for the production of new knowledge in their fields of interest. A period of intense museum building, in both an intellectual and physical sense was realized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (this is often called "The Museum Period" or "The Museum Age"). While many American museums, both Natural History museums and Art museums alike, were founded with the intention of focusing on the scientific discoveries and artistic developments in North America, many moved to emulate their European counterparts in certain ways (including the development of Classical collections from ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia and Rome). Universities became the primary centers for innovative research in the United States well before the start of the Second World War. Nevertheless, museums to this day contribute new knowledge to their fields and continue to build collections that are useful for both research and display.

See also

art museum, secret museum, first public art museum

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Museum" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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