Fitzwilliam Museum

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Fitzwilliam Museum
The main entrance to the Fitzwilliam Museum, facing Trumpington Street.
Fitzwilliam Museum is located in Cambridge
Fitzwilliam Museum
Location in Cambridge
Established 1816
Location Cambridge, United Kingdom
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Visitors 470,000 (2011–12) [1]
Director Tim Knox
Saint Geminianus, from a pentaptych by Simone Martini (c.1284–1344).

The Fitzwilliam Museum is the art and antiquities museum of the University of Cambridge, located on Trumpington Street opposite Fitzwilliam Street in central Cambridge, England. It receives around 470,000 visitors annually (2011–12).[1] Admission is free.

The Museum is the lead museum for the University of Cambridge Museums consortium, one of 16 Major Partner Museum services funded by Arts Council England to lead the development of the museums sector.[1] The current Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum is Tim Knox.

Foundation & buildings

The museum was founded in 1816 with the legacy of the library and art collection of the 7th Viscount FitzWilliam. The bequest also included £100,000 "to cause to be erected a good substantial museum repository". The collection was initially placed in the old Perse School building in Free School Lane. It was moved in 1842 to the Old Schools (at that time the University Library). The "Founder's Building" itself was designed by George Basevi, completed by C. R. Cockerell and opened in 1848; the entrance hall is by Edward Middleton Barry and was completed in 1875. The first stone of the new building was laid by Gilbert Ainslie in 1837. A further large bequest was made to the University in 1912 by Charles Brinsley Marlay, including a sum of £80,000 and a collection of 84 pictures. A two-storey extension, paid for partly by the Courtauld family, was added in 1931.[2]


The museum has five departments: Antiquities; Applied Arts; Coins and Medals; Manuscripts and Printed Books; and Paintings, Drawings and Prints. Together these cover antiquities from Ancient Egypt, Sudan, Greece and Rome, Roman and Romano-Egyptian Art, Western Asiatic displays and a new gallery of Cypriot Art; applied arts, including English and European pottery and glass, furniture, clocks, fans, armour, Chinese, Japanese and Korean art, rugs and samplers; coins and medals; illuminated, literary and music manuscripts and rare printed books; paintings, including masterpieces by Simone Martini, Domenico Veneziano, Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Van Dyck, van Goyen, Frans Hals, Canaletto, Hogarth, Gainsborough, Constable, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and Picasso and a fine collection of 20th-century art; miniatures, drawings, watercolours and prints. Among the most notable works in the collection are the bas-reliefs from Persepolis.[3]

Music manuscripts

There is also the largest collection of 16th-century Elizabethan virginal manuscript music written by some of the most notable composers of the time. Composers such as William Byrd, Doctor John Bull, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tallis.

Egyptian collection

The Egyptian Galleries at the Fitzwilliam Museum reopened in 2006 after a two-year, £1.5 million programme of refurbishment, conservation and research.[citation needed]


The museum has a particularly extensive collection of Turner, which has its origins in a set of 25 watercolour drawings donated to the university by John Ruskin in 1861.[4] Sir Sydney Cockerell, who was serving as director of the museum at the time, went on to acquire a further 8 Turner watercolours and some of his writings.

Many items in the museum are on loan from colleges of the University, for example an important group of impressionist paintings owned by King's College, which includes Cézanne's The Abduction and a study for Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat.

The Museum's collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings includes a version of Ford Madox Brown's The Last of England, voted 8th greatest painting in Britain in 2005's Radio 4 poll, the Greatest Painting in Britain Vote.

Dutch School
English School
Head of William Blake. Plaster cast by James De Ville Sept 1823 Fitzwilliam Museum
Flemish School
French School
German School
Italian School

Michelangelo bronzes

In 2015, the museum displayed two bronze statues (the Rothschild Bronzes) that it believed to be the work of Italian Renaissance artist Michaelangelo. If true, they would be the only known surviving bronze sculptures by the artist. The pair of statues depict naked, apparently drunk, men riding panthers. Art historian Paul Joannides connected the statues to a drawing in the Musée Fabre by an apprentice of Michelangelo depicting the same subject in the same pose.[5][6][7][8][9]


On 25 January 2006, a member of the public tripped which resulted in three huge oriental porcelain vases being shattered and requiring painstaking reconstruction.[10] At around 19:30 BST on 13 April 2012, 18 valuable and culturally significant Chinese works of art were stolen.[11] The burglars were sentenced to a combined 18 years in jail.[12]

Friends of Fitzwilliam

The "Friends of the Fitzwilliam", founded in 1909, is a society supporting the museum, the oldest in Britain.[citation needed] One of the longest-serving members (1935–2003) was Denys Spittle, whose collection of manuscripts was exhibited in 2007 under the title "Private Pleasures: Illuminated manuscripts from Persia to Paris".


A Henry Moore sculpture outside the museum

See also

  • Primavera Gallery – commercial gallery on King's Parade that has been the subject of an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The Fitzwilliam Museum and Hamilton Kerr Institute Annual Report 2011-12" (PDF). Retrieved 29 August 2015. line feed character in |title= at position 51 (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The University of Cambridge — The Fitzwilliam Museum, British History Online, UK.
  3. A Persepolis Relief in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge Richard Nicholls and Michael Roaf Iran, Vol. 15, (1977), pp. 146–152 Published by: British Institute of Persian Studies
  4. "Fitzwilliam Museum collections". University of Cambridge. 2010. Retrieved 4 September 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Fitzwilliam Museum : Home". Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Mark Brown (30 January 2015). "Michelangelo's bronze panther-riders revealed after 'Renaissance whodunnit' | Art and design". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Michelangelo: The story of the bronze riders". The Economist. 2 February 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Nude, drunk and riding on panthers: Michelangelo's lost masterpiece discovered | Public Radio International". 3 February 2015. Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Bronze sculptures 'may be by Michelangelo' - BBC News". Retrieved 29 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "The Fitzwilliam Museum : Chinese Vases Home". 25 January 2006. Retrieved 15 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Fitzwilliam Museum theft: Chinese jade art 'worth millions'". BBC News. 18 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Fitz Robbers get 18 years | The Tab Cambridge". Retrieved 15 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. New Director Appointed for Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK, 1 June 2007.
  14. Mr Tim Knox will succeed Timothy Potts as Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum when he takes up the post in April., University of Cambridge, UK, Retrieved July 2013.

External links