The Origins of Art
This chapter looks at how the Western idea of art was constructed during the past five hundred years, while Europeans were exploring the world and developing their claim to be at the apex of human civilization. In 1807, a Department of Antiquities was formed, including Prints and Drawings, creating a distinction from the Library and Natural History collections. From 1823, the British Museum started rebuilding on a grand scale, beginning with the King’s Library to house books from George the Third and continuing into the 1850s, to produce the magnificent neoclassical monument that stands today. In the mid-nineteenth century, a shift in Western attitudes toward the collection of artefacts was signaled by the 1851 “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations,” promoted by the Royal Society of Arts in the style of earlier commercial exhibitions.