Display | Sir Hans Sloane’s Practices of Collecting and Cataloguing

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on December 29, 2017

Now on view at The British Museum:

A Physician’s Cabinet: Sir Hans Sloane’s Practices of Collecting and Cataloguing
The British Museum, London, 24 November 2017 — 11 January 2018

Dorothea Graff, Scarlet Ibis, watercolour on vellum, ca. 1700–07 (London: The British Museum).

This small display brings together an array of prints, drawings, and objects—all related to medicine—that were collected by the founder of the British Museum, Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753). Sloane was a well-regarded physician and this display focuses on how medicine influenced his collecting. During the course of his life, Sloane brought together hundreds of thousands of objects to create one of the most significant collections in the world. On his death, he bequeathed these objects to the nation and they became the foundation of the British Museum’s collection.

Sloane was first and foremost a physician, and was doctor to Queen Anne and Kings George I and II. Medicine, in its broadest sense, influenced how Sloane collected and catalogued objects, especially from the natural world. He received specimens of plants, insects, shells and corals from around the globe. He also acquired exquisite albums of watercolours and drawings like the works on display by Jan Van Huysum (1682–1749) and Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) and her daughters.

The medicinal use of objects was also important to Sloane. He carefully recorded this information as he organised his collection at his house in Bloomsbury Square and later in Chelsea. Two objects sent to him from China and Japan are on show for the first time: a fine ear cleaning implement and an ornate acupuncture needle case. Rare engravings—including a broadside on conjoined twins by John Day (1522–1584) and prints after Rubens (1577–1640) showing human musculature—demonstrate Sloane’s interest in artistic processes, anatomy, and the curiosities of nature.

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