Classical Museum History

The Museum

The Classical Museum was founded in 1910 as a teaching museum for Classics at University College. The original collection was largely assembled by the Rev. Henry Browne in the course of ten years through gifts from or exchanges with larger museums (particularly the Ashmolean and the British Museum). The collections include Minoan, Mycenaean and Cypriot artefacts, Greek vases, Greek and Roman coins, terracottas, Roman pottery and glass, bronze and bone objects of daily life, Egyptian antiquities and some papyri. The most significant later acquisitions consist of a marble sarcophagus and a collection of Roman and Greek funerary marble stelai with inscriptions, once owned by Sir George Cockburn. The collection was bought by the School of Classics in 1936 at the sale of the contents of Cockburn’s former residence: Shanganagh Castle, Bray, Co. Dublin.
The museum was originally housed in the College’s premises in Earlsfort Terrace. It was transferred to the Arts Block (now John Henry Newman Building) of the new campus in Belfield in 1971.

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The foundation of the UCD Classical Museum was largely due to the work of the Rev. Henry Browne, who spent ten years collecting the pieces now on display in the museum. The original collection was assembled through gifts from and exchanges with larger museums such as the Ashmolean in Oxford and the British Museum.

Browne was born in England in 1853 and attended New College, Oxford. He did not complete his studies, but instead joined the Jesuit Church in 1874 and was ordained in 1889.

He obtained a degree in Theology from Milltown College in Dublin and became a member of staff at UCD in 1909.

During his time at the university, he was appointed to the Chair of Greek, a position he held until his retirement in 1922. He also played a leading role in the foundation of the Classical Association, was a member of the Council of the Society of Hellenic Studies and Chairman of the Archaeological Aids Committee. He was a prolific writer and over the course of his academic career wrote and edited a number of books.

His plans to found a "Museum of Ancient History" came to fruition in 1908. The museum was originally housed in the College’s premises in Earlsfort Terrace. It was transferred to the Arts Block (now John Henry Newman Building) of the new campus in Belfield in 1971.

Browne intended it to be a teaching museum, as he was of the belief that Ancient History could be better understood through the method of 'eye-teaching' as a learning aid.

In 1910, he began to receive yearly grants from the college (£50 - 70) and began his correspondence with archaeologists and museums, with the objective of making acquisitions for the museum. The most intensive collecting years were 1910-1917, though Browne continued to exchange and acquire pieces up until his retirement.

When in 1917, a collection known as the Hope Vases came up for auction at Christies, Browne collaborated with the National Museum of Ireland for the acquisition of the vases, a number of which can now be seen at the Classical Museum.

The museum also houses Minoan, Mycenaean and Cypriot artefacts, Greek vases, Greek and Roman coins, terracottas, Roman pottery and glass, bronze and bone objects of daily life,Egyptian antiquities and some papyri. The most significant later acquisitions consist of a marble sarcophagus and a collection of Roman and Greek funerary marble stelai with inscriptions, once owned by Sir George Cockburn. The collection was bought by the School of Classics in 1936 at the sale of the contents of Cockburn’s former residence: Shanganagh Castle, Bray, Co. Dublin.

After his retirement, Rev. Browne moved to England and began to focus more on religious matters. His desire for the conversion of England to Catholicism eventually over-shadowed his enthusiasm for archaeology.

Browne died on the 14th of March 1941 at Heythrop College.

In 1917, a collection known as the Hope Vases came up for auction at Christies. The founder of the Classical Museum, the Rev. Henry Browne, collaborated with the National Museum of Ireland in order to purchase twenty vases from the collection, which were then split between the two museums.

The vases were originally part of a larger collection that had been assembled by Sir William Hamilton over the course of his time in Naples and then later sold to a young antiquarian and collector, Thomas Hope in 1801.

In 1917, a collection known as the Hope Vases came up for auction at Christies. The founder of the Classical Museum, the Rev. Henry Browne, collaborated with the National Museum of Ireland in order to purchase twenty vases from the collection, which were then split between the two museums.

The vases were originally part of a larger collection that had been assembled by Sir William Hamilton over the course of his time in Naples and then later sold to a young antiquarian and collector, Thomas Hope in 1801.

Sir William Hamilton
Collector

Sir William Hamilton ( 1730-1803) was a Scottish diplomat and Britain's Envoy Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Naples. He was a renaissance man, an accomplished writer, scientist and renowned antiquary, devoting much of his life to artistic pursuits.

He began his tenure in Naples in 1764 and almost immediately set about building his collection of vases, marbles and sculptures, buying up entire collections and exporting them back to Britain.

He is considered to have been one of the most important collectors of his day, making careful drawings of objects in situ and making sure they were displayed together. Many ofthe pieces came from clandestine digs, which he then gave away as gifts or sold to the British Museum. Although this practice was illegal and expressly forbidden by the King of Naples, he continued regardless.

Hamilton spent thirty-five years in Naples and was very much at the centre of high society.At his home in the Palazzo Sessa he entertained members of the nobility, artists, musicians and intellectuals of the day. One of his most celebrated visitors was the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was here, that he displayed his vast collection of vases and paintings.

In 1772, due to financial difficulties, he sold his first collection to the British Museum for£8,400, but almost immediately set about creating a second. Between 1789 and 1790, the new collection amounted to 1,500 pieces. The vases that are now on display in the Classical Museum were originally part of this second collection.

In 1798, the French invaded the North of Italy and it was no longer safe for Hamilton to remain in Naples. He packed up his collection of vases into six crates that were to be transported on the warship HMS Colossus, bound for England.

The ship ran aground and sank off the coast of Sicily with the loss of 1200 vases, but as luck would have it, the best of the collection had not been loaded and arrived safely in England.

In 1801, Hamilton again facing financial ruin was forced to sell his second collection at Christie's. It was bought in its entirety for £4000, by a Dutch collector Thomas Hope.

Sir William Hamilton died in 1803.

Thomas Hope was a Dutch collector of antiquities. Born in 1769 into a family of bankers, he enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege, which allowed him to indulge his interests in literature, architecture, interior design and collecting. He was also an acclaimed writer, penning the semi-autobiographical novel "Anastasius" which was widely celebrated, winning the praise of Lord Byron.

He is perhaps best remembered for his collection of vases, some of which are now housed in the Classical Museum UCD. They had originally been part of Sir William Hamilton's second collection but financial difficulties forced Hamilton to sell the entire collection at auction in 1801. Thomas Hope was in attendance and bought the lot for £4,000.

Hope travelled extensively, spending a period of eight years collecting artefacts around the Mediterranean before settling in England. In 1799, he purchased a mansion in Duchess Street, London, which he enlarged in order to house his collection of "antique art".

By 1806, he was in possession of approximately 1500 vases as well as sculptures and paintings and was considered to be one of the most important collectors in England. That same year, he married Louisa Beresford and they became famous for the entertainment they offered to London's high society in their museum-like mansion.

In 1807, Hope bought the country house of Deepdene, which he had remodelled in order to accommodate his expanding collection.

In 1831, Thomas Hope died. His son Henry, sold his father's property at Duchess Street and moved its contents to Deepdene. The London property was demolished and in 1917, on July 23rd, Hope's grandson sold the famous vase collection at auction. The sale included approximately 750 vases and was valued at £16,000.

The combined efforts of the National Museum of Ireland and the Classical Museum, led to the purchase of twenty vases which were then split between the two museums. The rest of the vases found new homes in other museums and private collections.