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Fitzwilliam Museum Partnership


Many UK museums provide the ideal complement to our studies and travels across Europe and the world, and none more so than the University of Cambridge’s magnificent Fitzwilliam Museum, which in its bicentenary year celebrates its internationally renowned collection. 

After entering the Fitzwilliam Museum’s fine neoclassical ‘Founder’s’ building, through its grandiose portico, visitors are transfixed by its spectacular collection of art and antiquities from around the world, specialist collections of decorative art as well as paintings by the superlative Old Masters and Impressionists.

2016 promises to be the perfect time to visit the Museum. During a year of festivities planned to help celebrate 200 years since its foundation, major exhibitions will explore two of the Fitzwilliam’s most treasured collections: ancient Egyptian coffins and illuminated manuscripts.

The Fitzwilliam Museum was founded in 1816 through the bequest of Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, who died in that year. After studying at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam divided his time between London, Paris and Dublin when not travelling through Europe on the Grand Tour. In the course of his life he collected around 144 paintings, including masterpieces by Titian, Veronese and Palma Vecchio, 300 carefully ordered albums of Old Master prints, and a magnificent library with illuminated manuscripts, musical autographs by Europe’s greatest composers and 10,000 fine printed books.

Over the next 200 years the museum evolved, as revealed in an exhibition in the Museum’s Octagon Gallery where a timeline of the Fitzwilliam’s first 200 years introduces key themes, characters and significant objects. Opening on February 4 and running throughout the bicentenary year, this exhibition will review the museum’s past and present, and lead into its future. A new book, The Fitzwilliam Museum: a History, also tells the full 200 year story of the museum.

The two major bicentenary exhibitions showcase collections that originated in the Museum’s first decade: the collection of Egyptian coffins started with one of the earliest gifts to the Fitzwilliam in 1822, and the manuscripts on show will include exquisite examples from Viscount Fitzwilliam’s founding bequest, which, under its strict terms, may never leave the Museum. Displaying the splendour and artistry of the past, both of these exhibitions also look to the future, presenting the very latest in conservation science and research which takes place at the Fitzwilliam today.

Death on the Nile: Uncovering the afterlife of ancient Egypt (February 23 – May 22, 2016) goes beyond the images of mummies, animal-headed gods, pharaohs and mystery often associated with ancient Egypt, to analyse the beliefs and working practices behind Egyptian coffins and uncover fascinating new information on how they were made. It will show how these remarkable objects were constructed and the techniques of ancient Egyptian artisans. In a ‘live’ conservation  area in the exhibition, visitors can discover more about the science used to examine the 55 ancient artworks and groups of objects on display, including some more than 4,000 years old.

COLOUR: The art and science of illuminated manuscripts (July 30 – December 30, 2016) follows on from the spectacular success of the Cambridge Illuminations exhibition in 2005. Representing the leading artistic centres across Europe from the 8th to the 16th century, COLOUR will display over 150 stunning paintings on parchment and paper. Visitors will survey the creative process, from the artists’ original ideas through their choice of pigments and painting techniques to the finished masterpieces. COLOUR celebrates the cross-disciplinary research of the Cambridge Illuminations and MINIARE projects, which involves academics across the University of Cambridge and international collaborators to analyse these fragile artworks using the latest scientific techniques combined with art historical research.

Tim Knox, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum commented: “The year-long celebration of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s bicentenary in 2016 will be very special indeed – and we are inviting anyone who has never seen the collections to make this the year they visit. In addition to the two major exhibitions, we are planning public programmes, concerts and big events to illuminate our collections and delight our audiences. We are collaborating with cultural organisations across the city, and we are delighted to be working with our Bicentenary partner ACE Cultural Tours.” 

Image above: Book of Hours, Use of Paris, France, Paris, c.1440-1450, Dunois Master (act. c.1435-1466)

Related tour: Cambridge Collections: Celebrating the Fitzwilliam’s Bicentenary 

Find out more about the Fitzwilliam Museum's bicentenary celebrations here.

Watch Tour Director Andrew Wilson's  ACE Tour Directors' thoughts on the Fitzwilliam Museum's first major bicentenary exhibition, Death on the Nile: Understanding the afterlife of ancient Egypt.