British Museum revamps Collection Online

The British Museum today launches a major revamp of its online collection database, allowing over 4 million objects to be seen by people anywhere in the world. This new version of the online database – officially called the British Museum Collection Online – has been unveiled earlier than planned so that people who are currently under lockdown measures due to Covid-19 can enjoy the treasures from one of the world’s great collections from the comfort of their own home.

This is the biggest update the Museum’s Collection Online has seen since being first created in 2007. It is now fully responsive, making it accessible on mobile and tablets alongside desktop browsers for the first time. The user experience has been completely overhauled, with more intuitive and powerful search technology that is easier to use and more accurate. The whole portal has also been given a major on-screen redesign. There are nearly 4.5 million objects available to be enjoyed, with 1.9 million images. Today’s launch also sees 280,000 new object photographs and 85,000 new object records published for the very first time, many of them acquisitions the Museum has made in recent years, including 73 portraits by Damien Hirst, a previously lost watercolour by Rossetti, and a stunning 3,000-year-old Bronze age pendant.


Rossetti

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said

“The British Museum Collection Online makes millions of objects accessible to the citizens of the world, wherever they might be. Whether you are a student, an artist, a scholar or are a lover of history and culture, this is an unparalleled resource to explore the richness, diversity and complexity of human history contained in the British Museum’s collection. It is also a platform where we can share the latest knowledge and research. We are delighted to be able to unveil this major revamp early, and hope that these important objects can provide inspiration, reflection or even just quiet moments of distraction during this difficult time.”

Helmet from Sutton Hoo
Helmet from Sutton Hoo

Damien Hirst ?frank eggs-ellent dunphy ?signed, titled, inscribed Frank opens his eggs upside down, this way and that
Damien Hirst frank eggs-ellent dunphy signed, titled, inscribed Frank opens his eggs upside down, this way dated 12.1.10 pen on place mat diameter: 22cm.

The majority of the 1.9 million object images are available for anyone to use for free under a Creative Commons 4.0 license. Users no longer need to register to use these photographs, and can now download them directly to their devices, making it easier and quicker to access them for non-commercial activities such as sharing on social media.

The British Museum’s collection is one of the biggest in the world: over half is now available to see online, making it one of the most expansive online museum collection databases from any global museum. Collection Online includes the Museum’s most famous objects such as the Rosetta Stone, the artefacts of Sutton Hoo, the Cyrus Cylinder, the Parthenon Sculptures, and the Benin Bronzes. But it also provides access to other parts of the museum collection, such as the entire collection of objects the Museum holds from Ancient Egypt, every item from Australia, over 750,000 prints by artists such as Rembrandt, William Hogarth and Kara Walker, over 50,000 English coins from the medieval period to the Tudors, and important sculpture from Ancient Greece and Rome. Object records include physical descriptions, information on materials, display and acquisition history, dimensions, previous owners and curatorial comments. Work is continuing to ensure this information is included as fully as possible on every object in the collection and to add new photographs.

A major new addition is the ability to see object images up close, using zoom technology from the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). This allows the fast, rich zoom and panning of images so viewers can see objects on a level of detail inaccessible to the naked eye. This will be available on a select number of key objects from today, including the Rapa Nui sculpture Hoa Hakananai’a and the Admonitions Scroll made in China over 1600 years ago. The number will then grow to thousands over the coming weeks.

The new online collection also sees an expansion of object records written in Chinese. All 1700 pieces in the Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese ceramics now have records in both English and Chinese. The Sir Percival David Collection has some of the finest Chinese ceramics in the world, and they are on long term loan to the British Museum from the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art.

The relaunch of the online collection comes as the British Museum sees a massive surge in traffic to its website as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and people having to stay at home. In the 28 days since the closure of the Museum on Wednesday 18 March 2020, britishmuseum.org had 1,495,336 users, and 1,848,421 visits/sessions. This was 120% up and 99% up respectively on the same period in 2019.

britishmuseum.org/collection

About Mark Westall

Mark Westall is the Founder and Editor of FAD magazine Founder and co-publisher Art of Conversation and founder of the platform @worldoffad