Antiquarian attitudes. Changing responses to the past in the museum environment

  • Arthur MacGregor


Of the many attributes that may deem an object worthy of inclusion in a museum, that of antiquity is one of the most potent - in a sense the most powerful of all, for other considerations such as beauty of form, originality of design, quality of workmanship or historical association may all be glossed over in the presence of extreme age. While antiquities have formed common components of museums throughout the history of collecting, striking changes have taken place in the significance attributed to them, not merely in the light of better understanding but more fundamentally in the way in which perceptions of antiquity itself have been repeatedly revised and reinterpreted within the museum context. These twin considerations of expanding understanding and changing perceptions of the past within the museum programme will form the basis of my paper.