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John Knox
John Knox


About the exhibition

This exhibition is a selection from the University's large collections. It is just a tiny sample from a long history of collecting. The first University museum was begun before the end of the 17th century, but this is not just a story of casual acquisition. Collecting objects and images of objects, animal, vegetable or mineral, in order to study them, has long been central to learning. And not just in the study of the past. Collecting has also played a crucial part in the advancement of knowledge in medicine and the sciences. Indeed, this has been its primary role.

There are also other motives for collecting. The University's portrait collection goes back to its foundation, representing its collective identity. The portraits too are part of a kind of study, the study of human nature. There are also many objects in the collections that are associated with individuals and their achievements. Each one tells a story, and some of these stories are told here.

The collection that became the nucleus of the University Library predates the University itself. Books can be valued as objects and there are several here that are precious witnesses to Scottish life before the Reformation. These early books are illuminated manuscripts, but illustration is of the greatest importance in later books too. It is much more than a handmaid to learning. It has been a key part of the whole study of objects and the external world on which empirical science is based.

The theme of Object Lessons is not just the history of collecting, it is also the way in which the whole approach to learning in many key areas in the history of Western thought has been shaped by the same processes of visual analysis and enquiry that have produced these collections. The exhibition also tells part of the story of the University itself, for it is especially in these areas of thought that it has played, and continues to play, a distinguished part. Visual skills have been central to this story, where art and science have often worked much more closely together than we might imagine. The themes into which the exhibition is divided have been chosen to illustrate how these continuities of thought link the past with the present and future.


Talbot Rice Gallery websiteScottish Arts Council website
last updated 19.11.03