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The Princeton University Art Museum is one of the most extensive museums in an academic context and aims to bring art to the center of the Princeton University experience for educators, students, scholars, and visitors of all stripes. The Museum’s mission is to promote civic engagement and cultural understanding by encouraging analytical thinking, visual literacy, dialogue, and empathy.

Students at Princeton University and members of a varied local, national, and worldwide audience are provided with opportunities to learn from, engage with, and be inspired through the works of art on display at the Princeton University Art Museum. The Museum, which brings together cutting-edge, object-based knowledge with widespread access, has the power to both calm and stir, to reaffirm traditional interpretations and to suggest alternative ones, to fan the flames of imagination, and to provide opportunities for both certain and ambiguous encounters.

The Museum is a visual library and a portal to the University’s intellectual resources; it is both cozy and vast in its offerings, providing chances to dive deeply into the study of art and culture and providing a refreshing encounter with magnificent works of art.

Art collecting at Princeton University and the history of Princeton University are inextricably intertwined. Princeton is one of the oldest collecting institutions in the United States, with its art collections dating back to almost the beginning of the University.

After brief stays in Elizabeth and Newark, the College of New Jersey, which had been chartered in 1746, relocated to its current location, Nassau Hall. New Jersey Colonial Governor Jonathan Belcher was a major benefactor to the institution, and before it even moved into its stately new stone residence (today the oldest continuously used academic structure in the nation), he presented the school with “my own Picture at full length in a gilt Frame.”

The trustees of the College were quite appreciative, and they promptly had a portrait of Belcher hung in the main prayer hall. Following the trend of the time, these early portraits were joined by artifacts from the natural world and pieces of historic architecture to create a proto-museum” of the Enlightenment.

A philosophy that put Princeton at the forefront of scholarship at a time when the history of art was a relatively new academic discipline, largely confined to the more advanced universities in Europe, led to the establishment of the Museum and what is now the Department of Art and Archaeology in 1882. 

Prime’s commitment to donate his porcelain and pottery collection to the museum after it was built gave the project a much-needed boost. The Museum was founded with the dual goals of exposing visitors to original works of art and teaching the history of art through an exhaustive collection of works from around the world.

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