Help using the Advanced  search

The advanced search lets you search for, browse and combine two or more controlled terms used in the collection database to find, for example all prints by Rembrandt or all Ming dynasty vessels. What is a controlled term?

Step by step:

1. Select a category using the drop-down box

2. Enter a search term in the text box next to it.

Click the arrow to find terms (or press enter on your keyboard) to search for relevant terms used in the database.

Try searching in this way on a variety of terms to see which is recognised by the database. You can enter a term using a wild card search if you are not sure of the correct spelling, for example, Min* will return results such as Minoan, Ming dynasty and so on).

2. Once in the term search screen you can click on a term to see all the objects associated with it, or select the term - or terms - you want to use to build a search:

  • Select a term - or terms – to build up a tailored search combining a number of terms by selecting the check box beside the term you require and clicking ‘Add selected terms to your object search’. This will return you to the Advanced search screen and automatically add your selected terms to your tailored search.
  • Browse the thesaurus by viewing the narrower terms – a link will appear next to the term if narrower terms exist. Each narrower term may itself have narrower terms. Users can keep clicking through to check these and browse the hierarchy until the narrower term link is no longer shown. This means that the most specific term has been reached.

You can select a number of different terms from the same or different categories.

Please note: selecting a term with narrower terms will also retrieve these narrower terms (e.g. China would also retrieve towns and villages in China) for use in your search.

All the terms you select will be inserted into 'Your object search'.

4. Repeat steps 1-2 using the same or other categories, until you have all the terms you need

5. Free text and Production date (optional)

The terms you have selected and entered into 'Your object search' can be combined with a free text search. Any word entered in the search box will return results from across all information held in the title, description and subject fields of our object records and will retrieve every record that has this word in it, including plural versions.

The Free text search works in much the same way as most online searches, so you can enter one or more words as well as punctuation. For example:

Any word, or combination of words, can be entered in the free text search box. For example:

British watercolour
British OR watercolour

"St Peter" 


will find all records containing both 'British' and 'watercolour', or watercolours

will find records containing either word (OR must be upper-case)

will find records containing that exact phrase

will perform a wild card search and find records containing wood, woods, wooden, woodwork, woodcock, woodcocks and so on.

You can also further narrow down your search by adding dates.

6. Search for objects

When you have chosen all your search criteria, click on Search for objects, which is on the Advanced search screen.

Help - Categories


This covers historical periods and dynasties such as, or example, 11th Dynasty, Edo Period or Medieval, as well as terms used to describe a cultural region such as Byzantine or Persian.


This is the name given to the part of a clock or watch that controls the rate at which it functions (e.g. ticks). This rate is determined by the timekeeping element (the controlling device), usually a swinging pendulum or an oscillating balance. Whilst the controller locks and unlocks the escapement, the latter gives impulse to the former to keep it swinging or oscillating.

Ethnic group

This covers the names of peoples, tribes or ethnic groups.

Object types

This refers to the type of object in the collection such as figure, bowl, print or skirt. The object types are arranged in a hierarchy, so a search for cup – for example – will find all cups, and all coffee cups, tea cups and so on.

Please note: almost all of the two-dimensional works of art included in the database have been categorised as a ‘print’, ‘drawing’ or ‘painting’. Many works can also be found under a more specific classification, such as satirical print, broadside, book illustration or surimono, though they may also be found as narrow terms of broader object types.


This field covers all types of names that are linked with objects: makers (artists, manufacturers, publishers, printers, for example), acquisition names (donors, or previous owners, for example) people portrayed on an object, those authorising the issue of coins or banknotes, or authors of illustrated works.

It covers historical, as well as mythological (e.g. Hercules) and religious (e.g. Buddha, Noah) names, as well as organisations or companies.

To find a specific name, enter is as fully as possible, for example, e.g. William Hogarth, or Hogarth, William. If you enter just one element of the name, e.g. William or Hogarth you will get results for every use of that particular element.

If you are specifically interested in previous owners, donors or vendors you should use the Museum number and provenance search.


The geographical thesaurus is used to record place of production (though this is often not known for Western prints and drawings) the place where an object was found or excavated, topography (views of places) and any other associations. The high level terms are regions, as well as countries and continents.

A geographical thesaurus is extremely difficult to construct, since it has to cover places and countries, many of which no longer exist, or which have changed their names, spellings, boundaries or ruling authority. If you cannot find a place, try searching with a higher level term, such as a country or region.

Archaic place names are also included. These include regions whose boundaries have changed – such as British counties or European countries, towns that exist only in the archaeological record, such as Troy or Verulamium, and buildings whose location is unknown.


This is designed to capture an art-historical stylistic affiliation rather than any geographical or chronological origin.

Eastern schools and styles are categorised traditionally according to the artistic style in which the works are made, for example, Persian School or South Asian School.

For Western art, the schools indexed here are usually those of the modern states: Italian, French, German, British and so on. ‘British’ is not sub-divided into ‘English’, ‘Scottish’, ‘Welsh’, or ‘Irish’ (though since Irish independence artists are categorised as Irish).

‘Netherlandish’ becomes ‘Dutch’ or ‘Flemish’ in the late sixteenth century. For works dated since 1830 ‘Belgian’ becomes a school. Italian artists (uniquely) are sub-divided into Venetian, Florentine and so on.


This thesaurus covers subjects depicted in or on an object and indexes terms at a more general level. For example, it includes the term ‘fish’ but not ‘salmon’. It includes conceptual terms as well as those reflecting people and nature. Its top terms are, for example, animal, plant and so on. Specific terms should be searched for using the Free text search.


This covers the materials used to make an object. It includes wider terms such as wood or stone, as well as more specific terms such as oak, applewood, granite or marble.

For graphic art, this covers the material of the support on which the pigment is placed. In most cases this will be paper (different types of paper have not been distinguished). It can, however, also be silk, barkcloth, vellum, canvas or linen and so on. It does not cover the drawing or printing pigment.


This covers the techniques employed to make an object, such as carved, glazed, or woodcut. The terms are hierarchical, so a search for glazed will include all narrower terms such as salt-glazed, celadon-glazed or lustred.

In terms of two-dimensional art, depending on scholarly convention, the terms ‘drawn’ and ‘painted’ have been used interchangeably. The Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum does not use the term ‘painted’, whereas some departments, especially the Department of Asia, do use this term.

The techniques of printmaking have been indexed in this field in a structured hierarchy: e.g. intaglio covers both etching and engraving, while etching covers soft-ground.

The methods of drawing do not lend themselves to categorising in this way, and so drawings have only been entered under the term ‘drawn’, paintings under the term 'painted'.

Terms for media, such as ‘graphite’ or ‘pencil’, ‘watercolour’ or ‘chalk’ can only be found through a free text search.


The ware thesaurus is used to record the type of ceramic that was used to make an object, such as Arita ware or Agano ware.