Marilyn vos Savant, in her regular column, was asked “where was the earliest known museum and what was displayed?”
Ms. vos Savant answers that the first museums as we understand them were located in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. However, only scholars got to view anything kept inside and then only used as teaching tools, not viewed by the general public.
The first museum as we understand it today, she continues, was the Uffizi in Florence, Italy displaying paintings, statues and anything collected by the Medici. It officially became a public museum, a word coined during the Renaissance in the 14th through 16th century, in 1769.
This squares with a book I recently bought at the Big Flea a while ago. ‘To Have and To Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collectiing’ by Philipp Blom (The Overlook Press, 2002, ISBN 1-58567-377-3). I’m not far into it yet, but the first collections were housed in studiolos and consisted of natural flora and fauna for visiting scholars and rich visitors only.