150 years of the National Museum in Croatia
The National Museum, the precursor of today’s Archaeological Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Croatian History Museum, was founded in 1846.
The middle and the second half of the 19th century in Central Europe was marked by the formation of nations and national programmes; this period in Croatia was socially and politically characterised by the National Revival, the rule of Ban Josip Jelacic, an the Bach regime. Through the establishment of scientific disciplines and greater knowledge, this age of enlightenment and romanticism saw the founding of numerous societies and professional associations, the creation of many scientific and cultural institutions, as well as new publications. In some places museum were founded early in the 19th century; for example, the National Museum in Budapest was founded in 1808, and this was followed by museums in Prague in 1818, in Split in 1820, and in Zadar in 1830. The need for having a similar general museum in Zagreb had certainly matured in the first half of the 19th century. Ljudevit Gaj had headed an initiative for founding a museum and a national library within the framework of the Society of Friends of Illyrian Enlightenment, and forwarded a proposal to the Croatian Parliament in 1836. The Parliament adopted the proposal, but the government in Vienna failed to ratify it. In spite of this setback, in 1838 the National Reading-Room was founded, and this was followed by founding of the Husbandry Society of Croatia and Slavonia in 1841, and the Central Illyrian Cultural and Publishing Society in 1842. These societies soon began to receive donation of ‘historical and natural objects’ for future museum collections, as well as financial contributions towards the purchase of valuable items. As early as the end of 1845, when the catalogue of the numismatic collection of the court councillor Leopold Welzl was published in Vienna, through the efforts of Bogoslav Sulek, a prominent figure of the Illyrian Movement and editor of several daily newspapers and periodicals, as well as Metel Ozegovic, secretary of the court Chancellery, sufficient funds were raised for a part of the collection of Slav coins which were purchased for the National Museum at an auction in Vienna in 1846.
It is interesting to note that the first contribution for the museum raised already in 1828 through the work of the Law School, which was at that time the highest scientific institution in Zagreb.
Members of the national Revival movement were most eager in seeking to have a museum, not only because they wished to prevent our historical heritage going abroad, but also because they saw such an institution as a confirmation of the Croatian cultural identity.
This is why they were the first to begin collecting money for the building of the National Hall. In 1841, by founding the Husbandry Society with Dragutin Rakovac, a poet and an prominent member of the movement, as its secretary, all the items collected to that time were temporarily placed in Baron Rauch’s house on St. Mark’s Square in Zagreb. The significance of the Society’s activities in the middle of the 19th century is described in Gospodarski list (‘The Husbandry Gazette’) in 1891, when it celebrated its 50th anniversary; the articles expressly state that other Croatian societies – the National Museum, for example – were set up under its auspices, and that ‘anything displaying fervent patriotism’ was collected at the Society’s rooms. Among the members of the Society were representatives from Imperial Vienna and figures from the Illyrian Movement – Rakovac, Vukotinovic, Strossmayer and others. In 1845 members of the Illyrian Movement learned that count Karlo Draskovic of Trakoscan was selling his palace in Zagreb with more than 30 rooms for ’28 thousand silver florins’, and that was offering to sell it ‘for shares of 25 silver florins each’. It was a suitable building of housing ‘The National Museum together with the Reading-Room, Casino and the rooms of the Husbandry Society of Croatia and Slavonia’. Just a year later, on February 27 1845, a contract was signed for the sale of the palace which the leaders of the Illyrian Movement renamed the National Hall after the largest room in the building which was used for social gatherings, balls and various assemblies. The contract is now kept at the National and University Library in Zagreb.
This building is the one at 18 Opaticka Street in the old part of town and today it houses institutes of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Science. In the middle of the 17th century the plot came into the possession of the Order of St. Clare. The nunnery chapel dedicated to the Holy trinity was built on the north-west corner of the plot, but it fell into ruin after the order was dissolved in 1782. Count Karlo Draskovic bought the plot in 1835 in order to build a palace. It was built by the end of 1838, and is considered to be the work of Bartol Felbinger, an architect from Zagreb. This is supported by the fact that Felbinger was sued in 1843 after the collapse of the portico roof on the eastern facade of the building. However, there is still dispute about whether the architect built the palace according to his own plans, because the three copies of the blueprints kept at the Croatian museum have no signature and no date.
From 1846 the central part of the ground floor of this building, which we might consider to be one of the most prominent palaces built in the classical style, housed the National Museum, while the wings of the palace housed the Husbandry Society, Reading-Room and Casino. The interior of the building was refurbished for these new functions by the architect Aleksandar Brdaric from Zagreb. The palace became the centre of all important cultural, educational and other social events, while the Hall was used for political gatherings and balls. One of the first such lively events was a ball given for 550 guests on the occasion of the formal opening of the National Hall on February 8 1847. A water-colour from 1860 kept at the Museum of the City of Zagreb depicts a ball at the National Hall. The Hall was also the scene of the great historic Assembly held on March 25 1848; organised by Gaj, Kukuljevic and Vranicani, it was this meeting that Kukuljevic and Vranicani, it was at this meeting that Kukuljevic voiced his ‘National demands’, and Josip Jelacic’s name was put forward for the post of the Croatian Ban, while ‘patriotically-minded ladies’ donated their jewellery ‘for the good of the country’.
A picture of the palace even found its way onto a pack of playing cards which were made by the craftsman Josip Back from Zagreb; the cards were in fact named after the main hall in the palace – ‘The Zagreb Hall Pack of Cards’ – and a pack is kept at the Croatian History Museum. Finally, the palace of the National Hall is also depicted on the Popular Calendar for the Leap Year 1848. The trees in the courtyard, as well as the wrought-iron fence have been preserved to this day. It is interesting to note that this illustration was accompanied by an article with the title ‘The Museum’, in which readers could learn about museums, and they were also encouraged to make contributions for the maintenance of the museum. The author of the text ant the illustration are anonymous, but it is possible that they were both the work of Dragutin Rakovac, who was not only the editor of the Calendar, but also worked as the Museum’s first curator.
The management and maintenance of the National Museum was in the hands of the Husbandry Society, so that the first administrator and custodian of the collections was the society’s secretary, Dragutin Rakovac. As early as in 1842 he worked on taking possession of, finding a place for and taking care of collected museum items. He was to work in that position until 1854. Since the society worked with very modest financial resources, Ljudevit Vukotinovic published a proposal in Gaj’s Novine (‘Gazette’) suggesting that the Croatian Parliament should pass a law obliging all citizens to pay a set contribution to the Museum Trust Fund. Ljudevit Gaj added the suggestion that every citizen’s contribution should be set at two kreutzers. In the same Novine, Vjekoslav Babukic appealed to Croatian representatives to demand from the Hungaro–Croatian Diet the same subsidies for the national Museum which it provided for the National Museum in Budapest. The response to Vukotinovic’s proposal was so great that he and Rakovac published the names of the donators and their contributions, as well as the items donated to individual collections in daily papers and periodicals. The names most frequently mentioned were Vukotinovic and Rakovac, Mijat Sabljar, Ivan Kukuljevic, Kajetan Petter and Juraj Haulik. There were also some donators from abroad, for example the Englishman Archibald Paton, a travel writer and lover of antiquity who visited the National Hall several times and recorded his visits; hi donated a Namibian stone sculpture to the Museum. Vukotinovic writes that the Museum at that time had the following collections: ‘mineralogical, geological, fossils, shells, insects, botany, old coin, various antiques, zoology, engines and inventions, as well as a number of smaller collections’.
Between September 10 1846 and February 11 1847 the National Museum kept a book of visitors (‘Pohodnici Muzeuma’) which shows that that the visitors were for the most part prominent figures from the Illyrian Movement, people involved in public life and public education, craftsmen and merchants, and often entire families. The book is kept at the Croatian History Museum.
After Rakovac’s death in 1854 the Husbandry Society appointed Mijat Sabljar, a pensioned major, as the ‘keeper’ of the archaeological collection as well as some other collections, and we should say a little more about him at this point. He was an active member of the Husbandry society (on Stager’s portrait he is shown holding the Monthly Gazette of the Husbandry Society of Croatia and Slavonia), and from 1850 of the South Slav Historical and Archaeological Society, and he undertook several long trips, returning with cases full of various antiques and curios. In this way he greatly enlarged the Museum’s collections of coins, minerals and shells from Croatia, ancient inscriptions, manuscripts and archival materials, insects and plants. We can without exaggeration say that Sabljar laid down the foundations of the zoological, mineralogical, numismatic, sphragistic and dendrological collections, as well as being responsible for the foundation of the library, which grew day after day through donations or acquisitions. Particularly interesting is his New Illyrian Herbarium (‘Novi ilirski herbar’) on which he worked with Professor Kajetan Petter and Dr Hugo Klinggraff, and which contained references to some 1.600 plants. From 1842 he was in charge of the lavish and varied museum of the Austrian marshal, the Irish count Laval Nugent, at the Trsat fort above Rijeka.
In 1855 Sabljar left Zagreb, and his post was taken by Ljudevit Vukotinovic, who was to stay on only until 1862, when he went to Krizevci in order to take up the post of the Grand Zupan of the Krizevci County. Sabljar then returned to Zagreb and was appointed to the post of the administrator of the national Museum. It was then that he began the process of systematically classifying and cataloguing the collections, which had in the meantime been plundered; he also appealed to the Regency council with a petition for appointing three special expert committees at the South Slav Historical and Archaeological Society to assist him in organising the collections.
We also need to mention Sabljar’s many drives for soliciting contributions for the acquisition of valuable collections and item, for example the paintings of Ivan Zasche, Pavel Josef Safarik’s library, and the coin collection of Franjo Dierich from Sisak. During Sabljar’s tenure, in 1862, Ilija Baric, a parish priest from the Dakovo diocese, was persuaded by bishop Strossmayer to donate a famous Egyptian mummy which brought fame to the Museum from all over the world.
We should also mention that between 1852 and 1870 an account-book was kept in the Museum; this account-book is now kept at the Croatian History Museum. There are entries by many people: Mijat Sabljar, Aleksa Praunsperger, who was for the time the head of the natural Science Collection, as well as by Joakim Racic (between 1865 and 1866), Dr Josip Schlosser (between 1866 and 1868), and finally, by Sime Ljubic (until 1870), who had taken up the administration of the National Museum following a proposal made by Franjo Racki after the founding of the South Slav Academy.
The accounts show, in a tragi-comic way, the problems encountered by the former heads and curators of the Museum, and the way in which they solved them. We learn that the Museum operated on the additional income of individuals who enabled the purchase of ‘wax and a brush for the floors, and a new lock for the door... a potty... and four cloths for wiping away the dust, as well as paying compensation ‘to the cleaning-woman Bara Agras for washing the Museum’s windows’. There is also mention of the purchase of office stationary, for example ‘half a quire of writing-paper, one bottle of black ink, two ounces of fine powder, 36 steel pens, a bar of soap for washing one’s hands from the dust...’ and so on. The accounts show the payments made for the acquisition of items, like the payment to a person ‘who brought two live otters – 20 kreutzers’, as well as for the preparation and restoration of objects – for example, ‘Mr Ivan Reihardt, the furrier, for one new brown fur to replace the one eaten by moths on Ban Jelacic’s busby’ was paid 6 florins, while the painter J. F. Mucke received 8 florins ‘for repairing the painting of Ban Jelacic’. We learn about the methods they used for protecting the objects from moths and other pests from a bill ‘for three measures of camphor for Ban Jelacic’s busby – 30 kreutzers’, were paid for ‘5 ounces of carbon sulphate for driving away pestilent insects’. The accounts also mention fees paid to staff, so that we see that Jovan Rakic received 15 florins per quarter ‘for clerical work done for the National Museum’, while Sabljar always spent more than he received, and made up for the losses from his own pocket.
Unfortunately, Sabljar died on December 21 18654, and Josip Schlosser temporarily took charge of the library and the archaeological collection.
In 1861 the Croatian Parliament set up the Committee of the Academy headed by Bishop Strossmayer which petitioned the king for his approval of the Statute and Organisation of the National Museum. King Franz Joseph I approved the Statute after a full five wears, on March 4 1866. The National Museum became a national institution under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament, but under the administration of the South Slav Academy of Arts and Science (although the Academy was formally founded in 1867, its organising committee was established before that time. The Museum was handed over to the Academy on January 19 1868, and the president of the Academy, Dr Franjo Racki, headed the newly-appointed Museum Committee, whose other two members were Josip Schlosser and Petar Matkovic. The committee was charged by the Academy to manage the Museum and submit regular annual reports to the Regional Government on the state of the collections.
According to the Statute of the Museum and the royal rescript, the National Institute (National Museum) was divided into two departments: one for natural science and the other for archaeology; each department was headed by one professional, one of them acting as the Museum’s administrator. The curator of the Archaeological Department (the archaeological and coin collection as well as the library) in 1867 was Sime Ljubic, and he also served as the Museum’s administrator, while Spiridon Brusina worked as the curator of the Natural Science Department.
Appeals were again made to the public through daily papers – the Obzor ‘Horizon’ and the Narodne novine (‘Popular paper’) - for the contributions in money and objects for the Museum. Once again, the response was great, so that already in 1868 the Museum was in a position to purchase the collection of Egyptian relics from Baron Franjo Koller.
Soon the rooms in the National Hall became too small, and in that same year, 1868, the Croatian Parliament decided to move the natural science department to the old Amadeo Theatre building in Demetrova 1, where it has remained to this day. It was then that Brusina persuaded the Academy to employ another curator, Duro Pilar.
In 1870 Sime Ljubic started publishing the National Museum’s paper Viestnik Narodnog zemaljskog muzeja u Zagrebu (‘News of the Croatian National Museum in Zagreb’), but managed to publish only two issues, one of them in 1876, at his own expense.
The Academy was in charge of the National Museum until September 14 1878, when the Act on organising the National Museum was passed; in line with the provision of the Act, the Museum was separated from the Academy and came under the direct authority of the Regional Government in the form of its Department of Religion and Education. The Act divided the Museum into three departments – zoological, mineralogical and archaeological – which continued to function independently as departments of the National Museum, each with its own head and working in close conjunction with the University.
In 1880 the South Slav Academy of Arts and Science moved to a new building on Zrinjski Square, and the National Hall became the seat of the High Court, which remained there until the end of World War II.
The Archaeological Department was allowed to use a part of the ground floor of the Academy’s new building, and it would stay there until
1946. In this period the department was headed by Josip Brunsmid and Viktor Hoffiller.
After an act was passed in 1939 the National Museum ceased to exist, and the Archaeological Department became an independent institution, but it was officially named the Archaeological Museum in 1945, when it moved to its present location at the building of Zrinjski Square.
Following the death of Duro Pilar in 1893, the mineralogical department was divided into the Geological and Paleontological Department, with Dragutin Gorjanovic Kramberger as its head, and the Department of Mineralogy and Petrography headed by Miso Kispatic. They were officially made independent in 1939.
The historical collections remained within the framework of the Archaeological Department headed by Viktor Hoffiller until 1942, when Dr Drzislav Svob was appointed as its head, but he was killed in the Ustashe camp at Lepoglava in 1944. In the period between the two world wars several opportunities arose for founding an independent history museum, but nothing came of them. One of them arose on the occasion of the great Cultural and Historical Exhibition in Zagreb in 1925, organised to mark 1000 years of the Kingdom of Croatia. It was then that museum objects from our national heritage were exhibited in line with contemporary museological concepts for the first time. The second opportunity was almost realised when a formal decision was adopted concerning museums and galleries; the decision, at least in theory, spoke about establishing an independent museum for historical monuments. But Dr Drzislav Svob did not manage to carry out the decision according to which material in museum was supposed to be allocated in such a way that the History Museum would receive all the material concerning national history from the very beginning of South Slav presence on the Balkans. The objects remained at the Archaeological Museum on Zrinjski Square, while some of the stone monuments remained in the National Hall in Opaticka Street.
In 1951 the History Museum of Croatia was founded, but it was administered by the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Science as one of its institutions; it was headed by Nevenka Prosen. For a brief period after her tenure it was headed by Academician Ferdo Culinovic.
During the fifties in Zagreb there was an independent institution, the Museum of Serbs in Croatia, which kept objects from Serb monasteries and churches which were preserved from destruction during the war. The Museum’s director was Branko Sucevic. When Zagreb built a new City Hall in 1959, the mayor, Veceslav Holjevac, gave the History Museum of Croatia Rauch’s Palace in the old part of town, in 9 Matoseva Street.
In 1962 the Museum was separated from the Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Science and was integrated with the Museum of Serbs in Croatia which became one of its sections. At that time, between 1962 and 1966, the head of the Museum was Fedor Moacanin. After him, the post of the Museum’s director was briefly held by Hrvoje Matkovic.
In the period between 1967 and 1980 the Museum was headed by Dr Lelja Dobronic, and these years marked the beginning of the rise of this institution with an exceptional increase in publishing, research and general museum activities. Numerous catalogues of collections and special exhibitions were published, exhibitions were organised outside the Museum, and the Society of Friends of the History Museum of Croatia was founded. The curators organised numerous excursions and visits to cultural and historical monuments for members of the Society and provided them with guided tours. During the summer ‘Children’s Summer Days’ were organised, and during the year in the Museum’s magnificent baroque hall ‘Evenings at the History Museum of Croatia’ were held with given by numerous masters and music institutions.
After Dr Lelja Dobronic’s retirement, Ivan Barbaric was the Museum’s director between 1980 and 1986, and he was succeeded by Jasna Tomicic.
During this most recent period the History Museum of Croatia and the Museum of the Revolution of the Peoples of Croatia merged to form the Croatian History Museum. Unfortunately, almost all of the holdings of those two museums are today kept in the same building, the Rauch Palace, to which the historical collections were moved in 1959 in order to provide them with more space. As far as the collections are concerned, the entire holdings are divided into 16 sections, each with its own head and curator. Several tens of thousands of objects are kept at the Museum today, so that we can echo the words: ‘There is no more room at the National Hall.’