National Museum (Národní muzeum) – Prague
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Walking around the outside of the National Museum (Národní muzeum) in Prague, Czech Republic.
The National Museum is a Czech museum institution intended to systematically establish, prepare, and publicly exhibit natural scientific and historical collections. It was founded in 1818 by Kašpar Maria Šternberg. Historian František Palacký was also strongly involved in the foundation of the museum.
The National Museum houses nearly 14 million items from the areas of natural history, history, arts, music and librarianship, which are located in dozens of museum buildings. The main building of the National Museum has been renovated in 2011-2019, and permanent exhibitions will be there gradually opened from spring 2020.
After the French Revolution, royal and private collections of art, science and culture were made available to the public. The beginnings of the museum can be seen as far back as 1796 when the private Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts was founded by Count Casper Sternberk-Manderschied and a group of other prominent nobles. The avowed purpose of the society was “the renewed promotion of art and taste,” and during the time of Joseph II, it would be adamantly opposed to the King. In 1800, the group founded the Academy of Fine Arts, which trained students in progressive forms of art and history.
History and timeline
The National Museum in Prague was founded on April 15, 1818. It was founded by Count Sternberk, the first president of the Society of the Patriotic Museum who served as the trustee and operator of the museum. The early focus of the museum was natural sciences, partially because Count Sternberk was a botanist, mineralogist, and eminent phytopaleontologist, but also because of the natural science slant of the times, as perpetrated by Emperor Joseph II of Austria.
The museum was originally located in the Sternberg Palace. When the venue became too small to house the museum’s collections, the museum relocated to the Nostitz Palace. It too had insufficient capacity, which led to the construction a new museum building in Wenceslas Square.
The museum did not acquire historical objects until the 1830s and 40s, when Romanticism arose. The institution of the museum was increasingly seen as a center for Czech nationalism. Serving as historian and secretary of the National Museum in 1841, František Palacký tried to balance natural science and history, as he described in his Treatise of 1841. However, it was not until nearly a century later that the National Museum’s historical treasures equaled its collection of natural science artifacts.
The museum brought about an intellectual shift in Prague. The Bohemian nobility had, until this time, been prominent, both politically and fiscally, in scholarly and scientific groups. However, the National Museum was created to serve all the inhabitants of the land, lifting the stranglehold the nobility had had on knowledge. This was further accelerated by the historian František Palacký, who in 1827 suggested that the museum publish separate journals in German and Czech. Previously, the vast majority of scholarly journals were written in German, but within a few years the German journal had ceased publication, while the Czech journal continued for more than a century.
In 1949, the national government took over the museum and detailed the museum’s role and leadership in the Museum and Galleries Act of 1959. In May 1964, the Museum was turned into an organization of five professionally autonomous components, which included the Museum of Natural Science, the Historical Museum, the Naprstek Museum of Asia, African, and American Cultures, the National Museum Library, the Central Office of Museology. A sixth autonomous unit, the Museum of Czech Music, was established in 1976.
National Museum (Národní muzeum) – Prague.
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