Museums in Basel - Development of The Museums - Museums in The City - Division of The Public Collections Into State Museums

Division of The Public Collections Into State Museums

Parallel to the specialization of the educational and research disciplines that took hold at the beginning of the 19th century, Basel’s wide-ranging holdings of objects evolved into institutional collections divided according to various scientific fields. They were very different from the cabinets of curiosities that, according to the Basel professor Wilhelm Wackernagel, had merely involved " at curiosities with a half-pedantic, half-childish zeal". The Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum) founded in 1821 was the first step in this new direction. In 1836, the art collection was made legally independent from the university library with a separate publicly funded art commission to oversee it. In 1856, the "medieval collection" took up residence in auxiliary rooms and annexes of the Basel Cathedral (Bishop’s Court, St. Nicholas Chapel), having been established earlier that year with inventories from the Museum on Augustinergasse based on the model of the German National Museum in Nuremberg. In 1887, castings of ancient sculptures were put on display in the Sculpture Hall of the Basel Art Association (Basler Kunstverein). Meanwhile in 1874, the chemistry and physics institutes had moved into the new Bernoullianum building for the study of the natural sciences, whereupon their holdings of objects shed their collection character in favor of laboratory facilities. The canton had difficulty amassing funding and support for the creation of another museum for its collections. The Museum on Augustinergasse had represented a formidable beginning, yet remained the only one of its kind for nearly fifty years.

In 1892, the "antiquarian collection" (small artifacts of antiquity, excluding ethnological objects) was joined with the medieval collection of the Basel Cathedral and historical weapons from the Basel Armory to form the Historical Museum Basel (Historisches Museum Basel), with exhibition space in the reconverted Barfüsser Church from 1894 onwards. Today this museum houses the Upper Rhine’s most comprehensive collection of cultural history, showing artisanal crafts (Cathedral Treasury, goldsmith works, stained glass) and objects of everyday culture (furnishings, tapestries, coin cabinet). Major emphasis is placed on the Late Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The entire inventory of books was incorporated into the collection of the new University Library in 1896. The "ethnographic collection", which was given the title Collection of Ethnology (Sammlung für Völkerkunde) in 1905, moved into new space created by an addition to the Museum on Augustinergasse in 1917, where it became the Museum of Ethnology (Museum für Völkerkunde). With holdings of approximately 300,000 objects and a comparable number of historical photographs, it is the largest ethnological museum in Switzerland and one of the largest in Europe. The collection includes objects from Europe, Ancient Egypt, Africa, Asia (Tibet and Bali Collections), Ancient America and Oceania. In 1944, the federal administration distinguished its European holdings as the Swiss Museum of Ethnology (Schweizerisches Museum für Volkskunde). However, since 1997 this division no longer exists; non-European and European collections are now joined in the Basel Museum of Cultures (Museum der Kulturen Basel), whose name intentionally expresses a change in emphasis from the presentation of “foreign” cultures to intercultural dialogue. The Natural History Museum Basel (Naturhistorisches Museum Basel), which features most areas of the natural sciences (anthropology, mineralogy, paleontology, vertebrates, insects including the Frey Collection of Beetles and other invertebrates), has not only remained in its original location since 1849 but has also retained its traditional name. Its collections, comprising nearly eight million objects which are also dedicated to scientific research, bear the title "Archives of Life".

The public art collection was installed in the upper story of the Museum on Augustinergasse in 1849. Its continuing growth led to increasing spatial demands that could not be met at that location. In 1936, after a planning period of roughly three decades, the art collection moved into the Kunstmuseum Basel. Satellite locations had already been established in 1922 at the Augustinerhof on Augustinergasse (collection of prints and drawings) and at the Bachofenhaus on Cathedral Square (Bachofen Collection with additional holdings). The greater part of the art collection was temporarily housed in the Kunsthalle from 1928 until 1936. The Kunstmuseum’s gallery of paintings and collection of prints and drawings comprise the largest and most significant public art collection in Switzerland. With an emphasis on paintings and drawings by artists of the Upper Rhine from 1400 to 1600 (Holbein family, Witz, Cranach the Elder, Grünewald) and art of the 19th to 21st centuries (Böcklin, van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Cubism with Picasso and Braque, German Expressionism, postwar American art), it also ranks as one of the leading international museums of its kind. Since the removal of the art collection to new quarters, the Museum on Augustinergasse has served as the exclusive domain of the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Cultures/Museum of Ethnology (Völkerkundemuseum/Museum der Kulturen). A major expansion of the public museum collections occurred in 1961 with the founding of the Basel Museum of Ancient Art and Ludwig Collection (Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig). This new institution combined previous holdings from the Historical Museum (small artifacts of antiquity) and Kunstmuseum (sculptures) with acquisitions from private collections, which are displayed in two neoclassical villas located opposite the Kunstmuseum. The Museum of Ancient Art opened in the first villa in 1966 and expanded into the adjacent structure, also built by architect Melchior Berri, in 1988. It is the only Swiss museum devoted exclusively to the art of the Mediterranean area (mainly Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Italic and Roman cultures, as well as Levante and the Near East) from the 4th millennium B.C. to the 7th century A.D. The collections of Greek vases, Antique sculptures and Ancient Egyptian artifacts occupy a central position within its holdings.

Read more about this topic:  Museums In Basel, Development of The Museums, Museums in The City

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