Conference article

Tradition and Ethnographic Display: Defining the National Specificity at the National Art Museum in Romania (1906-1937)

Iulia Pohrib
Paris 1 Panthåon-Sorbonne, France

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Published in: Great Narratives of the Past Traditions and Revisions in National Museums

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 78:20, p. 317-329

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Published: 2012-10-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


After a long period of debates and several unfinished projects; the National Museum of Romania was founded in 1906. Under the direction of Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcas (1872–1952); the newly created institution aimed at being the expression of the Romanian civilization and a depository of local traditions. It was also intended to be a documentary basis for study and research about Romanian art and culture. This paper aims at analysing first the strategies deployed by its director for the construction of a patrimonial collection; then the way it has become more visible through the selection of the objects; the structure of permanent display and the museographic practices. The project for the Muzeul National developed a complex narrative that mixed antiquities as well as religious; folk and modern art in order to define a national specificity and to support the idea of unity and continuity of the Romanian culture; from prehistorical times to the present. Despite its consequent historicism; Tzigara-Samurcas’ museographic conception nevertheless granted a central role to ethnography in a time when folk art unanimously appeared as an authentic production; the very expression of the ‘Romanian spirit’ and the main source of a new regenerated contemporary art. We intend to explore the relationship between the patrimonial practices developed at the National Museum in Romania and the dynamic and multifaceted concept of ‘specificity’. Finally; we will pay attention to the National Museum exhibitions that took place in Paris during the inter-war period as the promotion of an identity profile that revisited national stereotypes; myths of origin and local authenticity. By considering several critical texts; exhibition catalogues and diverse acquisitions; we will try to understand how the foreign audience pictured Romanian ‘national art’ during this period.


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