National museums in Denmark

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


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


From royal and private collections at the beginning of the 19th Century; the monarchy established what would become the two main national museums in the country – one for art Statens Museum for Kunst (The State Art Museum) and one for archaeology; ethnology; ethnography and history Nationalmuseet (The National Museum). No doubt the archaeology museum was; from the very beginning; significant in creating a historically founded Danish nationalism that can be detected in the composition and priorities of the national museums. A young democratic Denmark continued on the same path and established a series of regional satellites. Then; in the last quarter of the 19th Century; we see two private initiatives which both aimed to reach the people with feelings of Danish nationalism. One; by establishing a national picture gallery; may be seen as coming from the right Det Nationalhistoriske Museum på Frederiksborg Slot (The National Historical Museum at Frederiksborg Castle) and one; by establishing a folk museum including an open air museum after Swedish inspiration; may be seen as coming from the left - Dansk Folkemuseum (The Danish Popular History Museum). A few decades into the 20th Century; the later of these initiatives was incorporated into Nationalmuseet (The National Museum).

Besides the establishing of several aspect or disciplinary museums during the 20th Century; museum history in Denmark seems to have been relatively calm with only a few disturbances created by the establishing of independent national or semi-national museums among the former colonies in the North Atlantic. That development also seems to have gone from a case with Iceland that was not altogether easy to a more harmonious case with the Faroe Islands. Finally it went on to the successful role model case with the establishing of a national museum in Greenland. However one way to interpret the isolated hot-tempered debate regarding the transfer of early medieval Icelandic manuscripts in the 1960s from Copenhagen to Reykjavik is the traditional popular mythological relation of the stories told in the manuscripts to the special role of archaeology and especially Viking age archaeology in Denmark since the early 19th Century. Taking away the manuscripts from Danish soil was; for nationalistic forces; like amputating the roots of Danish national identity.

Government control of the national museums in Denmark seems to have made museum development relatively harmonious whilst discussions about collections or special artefacts like the Icelandic early medieval manuscripts and the Danish victory lion in Isted have been placed outside the professional museum world since the private right wing and left wing national museum initiatives in the later part of the 19th Century.


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