National Museums in Hungary

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


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


The national museums in Hungary are relatively easy to define. The term covers a set of institutions connected to a structure of state owned; centrally financed institutions; which came into existence during a process of expansion and specialization of the collections of the original Hungarian National Museum. The Hungarian National Museum (1803) was founded with the idea to follow the model of imperial capital Vienna as well as other major European capitals as an institution to foster national culture and civilization in the Kingdom of Hungary; which its elite considered a largely independent cultural and political unit within the Habsburg Empire. The museum; hence; was meant to promote national identity and all its subsequent expansions and branches were considered parts of a homogenous national culture and erudition. Consequently; governments and elites ordinarily stressed their connection to the state and the importance of central funding.

Through a systematic exploration of the main turning points in its history; the current report addresses the foundation of the National Museum in Hungary; its implications for its further development; the structure of ownership; the history of its collections; the process of professionalization both in terms of staff skills and the generation of specialized museums. Besides; it follows the trajectories of the various identities – national; civic; historical; revolutionary and communist – these museums intended to shape.

The National Museum was founded in the early 19th century as a civic; aristocratic and middle class initiative. Originally; it was owned by the nation; governed by a board of trustees and supervised by the imperial administration via its Hungarian commissioner; the Palatinus (nádor in Hungarian). Its collections were enriched by various private donations coming from various segments of the society; such as aristocratic or middle class urban families.

Since the emergence of civil constitutional administration; 1848 in Hungary; the National Museum has been supervised by one of the ministries of the national government; regularly ministries of culture or education. It was considered an autonomous institution governed by a board and maintained by an endowment; but also benefited from state sponsorship up until 1949; the introduction of communist dictatorship. During the 1870s; a professional system of collection was developed. Professional art historians were responsible for acquisitions funded mostly by the state; whereas archaeologists were employed and excavations were sponsored. This led to the rapid expansion of collections and the foundations of specialized museums at the turn of the century: Museum of Natural History; Museum of Ethnography; Museum of Applied Arts; Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery.

These museums together created the system of the Hungarian National Museum under various titles; thus transforming the original National Museum into a historical museum; as it was actually called in certain periods. The structure of the National Museum included the National Library and Archives until the end of WWII. In 1949; the National Museum and all the other specialized museums became state owned; state funded individual museums. They lost their autonomous governance; and received annual central funds. This institutional structure virtually remained in effect following 1989. The network of national museums are supervised by the Ministry of Culture or Education and governed and funded by the state.


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