National Museums in Luxembourg

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


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


In 1913; English travel writer Georges Renwick; described Luxembourg as “a curious experiment in nation-making”; (quoted by Pit; 2010: 1). Indeed; politically and geographically it is an exceptional nation-state: the only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy in Europe; it is also one of its smallest members; with a population of half a million inhabitants making the country; as a whole; less populous than most European capital cities. This small country is host to three languages; French; German and Luxembourgish (officially recognized as a distinct language; not just a German dialect; from 1919 onwards); making it an area of great linguistic cultural diversity. In terms of nation-building it has been influenced both by the French and by the German nationbuilding process and nationalist thinking. The comparably small size of Luxembourg allows for a relatively easy and precise study of the processes that established this ‘imagined community’; to employ the famous term used by Benedict Anderson. Its desire to identify and yet differentiate itself from the larger countries that surround it has lead Luxembourg to develop a strong sense of European identity as a means of establishing itself as an international player and partner; a strategy that can be observed in the creation of some its most recent national museums.

An excellent recent study; entitled Inventing Luxembourg: Representations of the Past; Space and Language from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century ; published in 2010 describes and analyses the historical master narrative of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg by looking successively at the discourses relating to its history; territory and language. However; we might add that it pays little attention to projects related to its national museums. It does however; very usefully describe the major traits of national historiography – an analysis that we have relied upon and which has proved extremely fruitful and concordant in our consideration of the country’s museums. The authors state in the introduction that: “this book sets out to examine whether the more recent supranational narrative meshes with the classical national master narrative or whether it represents a paradigm shift. Has an exclusive narrative been replaced by an inclusive one? Has the ethnocentric viewpoint given way to a Eurocentric outlook? What elements of (dis)continuity are there between the traditional and the new strands of the master narratives? Both seem to rely on two concepts: particularism and Mischkultur (mixed culture)” (Pit; 2010: 9). This report will consider to what extent we can ask ourselves these same questions in relation to the development of Luxembourg’s national museums and their narratives.

Luxembourg; as an independent sovereign state; free of any foreign occupation since 1867; began establishing national collections at a relatively late stage in comparison to other countries. It did however; immediately appear as a priority to the Grand Duchy; with a decree that established the administrative basis for such an institution in 1968 to create the Grand-Ducal Institute. The two main collections of History and Art and of Natural History; though occupying a modest display area in the Athénée from the 1850s onwards; only became independent institutions in the 1920s and opened their doors to the public shortly before the Second World War.

In 1988; the state museums and archives were officially given the title ‘national’; reflecting along with the 1984 Language Law and the construction of the National Monument of Remembrance in 1985; an “upsurge of interest in representations of the past (both memory and history)”; (Pit; 2010: 8). In terms of cultural policy for national museums; a major turning point was Luxembourg’s role as European Capital of Culture in 1995; an event that crystallised national interest and implication in cultural affairs; allowing the state to measure its “tardiness in matters of cultural infrastructure” (Consulate general of Luxembourg in Shanghai; 2011; online). The city has since invested in major cultural projects including a Philharmonic Hall; National Audiovisual Centre; a National Centre for Literature; but also a new home for its already existing national museums; a new municipal museum dedicated to the city’s history and two new national museums: the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of the Fortress – all of which we will consider as case studies further on. The last two examples will show how the notions of Particularism and Mischkultur (mixed culture) have found an expression in this new master narrative reflecting an old image of the city symbolized and envisioned as a fortress; “seen as both oppressive and protective” (Pit; 2010: 4). The fortress represents Luxembourg but also the influence of all the foreign powers who ruled the country as successive occupants; from “Vauban to Wenceslas” (Consulate general of Luxembourg in Shanghai; 2011; online). In the last decade; this image of the country has been materialised through the installation of two museums; one resolutely modern and international; the other clearly national and local.


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Bergami; C. (2009) “Figures de la marginalité. Internationalisation et renationalisation d’une mémoire frontalière dans les relations du Luxembourg avec ses régions limitrophes. 1979-2007 ”; Dépasser le cadre national des “Lieux de mémoire”: innovations méthodologiques; approches comparatives; lectures transnationales; B. Majerus and S. Kmec (ed.) Brussels: Peter Lang; 203-218.

Frank G.; Bei R. and Robin; P. ‘A Guide to Museum Statistics of Europe; Luxembourg’; Online; available HTTP : <http://www.egmus.eu/index.php?id=79&no_cache=1> (accessed 4 February; 2011).

Margue M. (2009) “Lieux de mémoire au Luxembourg; lieux de mémoire en Europe”; Dépasser le cadre national des “Lieux de mémoire”: innovations méthodologiques; approches comparatives; lectures transnationales; B. Majerus and S. Kmec (ed.) Brussels: Peter Lang; 7-22.

McDonald G. (2009) Frommer’s Belgium; Holland & Luxembourg; Frommer’s.

Modert; O. (2007) ‘Octavie Modert fait le point sur l’état du projet "Musée 3 Eechelen"’; Online; available HTTP : <http://www.gouvernement.lu/salle_presse/actualite/2007/08/01modert/index.ht ml> (accessed 4 February; 2011).

Pit; P.; Kmec; S. and Majerus B. (2010) Inventing Luxembourg: Representations of the Past; Space and Language from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century; Leiden: Brill publishing.

s.a. (2011) ‘Culture in Luxembourg’; Consulate general of Luxembourg in Shanghai; http://shanghai.mae.lu/en/The-Grandy-Duchy-of-Luxembourg/Culture (accessed 4 February; 2011).


Fort Thüngen; Museum of the Fortress http://www.in-visible.lu/fort/

La Grande région/Gross Region http://www.granderegion.net/fr/grande-region/index.html

Groupement des Musées de Luxembourg-Ville http://www.statermuseeen.lu/statermuseeen/statermuseeen.html

MUDAM; Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean http://www.mudam.lu/en/le-musee/le-batiment/lhistorique/

Musée national d’histoire et d’art Luxembourg http://www.mnha.public.lu/musee/historique/index.html

National Museum of Military History; Diekirch; http://www.mnhm.lu/pageshtml/curatorsmessage.php

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