The Museum of Arts and Crafts was founded in 1880 at the initiative of the Society of Arts, an association of enthusiastic patriots, art lovers and promoters of cultural development, the purpose being to popularise interest in art and, in particular, to advance the fine crafts. The grand Renaissance Revival style building in which the museum is located figures as one of the most striking buildings of German-born architect Herman Bollé, in the very centre of Zagreb.
The initial core of the museum holdings was formed out of donations from private collectors and by planned purchases of objects in both Croatia and the whole of Europe. In its basic idea, the museum developed according to the existing model of similar institutions in Europe such as the Victoria and Albert in London and the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.
Today the Museum of Arts and Crafts is the most complex museum in the country. The holdings of almost 100,000 objects are characterised by great diversity of materials and by their chronological span, ranging from the Gothic to the contemporary. As well as pieces by the most important Croatian artists, they include the works of internationally important artists such as the painter Jan Victors, pupil of Rembrandt, and Franz Stück, an outstanding representative of Jugendstil; the royal silversmith Paul Storr; clockmaker and inventor Daniel Quare; Anton Kothgasser, painter on glass and porcelain; artists in the medium of glass Louis Comfort Tiffany and Emil Gallé; and the designers Henry Van der Welde, Joseph Hoffman, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Tapio Wirkkala.
A representative selection of some 3000 objects from the museum’s collections of furnishings, metals, textiles and fashion, ceramics, glass, painting, prints, sculpture, clocks and watches, photographs and photographic equipment, musical instruments, graphic and industrial design, ivory, printing and bookbinding, decorated and gilt leather is shown in the permanent display located on three floors of the museum’s premises. It is the most complete representation of the importance of the museum and the wealth of its holdings. On the first and second floor there is a chronological presentation of historical periods and artistic styles, giving an insight into the development of artistic and fine craft production and stylistic trends from Gothic to Art Deco. Separate treatment is given to the themes of religious art and Baroque and contemporary painting.
The conception of the third floor, which is entirely devoted to study collections, is adapted to the needs and capacities of more experienced connoisseurs of the fine arts and facilitates the observation of the development of styles and techniques of workmanship in different kinds of material – in watches and clocks, ivory, metal, glass, ceramics and fashion and fashion accessories. Items of particular interest in this display are a presentation of bells, a selection of Historicist stained glass and contemporary art ceramics.
The eight exhibition rooms on the ground floor, providing more than 1000 square metres of museum space, are intended for the holding of occasional exhibitions – from thematic shows drawing on the museum’s own holdings and providing a culture studies approach to the heritage to monograph, retrospective and dossier exhibitions that test out certain aspects of contemporary three-dimensional form.
These ad hoc exhibitions are very often accompanied by additional programmes – guided tours in Croatian and English, and lectures on the topics adjusted in content and method to the various profiles of visitor. The educational programme of the museum includes creative workshops for children, of all age-groups, related in topic to the permanent display or the current exhibition.
With its systematic development and enrichment of its holdings, as well as with a number of other functions (the specialised library, the restoration workshops, the educational programme, the guided tours) and by involving additional commercial as well as cultural and stage programmes (the museum shop, concerts, theatre performances, launches), in national terms the museum has expanded the significance of the term art museum and established a profile for itself in the documentation of cultural history and the enhancement of the cultural present.
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