The Museum of the Romanian Peasant

After the National History Museum, on the left side of Kiseleff Road, at no. 3, we find the imposing building of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. Here, on one of the lands belonging to the ruler Mavrogheni, an Arts and Crafts School was founded in 1852 (as seen in the maps designed by Major D. Papazoglu in 1871). The building was then taken by the State Mint and, in 1890, a power plant, used to illuminate Kiseleff Road, was installed here.

The Museum of the Romanian Peasant (as we know it today, name given by Horia Bernea) continues a museum tradition dating since 1875, when, through literary critic Titu Maiorescu’s proposal, the first textile art section was opened next to the National Antiquity Museum, “with countryside-made articles: clothes, carpets, cloths etc.”, many of its pieces being kept to this day inside the museum.

On the 17th of October 1906, through Spiru Haret’s initiative, an autonomous museum of peasant art is founded: The Ethnography, National Art, Decorative Art and Industrial Art Museum, also housed in the Mint building. In 1912, the cornerstone is laid for the monumental edifice that would house the “National Art Museum”, later named the “Carol I National Museum”. Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş is named director of this institution, offering it a prestigious cultural and scientific status. The project and supervising were entrusted to architect Nicolae Ghika-Budeşti (1869-1943). The building is displayed in the shape of monastic compounds and illustrates the neo-Romanian style, inspired from Brâncovan tradition. It was finished only in 1941, after a long interruption between 1916 and 1930, and became an architectural monument. In 1939 the buildings three wings were roughly finished, and the museum was opened. The fourth wing was built between 1963 and 1965. Since 1953, the museums collections were moved to the Ştirbey Palace, on Victoria Avenue, within the Museum of Popular Art of the Republic. Later, they were included in the Village Museum’s collections, through the merging of the two institutions. During this time, starting with 1955, the building on Kiseleff Road housed the History Museum of the Romanian Communist Party.

The long communist hiatus ended on the 5th of February 1990, through the founding of the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, under the directorship of painter Horia Bernea, son of the reputed sociologist and ethnologist Ernest Bernea. The Museum of the Romanian Peasant now holds one of the largest collections of rural objects in Romania. Its 90.000 exhibits are representative for all of Romania’s ethnographical areas and are divided into several collections: ceramics (the oldest piece dates from 1746), clothes, fabrics, woodwork, religious items, customs – there are as many witnesses to help us understand rural culture.

The museums originality resides in the concept through which Horia Bernea emphasized the Romanian village’s anthropology, the “Cross” and “Time” chambers represent a perfect example of this concept. This is, as painter Sorin Dumitrescu tells us, a museum organized in a “profoundly iconic” fashion, a museum that accentuates the visual more than explanations, or, as Horia Bernea himself noted: “a museum that confesses through martyr-objects, a museum like a song, like a breath, a museum in which «display» occurs naturally…”. Putting this modern, profound concept into practice earned the museum the EMYA award (European Museum of the Year), in 1996, the first time this award is designated to an east-European museum.

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