National Museum

The National museum is a Czech museum institution intended to systematically establish, prepare and publicly exhibit natural scientific and historical collections. It was founded 1818 in Prague by Kašpar Maria Šternberg. Historian František Palacký was also strongly involved.

At present the National Museum houses almost 14 million items from the area of natural history, history, arts, music and librarianship, located in tens of buildings.

The founding of the National Museum should be seen in the context of the times, where after the French Revolution, royal and private collections of art, science, and culture were being made available to the public. The beginnings of the museum can be seen as far back as 1796, when the private Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts was founded by Count Casper Sternberk-Manderschied and a group of other prominent nobles. The avowed purpose of the society was "the renewed promotion of art and taste", and during the time of Joseph II, it would be adamantly opposed to the King. In 1800 the group founded the Academy of Fine Arts, which would train students in progressive forms of art and history.

The National Museum in Prague was founded on April 15, 1818, with the first president of the Society of the Patriotic Museum being named Count Sternberk, which would serve as the trustee and operator of the museum. Early on, the focus of the museum was centered on natural sciences, partially because Count Sternberk was a botanist, mineralogist, and eminent phytopaleontologist, but also because of the natural science slant of the times, as perpetrated by Emperor Joseph II of Austria.

The museum was originally located in the Sternberg Palace but it was soon apparent that this was too small to hold the museum's collections. The museum relocated to the Nostitz Palace but this was also found to be of insufficient capacity which led to the decision to construct a new building for the museum in Wenceslas Square.

The museum did not become interested in the acquisition of historical objects until the 1830s and 40s, when Romanticism became prevalent, and the institution of the museum was increasingly seen as a center for Czech nationalism. Serving as historian and secretary of the National Museum in 1841, Frantisek Palacky would try to balance natural science and history, as he described in his Treatise of 1841. It was a difficult task, however, and it would not be until nearly a century later until the National Museum's historical treasures equaled its collection of natural science artifacts.

However, the importance of the museum was not in its focus, but rather that it signaled, and indeed helped bring about, an intellectual shift in Prague. The Bohemian nobility had, until this time, been prominent, indeed dominant, both politically and fiscally in scholarly and scientific groups. However, the National Museum was created to serve all the inhabitants of the land, lifting the stranglehold the nobility had had on knowledge. This was further accelerated by the historian Frantisek Palacky, who in 1827 suggested that the museum publish separate journals in German and Czech. Previously, the vast majority of scholarly journals were written in German, but within a few years the German journal had ceased publication, while the Czech journal continued for more than a century.

In 1949, the national government took over the museum, and spelled out its role and leadership in the Museum and Galleries Act of 1959. In May 1964, the Museum was turned into an organization of five professionally autonomous components: the Museum of Natural Science, the Historical Museum, the Naprstek Museum of Asia, African, and American Cultures, the National Museum Library, the Central Office of Museology. A sixth autonomous unit, the Museum of Czech Music, was established in 1976.

Due to major renovations the museum will be closed until 2016. Some seven million items had to be removed to the museum's depositories in what has been dubbed the biggest moving of museum collections in Czech history.