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Bayerisches Nationalmuseum

A Splendid Piece of Bavarian Eclecticism

Bayerisches Nationalmuseum 276x
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue (Bavarian, that is). This saying perfectly describes Munich’s celebrated museum of art and cultural history—the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum) in Prinzregentenstrasse, Designed by Gabriel von Seidl, who was also responsible for the Lenbachhaus and the Neo-Baroque core of the Deutsches Museum complex, the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum was the architect’s most important work and, as a Historical Revival creation, embodies a fascinating combination of architectural styles. Indeed, while the prevailing look is German Renaissance, the east wing is in the Romanesque style. The central structure, on the other hand, is early Baroque and the outer west building features both late Baroque and Rococo styles. Seidl intended the diverse exterior to reflect the art and cultural works to be found within the museum’s 13,000 square meters of exhibition space spanning three floors.

While the building was designed by Seidl, it was the brainchild of King Maximilian II of Bavaria, who, in a handwritten document dated June 30, 1855, penned the name “Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.” His inspiration, it seems, was the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, which opened in 1852.

On October 12, 1867, the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum was officially opened in what is currently the Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde (State Museum of Ethnology) on Maximilianstrasse. The original collection comprised artworks previously in the possession of the Wittelsbach family. Documents from 1859 refer to the museum as an “Institution for safekeeping the most interesting monuments of the fatherland and other remains of past times.”

Near the end of the century, a new building was erected to house the ever-expanding collection. The edge of the English Garden was chosen as the new location. A design proposal in the Italian Renaissance style was submitted by Karl Bernatz of the city planning commission, but this was later rejected by Munich’s artist community, which insisted on holding a competition between three local architects. Seidl’s design was chosen in the end and the building’s foundation stone was laid on Prinzregentenstrasse by Prince Regent Luitpold himself.

While the institution itself has a lively history, the exhibits within the museum tell their own stories, too. Indeed, artifacts continue to be added to the original collection from the House of Wittelsbach. Though most pieces have come from European sources, a major part of the apparel collection was donated by an American, Lillian Williams, who bequeathed hundreds of 18th-century French costumes and accessories. In addition, the Bavarian Army Museum collection was incorporated in 1946, followed by the Prehistoric Collection three years later.
Today, the museum’s exquisite holdings provide a fascinating record of developments over nine centuries in both fine and applied art from Bavaria, southern Germany and abroad. The Fine Art Collection boasts a selection of sculpture from late antiquity to the 19th century, as well as paintings. The Applied Art Collection includes objects as diverse as 15th-century wooden vaulting, 16th-century Brussels tapestries, suits of armor and Art Nouveau masterpieces. The Department of Folk Art and the world-class Krippensammlung (collection of crèches, or nativity scenes) are also popular among visitors. Indeed, all of this serves the founder’s intention of shedding light on the splendor and history of the Bavarian court and its ruling dynasty—the Wittelsbachs—throughout the past seven centuries.

For more information on current and upcoming exhibitions, check or, go to

© MF Armantrout/Sept 02

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