With its columns and pediment in the neo-classical style, you would be forgiven if, at first site, you thought this is the museum where I spend most of my time but this isn’t that museum. Rather, it’s the Hungarian National Museum, or for those practising their language skills, the Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum. Purpose built in 1847, the museum’s sole purpose is to tell the story of the Hungary through the country’s most important historical relics.
Despite having quite the collection of ‘national museums’, we don’t really have a ‘national’ museum in this sense, so I was interested to see exactly how one might go about telling the story of a nation. Where would you start? Do you tell the story of the personalities that shaped the country or the everyman who form the country? What about political borders?
It can very thorny very quickly.
The Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum have opted to tell their story chronologically. After all, starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start. The first room wouldn’t be out of place in a natural history museum, but once we make our way to the people, that’s when things really started to get interesting for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love natural history museums but I am fascinated by people and all the weird and wonderful things we do upon this earth. There was a round cabinet full of old gods. Some, like this hammer-wielding idol bear resemblance to the old gods of countries not too far away.
Even if he isn’t some kind of not-quite Thor, the hammer-wielder, sometimes in the guise of the smith or the worker rather than the warrior is present in most pantheons.
There was another figurine that seemed eerily familiar is this female statuette.
With her simple pose and ample figure, she seemed very similar to some Cycladic figures I’ve seen in other museums.
As we’re talking about gods, I feel like I should mention those modern-day museum deities, the plastic effigies that called upon to represent all facets of human-life. Of course I’m talking about the Museum Mannequin. Budapest has produced some excellent examples, and the mannequins formed part of the National Story too.
These are rather more sophisticated than some of their more home-made counterparts, in terms not just of costuming, but of setting too these were impressive.
Following the surprise Greek and Viking connections I mentioned above, it was interesting to stumble upon this horde of golden torques. Torques are most often associated with Celts, but as we learned at
This golden stag caught my eye, not just because of its shining lustre. Once part of a shield, and later discovered in the grave of a high ranking Scythian noble, this artefact is one of the most amazing things in the museum’s collection. To me, it practically screamed ‘Ours is the Fury’ which any Game of Thrones fan will know as the motto of House Baratheon, whose sigil is a stag. In the past, when a museum has an object with a Game of Thrones connection, it has usually been with a throne made of weapons like the one at the British Museum. The link begins and ends with the regal looking stag in this case, but symbols are nothing if not mercurial.
As I continue to make my way around the museum, the artefacts become increasingly modern. According to the guidebook, the museum is the home of St Stephen’s mantel. St Stephen was a Hungarian King who has taken on a quasi-mythological status, and I was really looking forward to seeing this almost-relic, but alas, that gallery was closed.
I suppose I’ll have to go back one day.
As I progressed towards the present day, I was intrigued by the collection of Masonic artefacts on display. The Freemasons are famous for their secrecy, so not only was I surprised by the Museum of Freemasonry in Covent Garden but I was also surprised by how clearly this museum was making the Order’s links to Hungary’s national narrative.
As I made my way to more modern exhibits, the tone changed dramatically. The massive loss of territory has had a real impact on the country (it’s something that really comes through, even in museums as bizarre as the Marzipan Museum). Difficult stories were also approached, but these benefit from the space and detail that dedicated museums, like the House of Terror can provide. (The gallows and the noose near the end of that museum still gives me the shivers).
Let’s end on a positive.
Scroll back up to the start of this post. Look at how beautiful the museum’s façade is. When it comes to museums, I like mine to look like museums – the more columns and pediments the better! The inside of the museum is spectacular too – just look at this ceiling.
If you want to go to the Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum, it’s 1600 HUF (plus an extra 500 HUF if you want to take pictures).