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Abigail Winograd

Museums have played a central role in the cultural life of Latin American countries from independence to the present. Art museums in particular have featured prominently in civic, nation-building discourse throughout the region, with the opening of such museums often occurring concurrently with major economic and political changes. Museums, wherever they were founded, helped shape collective and social understanding; they were the institutions par excellence in which hegemonic cultural realities could be defined and reflected.

In the 19th century, countries across the Americas gained their independence from European colonial powers. The newly founded republics urgently felt the need to distance themselves from their colonial pasts and endeavored to establish and construct new national identities. Latin American artists and governments began a concerted effort to celebrate their independence through arts and culture. Both paintings (the preferred form) and cultural institutions aimed to create and promote a usable past: a history replete with heroes, founding myths, and “indigenous” symbols of patriotism. These founding myths favored large-scale history paintings, portraits of liberators, and romantic landscapes, housed in museums built by local elites and governments who understood cultural institutions (art museums as well as encyclopedic museums) to be ideal locations to enshrine the project of a cohesive national identity....


Jon Whiteley

See also France, Republic of

Jean-Baptiste Boisot, abbot of St Vincent in Besançon, is usually given credit for establishing the first museum in France by bequeathing his collection of coins, medals, books and works of art, assembled from the relics of the collection of Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle (1530–86), to the Benedictine Order in St Vincent on condition that it be made available twice weekly to anyone who wished to study there. The museum was intended primarily as a place for scholarship, like the cabinets of curiosities associated with a number of early museums. Religious houses provided a good basis for scholarly collecting. The cabinet of antiquities preserved in Ste Geneviève Abbey since 1675 and based on the famous collection of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, was probably very similar to the museum in Besançon and might have a better claim than Granvelle’s cabinet as the earliest museum in France. Monastic collections and private cabinets were, however, sometimes very like museums in character, and it is probably unwise rigidly to insist on the differences between the institutional museums and the collections from which they developed in the 17th century....


David Alan Robertson

Germany played an important role in the origin and development of museums in Western culture that was paralleled and variously influenced by similar developments in Renaissance Italy, Napoleonic France, and post-war Europe. While the concept of the art museum as an institution for the preservation, interpretation, and public display of cultural artefacts did not develop until the 19th century, several of Germany’s modern museums can claim descent in part or whole from earlier ecclesiastical and, more importantly, princely treasuries dating from the late Middle Ages (see Museum, §I). In the course of this evolution, Germany produced the first known printed catalogue (Munich, 1567) and autonomous museum structure (Kassel, 1769–79). (See also Germany: Patronage)

See also Germany, Federal Republic of

Prior to the Renaissance, collecting and storing valuable objects were haphazard and restricted to the Church and nobility. As collections grew, they became too large to be housed in strong-rooms or treasuries and overflowed into semi-public places such as castle armouries. ...


A. Deirdre Robson

In the USA the development of the art museum has led to the existence of a museum in almost every major town. It has also grown from being a repository of an eclectic collection of curiosities to a specifically designed building, its commission often offering a prestigious opportunity for national and international architects (see Museum, §II). The general organizational patterns of museums in the USA were laid down in the 19th century and changed little over time. There are two basic kinds of museums, both effectively created by the wish of prominent citizens to commemorate civic and personal pride. The first is the institution initially organized by a committee of prominent and wealthy citizens and/or collectors and run by a board of trustees. A variant on this is the museum that was founded by an art association, which might have been stimulated by a local art exhibition, for example the ...