Czech, German, and Noble: Status and National Identity in Habsburg Bohemia

By Rita Krueger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The National Museum

IN 1829, ADDRESSING THE Society of the National Museum, Count Kaspar Sternberg reflected on the goals and purpose of the institution he had worked so hard to establish over ten years earlier.1 Focusing on the museum’s larger purpose, Sternberg linked a nation’s “level of culture” and its “whole energy” with general “moral fortitude,” arguing that the main intention of the museum was “the development of intellectual intelligence and the exact knowledge of all that the Fatherland offers—what it was, is, and still can be.”2 Sternberg claimed in his autobiography that the need for a new institution to unite all the intellectual efforts in and for Bohemia had become obvious to him by 1810. During the Napoleonic Wars, his manor house Březina, on the Sternberg estate near Radnitz, had become a meeting place for botanists and other scientists. Sternberg’s collections, his reputation, and his open door to men of intellect had essentially turned the family house into a “public” museum and library. However, the limitations of Březina’s size and location as a small manor in the country convinced Sternberg that he and like-minded intellectuals required a new model: a centrally located, urban institution, accessible to all and for the benefit of all Bohemia. Looking at the history of Bohemia’s art and scientific collections, as well as the fate of private collections dismantled and destroyed, Sternberg saw the need for a new institution whose existence as a critical hub of teaching, learning, preservation, and research would serve the collective good. Unlike vanity collections, a museum for Bohemia would put the great collections and knowledge, and production of the Fatherland beyond the whims of great men and their politics. Sternberg believed that if the great collections, his own included, could be protected and made to serve the interests of the Fatherland, he was doing

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