History of the National Museum –

O Museum National is a scientific institution created in Brazil in 1818, and has departments related to different areas of knowledge, such as anthropology, geology, botany, mineralogy, etc. Created during the Joanine Period, the museum has always been a reference in the production of knowledge and a place of access to culture. In June 2018, the National Museum completed 200 years of existence.

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History of the Museum

The National Museum is located in Parque Quinta da Boa Vista, in the city of Rio de Janeiro. It was created by order of D. João VI, during the Joanine Period, a phase of Brazilian colonization that began in 1808, when the Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil, and continued until 1822, when the independence of Portugal was declared. Brazil.

See too: Five interesting facts about Brazil’s independence

The creation of the National Museum was part of a series of initiatives taken by D. João VI to promote the development of art, science and intellectuality in Brazil. The National Museum was officially born during this process and was founded on June 6, 1818 as Royal Museum.

As recorded by historians Lilia Schwarcz and Heloisa Starling, the Royal Museum’s main objective was to encourage new studies in the areas of botany and zoology. They also state that “the museum did not have a collection, and that is why it was opened with a small collection donated by D himself. John; This was made up of pieces of art, engravings, mineralogy objects, indigenous artifacts, stuffed animals and natural products”|1|.

Facade of the São Cristóvão Palace, former home of the Portuguese royal family, the Brazilian imperial family and, since 1892, the National Museum.

Initially, the National Museum was installed in Campo de Santana – located in Praça da República, in the center of the city of Rio de Janeiro. From 1892 onwards, this museum was installed in the Saint Christopher’s Palace, which was built at the beginning of the 19th century and housed D. João VI, D. Pedro I and D. Pedro II. The palace had initially belonged to Elias Antônio Lopesa Portuguese merchant who got rich from the slave trade.

This merchant donated the palace to D. João VI, in 1808, when he moved from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, claiming to be concerned about the well-being of the Portuguese king. Rio de Janeiro at that time had a severe housing shortage problem. Naturally, the donation made by Elias Antônio Lopes earned him many favors from D. João VI.

A transfer from the museum to the São Cristóvão Palace, in 1892, happened mainly as a way of erasing the memories of the Brazilian monarchy by the republicans who took control of the country in 1889. This is because the palace, as mentioned, was the home of the Portuguese and Brazilian royal family. Therefore, the transfer of the National Museum there would give a new meaning to the building.

Also access: Proclamation of the Republic

In 1946, at the end of the Estado Novo, the National Museum came under the supervision of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – which remains under the supervision of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to this day. In June 2018, it celebrated 200 years of history and festivities were held there because of it. Until then, the National Museum housed more than 20 million pieces in its collection.

Throughout national history, the São Cristóvão Palace has witnessed remarkable moments, such as the signing of the decree of Brazilian independence by Maria Leopoldina (Empress Consort of the Empire of Brazil and first wife of D. Pedro I), days before D. Pedro I give the cry of independence. Between 1889 and 1891, the palace hosted the National Constituent Assembly that drafted Brazil’s first Constitution as a republican nation. This constitution was promulgated on February 24, 1891.

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The fire and destruction of the Museum

On September 2, 2018, just weeks after the bicentennial was completed and just five days before Independence Day, the museum was hit by an large fire which destroyed practically the entire collection of more than 20 million items that were accumulated over 200 years of existence.

To date, authorities do not know whether the fire was accidental or arson, but in any case, the disaster made it clear that the museum’s maintenance was not being carried out properly – something that, in fact, was the result of years of abandonment. In 2013, for example, the Museum received a total of 531 thousand reais from the government. In 2018, until April, the amount sent was only 54 thousand reais|2|.

This amount (531 thousand), however, was the minimum necessary to maintain the functioning and basic maintenance of the museum’s infrastructure. Due to the few resources transferred to the museum, less than 1% of the entire available collection was put on display for the public. It is important to highlight that the collection of the National Museum was made up of more than 20 million pieces.

The precise extent of the losses is not yet known, but given the level of the tragedy, it is known that they were gigantic and irreparable for Brazil’s science and culture. The only certainty at the moment is that Bendegó, the largest meteorite found in Brazil (it was found in Bahia, in the 18th century), resisted the fire. Let’s look below at some of the items that the National Museum housed.

National Museum Collection

The National Museum had a valuable collection from different areas of knowledge. The following were part of this collection, for example:

  • A largest collection of Egyptology from Latin America, which included sarcophagi and mummified bodies;

  • Pompeii frescoesthe Roman city that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD;

  • One collection of more than 140 thousand coinsone of the largest collections on the continent;

  • The oldest human skeleton in Brazil, approximately 12 thousand years old. It was nicknamed “Luzia”;

  • Several fossils of dinosaurs and animals that formed the Brazilian megafauna;

  • Various species of taxidermied animals (stuffed animals);

  • Items from different peoples in Africa, such as throne of the king of Dahomey (current Benin), an article donated to D. João VI in 1811;

  • Items from culture japaneselike breastplates used by samurai;

  • Items related to Indian people of Brazil and the pre-Columbian people from other places in Latin America;

  • Part of furniture used by the Brazilian royal family during the monarchical period;

  • Extensive documentation accumulated over years of Brazilian history.

The museum was also visited by illustrious personalities, such as Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, famous scientists of the 20th century. Despite its importance, the National Museum has not received a visit from a Brazilian (civilian) president since 1958, when Juscelino Kubitschek was there.

|1| SCHWARCZ, Lilia Moritz and STARLING, Heloisa Murgel. Brazil: a biography. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2015, p. 184.
|2| National Museum: exposed wiring, possums and termites among the ignored warnings that announced tragedy. To access, click here.

By Daniel Neves
Graduated in History