BASEL HISTORICAL MUSEUM

MISSION STATEMENT

Basel Historical Museum (HMB) is committed to presenting the history of Basel, the Basel region and the people who live there in a way that is both informative and engaging. It collects artefacts and other manifestations of Basel's cultural heritage and studies and conserves these for future generations.

In its exhibitions the HMB addresses themes both historical and topical and places them in their larger regional, national and international context. Other channels of communication are used in addition to exhibitions. 

The HMB aims to enable people from a wide range of backgrounds to engage with the past, present and future, which in turn will help them to integrate and to identify with the city. The HMB would like to stimulate public discourse on both past and present. The HMB is committed to making a visit to any one of its four museums an enriching and positive experience for people of all age groups, thus adding to Basel’s attractions as a city.

SUPPORT 

The museums’ running costs are covered by state funding, while investments, research projects, and other activities all require additional support. The museum is thus dependent both on donations from private patrons and on the generosity of charitable foundations. Permanent, ongoing support is provided by the Stiftung für das Historische Museum Basel (Basel Historical Museum Foundation) founded in 1968 and the Verein für das Historische Museum Basel (Basel Historical Museum Society of Friends) founded in 1892.

Legal Framework 

The legal framework for Basel’s museums is provided by the Museums Act of the Canton Basel-Stadt, passed in the year 2000. The mission and future development of each institution are governed by individual agreements. The inalienability of the collections as the property of the canton and university attests to the museums’ common origins, while ensuring their continuity in future years. For your safety our premises are monitored with digital video surveillance.

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CHRONICLE

Basel Historical Museum has developed into an individual institution since the middle of the 19th century. However, like the Basel Museum of Art, it has its origins in the bourgeois Amerbach Art Cabinet of the 16th century.

2016
The collection of coaches and sleighs belonging to the Basel Historical  Msueum is to leave its current location in the Merian Gardens as per 31 January 2017. The Christoph Merian Stiftung (CMS) plans to remodel the premises in Brüglingen and hence will be in need of the barn in which the Museum of Horsepower has been housed since 1981. Thanks to its partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, both the museum itself and its collection will be accessible online from October 2016. The Museum of Horsepower will thus become the HMB’s first virtual museum.

2015
The Pauls-Eisenbeiss-Foundation’s porcelain collection moves from the Museum of Domestic Culture in Basel to the Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha.

2015
The director Marie-Paule Jungblut leaves the Basel Historical Museum.

2015
Renovation of the Museum für Wohnkultur (Museum of Domestic Culture) entailing work on the façade as well as the installation of a disabled toilet and a new room for exhibitions and lectures on the ground floor.

2012
Renaming of the four exhibition sites under the umbrella of the HMB – Basel Historical Museum:

  • Barfüsserkirche to "Museum für Geschichte" (Museum of History)
  • Musikmuseum to  "Museum für Musik" (Museum of Music)
  • Kutschenmuseum to "Museum für Pferdestärken" (Museum of Horsepower)
  • Haus zum Kirschgarten to "Museum für Wohnkultur" (Museum of Domestic Culture)

2012
Burkhard von Roda resigns as director of the Basel Historical Museum. Marie-Paule Jungblut, formerly of the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville Luxembourg, takes over as director in August 2012.

2011
Transfer of 42,214 object units to the Archäologische Bodenforschung Basel.

2011
Opening of the new permanent exhibition in the basement of the Barfüsser Church.

2005-2008
Barfüsser Church: Renewal of the permanent exhibition

Western gallery: Basel’ Guilds and Societies
Nave: Basel – Symbols and Images of a City
Roodscreen chapels and choir: Basel – events

2002-2003
Barfüsser Church: Structural measures to save the building envelope (windows) and to improve facilities in the interior (stairs, lift). Opening of the nave and installation of a visitor service center with a café in the exhibition area.

1999-2001
Barfüsser Church: First phase of the renewal of the permanent exhibition (Basel Cathedral Treasure, ecclesiastical stained glass, Basel Dance of Death). Closure of Town History I (archeology) in favor of a new showroom for special exhibitions.

1999-2000
Collection of musical instruments. Closure of the museum in Leonhard Street and opening of the new Museum of Music in the cell wing of the former remand prison in the Lohnhof. The construction and equipping of the museum was completely funded by private donations.

1994-1995
Major addition to the collection by the Jenny Adèle Burckhardt-Foundation comprising about 400 family-owned objects from Basel from the 17th-19th centuries. 

1993
Extension of the administration building Steinenberg 4.

1990-1995
Reorganization of the museum depot.

1987-1994
Major additions to the collection due to the dispersal of the Basel Trade Museum’s collection. Transfer of ca. 20,000 objects to Basel Historical Museum until 1994.

1986
Haus zum kleinen Kirschgarten is opened with ten new showrooms in order to be part of the permanent exhibition: clock collections of Carl and Lini Nathan-Rupp (242 clocks) and the Dr. Eugen Gschwind-Foundation (208 clocks), living rooms of the 19th and 20th century.

1986
Reinstallation of the historical musical instruments collection after the renovation of the building.

1981
Opening of the carriage and sleigh collection in Brüglingen, renamed “Carriage Museum” in 2000.

1981
Reopening of the renovated Barfüsser Church. Structural alterations: replacement of the central nave’s pillars, correction of the western façade, reconstruction of the rood screen, which had broken off in 1843, demolition of the aisle galleries, conversion of a basement into a room for exhibitions and operational facilities.

1979
Taking possession of the Dr. Edith Stocker-Nolte-Foundation (19th/20th century residential building and interiors).

1977
Opening of the Pauls-Eisenbeiss-Foundation’s porcelain collection (about 750 porcelain figures as well as dishes from the manufactures of Meissen, Frankenthal, Hoechst and Ludwigsburg) in Haus zum Kirschgarten.

1975
The baroque garden pavilion of Haus zum Hof, St. Albanvorstadt 36, is reconstructed in the garden of Haus zum Kirschgarten in order to use it for the permanent exhibition.

1965
Transfer of parts of the antiques collection of Basel Historical Museum to the just founded Museum of Antiques. Transfer of the archeological finds of Augst to the Roman Museum in Augst (except for coins and cameos).

1957
After being relocated to Leonhardstrasse 8, the collection of historical musical instruments is opened, following the donation of the Lobeck Collection by Dr. h.c. Paul Sacher (1956).

1956
Conversion of one half of the Choir basement of the Barfüsser Church into the lower treasury.

1953-1954
Closure of the Barfüsser Church; renovation of the floor; new installation of the collections (due to the prior interior redesign of Haus zum Kirschgarten).

1951
Opening of Haus zum Kirschgarten as a museum of home décor of 18th century Basel. At the same time, installation of the following special collections: Greek and Roman antiques, ceramics, sleighs, clocks, toys.

1943
Opening of the musical instruments collection in Haus Leonhardskirchplatz 5 (in the musicology department of the university).

1938
Opening of the Town and Cathedral Museum at Kleines Klingental with collection holdings of the Basel Historical Museum and the Reformed Church of Basel-Stadt.

1935
Demolition of the Segerhof. Haus zum Kirschgarten is assigned as a replacement building (opening not until 1951).

1923
The museum inherits the Segerhof and its interiors from Miss Marie Burckhardt. The building, which had been constructed as a merchants residence in 1788-1791, was opened as the first historical house museum.

1904
A part of the Steinenberg 4/6 building, which had been erected as a schoolhouse in 1822, is allocated to the Historical Museum in order to house the administration, workshops and depots.

1899
Projected museum expansion at the Steinenberg (not realized).

1894
On April 21st the Historical Museum (since 1916 Basel Historical Museum) is opened in the extensively and structurally renovated Barfüsser Church.

1892
Merging of the Medieval Collection, the Antiques Collection (without ethnographical objects) and the holdings of the Basel Arsenal in the new “Historical Museum”.

The institution, which is the biggest and most important of its kind in Switzerland, features two salaried posts for one conservator and one janitor.

1888
Basel applies to be the seat of the projected Swiss National Museum. The Medieval Collection was to be the basis and the Barfüsser Church was to provide the location.

1872
Foundation of the “Verein für die Mittelalterliche Sammlung und für Erhaltung baslerischer Altertümer” (since 1892 “Verein für das Historische Museum”)

1856
Wilhelm Wackernagel arranges the division of the collection by founding the Medieval Collection, which is the predecessor institution of the Basel Historical Museum. It is housed in outbuildings of Basel Cathedral, in the “Bischofshof”.

1849
Opening of the “Museum an der Augustinergasse”, as the first new museum building in Basel combining all collections (library, art collection, antiques and coin collection, natural historical collection). The building had been designed by architect Melchior Berri.

1823
Major additions to the collection due to acquired holdings of the Museum Faesch, which had been collected in the 17th century.

1671
As one of the first public collections of an urban community, the Amerbach Cabinet is made open to the public in the “Haus zur Mücke”.

1661
The Council of Basel decides to purchase the Amberbach collections for the university.

1585-1587
Basilius Amerbach (1533-1591) draws up Inventory D of the Amerbach Cabinet, listing the holdings according to their mode of storage in the private collection building “Zum Kaiserstuhl”. The building had been constructed in 1580.

1536
Bonifacius Amerbach (1495-1562) inherits the estate of Erasmus of Rotterdam, which, together with the heir’s coin collection and the paintings of Holbein, becomes the basis of the Amerbach Cabinet.

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THE THREE EXHIBITION SITES

The late Gothic church of the mendicant Franciscan Order has housed Museum of History (Barfüsserkirche) since 1894.

It is also the main building of the museum, which with its four separate sites counts as the most important historical museum on the Upper Rhine. The main focus of the permanent exhibition installed there is Basel’s identity as a place where Swiss, French and German culture intersect. The highlights of the collection, which include the Cathedral Treasury, fragments of the Basel Dance of Death, late medieval tapestries and the Amerbach Cabinet, are among the city’s greatest attractions. The region’s rich archaeological heritage dating back to the time of the Celts is also presented. With its choice of themes and chapters, the Barfüsser Church enables visitors to time-travel through Basel’s eventful history while seeking additional information from the numerous multimedia stations provided en route.

History of the Building

The Barfüsser Church was erected together with the Franciscan friary in the first third of the 14th century and hence before the Basel earthquake of 1356. It was built on the foundations of an older church consecrated in 1256. While the friary was torn down in 1820, the church was left standing and today bears the imprint of the many radical alterations it has undergone in the course of its long history. As an impressive example of Franciscan architecture in terms of both size and structure, it is now subject to a preservation order as a monument of national importance.

The church’s fortunes changed following the Reformation of 1529 and the dissolution of the friary. While the choir was used to store fruit, the nave provided a house of worship for adherents of the Reformed faith right up to 1794. Once it had been deconsecrated, however, the nave was also converted into a storehouse, and starting in 1799 served as a salt depot for more than 30 years. 1843 saw it repurposed yet again, this time as a warehouse for the merchants’ guild, which lasted only until 1865. The discussion of what to do with the building came to a head in 1882, when the government proposed demolishing it to make way for a new girls’ school. The plan was narrowly rejected, whereupon the church served as temporary premises for a pawnshop, a butter market and an auction house. In 1888, however, the cantonal government decided to use it as a home for its collections and even suggested it to the Federal Council as a possible location for the Swiss National Museum then in planning. While that museum eventually went to Zurich, Basel stuck to its plans to convert the church into a museum of its own.

Thus the Barfüsser Church came to house Basel’s new Historical Museum, which opened in 1894. The first exhibition concept turned the nave into an armoury, while the choir was reserved for ecclesiastical antiquities and the sacristy used as a treasury. Eleven period rooms and the Coin Cabinet were installed in the bays of the side aisles, while the galleries above them provided space for displays of musical instruments, political and legal relics, furniture, and arts and crafts. The extensive renovation work completed in 1981 prevented the church from collapsing as a result of the damage it had sustained while used as a salt depot. Another goal of that project was to restore the late Gothic interior, while the addition of a basement proved helpful to the building’s continued use as a museum.

The Haus zum Kirschgarten (today Museum of Domestic Culture) ranks among the most important museums of domestic life in Switzerland. It was built as both private residence and business premises for the silk manufacturer J.R. Burckhardt between 1775 and 1780. The period rooms showing how people lived in 18th and 19th century Basel are spread over two storeys. The premises also houses special collections of international standing: the porcelain collection of the Pauls Eisenbeiss Foundation, the Nathan Rupp and Dr. Eugen Gschwind collection of clocks and watches, collections of scientific instruments, silverware made in Basel, and toys.

History of the Building

The Haus zum Kirschgarten built between 1775 and 1780 marks the apogee of secular Louis-Seize architecture on the Upper Rhine. It is surprisingly ambitious for a merchant’s private house. The finely worked sandstone façade with its triaxial portico, the coach entrance with its paired columns, and the spacious hallway are among the most striking features of the building. Johann Rudolf Burckhardt-de-Bary, silk manufacturer and son-in-law of the mayor of Basel, was only 25 when he commissioned his new palace. The contract went to Ulrich Büchel-Fatio of Basel, an architect even younger than his client who was very interested in the latest architectural trends. Burckhardt was obliged to sell his fine new palace as early as 1797, after which it changed hands several times. Thus, by the time it became a museum (the decision was made in 1933, although the museum did not actually open until 1951) most of the original furnishings as well as the original room structure had been lost.

The building as it is today consequently gives us no more than a fragmentary impression of the palace’s erstwhile interior. The suite of stuccoed hallway, vestibule, and salon has been preserved, as has the first floor library and three rooms on the third floor. The latter comprise the green Panelled Room, the Burckhardt Bedroom, and the Rose Boudoir dating from 1780. Yet none of these rooms contain their original furnishings, which unfortunately were never documented.

The exhibition concept builds on that of Basel’s first museum of domestic life at the Segerhof. That merchant’s residence, which Miss Marie Burckhardt made over to the city – complete with contents – in 1923, was demolished in 1934. The interiors were not lost, however, and since the furnishings of the guest room, dining room, Grey Hall, and kitchen were well documented and typical of those belonging to a well-to-do Basel family, they were transferred either in part or in their entirety to the Haus zum Kirschgarten.

The Museum of Music stands on a hill above the Barfüsserplatz in the medieval heart of Basel. It belongs to a complex that dates back to St. Leonhard’s Convent, a monastery of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. The Church of St. Leonhard, thought to have been founded between 1060 and 1070, is part of the same ensemble. Like so many other buildings in Basel, the convent was severely damaged by the great earthquake of 1356 and had to be repaired at considerable expense. The 15th century brought further troubles as a result of war, plague and famine, and not until the end of that century was there a change for the better. The arrival of the Reformation in Basel in 1529 put an end to its monastic activities once and for all, while the Church of St. Leonhard was named one of Basel’s four Protestant parish churches. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the complex was used as a builder’s yard and since the yard also doubled as the place where the Lohnherren, or employers, paid out wages, it came to be known as the Lohnhof (lit. “wage yard”). This is how things stood in 1821 when the police moved in. From 1835 to 1995, the former convent was used as a prison and when that, too, closed, the Basel-based architects Morger & Degelo converted the former library and cell tract into a museum of music. The building housing the Museum für Musik will soon be a thousand years old and its history has remained visible to this day.