Art and History Museum Fribourg


The collection and its history

The Art and History Museum of Fribourg collects mostly artworks and historical objects that are either from the canton or have some connection with it. This fundamentally local collection holds nonetheless some works of international value: belt buckles from the early Middle Ages, the Easter sepulchre from Maigrauge Convent, Hans Fries’s painted panels, late Gothic statuary, paintings and sculptures by Marcello and her friends (nineteenth century), or works by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle.

The museum’s origins are far older than other similar institutions, many of which were founded in Switzerland around 1900. In 1774, the privy councillor Tobias Gerfer bequeathed his medal collection to the Jesuit College Library, thus creating the city’s first public collection. The actual founding of the cantonal museum, in the same premises, occurred in 1823 in the form of a physics and natural science gallery, to which Canon Charles-Aloyse Fontaine contributed part of his own collection and library. A numismatic gallery was created with the donations of Pope Leo XII and the French King Charles X. The College expanded in 1838 with a new building, the «Lycée», to which all the objects were immediately transferred, including antiquities and items from the popular traditions and arts – an encyclopaedic collection. Some items were lost in 1848 to the Bernese troops who plundered the city (the Sonderbund War).
In 1849, the collection was divided into two departments: natural history on one hand and art and history on the other. In 1873, the cantonal government decided to increase the collection with the support of the «Société fribourgeoise des Amis des Beaux-Arts». Important works came from the secularized Hauterive Convent and the former Jesuit College. In 1875 Louis Grangier, who taught French literature and had devoted himself to the study of local history, was appointed curator of the archaeology collection and of the fine arts department. He published a catalogue of the paintings. Max de Techtermann, who succeeded him from 1899 to 1907, collected many medieval sculptures for the museum. Half a century later the curator and art historian Marcel Strub focussed on the plastic arts in Fribourg during the late Gothic period, one of the collection’s prize holdings, and currently the subject of new systematic research.
The museum was gradually enriched by numerous further donations. In 1872, Count Oswald Szymanovski offered a complete collection of war and hunting weapons. In 1881, the former Duchess of Castiglione Colonna, born Adèle d’Affry, a recognized painter and sculptor known under the name of Marcello, donated her works, which were placed in dedicated rooms, the Musée Marcello. Finally in 1917, the Lothringian Countess de Saulxures donated to the canton her furniture and crafts collection on condition that it would be displayed at Hôtel Ratzé. The museum was consequently moved into that building, which opened in 1922. Since then the museum’s strengths have been developed and popularized through regular new acquisitions but also through special exhibitions. Regular purchases also guarantee the presence of Fribourg’s contemporary artistic scene. Furthermore, since the 1980’s, the garden has staged a new section of the collection: the «Grande Lune» (Big moon) by Niki de Saint Phalle sits next to iron sculptures by Swiss artists such as Bernhard Luginbühl or Oscar Wiggli.


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