Hotel President Pantovcak has put together a list of the very best museums in Zagreb. Squeezing top museums in an article could prove to be a bit ungrateful, due to the fact we already wrote about – Zagreb has the most museums per capita, and also inhabits the oldest Museum of Naïve Art in the world.
Croatia, because of its geographical location, has been prone to strong influence arriving from a few different directions. Probably the most noticeable is the Habsburg era, when the city started to take on most of its today’s look. But Croats have never forgotten their own culture as well, thus something entirely unknown was created – this mix manifests nowhere better than inside our museums.
Dive into its abundant art and history, and we promise you will experience Zagreb like you never thought you would.
Museum of Naïve Art
Croatian Museum of Naïve Art was the first museum of Naïve art in the world. Founded in 1952, it holds today more than 1900 pieces of art. Permanent display of the Museum showcases around eighty noteworthy drawings, paintings and sculptures with a timetable starting from roughly 1930s to 1980s.
The first room is dominated by the paintings of Ivan Generalić (1914-1992) who is considered first Naïve artist in our country and also the “frontman” of famous Hlebine School. Perhaps especially intriguing is distinguishing the differences between his early works (with underlined social issues) in the thirties with evolving pieces in following decades, ending with purification techniques in 1970s.
Second part of the Gallery drags us into the Second generation of Hlebine School, most notably the works of Dragan Gaži, Ivan Večenaj and Mijo Kovačić. Gaži experts in mainly psychological portrait, while Večenaj describes malformed characters, but also Biblical figures. Kovačić mostly remains at rural scenes.
The following rooms contain much more of domestic masterpieces – best known of which are probably the pieces by Ivan Lacković Croata. Gallery also holds some paintings by famous Germans, Italians and Frenchmen. You can found out which by checking out their website or, better yet, visiting our world-famous Museum of Naïve Art.
Archaeological Museum holds one of the oldest and most significant artefacts in the entire Croatian history – Vučedol Dove. Originating from 2,500 B.C., it was found in 1938. as an enormous discovery for our culture, which remains today.
Museum is divided into five segments. The Prehistoric collection contains 78,000 items making it one of the largest in this part of Europe. Collection goes back to the time of Stone Age and extends to Iron Age. You will find everyday life objects, such as pottery, jewellery, swords and much more.
Egyptian collection is the only such collection in this region. Purchased by the Austrian family Koller in the 19th century, it reflects perfectly the Egyptian way of life with more than 2,100 artefacts. Most of the stone and bronze monuments emerging in the ancient Egypt’s Late Period (1070 BC – AD 30). Rarity of this section is best recognized in manuscript with the longest preserved text in Etruscan language, which is in the same time the only linen book in the classical world. Oh, and let’s not forget an old resident of Zagreb – the Zagreb Mummy.
The Greek and Roman Collection is of an especial significance due to the impact and legacy these ancient cultures left behind. Greek part features 1,500 items, while Roman had perhaps even greater role, with numerous sculptures and monuments along the Adriatic coast. Archaeological museum is particularly prideful on the bust of a young lady from Salona (probably empress Plautilla’s portrait), by many the most gorgeous female portrait in Roman art. There is also a large number of miniature bronze sculptures, such as Siscia head.
Medieval Collection is the youngest, but with around 5,500 examples, a department that is not to be expelled from others. It is comprised of remains by tribes that were quick to disappear in this region (Huns, Ostrogoths, Gepids, Lombards, Avars…) Collection’s emphasis is on migration of Slavs, mainly Croats – what usually catches the attention of the eye is an inscription named by Croat Prince Branimir, from 888 A.D.
And finally the Numismatic Collection, with more than 270,000 metal coins and varied beginnings of financial instruments by some of the civilizations mentioned above.
Museum of Broken Relationships
Although a specialty museum, this broken one has more than it takes to be a must-visit museum in Zagreb, and beyond. Located in the baroque Kulmer palace, it’s dedicated to all who lost a love in their lives, thus making it appealing to pretty much everyone.
The story begins with two famous Croatian artists. Ending their four year-long relationship, one of the byproducts of such a lengthy time spent together was certainly a long list of stuff given to each other. The pair decided to start something, what was soon to become a sensation in Europe – a museum based of unusual items shared by former couples.
Exhibition was held in multiple cities (by which the most praise came from the citizens of Berlin, who also donated greatly) before settling down permanently in Zagreb in 2010.
Collection it displays is diverse, while emotions range from funny to melancholy. So it held a mobile phone with a note attached that said: “It lasted 300 days too long. He gave me his mobile phone so I couldn’t call him anymore.”
A petite box filled with tears is courtesy of a German, speaking of a sneaky, yet wonderful woman who obviously broke his heart. Others, however, avoid an relaxed approach and take matters (literally) into their own hands. Such is a woman who donated an actual axe used to destroy furniture by an ex lover of hers…
The museum also opened up in Los Angeles, although it’s currently looking for a new venue, and travelling exhibitions are regular to most of the continents. In 2011, Museum of Broken Relationships was given the Kenneth Hudson Award for the most innovative museum in Europe.
If you’re thinking about throwing away stuff from your ex companion, the Museum urges you not to, as you could be sorry one day. Instead, donate it for a better cause – otherwise, simply visit this unique museum in Zagreb.
Ante Topić Mimara, known as an art collector and art historian by profession, has gathered more than 3,000 items in his lifetime, dating since prehistory to 20th century. Along with his wife Wiltrude, they decided to donate it all to a museum formed shortly afterwards specifically for this purpose, instantly making Mimara the biggest museum in Zagreb.
Here you will find sculptures of ancient Mesopotamia and Persia – notably Head of a Woman (3000 years BC). Egyptian period is represented by Middle Kingdom sculptures. Etruscan and Greek collection is also worth checking out.
Collection of European Sculptures, which is very diverse, holds pieces dating from mainly baroque and rococo, but also some from 19th and 20th century. Oldest one in this Collection is St. Avitus from Burgundy (600 AD). Collection of art made of ivory also has items found very interesting by viewers.
Far East Collection features Chinese art made under Shang dynasty (around 1200 years BC) to last dynasty Qing and 1911. Revolution. Exceptional ceramics, gemstones and noble metals mark this part of the museum.
You will also stumble upon Collections of furniture, Glass, Textile and Rugs, Icons and more. Lastly, we’ll mention sections of Mimara museum dedicated to paintings, dominant in this museum. Flemish section stands out with 17th century baroque works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthonis Van Dyck, among others. Speaking of baroque, time especially fruitful for the Spanish, whose art in Mimara appears with pieces of Alonso Cano and Diego Velázquez. Romanticism has the most notable pieces for the French in Mimara – Poppies by one of the leaders in Romanticism, Eugène Delacroix. Famous French landscape painting in the form of Barbizon school is on display too, works by Charles Daubigny, Constanta Troyon and others. Italian art features, most notably a Florentine Filippo Lippi, and Milan-born Andre Solari with religious motives. Portrait of Louise Renée de Penancoet de Kéroualle by Mary Beale from England, and extremely diverse works by German, Swiss and Austrian artists dating from 14th century.
Ivan Meštrović is one of the most important Croatian sculptors, and overall world-renowned artists during the first half of the 20th century. Mastering at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, he used the opportunity to travel Europe and thus becoming acquainted with Classical and Renaissance art period. Due to his unmatched legacy, we can only point out some of his famous works, such as The Bowman and The Spearman in Chicago, Canadian Phalanx in Ottawa, Gregory of Nin in Split.
Legacy of Meštrović in Zagreb is transparent on many spots, such as the bronze Well of Life, impressionist well installed in front of the Croatian National Theatre. The sculpture depicts ten naked figures, a child, love couple and the old man, that crouch and twist their bodies around a well which symbolises eternal beauty. Young characters are kissing, while an old man looks with sadness into the well – which is life.
In the 1930s, Meštrović was asked to do a monument of King Peter I., but he decided to create an entire circular building instead, today known as Meštrović Pavilion and Home of Croatian Artists. It dramatically affected the look of Zagreb today.
Monument to Nikola Tesla in Masaryk Street, another of his fine works, was dedicated to this Croatia-born scientist. Also notable is the sculpture of J.J. Strossmayer, located near the south part of Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in Zagreb, a bishop who was the founder of that institution. History of Croats
Meštrović was living and creating in Paris, Rome, Cannes and London, after which he returned to Zagreb where he lived for some 20 fruitful years. Here is where he created more than ten public monuments and sculptures, some of them mentioned above, but the house he lived in (and helped design) is today one of the most famous museums in Zagreb.
Together with famous architects Viktor Kovačić, Harold Bilinić and Drago Ibler and a few other designers, Meštrović was set to erect one of the most visually appealing structures in Zagreb – known today as Meštrović Atelier. The lobby holds Mediterranean features with columns made of Brač stone and this is where most of the sculptures are housed. The beautiful garden is also enriched with his art, while the interior (preserved as original) is dominated by wood and craft works. His former studio makes the fourth unit of this Atelier. Out of the large selection, you can enjoy in early impressionist phase (Head of an Old Man, Laocoon of My Days), Art Nouveau phase (Hands, Vase), parts of Kosovo cycle (Miloš Obilić, Prince Marko on a Horse). There is expressionism seen in characters from the Bible (St. John the Baptist, First Crucifixion, Moses) and portraits of women that also played an important role in artist’s life (Ruža Meštrović, Marija Banac). Finally, there’s a return of classical elements (Woman by the Sea, Waiting, Resting). Atelier Meštrović prides with his reliefs, prints and drawings, but also original furniture from that time. Meštrović also left behind his luxurious villa in Split, in Meje area, and apart from numerous artwork that can be visited, it offers one of the most astonishing sea views you could ever witness in your lifetime.
Museum of Contemporary Art
When the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb finally opened its doors back in the 2009, it momentarily received large interest from both residents and guests. It was the single biggest investment into art (museum) since the Independence of Croatia.
Museum today features more than 12,000 pieces of art, and 600 items are a part of permanent display, leaving much of the space for new and travelling objects. The Museum also redefined the standard phrase permanent display into Collection in Motion in order to stress out one of the main traits of contemporary art, which is movement. Therefore, not all parts have a truly permanent character.
First section named Project and Destiny involves artists with a strong programmatic ideas and, as described, pair ethics with aesthetics. Two are most recognizable, EXAT 51 and Gorgona group. While the first tried to reorganize the social aspects of art, second used passive and withdrawal instruments as a general expression.
II. Art as Life is dealing with the question of art form today. Question that is still very much active, and a part of the answer provided is that experiences replaced artworks. This section tried to document these moments (or pieces of art) that have passed, and has done so in utterly interesting and unveiling way.
III. Art on Art enters the sphere of art itself, and the way art sees itself. Unlike the artists from the previous unit, these do not try to divide art and life but to erase the boundaries. This is also the largest section of Collection in Motion (permanent display).
Great World Enigma concentrates on the author’s private and obsessive view of the world, often very alienated, while V. Words and Images studies the relation between these two. Is the image really always worth a thousand words?
Outdoor objects are also very fascinating, as the Mirosław Balka’s Eyes of Purification and Carsten Höller’s Double Slide, only a part of what is worth to see. Museum puts weekly screenings of European movies (other cultures are also represented) which we strongly suggest visiting. And with our President Shuttle on your disposal, nothing is too far away.
OTHER MUSEUMS TO VISIT
Trying to comprehend best museums in Zagreb is far from an easy task, as preferences vary while the city with most museums per capita has something for everyone. Here are a few of our favourites to definitely check out if the time allows you to.
Museum of Arts and Crafts is one of the first institutions of this type in Europe, in which the works preserve the crafts of the people while adding additional value. This first purpose-built museum in Croatia was designed by the Herman Bollé, one of the most influential architects for Zagreb as it is today. Drawings vary from 14th to the 21st century, and large collection holds items from almost any period you can imagine, ranging from Gothic to Art Déco. 3000 exhibits in fourteen rooms which absolutely guarantee your engagement for the day.
The Klovićevi Dvori Gallery was one of the pioneers of Croatian art and culture scene. Located in what used to be a Jesuit Monestary from the 17th century, this Upper Town retreat holds about 30 unique exhibitions every year.
Museum of Illusions, a specialty museum, provides fun time to not only the youngest. You’ll be able to defy gravity, change the size of your companion and more – and with over 70 exhibits and one of the largest hologram in this part of Europe, this illusion is well worth a visit.
The Technical Museum features pocket-size submarine from 1943, various airplanes, Mercedes-Benz type S from 1927. (unavoidable for car-lovers among us), a 1912. car tram from Dubrovnik and much more. Demonstration Cabinet of Nikola Tesla, after whom the is Museum named, dedicated to the great Croatian scientists, is where you can observe rotating magnetic field, transformers and turbines. Museum has also agricultural, astronautics (with a great Planetarium) and geology sections.
Located in the Lenuci horse-shoe, Art Pavilion welcomed almost every internationally acclaimed exhibition held in Zagreb. Thanks to the suggestion of Vlaho Bukovac in 1895, one of the most famous Croatian painters, to erect an institution of this type, Art Pavilion today is one of the main art epicentres in the Croatian capital and beyond.