• Post last modified:23 February 2023
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Museums and Art Galleries are repositories of great cultural wealth of any country. Today, Museums and Art Galleries are an important source of tourist attraction.

Objects and artifacts revealing the genesis of a country, its cultural expanse, landmarks of its industrial and technological development, etc. are housed in the museums and art galleries.

Now concepts in museology have emphasized the social responsibilities of the museums towards educating and entertaining the public. All over the world the numbers of museums as well as the number of the people visiting them have gone up substantially.

The attraction of the museums for the public has increased. It is, therefore, necessary for everyone involved in promoting tourism in the country to know about the museums.

In this Unit we shall tell you about various aspects of a museum and art galleries and its roles and responsibilities towards the society in general and towards the promotion of tourism in particular. Our heritage in this regard is shared by museums almost as such as by standing monuments.

Museums: Historical Background

Since ancient time’s museum, like learning institution have been parts of the social life of humankind. The concept of the modern museum has primarily a collection and exhibition centre for antiquities, artifacts and other historical and cultural objects. It has developed in Europe; institutions with some resemblance to them have been found in India too.

The earliest organized museum was established at Alexandria, Egypt in about 3rd century R.C. by Ptolemy Soter, a ruler of Egypt in the post-Alexander era. But it was more like a university than a collection house for artifact. It was a state-supported institution and was a place for advanced studies.

It was functional for about six centuries when it was destroyed during the civil disturbances. For a long time after this, no proper museum development took place. In the 14th century, the period immediately preceding the Renaissance in Europe, there was a revival in the interest for museums.

In the 15th century, the term ‘museum’ was used to describe the collections of the Medici family in Florence in Italy at the time of Lorenzo the magnificent. The re-emergence of the museums as institutions of human enlightenment coincided with the vigorous developments in the fields of arts, sciences and humanities.

But even during the Renaissance the museums were not open to the public. In-fact, they were more of private collections of artifacts. The first public museum opened in Odord in 1683 using the collections of Mr. Elias Ashmole. It was followed by the British Museum in 1753.

The admission to these museums, however, was limited to only a few individuals every day. In France also, the Louvre museum allowed limited entry to the people until the French Revolution in 1789 opened it fully for the public. It, therefore, took about two centuries for the private museums to be transformed into public museums in Europe.

Moreover, the gradual handing over of the private collections for public use is “generally considered to be a European concept of museum evolution.” In the United States the development of museums is comparatively recent.

The museums, therefore, started with the idea of public service and education from the very beginning. Charleston Library Society of Carolina in the U.S.A. was established in 1773. From then on up to the establishment of the National Museum in 1846 “the museum development in the U.S. was a public affair.”

Various methods were evolved in our country to preserve our heritage. In ancient India there were painting galleries (Chitrashalas) and art galleries (Chitravithis). During the medieval period the kings and nobles had their impressive private collections.

The beginnings of the first modern museum in India can be traced back to the year 1796. The Asiatic Society of Rengal, established in 1784, decided in that year that several artifacts it had collected over the years should be housed properly in Calcutta.

The plan, however, did not succeed and it was only in 1814 that the society could establish a proper museum. It had two divisions – the first dealing with archaeology, ethnology and technology and the second dealing with geology and zoology. By 1857 there were twelve various types of museums in India.

The British were the pioneers in establishing the museums in India, around the 19th century. They began by setting up institutions like the Geological Survey of India and the Botanical Survey. Soon however, British Officers, and scholars fascinated by India’s ancient past, established Archaeological Survey and the Asiatic Society.

Their purpose was to explore the old and rich culture of India. Gradually as the collections grew, the British took the initiative to set up museums. But the first important museum was the Indian Museum in Calcutta founded in

1875. By 1936 the number of museums was around one hundred. Lord Curzan, the Viceroy of that time and Sir John Marshall the head of the Archaeological Survey, together contributed and established site museums.

These are specialised in content and have collections of archaeological findings of a particular region, like of Sanchi, Sarnath, The individuals belonging to the educated upper classes due to the nationalist sentiments started collecting materials which they already had access to.

The pioneering work done by these individuals can be seen in Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art in Calcutta, the Tata Collection in the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay, the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad and Raja Kelkar Museum in Pune.

The most important development was the establishment of the National Museum in Delhi in 1949. By 1995, the number of museums in India had increased to around 360.

Stages of Development

We can divide development of museum concept in four phases. (i) Initially they mainly served the function of storing the objects of artistic and scientific interests. This was the first phase starting from the 14th century up to around the 17th century.

(ii) The second phase was during the 18th and 19th Centuries when many of the museums were taken over by the state which turned them into public institutions. The effort was to project the glory of newly industrializing nations and expanding imperial powers.

(iii) During its third phase in the 20th century the museum assumed an educational role. Though the selection of objects, their arrangement and exhibitions, the museums Archaeology and Antiquity endeavored to educate the public about their history, culture, scientific and technological traditions, etc.

(iv) Recently, since 1970s with the onset of the phenomenon of mass tourism, the orientation of the museums have changed yet again. They are now “more concerned with entertainment, tourism and income generation”.

Their educational role has declined somewhat in favour of generating more finances. The move has increasingly been towards more egalitarianism. The public has become a major factor now and the museums are endeavouring more and more to cater to the public interests.

Types of Museums

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines the museum as “a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits for the purposes of study, education and employment, material evidence of man and his environment.” The museums can be categorized as follows on the basis of grants received and the control exercised:

  • Central Government Museum, such as National Museum, New Delhi.
  • State Museums such as Assam State Museum, Guwahati.
  • University and College Museums such as Folklore Museum, University of Mysore.
  • Private Museums, such as Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh Museum, Jaipur,

Museums can also be classified based upon the nature of their collection. During the last four – five decades, a variety of museums have been set up in India. We briefly mention some important ones here.

General Museums: Most of the Museums come under this category. Their collections include articles of various types ranging from ancient to modern times, encompassing sculpture, painting, jewellery, pottery, technological implements etc. They have something or the other for almost everyone. Some important museums of this category are:

The National Museum (New Delhi) – The collections which are exhibited here are originally the items which were sent to London in 1947 for an exhibition at Royal Academy. All these collections were housed at Rashtrapati Bhavan before shifting to its present building in 1960.

The collection of items which were brought back after exhibition from Britain was not sent back to their respective owners or museums. Instead it was decided to display them at the National Museum. This museum consists of over 150,000 works of arts.

The National Museum has different galleries. These galleries have been arranged according to the general historical and chronological sequences. The museum has the collection starting from the Indus Valley Civilization. It also has the collection of sculptures of Mauryan dynasty and Sunga art.

The art of Gandhara and the sculptures from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh have been displayed. The Gupta period had an influence on many regional styles of art. During this time the first Hindu temple was built. The museum has sculptures of Buddha, Vishnu and many others from this period.

The museum also has the collection of objects discovered and found along the silk routes. These items like Indian textiles, decorative arts, ivory work, tribal art, metal images, antique jewellery etc which were found by Sir Aurel Stein, have been housed here.

Prince of Wales Museum (Mumbai): Undoubtedly Prince of Wales Museum is an important Museum out of nearly 400 museums in our country. It is very popular with foreign and domestic visitors, who visit it in large numbers. The Museum houses some rare exhibits which are not to be seen elsewhere.

The display using proper colour scheme, lighting and labelling is adequate and pleasing to the eye. Cleanliness is maintained inside the showcases and outside as well. On the whole this is a well maintained Museum which makes many visitors to visit it more than once.

Indian Museum (Kolkatta): Its most notable collections are 2nd century B.C. railings containing Buddhist sculptures from Bharhut in Madhya Pradesh. Apart from these, it has a collection of textiles and sections on mineralogy, zoology and anthropology.

The Indian Museum is the largest museum in India and has rare collections of antiques, armour and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, mummies, and Mughal paintings. It was founded by Dr Nathaniel Wallich a Danish botanist at Serampore (originally called Frederischnagore) near Kolkata (Calcutta), India, in 1814.

It has six sections comprising thirty five galleries of cultural and scientific artifacts namely Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Economic Botany. This multipurpose Institution with multidisciplinary activities is being included as an Institute of national importance in the seventh schedule of the Constitution of India. It is one of oldest museums in the world.

This is an autonomous organization under Ministry of Culture, Government of India. It is believed that some of the remaining fragmented pieces of the Singapore Stone can still be found there.

Archaeological Museums: Such museums mostly contain articles discovered from the local excavations. Many of them are site museums maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Some important museums include Archaeological Museum at Red Fort, Delhi, at Bodh Gaya and Nalanda in Bihar, at Sanchi, Khajuraho and ‘Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh and at Mathura and Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, etc.

Art Museums: These museums mostly possess works of arts which include sculpture, painting etc., the important among them are the Ashutosh Museum of Art (Calcutta) and National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi).

The National Gallery of Modern Art is exclusively dedicated for Indian paintings and sculptures of the post 1857 era with permanent displays in some galleries. Other galleries in this museum are used to exhibit contemporary art.

The museum also has famous paintings by Ravi Verma, M.F. Pithawala, Nandlala Bose and many others. It also displays sculptures by Ramkinkar, Venkatappa, Asit Kumar Halder and others.

Crafts Museums: The artists and craftsmen have tried to keep their traditions alive all these centuries. Thus the Crafts Museum has the collection of Indian crafts of different media ranging from clay, wood, textiles, basket work, cane and bamboo to metal and others.

These museums endeavour to popularize the crafts traditions of India and provide the craftsmen direct access to the consumers. National Crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan, Delhi is the most prominent example.

Children’s Museum: Objects mainly of children’s interests are housed here. Bal Bhawan and International Dolls Museum are two such museums.

Defense Museums: Their collections comprise of the objects relating to national defense. National Defense Academy Museum, Pune and Air Force Museum, Palam, New Delhi are important examples.

Personality based Museums: These contain articles used by or related to some important persons. Gandhi Memorial Museum and Nehru Memorial Museum in Delhi are two such institutions. The Gandhi Memorial Museum at Raj ghat has been dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.

Two museums and a monument relate to the story of his life. The Gandhi Memorial Museum at Raj Ghat has a collection of photo documents and the life of Gandhi. This also includes his belongings like documents, letters, paintings, books, records, etc.

The other called the Gandhi Smriti Museum at Birla House is a place where he was assassinated. This consists of belongings like one simple bed, a mat on the floor, his spinning wheel, books and his spectacles.

This museum also displays the pictures of his wounded body and other related to it. In the same way, the official residence of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, has been converted into a Nehru Memorial museum where his personal belongings correspondence and everything has been displayed for the public.

Natural History Museums: Flora and fauna of the world, objects showing the major landmarks in the development of the earth and its inhabitants, etc. form parts of their collection. National Museum of Natural History in New Delhi is the most important museum of this kind.

Science and Technology Museums: Central Museum, Pilani (Rajasthan), Visvesvaraya Museum, Bangalore and Rail Transport Museum, New Delhi are the most important museum of Science and Technology.

Specialised Museums: These museums mostly keep specialized collections.

The Calico Museum: Calico Museum having a collection of Indian textiles. It is located in Ahmedabad. Founded in 1949, the collection shows rare exhibits of exquisite fabrics from different parts of India.

The Utensils Museum: Utensils Museum with a collection of Indian utensils in Ahmedabad (Gujarat). It is the brainchild of Surendra Patel and is exclusively concerned with Indian utensils.

Museum Administration

At the level of organisation there are three functions in a museum:

  • Administrative which includes personnel management, financial management, general services, fund-raising and public relations;
  • Curatorial which involves collection registration, collection care, conservation and research;
  • Operations involving exhibitions, public education, technical services and security.

The major decision-making staff of the museum consists of the following personnel:

  • Director: Director is the topmost decision-making person in a museum responsible for policy making, planning, organizing, staffing and coordinating activities.
  • Curator: Curator is the academic decision maker in a museum. It is primarily on higher recommendations that the objects are acquired and accessioned. The curator is also responsible for research and publication.
  • Museum Educator: Museum’s educational and training programmes are the responsibilities of the museum educator. These include organization of classes, tours, films, lectures, training programmes etc.
  • Museum Registrar: The Museum Registrar is responsible for the preparation and maintenance of legal documents, files and forms for acquisition, accession, cataloguing, loans, etc.
  • Conservator: The conservator’s duty is to see that the museum objects are kept in good condition and no damage is done to them.
  • Exhibit Designer: The exhibit designer plays an important role in designing the exhibitions along the lines suggested by the curator and educational staff.
  • Collections Manager: Supervision, numbering, cataloguing and storage of the objects ii. Each division are the responsibilities of the collections manager.

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