Let on Republic Square in the centre of the Capital City of Belgrade, Narodni muzej Srbije or The National Museum of Serbia is the largest and oldest museum in Serbia and former Yugoslavia. Established on 10 May 1844, the collections of the museum were relocated eleven times before moving to its present building, opened on 23 May 1952.
Built in 1903 by architects Andra Stevanović and Nikola Nestorović, the present building is a perfect example of the architectural style of the monumental public palaces built during the end of the19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, which includes academic eclecticism and exhibits Neo-Renaissance architectural elements. While the Facade and interior decoration of the building was designed by Franja Valdman, the Atrium, originally the counter-hall and parts of the building fronting Laza Paču Street were constructed much later, in 1930.
The site of the building of the National Museum was originally occupied by a tavern called Dardanelles, where the cultural and artistic elite of the society used to meet and exchange their views. Demolition of the old tavern and the construction of a new building in its place for housing the Fund Mortgage Bank, one of the oldest banking institutions of Belgrade, signified the beginning of the transformation of Republic Square. It was one of the first buildings of the city, in which some sort of reinforced concrete was used for the foundation.
The newly built two-storey building, designed in the form of a long solid block with domes over the central and the lateral Rizal sites, along with the academic façade shaped on the principles of Neo-Renaissance style with neo-baroque elements on the domes, was a real palace of its time.
Proper importance and attention were given to the construction of the monumental staircase and the hall with bank windows, which usually were given secondary importance in the premises of a bank. However, almost after three decades, an immediate necessity of reconstruction and extension of the building was strongly felt due to the gradual development of the bank’s business. The project of the extension was competently done by the architect Vojin Petrović, who added a wing and an atrium facing the Street Laze Paču, containing the same elements of the interior as the old part. Moreover, two more majestic staircases and two halls with bank windows were also built, while only the upper floors form the continuous line of offices.
During World War II Mortgage Bank building was bombed and severely damaged, when the central part with the dome was destroyed. After the war, the building was repaired and reconstructed. However, the reconstruction works did not include the reparation of the central dome, which was restored later, during the restoration works in the 1960s, initiated by Lazar Trifunović, the then director of the museum.
Nevertheless, after the Great War, it became the home of one of the most important national cultural institutions, when the National Museum moved into it on 23 May 1952. But in 2003, the building was closed for the impending renovation, which dragged on years together. Finally, the museum was officially re-opened on 26 June 2018, after long 15 years of its closure and the occasion, concurrent to the country’s national day, was celebrated with the projections on the building's facade, along with a promotional video featuring the reputed Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin. The building was later declared a Monument of Culture of Great Importance in 1979, and on 8 April 2021, the National Museum in Belgrade was renamed to National Museum of Serbia.
The National Museum arranged its collection according to the call of the day. In 1918, when Serbia became a part of the kingdom of Serbia, Croats and Slovenes, its collection included more exhibits from other regions of the country, although Serbia remained the most represented area. During that time, it gained royal patronage and merged with the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1935 to become the Prince Paul Museum. However, during the Communist regime, authorities removed relics from the First and Second Serbian rebellions from its collection and established a separate Museum of the First and Second Serbian Uprisings. This was intentionally done by the Communist leaders to ensure that the rebellions were firmly placed into a Marxist interpretation of history, rather than a Serbian nationalist one.
Celebration on 26 June 2018
Since its inception, the collection of the National Museum of Serbia has grown to over 400,000 objects, including many foreign masterpieces and today, it has 34 archaeological, numismatic, artistic and historical collections. The archaeological collection consists of sculptures from the 5th to the 7th millennium BC, numerous sculptures, weapons, helmets and other items from ancient Rome and ancient Greece, a rare gold sarcophagus and the mummy of a priest from ancient Egypt. The numismatic collection has more than 300,000 items in the form of coins, medals, rings and seals, including coins issued by Phillip II of Macedonia and Alexander the Great. Its collection of French masters includes extremely rare paintings of Picasso, Matisse, Degas, Renoir, Rouault, Cezanne and others, while the Italian collection includes works by Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, Francesco Guardi, Guido Reni and more. Its collection of graphics and etching includes, among others, the works of Botticelli, Modigliani and Guglielmo Achille Cavellini. The huge collection of the National Museum of Serbia also includes the Dutch and Flemish collection consisting of more than 500 works, the Russian art collection containing 90 paintings, and numerous prints, etchings, the English paintings of mostly impressionist and post-impressionist artists and Russian art collection with 90 paintings, numerous prints and etchings. Other Art Collections in National Museum in Belgrade include works from Spain, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Australia, China, Japan, USA, Canada, etc.
Crowning of Serbian Emperor Dusan, by Paja Jovanović
The National Museum of Serbia houses an invaluable collection of the Serbian and Yugoslav Art Collection consisting of more than 6000 pieces created between the 17th and the 20th-century. The collection includes, among others, the works of Teodor Kračun, Konstantin Danil, Pavle Paja Jovanović, Katarina Ivanovic, Petar Dobrović and many more. However, highlights of the collection include the works by the Croatian artist Ivan Meštrović, the most celebrated sculptor of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Apart from that, extensive galleries are dedicated to the archaeological treasures from Roman-era Serbia, the 18th and 19th-century Serbian art and 20th-century Yugoslavian art.