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MUSEUM GUIDE: Norway’s capital is full of museums, and they’re often in the news. We’re following that news, and aim to focus regularly on a specific museum or attraction worthy of a visit.
THIS WEEK: The Historical Museum (Historisk museum), where an eclectic collection transports visitors back in time and to cultures across the globe, a welcome diversion to the current uprisings and natural disasters of the world outside.

Entrance to the century-old, Art Nouveau-styled Historical Museum in downtown Oslo, close to the Royal Palace. PHOTO: Isabel Coderre

Nearly 1.5 million artifacts. Dates ranging from 3000 BC, to 500 AD, to 2010. All housed in a century-old building in downtown Oslo. This is a brief overview of Norway’s Historical Museum. Along with the Viking Ship Museum, the Historical Museum falls under the umbrella name “the Museum of Cultural History” (Kulturhistorisk museum) belonging to the University of Oslo.

The Historical Museum has four floors. The first floor contains exhibitions about Norway through the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Middle Ages, and Viking times. Visitors are able to see the world’s only well-preserved Viking helmet, gold treasures from Viking times, and Medieval wooden church art, among other things. Unfortunately, the entire first floor was closed recently because of renovations and a power loss.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor transports visitors back to modern day as they enter a temporary exhibition devoted to modern Australian Aboriginal art. The Historical Museum purchased the art from artistic communities in Australia. The exhibition includes pictures and patterns representing Australian Aboriginal culture, and traditional “dilly bags” dating from 1895 to 2007. The hemisphere changes from south to north by stepping into the next room, where the culture and customs of indigenous populations in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Lapland and Siberia are displayed in scenes. There is also a large, separate exhibition about indigenous populations in the United States.

An Egyptian sarcophagus at the Historical Museum. PHOTO: © Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO. Ellen Holte, Lill-Ann Chepstow-Lusty.

Ancient Egypt – one of the oldest civilizations of all – is the next stop in this global tour. Its story is told from the time when small kingdoms were united under a single pharaoh, to the development of hieroglyphics, to the Egyptians passing on their beliefs about gods and the creation of the Earth to future generations. One of the highlights of this exhibition is the mummy called Nofret who is now two or three thousand years old; x-rays and CT scans indicate that Nofret was 40-50 years old upon her death, and that during her life she ate nutritious food and took good care of her teeth!

The last exhibit on the second floor is the Norwegian coin collection, which holds a few surprises including examples of Norway’s old “skilling”, “rigsdaler”, or “speciedaler,” in circulation in Norway during its political union with Denmark and then Sweden. The “krone” was introduced in 1874 and is still in use today, but there was a brief period (1940-45) during which the currency changed again – to the German “reichsmark.”

The third and fourth floors cover African and East Asian history and culture, and are also the site of a new temporary exhibition about traditional Japanese ukiyo-e art. Officials decided to move forward with the temporary exhibit despite discussions about cancelling or postponing it because of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. There is information about making a donation to the relief effort at the entrances to the museum and to the exhibit.

“A Floating World: Past or Present?” is a beautiful exhibition, with ukiyo-e paintings interspersed with ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Creating ukiyo-e art is a labour-intensive process dating back to the 1600s that involves sketching, wood carving and painting. Specifically, by following the original sketch (which always depict everyday life) a wood carver cuts shapes into blocks of wood that will be painted. A new block of wood is made for every colour in the sketch. Then, the freshly painted wood blocks are pressed one after the other onto the final canvas, slowly creating a painting of the original sketch. The artistic style is still practiced today, although contemporary ukiyo-e artists sometimes use modern materials such as oil and acrylic paints and photopolymer resin plates instead of mineral and organic pigments and cherry tree wood.

Given the breadth of the Historical Museum’s contents, and since it is a university museum, visitors might expect a somewhat heavy educational experience. Instead, the presentation of the artifacts can leave visitors with a feeling of enlightment, and the displays can appeal to children as well because artifacts are presented in a visually-appealing and accessible manner, and their descriptions are not overly detailed.

There is no café at this museum but a coffee and tea machine is available, and there is a large museum shop.

Historical Museum (Historisk museum)
http://www.khm.uio.no/historisk_museum/index_eng.html (external link)
Open: Closed Monday. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-4pm. (From May 15-September 14, open 10am-5pm.)
Location: Frederiks gate 2, just up the road from Nationaltheatret. You can also take tram 11, 17 or 18 to “Kristian Augusts gate”.
Admission: Free.

ALSO IN OUR MUSEUM GUIDE:

The Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology, Industry and Medicine (Norsk Teknisk Museum)
Ski Museum at Holmenkollen
Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HL-senteret)
Nobel Peace Center
Oslo Jewish Museum (Jødisk Museum i Oslo)
Oslo City Museum (Bymuseet)
The Museum of Contemporary Art
The Ibsen Museum
The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet)
The National Gallery
Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History)
The Viking Ship Museum
Summertime at The Munch Museum
The Natural History Museum – Botanical Gardens
The National Museum – Architecture
The Kon-Tiki Museum
The Maritime Museum
Oscarsborg Fortress
The Polar Ship Fram Museum
“Be a tourist in your own town”

Views and News from Norway/Isabel Coderre
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