by Owen Lipsett
New York, New York
May 28, 2005
Although many of the National Museum’s collections are currently closed, the quality of those on view at the time of my visit are more than worthy of a visit. The ground floor consists of a quadrangular hallway that houses the best classical lapidarium I have ever visited, which surrounds a glass-covered courtyard used for temporary exhibitions. It contains a wealth of Roman stone markers (largely gravestones) drawn from all around Slovenia, each accompanied by a panel reproducing the Latin words engraved on the stone together, with translations and explanatory notes in both Slovene and English. Many, but by no means the majority, come from Emona, the Roman town on the site of Ljubljana. Rather more incongruously (but quite enjoyably), an Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus are displayed near the end of this exhibit.
Upstairs, a display explains that the National Museum is the successor to the Carniolan Regional Museum, which the ornately decorated Rudolfinum was built to house. Consequently, the exhibitions cover Slovenia’s history prior to the First World War (its subsequent experience is depicted in the excellent Museum of Modern History in Tivoli Park). Restoration work has limited the displays to two dozen boxes containing objects that would be ordinary except for their degree of preservation. But proving that less is more, the excellent captions (in English and Slovene) weave them together into a compelling story of the many peoples (and classes) that have inhabited Slovenia, managing to give coverage to all and precedence to none.
The Museum of Natural History, which occupies the left side of the Rudolfinum’s upper floor, is the only truly child-friendly sight in Ljubljana. The museum’s prize exhibit is a 20,000-year-old mammoth skeleton excavated near Kamnik in 1938, although the delightful exhibit of Alpine flora and fauna next door is more appealing for both the young and young at heart. Bathed in light from the large windows and the ceiling, and accompanied by recordings of rushing water, birds, and insects, its manifold displays do an excellent job of portraying nature’s glorious cacophony, although the accompanying text is largely in Slovene only.
The largest galleries, which feature a macabre display of skeletons that seem to have been imported from a 19th-century veterinary clinic and a rather more pleasant collection of stuffed birds and mammals, are rather more didactic, though less appealing. There’s no labeling in English in either room, although as children are the ones most likely to find the large taxidermy section most interesting, this doesn’t matter much. The museum’s most interesting exhibit (which includes a short video presentation in Slovene and English) deals with the so-called "human fish" (Proteus anguinus), a blind white amphibian that is the world’s largest cave-dwelling vertebrate. A thorough display of minerals rounds out this enjoyable little museum.
From journal The Discreet Charms of Ljubljana