The Historical Museum, founded in 1989, kicks off with a collection of Roman archaeological finds, uncovered during the construction of Avala Hotel in Budva, before going on to tell the story of Montenegro. The fledgling days of the country are illustrated by the throne of Ivan Crnojević and some pillars from the original monastery, casting further doubt on the theory that it ascended to heaven. Exhibits from the early years of the Njegoš dynasty are limited to a couple of historical portraits, including those of dynastic founder Bishop Danillo Petrović (r.1696-1735) and Bishop Petar I Petrović Njegoš (r.1784-1830), and some historical documents. The wars against the Turks are expressively illustrated with a massive collection of 44 captured Turkish battle standards, the bullet-ridden Montenegrin standard from the Battle of Grahovac in 1858, and the death mask of Mahmut-Pasha Bušatlija, whose defeat in 1796 helped secure independence. Of the later prince-bishops, the reigns of Bishop Petar II Petrović Njegoš (r.1830-51) and King Nikola I Petrović (r.1860-1916) are covered in separate museums, while the short reign of Prince Danillo (r.1851-60) is perhaps best summed up by his dress coat, still sporting the bullet holes put there by his assassin. The museum goes on to explore the early years of independence and the exemplary work of the communist party, culminating in a photo-montage of Josip Tito and the people’s heroes of Montenegro, who liberated Yugoslavia in 1944.
Upstairs, the Art Gallery features a world-class gallery, broken-up into a series of collections. The Montenegrin Collection features art from throughout the small country’s history, from the Baroque works of Tripo Kokoll of Perast to recent masters Pera Početak and Milo Mibutinović. The Yugoslav Collection gathers together post-19th -century art from across the Balkans, including works by Đura Jaksic amd Zora Petrović. The gallery is rounded out by the Milan Šarić-Vukmanović Gift Collection, which includes minor modern works from such well-known figures as Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso. The gallery’s true highlight, however, is the Icon Collection, which, as well as featuring examples from the Bay of Kotor School of the 17th and 18th centuries, is also home to one exquisitely adorned painting of Madonna with Child, which is purported to have been painted by St. Luke the Apostle while he was staying at the home of St. John the Theologian. Gifted to the desert hermits of Egypt, it was later taken to Jerusalem, where around 430, it came into the possession of Eudokia, wife of Emperor Theodosius II, who took it to Constantinople. There, it was credited with saving the city from Persian raids in 626, only to be taken by the Knights of St. John in the crusades of 1204, from whom it passed to the Russian Czar before finally ending up here.
Together, the two museums make a worthwhile diversion during any visit to Cetinje.
November 2, 2004
From journal Cetinje: The Black Heart of Montenegro