(Photo source) It is inconceivable (to me, anyway) that there can be such resounding silence in the press today concerning the threatened Brukenthal Museum in Sibiu, partially closed as I type due to lack of funding. Perhaps Daniel Morar's resignation from DNA is more important? But Romania's oldest (and probably finest) museum under the axe should have caused a massive public outcry, not to mention a loud surge of indignance. Sadly, however, only a handful of people seem concerned. Where are the petitions? Where are the protests? Where are the angry articles? I see none... There are many Daniel Morars in Romania. But there is only ONE Brukenthal Museum.
Looking for the latest news (and fishing in a dry pond), I stumbled on several other interesting titbits that may endear the Brukenthal and its art-loving founder yet further to your hearts:
1) To begin with, this is not the first time the museum has had its share of hard knocks, enough to threaten it with closure. Back in 2010, 30 or so of the 168 employees threw in the towel when cuts in the budget caused a 25% salary slash. Dr Luca, the museum's director, stated at that time that if a further 20 followed suit, there'd be no option but to close shop for he would not have enough staff to run the institution... Nothing else happened after that (at least, nothing I can find online), so I suppose a solution was found. Let's hope one will appear this time, too.
(Photo source: Ecce Homo - Titian Vecellio Da Cadore (1485–1576)
2) Many of you will already know about the Art Robbery at the Brukenthal in the springtime of 1968, but it was news to me. Apparently, thieves made off with eight highly valuable paintings in all, four of which ("Man With A Skull'' by Dieric Bouts; "Man With A Pipe At The Window'' by Franz van Mieris the Elder; "Portrait of a Woman'' by Rosalba Carriera, and "Ecce Homo'' by Titian) were eventually unearthed thirty years later in Miami by Customs officers and returned to Romania during Emil Constantinescu's presidency in the late 90s. It's quite a story.
The international press at the time marvelled as to how on earth 8 masterpieces could be pilfered and then smuggled out of Romania right under the noses of the Securitate, but I guess it doesn't take too much imagining... I expect the Securitate were entirely responsible, but that's just my opinion. The search continued until 1972 without success - the trail went cold. Romania was not a member of Interpol until 1973 which, I suppose, hampered matters.
The four paintings that made it home again had somehow got to the US via a mysterious trip through Vienna and New York. At the time, Simona Miclescu, press secretary to the Romanian Embassy in Washington, said that the robbery had been a great blow to Romanian national patrimony. (A shame so few say the same thing with relation to the entire museum now being under threat of closure...)
(Photo source: Man with Pipe at the Window - Frans van Mieris I, The Elder (1635–1681)
An official explained that the paintings had been 'recovered from an unidentified individual' who 'volunteered' to relinquish them - American art experts estimated the value of the discovered works at over $25 million. The 'owner' had 'come by them' in Vienna, bought from a gypsy family for the song of $1,200 - surely the bargain of the century.
The exact circumstances of the robbery still remain rather foggy. It all came to pass one Sunday night and it was pretty obvious that it was an inside job, for the thieves knew the lay-out of the museums perfectly. They made a quick swoop, took what they came for and then legged it without leaving a trace. Voilà. Not only is the Brukenthal Museum famous for its art collections but it's also known for a robbery! Incidentally, as far as I know, "The Death of Cleopatra" by Van Dyke, "Portrait of a man" by Amberger and the two other chef d'oeuvres were never found. For more on this story, please see HERE and HERE.
3) Further information, all the more important and an even greater argument still for saving this beautiful museum - patrimony and heritage apart - is how WELL KNOWN and RESPECTED it is beyond Romania's borders. The prestigious Brukenthal collections have been exhibited in the splendid settings of the Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona; the Villa Vauban Art Museum of the City of Luxemburg and the Jaquemart André Museum in Paris to name but a few. The Brukenthal isn't some pithy little hovel containing a couple of art efforts by unknowns, but a NATIONAL PRIDE (not for enough of the Romanian population, it appears - and certainly not to its culture ministry) with an outstanding selection of Renaissance and Baroque works (Flemish, Dutch and German Schools); Romanian and Transylvanian works; European art (Austrian, Italian, Spanish and French); landscapes of Sibiu by Johann Böbel (1824-1887); contemporary pieces and abstracts by Brasov-born Hans Mattis-Teutsch. The Brukenthal Library boasts over 300,000 books and manuscripts ranging from rare, foreign titles to old Romanian books, as well as a small collection of magazines. The History Museum hosted in the Old City Hall, presents detailed life and traditions in the region of Sibiu, complete with a myriad of objects from neighbouring towns. This museum depicts the history of Southern Transilvania far better than any other institution, and with great care for historical accuracy. There is simply no other like it so rich in tradition, collections and legends.
(Photo source: The Slaughter of the Innocent - Pieter Bruegel I, The Elder (c.1525–1569)
The exhibition at the Jaquemart André in Paris literally stunned its visitors, not to mention the curator himself. Claudia Barbieri of the NYT wrote THIS article entitled "In Paris, A Great Collection Comes Out Of Hiding"
'For decades, art that was behind the Iron Curtain stayed behind the Iron Curtain. But it turns out that under the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, some extraordinary pockets of history and culture survived in hiding. One of these is the Brukenthal collection from Romania, on view at the Jacquemart-André Museum through Jan. 11.
The collection encompasses an extraordinary wealth of 15th-17th-century Flemish and Italian paintings accumulated in the 19th century by a Hapsburg official. A sample of 45 of these paintings is currently on show at the museum, following their almost accidental discovery last year by the museum’s curator, Nicholas Sainte Fare Garnot.
(Photo source: Man in a Blue Cap - Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441)
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Mr. Sainte Fare Garnot of the treasures he found on a scouting exhibition to Sibiu, Romania, with the Belgian art historian Jan de Maere. Showing for the first time outside the country, the exhibition includes stunning works by the Breughels, elder and younger; Memling; Van Eyck; and others.
Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, a court favorite of the Empress Marie-Thérèse and governor of Transylvania, started his collection after Marie-Thérèse gave him his first painting, “Soldier at the Window Smoking a Pipe,” by Frans Van Mieris. Also included in the show is an exquisitely surreal Flemish painting from the museum’s own collection, “Allegory of Virtue,” in which a Madonna, emerging from a jagged rock, is protected by two lions prowling in the foreground.
But the real crowd-stopper in the show is a “Massacre of the Innocents,” painted sometime in the late 1580s in the studio of Pieter Breughel the Elder, after his death. Cruel and violent, but painted with extraordinary verve and detail, the painting is a biting commentary on the repression of the Dutch by the Spanish Inquisition.'
For the Brukenthal to close due to something as shameful as lack of funding (read 'lack of interest and indifference' there, since, basically, that's what it is) would be as national a loss as it would be international. And for any smart alec thinking 'well then, let those snotty rich westerners pay for it', shame on you too. Hand-outs do not bring respect. Culture does, however. Pride (and knowledge) in one's history does. The desire to protect a national jewel and a country's treasures does. And a determination to show off one's cultural richness likewise.
(Photo source: Baron Samuel von Brukenthal)
So, come on. Let's have a LOUDER and MORE INDIGNANT show of respect and affection for the Brukenthal, Romania's oldest museum and the works collected so lovingly by its founder Baron Samuel von Brukenthal. The museum's FaceBook page doesn't have an update on the present situation as far as I can see, but please keep an eye on it, go 'like' it (you never know - it may help) and please, please let's DO something to try to make a difference. The once-governor of Sibiu must be turning in his grave...