Ineta Zelča Sīmansone. The first public museum in the Baltics turns 250. Himsel's legacy

The tradition of collecting in Europe has a centuries-old history[1]. However, it is only relatively recently that collections, collectors and collecting have become a popular topic of interdisciplinary research[2]. One explanation for this growing interest is the public museum as the central European institute of modernity[3] turning 250.

Starting with the British Museum in London, which was founded in 1753 upon bequest of Sir Hans Sloane's collections, the museum tradition in Riga and throughout the Baltic can also be traced back to the Enlightenment, where it is associated with Riga physician Nikolaus von Himsel[4]. 

In 2023, the first public museum in the Baltics, named after Himsel, will celebrate its 250th anniversary.

22 February 1773 is the official date on which the first public museum in the Baltics was founded in Riga. Arguably, the Himsel Museum is one of the oldest public museums in Europe. It is important to note that the will of Nikolaus von Himsel (1729-1764) to make his art and science collections accessible to the general public was carried out shortly after his death by his mother, Katharina von Himsel, whose contribution to the field of cultural heritage has not yet been fully explored and appreciated. 

The first public museum collection with an existing or lost label - the Himselsches Museum - is currently housed in several memory institutions (Riga Museum of History and Navigation, Latvian National Museum of Art, Latvian National Museum of Natural History, possibly elsewhere, further research is needed).
The Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Academic Library of the University of Latvia holds 3 volumes of Nikolaus von Himsel's European travel diary "Die Reisen". In cooperation with the Creative Museum, work is currently continuing on the translation and critical edition of this voluminous manuscript. 
Mainly with the financial support of the State Cultural Capital Foundation, the think tank's work on Himsels' legacy will continue in the following directions in this anniversary year of the Himsels' Museum:

1. From 2021, with the support of the State Cultural Capital Foundation and other funds, we will continue to work on translation of Himsel's travel diary (Dr. hist. Edgar Ceske's translation from German; the research team's work on the inventory, editing and commentary section). Due to the large amount of work, the manuscript project will not result in a published book this year. More funding than is currently available is needed to bring the project to completion. The Latvian state has not yet delegated such a task to Creative Museum as a non-governmental museum organisation.

2. A conference "The Himsel Detective" is planned for the end of 2023, where the research team and partners will present intriguing findings from the Himsel research process. It is hoped that in this way the central documentary asset of the Himsel heritage, the travel notes, will also be brought to the attention of more heritage professionals internationally:

- Dr. hist. Edgar Ceske, the translator of Himsel's travel diaries will talk about "Himsel's backstage notes" or what has remained unnoticed in the course of research on the manuscript so far;

- Aija Taimiņa, Ph.D. and Himsel family researcher, will talk about the curiosity cabinets and collecting in the Himsel family, and about Himsel's grandfather Niklas Martini (1678-1741);

- Ingars Gusāns, Ph.D., an expert on Himsel's Latin translations, will talk about the 21st-century transposition of 18th-century Latin texts;

- Rasa Parpuce-Blauma, Ph.D. and the overall Himsel's research scientific editor, will talk about museums and private collections in Himsel's travel notes;

- Book historian Artis Ērglis will report on Himsel and Sweden, including his visit to the father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, and Himsel's observations in the Falun steel mines;

- PhD in Museum Studies Raivis Sīmansons will address the phenomenon of the encyclopedic museum from the perspective of the historical and contemporary museum; 

- Dr. art. Baiba Vanaga will try to discover the origin of the only known portrait of Himsel;

- Dr. hist. Viktors Dāboliņš will reveal the origins and myths of the Himsel numismatic (coin) collection (tbc);

- Ineta Zelča Sīmansone, a student of the RSU Doctoral Programme in Communication and Multimedia, will analyse the communication and representation of the first public museum in the Baltic in 2023. 

3. Work will continue on a special edition for children "Himsel for Kids" authored by Marta Leimane.

4 Work is underway on an English translation of Himsel's overall research, as interest in the first public museum in the Baltics is growing. Several projects have been submitted to international foundations and a response is awaited. 

5. After the conference, a 2nd collection of articles (following the first 2019 edition) on the museologist Himsel and his time is planned to be published. 
Besides, the project "The Northern Star", a  full length family animation about Himsel (inspired by work of Creative Museum) will continue at the "Kokle Studija" (Kārlis Vītols, Sniedze Kāle).

Let's celebrate the Year of Himsel together!



[1] Pearce S. On Collecting: An Investigation Into Collecting in the European Tradition. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

[2] MacGregor A. Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.

[3] Preciosi D. Brain of the Earth’s Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantomasms of Modernity. Minneappolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. 

[4] Sīmansons, Raivis (2019). Ievads. Muzeologs Himzels un viņa laiks. No: Zelča Sīmansone, Ineta (red.) Muzeologs Himzels un viņa laiks . Rīga: Creative Museum.

Photo: Didzis Grodzs
Ineta Zelča Sīmansone

Museologist, Project Manager and Consultant