Stockholm seems to have at least three big history museums — well, at least, the three that I visited (and mistook for each other) last weekend.
I’m happy to have them sorted out now:
- Nordiska Museet: historic housing, fashion, and housewares; old photographs; tasty coffee in the small cafe
- Nationalmuseum: a floor of Impressionist, Renaissance, and Medieval paintings; Roman sculpture copies; crazy Swedish design (from phones to furniture to fabrics); great lunch restaurant/cafe
- Historiska Museet: real Swedish history, set up as interactive displays told in a fashion entertaining to kids and adults.
I learned all this because my friend EmmaC. stopped in for a few days. Her family is from Sweden, and during her readings about family and homeland, she became enamored of Queen Christina (Drotningen Kristina, Sweden’s young female monarch during the mid-1600s). We headed to each museum in hopes of finding information on the queen who was interested in science and abdicated to convert to Catholicism.
We didn’t find much on the missing monarch, except for some excellent-looking volumes in Swedish that the librarian handed us in the basement library of Nordiska Museet. We sat there trying to parse the Swedish in order to figure out why she left and when she died. It was a fascinating interlude to the housewares and other Swedish objects stored in this massive castle-like museum.
And now, after spending some quality time in the National and History museums, I might know more than some Swedes about their country’s past, and some things you probably didn’t know, such as this tidbit: The king who founded the current monarch’s lineage, Karl Johan, was a French general appointed by Napoleon to rule Sweden back in the day — and Napoleon’s rival. He buddied up with Russia’s Tzar Alexander, another Napoleanic rival. I guess northern countries have to stick together. And one recent king took up knitting in his old age (there’s a black-and-white photo in a current show to prove it!).
I’ve also seen some fine art (and not so fine) that is completely unknown outside of the country, I think. Who knew that Carl Larsson, painter of friendly warm domestic scenes of children and women, also painted a controversial mural of a Swedish king about to be executed on a midsummer Medieval evening (charmingly called Midvinterblot)? That’s something.
And the “real” history museum held some amazing treasures — Viking silver and skeletons, fascinating details about Sweden’s economy and history for the past 1,000 years, and some excellent meditations on history and how to tell it. (This is worth an entirely separate blog post, which I’m saving for the next time I go.)
Several more history museums I have yet to discover include the Royal Armory (in the Royal Palace, yes) and the Jewish Museum. And I’m looking forward to going back to all three of the history museums I formerly confused, so come visit and take your pick.