A Review of the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen

This review is specifically of the Prehistory exhibition, which is fairly new. It's specific webpage is here: http://natmus.dk/en/the-national-museum-of-denmark/exhibitions/the-danish-prehistory/thedanishprehistory/#c40461

Stopping in Copenhagen on my way to my new home in Odense meant I could visit a museum or two. The weather was certainly awful enough that that was about the only thing I could do. I chose the Nationalmuseet, mostly because it was close and it was free, and also large enough to spend at least half a day in.

It is not the British Museum, but for a national museum of a small country, I was suitably impressed. The entire ground floor exhibit on the history of Denmark is recently redone. It is very ‘artistic’ as exhibits go; care has been taken to aesthetically display the artefacts (and there are a lot of artefacts). There are labels and text panels everywhere, though the way they have been done I found quite useful to furthering my understanding of the history. In each room, all the text panels are along one wall. Labels are at the front of each glass case and each object (or collection of objects) is numbered. In almost all rooms there is more than enough light to see clearly and many of the glass cases can be walked around to allow you to view the artefacts from multiple directions.

I liked the choices. It appears very modern, this new gallery, and yet I spent nearly 1.5 hours there reading pretty much everything. You move from room to room, so there is not one massive room to get around and lose interest in half-way. You don’t really know how many rooms are left. I find the ‘stark’ display was less distracting than some modern museums I’ve been to, which seem to over-display. There was not a lot of colour, except on the text panels themselves.

The human remains were displayed in darkened areas, for the most part, and accompanied by text to explain them, but all of them are at a low enough eye level for children. I didn’t mind this, however, and neither did it appear so for the Danish parents visiting with their children that I followed around. I do like bog bodies, and there are two fantastic ones here on display (http://natmus.dk/en/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-early-iron-age/the-woman-from-huldremose/). And also the most amount of preserved clothing I have ever seen. Multiple outfits, in fact, both men and women represented and it is amazing to see how preserved the things recovered from graves and bogs actually can be!

I rarely spend so long in an exhibition, but this one grabbed me. The ease of viewing the objects, the care taken to make sure the text panels delivered the information needed, but without being overwhelming is clear. They are set at an adult eye level. They know the children won’t read them. There is no children’s activities anywhere in the gallery. There is no digital technology visible, but you can hear sounds in a few of the rooms to create mood. It is, in fact, everything I have been told a museum should not be these days, because kids will be bored. But the first time in far too long I didn’t care. Because I liked it. I enjoyed my two hours there, especially on the ground floor exhibit. I didn’t care if a single child found it interesting or not. Because when it comes down to it, it’s the pre-history of Denmark and no matter how interesting you make the exhibit, the average five year old isn’t going to be interested in the history. There are other areas of the museum made more for children, but this one I feel is a bold choice by staff to cater to adults. And it’s nice to see. I think it will do well, as it shows off Danish history in a very good light; interesting, artistic, informative, and with care.

The other areas of the museum are older, and therefore more traditionally displayed. The only other area I spent any time in was the top floor Greek and Roman sections, which are, at least, very bright, but the overwhelming number of red pots makes it thoroughly uninteresting, even for a Classicist like me. Photos can be seen here: http://natmus.dk/en/the-national-museum-of-denmark/exhibitions/classical-and-near-eastern-antiquities/ which sort of sums it up. It's not a bad way to display them, and it shows a continuing artistic flair, but the collection suffers from simply being too large. There are too many pots to look at that hunting out the most important examples is nearly impossible, unless you read every label for every pot.

The real treat was the café on the ground floor, which served ‘Viking’ food. It was weird and delicious, and was a welcome choice over the more formal café upstairs. They use here (and in the main restaurant) only ingredients that would have been around in Viking times, so I has a lovely sausage with spelt flatbread and sweet chutney made from rosehip.

I recommend a visit here if you are in Copenhagen. I will certainly be back to tour the rest of the museum I didn’t have time to go through (specifically the more modern historical galleries, which looked beautiful at a glance but I just didn’t have time: http://natmus.dk/en/the-national-museum-of-denmark/exhibitions/stories-of-denmark/). The whole place is an interesting collection of modern and traditional design, and yet it works (the British Museum is too, after all).

And hey, ever wanted an African birthday? The Nationalmuseet does that. Check it out! http://natmus.dk/en/the-national-museum-of-denmark/activities/childrens-birthdays/ Pity they only do it for children.

Well worth it. And hey, it’s free!


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