Here we see the new-look Gustavianum planned for re-opening in summer 2024, with newly produced exhibitions, new presentations, display cases and colour scheme. Depicted here is the exhibition on the Mediterranean, which will be on the first floor. Digital sketch: Note Design Studio.2023-03-10
A sneak preview of the new Gustavianum
Many of us are no doubt curious about Gustavianum after renovation. As the museum will not be re-opening until summer 2024, Museum Director Mikael Ahlund has given us an ‘oral’ sneak preview, along with some newly produced sketches.
Entrance to Gustavianum, Uppsala University Museum, will no longer be from the street but from the other side of the building, the park side.
“Moving the entrance gives us a considerably more functional and accessible entrance. All visitors will now enter directly to the reception area and ticket office. Moreover, the entrance will be appreciably more open and elegant, with a new arched opening and sandstone floor,” says Mikael Ahlund, Museum Director at Gustavianum.
Valsgärde and the Viking Age
Beyond the shop, the former staff areas have been opened up for visitors. An exhibition on the Vendel Period and Viking Age will be on show there, with finds from Valsgärde, north of Uppsala. The exhibition will be an adapted version of “The Vikings Begin”, an exhibition shown at four museums in the United States over a four-year period, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. The exhibition has been produced by Gustavianum in collaboration with a group of researchers from the University.
“It’s a modern presentation based on the latest research and raising the question of when the Viking Age really began. We will be showing unique, magnificent artefacts – such as helmets, weapons and unusual cult objects.”
Interior from the exhibition “The Vikings Begin”, which has toured a number of museums in the United States while the renovation has been in progress. The exhibition will move in to the new Gustavianum. Photo: Mikael Ahlund.
Collaboration with researchers
In preparation for the re-opening in summer 2024, the museum staff are now working on exhibition texts and in-depth explanations in collaboration with researchers in various fields.
“Numerous researchers from the University are involved in their areas of specialisation, which means that new research and new insights will be woven into the exhibitions.”
Apart from the display texts, audio guides and catalogues are also being produced for the exhibitions, providing opportunities to put the objects exhibited in more detailed contexts.
“We will also be using digital screens to convey information about the objects in images and texts. However, we don’t intend them to be too prominent in the exhibitions. The focus will be on the objects themselves.”
After the exhibition on Valsgärde, we retrace our steps through the shop to the staircase. There will be a new cloakroom with lockers in the vault in the northern part of the ground floor.
The Mediterranean and Nile Valley
We take the stairs up to the first floor. There we are first transported to the Mediterranean and the Nile Valley, where the theme is Egyptology and classical archaeology.
“We have made some changes in our selections and are trying new ways of presenting our unique and delicate objects. We are one of few museums in Sweden with our own collection of Egyptian sarcophagi, for instance. The same exhibition also shows finds from excavations in the Mediterranean area in which Uppsala University has participated.”
One major reason for the renovation was to improve the climate in order to protect the objects exhibited. With better regulation of the indoor climate and new display cases, it is possible to control light, humidity and temperature. Digital sketch: Note Design Studio.
Alongside the protracted process of preparing the renovation of the building itself, planning has proceeded for the new exhibitions. The various collections of objects have been carefully reviewed.
“Obviously the museum has limited space, and we need to make a strict selection to be able to showcase our most outstanding holdings. Our vision is to create a kind of University treasury that visitors will find exciting and eventful. At the same time, we try to make a virtue of necessity – we are just the right size for a visit to Gustavianum not to feel exhausting.”
History of the University
On the other side of the staircase, we come to exhibitions about the University and the history of science. The history of the University will be presented in the room on the right, just before Auditorium Minus.
“It will be a potted history of the University from its founding in 1477 onwards, with the charter, documents and exciting objects.”
In the corridor outside, an animated map is planned, highlighting the various University buildings with associated facts and stories.
The large room Auditorium Minus will serve as a hybrid room for the purpose of both exhibitions and lectures, talks or discussions. The tiered seating on one of the long sides will be kept as it contains essential technical equipment.
“We are remodelling the tiered seating as broad stairs or benches on two levels, where you can take a seat and rest your legs or perhaps listen to a guide or a public discussion. For lectures or events, chairs can be placed on the floor to accommodate a larger audience. Also, we are working on the acoustics to solve the problems experienced in this room in the past.”
The exhibition in Auditorium Minus will be about the history of science, featuring Rudbeck, Linnaeus and Celsius. Selected scientific instruments will also be on display. Digital sketch: Note Design Studio.
“Here we will tell the story of the University’s history and the history of science in general through a selection of exciting objects from the University’s collections, such as Celsius’s first thermometer.”
Historical colour scheme
Experts from the Swedish National Heritage Board and the National Property Board have been involved in the renovation in various ways. For example, they have made suggestions for the colour scheme, based on historical colours used in the various rooms. Gustavianum has a long, motley history and has served many different functions – library, lecture halls, exhibition space and home to various departments. As far back as the mid-nineteenth century, the building was used as a museum for a while, and this use was resumed in 1997 when the building formally became the University Museum.
“In the course of this renovation, objects and documents have shown up below the floorboards, including an inventory from the nineteenth century.”
However, the new exhibitions will not just be about history. Next to Auditorium Minus, there will be a room devoted to the contemporary University.
“The contemporary room will offer researchers, doctoral students and other people at the University the opportunity to present themselves and explain what they do in films and interviews. The focus could be on research projects of various kinds, or more personal stories about what drives them as researchers. We will refresh the interviews shown continuously to highlight a changing range of research fields and subjects. The idea is to provide a sense of the University’s complexity through the many different activities that are going on. This will also be a way to involve members of the University in the new museum.”
We return to the staircase and continue up to the third floor. This floor will house the University’s art collection along with the coin cabinet. There will also be room for temporary exhibitions.
“The University has one of the largest art collections in Sweden, but it has been relatively unknown. It feels fantastic that we will now be able to display the best parts of the collection and make it accessible. We will pick out the very finest works, many of which are of the highest international standard.”
Parts of the University’s art collection were previously displayed in the Uppsala Art Museum at Uppsala Castle, but the objects had to be removed from there because of the unsuitable museum climate, as it was not possible to regulate the temperature and humidity.
“A good, controllable climate is a prerequisite for being able to show these objects. Otherwise layers of paint can come loose and delicate panels can crack,” Ahlund explains. “We are very pleased to now be able to show these objects while still preserving them for the future.”
Augsburg Art Cabinet
The Augsburg Art Cabinet will be on display with the art collection.
“The art cabinet sums up the early seventeenth century picture of the world, it’s like a time capsule. There’s enormous interest in the art cabinet, it’s by far the most popular object in our collections.”
The Augsburg Art Cabinet will have pride of place in the exhibition of the University’s art collection. Digital sketch: Note Design Studio.
The cabinet contains more than a thousand objects – natural-history specimens, curiosities, objets d’art, various kinds of games, and items best described as novelty articles. And much more besides. One of the short sides of the room will now be available to display several hundred of these objects from the art cabinet.
“In recent years, numerous research papers and publications all over the world have discussed the cabinet or objects from it. Some of these articles are about the history of collecting, others are about specific objects such as shells, china or enamelled objects. Or about the games in the cabinet. The art cabinet from Augsburg is a seventeenth century universe to explore.”
Asked whether it is possible to put a price on the University’s art cabinet, Ahlund replies, after a few moments’ silence:
“No, it’s completely unique. It’s the only cabinet of this type in the world that has been preserved with its collections intact. There was one in Berlin, but it was destroyed by bombing in 1943 and now only some of the objects from that cabinet remain.”
On this floor, there is also a room displaying coins, medals and banknotes from the University’s coin cabinet.
“By showing the most splendid parts of the coin cabinet in Gustavianum, we will make the collection considerably more accessible than it used to be. Among other things, we will show examples of the world’s heaviest coin and the first notes, in both cases actually Swedish. However, the collection also contains coins and medals from many different countries and periods. It’s a fascinating collection that offers tremendously intriguing perspectives on different historical epochs and events.”
If we ascend one more flight of stairs, we come to the top floor and the anatomical theatre.
“Naturally there will be no change in the anatomical theatre, it’s a museum object in its own right, after all. What’s happening here is improvements in fire safety. We will continue to be very careful with the theatre and show it with as much re
Why is Gustavianum being renovated?
There are several reasons for the renovation. Among other things, there is a need for:
- a better museum climate, with controllable temperature and humidity in the exhibition rooms
- better visitor reception and logistics
- larger exhibition areas
- better fire safety and safety in general.
The renovation itself is being carried out in collaboration between the National Property Board of Sweden and Uppsala University. The University is paying for most of the costs of the actual renovation. Gustavianum is seeking additional external funding for the new exhibitions.