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The National Museum of Popular Art and Tradition

Early this month the museums director took himself off to Rome to visit the National Museum of Popular Art and Tradition. A truly stunning collection housed within a vast building in the EUR district of Rome. The museum is just one of the many Folklore museums which can be found all over Europe.


In a report written in Italy in1881, Luigi Pigorini, director of the Royal Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum in Rome, first wrote of the need to collect and care for documents and artefacts relating to folklore. The origins of the present museum date back to 1906, when the Museo di Etnografia Italiana was founded by ethnographer Lamberto Loria and archaeologist Aldobrandino Mochi in Florence. It began with around 2000 objects relating to rural life but by 1908 these had grown to 5000, forcing them to seek larger quarters.


Loria regarded the museum in Florence as only a tiny part of a larger cultural and intellectual project which aimed at exploring the diversity of customs, traditional practices, religious and magical rituals, and their unique expression in each region and in each historical period. Having moved to Rome in 1911 for the Universal Exposition it then moved onto the Regio Museo di Etnografia Italiana in 1923. In 1939 the ethnographic collection aroused interest once again when the Popular Traditions section was included. This came to the attention of the government who were drawing up the Universal Exhibition to celebrate 20 years of Fascism in Italy. The new EUR district of Rome was to later become the current location of the collection. War interrupted proceedings and it wasn't until 1953 that a folklore exhibition was held at the Palazzo dei Congressi.


When the exhibition ended, all the exhibits were transferred to their permanent home where, under Paolo Toschi's direction, the newly-named Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari was set up and opened on the 20th April 1956. The fortieth anniversary of the museum was celebrated in 1996, and a new layout was devised, offering the public a more complete view of the various subjects and added demo-anthropological focus.


In many ways the museum in Rome represents all the things that we should be cherishing but in many cases don't. The Museum of British Folklore will look to correct that situation of course and to readdress the balance, providing a place where people can research and learn more about our annual customs and traditions and their importance within our constantly evolving national culture.