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Picture the classic 19th-century museum, a palatial neoclassical edifice overflowing with exotic treasure and thought-provoking works of art, a repository for a nation’s history, a grand purpose-built display case for royal trinkets, church baubles and state-owned rarities – this is the Bavarian National Museum, a good old-fashioned institution for no-nonsense museum lovers. As the collection fills 40 rooms over three floors, there’s a lot to get through here, so be prepared for at least two hours’ legwork.
Most visitors start on the 1st floor, where hall after hall is packed with baroque, mannerist and Renaissance sculpture, ecclesiastical treasures (check out all those wobbly Gothic ‘S’ figures), Renaissance clothing and one-off pieces such as the 1000-year-old St Kunigunde’s chest fashioned in mammoth ivory and gold. Climb to the 2nd floor to move up in history to the rococo, Jugendstil and modern periods, represented by priceless collections of Nymphenburg and Meissen porcelain, Tiffany glass, Augsburg silver and precious items used by the Bavarian royal family. Also up here is a huge circular model of Munich in the first half of the 19th century, shortly after it was transformed into a capital fit for a kingdom.
It’s easy to miss, but the building’s basement also holds an evocatively displayed collection of Krippen (nativity scenes), some with a Cecil B DeMille–style cast of thousands. Retold in paper, wood and resin, there are Christmas-story scenes here from Bohemia, Moravia and Tyrol, but the biggest contingent hails from Naples. Also here is the excellent museum shop.