The Museum of Arts and Crafts was founded in 1880 at the initiative of the Arts Association and its then president Izidor Kršnjavi, and was one of the first such institutions in Europe. Drawing on the theoretical precepts of the Arts & Crafts movement in England and the intellectual postulates of Gottfried Sember, the Museum was devised with the intention of creating “a collection of models for master craftsmen and artists to reinvigorate the production of everyday use items”.
The strategy of the Museum’s activity was directed to the preservation of traditional values of the crafts of the people, but also to the creation of a new aesthetic culture of the middle class.
The plan for the building, the first purpose-built museum in Croatia, was made by the architect Herman Bollé: a grand Historicist palace constructed in 1888, its front elevation in the spirit of the German Renaissance complementing the scenography of one of the finest Zagreb squares.
From 1880 on, the holdings were systematically built up according to plan by acquisitions of objects both in Croatia and all around Europe, as well as numerous donations by private collectors.
Today the Museum has at its disposal holdings containing about one hundred thousand items of the fine and applied arts, drawn from the period from the 14th to the 21st century, organised into a number of collections: furniture, glass, metal, ceramics, sculpture, painting, graphic art, clocks and watches, graphic and product design, architecture, photography (one of the oldest such collections in the world) and photographic equipment, fabric and fashion, musical instruments, painted leather, ivory, printing and bookbinding. Since some of these collections number several thousand or indeed several tens of thousands of objects, it would be quite reasonable to say that they in fact comprise individual museums within the Museum, the more so that some of the collections are unique in Croatia.
The library with a reading room with more than 65,000 volumes of books and journals is one of the oldest and most important specialised libraries for art and the fine crafts in this part of Europe.