Alexander was the founder of the world’s first arts and crafts museum
Baron Alexander von Minutoli (1806-1887) was the creator of one of the very first decorative arts museums in Europe, the first of the nineteenth century, a precursor of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and made extensive use of photography to spread taste and knowledge.
In 1839, the same year that photography was invented, the Prussian ministry sent him to Liegnitz (now Legnica, Poland) to develop local crafts in a period of economic crisis. Having inherited from his father a passion for art history and collecting, Minutoli had brought back many decorative art objects from his travels. In order to stimulate industry by example and restore the lost unity of art and crafts, he created a new kind of museum; no art museum or curiosity cabinet, but a collection of models of the best in decorative arts since antiquity, organized by materials and periods. In 1845, the King of Prussia granted him the use of about ten rooms in Liegnitz Castle to display the objects.
Minutoli wanted to address a national, even international audience. He therefore developed a system for lending the original works and antiques to Prussian schools of applied arts. This caused some damage. Minutoli then imagined a loan of watercolours; then, of daguerreotypes (the photographer Louis Birk produced a few dozen plates for him). The Crystal Palace Exhibition, held in London in 1851, gave him the opportunity to present them to the world.
But these were fragile, and as soon as the collodion process was invented, Minutoli took up this major innovation. In 1853, he hired a 23-year-old young man from Liegnitz’s school of applied arts, Ludwig Belitski.
Using an ingenious splash system and a 9-foot (2.74-metre) Dollond telescope, Minutoli and Belitski made up a corpus of more than 150 photographs on salted paper.
Presented at the 1855 Paris Universal Exhibition, it opened with a lithographed title page: “Models for craftsmen and manufacturers from the collection of the Minutoli Institute for the Improvement of Trade and the Promotion of the Arts in Liegnitz”.