Contemporary History Collection of the Nationl Museum of Transylvanian History

The National Museum of Transylvanian History holds approximately 400 documents, photographs, correspondence, medals and personal effects that belonged to Alexandru Lapedatu, a donation of his daughter, Ana Victoria Macavei. Currently, this is the most important collection covering the academic and political activity of the academician.
Alexandru Lapedatu was born on September 14th 1876 in Cernatu Săcelelor, near Braşov, in the family of Ion Alexandru Lapedatu (1844-1878), a Transylvanian intellectual who had graduated in Paris and Brussels and became a teacher of classical languages at the Great Romanian Orthodox Gymnasium in Braşov. Beside his twin brother, Ion Lapedatu, Alexandru followed the courses of the Great Romanian Orthodox Gymnasium in Braşov (1883-1885) and when his mother re-married, in 1885, he continued his studies in Iaşi where he obtained his BA diploma in 1896.

Alexandru Lapedatu continued his training, following for two years the courses of the Medicine Faculty in Bucharest (1896-1898), but he abandoned it for his true vocation- historical studies. In the autumn of 1898 he enrolled at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy where he mostly frequented the history courses taught by Nicolae Iorga, D. Onciu, and I. Bogdan. At the same time with the university studies Alexandru Lapedatu was involved in the cultural and political life, becoming a member of the Cultural League in the company of personalities such as A. C. Popovici, St. O. Iosif, and Ilarie Chendi. Lapedatu was also in contact with the Transylvanians O. Goga and S. Puşcariu, who were studying in Budapest and Vienna, and started his journalistic career with constant materials in “Gazeta Transilvaniei”, “Convorbiri literare, “Tribuna poporului”, but also in “România jună” where he was employed in 1899.

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Lapedatu completed his studies with magna cum laudae and became an appreciated researcher in the field of Romanian historiography. In 1904 he was appointed secretary of the Historical Monuments Commission that had been founded in 1892 with the goal of protecting and studying the historical monuments. Between 1908 and 1916 Alexandru Lapedatu edited the commissions “Bulletin” that contained studies and articles dedicated to the historical monuments and between 1921 and 1940 he became president of the Historical Monuments Commission, the Section for Transylvania. In this latter capacity he contributed to the enforcement of the Monuments’ Conservation and Restoration Law of 1919, based on a new conception of how to protect historical vestiges.

During the 1903-1908 period he worked at the Romanian Academy, the Manuscripts Section. Starting with 1909 he was secretary of the Historical Commission of Romania. In 1910 he was appointed corresponding member of the Romanian Academy, History Section, becoming an active member in 1918. The recognition of his scientific activity recommended him for the highest positions in the Academy. He became vice-president (1931 – 1935) and even president (1935-1938) of the institution. Then, between 1939 and 1948 he was secretary general of this prestigious scientific forum.

The start of the Second World War, Romania’s siding with the Entente group, and the occupation of Bucharest in 1916 that has sent the government in exile to Iaşi, were a series of events that have determined the authorities to move the Romanian Treasury to Russia. Al. Lapedatu was among those appointed to perform this difficult task. He was responsible with the supervision of the goods belonging to the Ministry of Cults and Arts and to the Romanian Academy.
Alexandru Lapedatu remained in Russia’s capital between July 28th 1917 and December 19th 1917, a period in which he wrote in his journal about the events he witnessed. In January 1918, before returning to the country, he took part in Odessa in the formation of the National Committee of the Romanians from Austro-Hungary, of which he was elected vice-president.

In 1918 Lapedatu was in Iaşi, mainly concerned with “…our preparations for the Peace Conference. Thus, convinced that there, in that great forum for disputes between nations, each will have to turn up endowed as to best support their claims against their adversaries... I thought it best to address Ion I. C. Brătianu a memoir regarding the manner in which I believed we should present ourselves at the great historical judgement of the Romanian people … ” Part of this writing was published in “Neamul Românesc” and was “..employed in the official memoirs dispatched to the members of the Peace Conference by the Romanian delegation at that conference.”

Due to his scientific activity, Lapedatu was noted by the era’s politicians, especially by Ion I.C. Brătianu, and was appointed expert attached to the Romanian Legation in France at the works of the Peace Conference in Paris. Al. Lapedatu’s experience as a historian also proved useful during the diplomatic negotiations that took place after the end of the conference, in Genova, and subsequently for the preparation of the peace negotiations of Trianon.

Meanwhile, in 1919, Lapedatu was appointed tenure professor at the Department for the Old History of the Romanians at the University in Cluj, occupying this position until 1938. In 1921-1922 he was appointed and acted as dean and then, in 1922-1923, as arch-dean of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy in Cluj. Besides his work as a professor, Lapedatu was also involved, together with I. Lupaş, in the founding of the Institute of Romanian History, but also in endowing its library and editing its annual. He coordinated the Commission for the Organization of the Archives in Transylvania and in 1923 he was appointed director of the State Archives and was a member of the Commission for the Organization of the Museums in Transylvania.

Besides his scientific and diplomatic career, Alexandru Lapedatu was also a notable politician, as member of the National Liberal Party. Thus, in 1919 he became a member of parliament, appointed senator by the University in Cluj, taking part in all the legislatures until 1946; he was elected rightful senator and president of the Senate in 1936. Among his political positions one can mention his function as Minister of Cults and Arts under the Ion I. C. Brătianu, Barbu Ştirbey, Vintilă Brătianu, and Gh. Tătărăscu governments. He became noted as initiator and supporter of some important laws, especially in the fields of culture, art, religious life, and education.

Due to the historical context, in August 1948 Alexandru Lapedatu was one of the 114 members of the Romanian Academy excluded from the institution. Some of them were imprisoned and nine died behind bars.
At the age of 74 Alexandru Lapedatu was condemned to life in prison without trial, together with many other leaders from the generation of the Great Union, in the group of dignitaries. He died in the prison of Sighet in the night of May 5th 1950.

Selective bibliography
Ioan Opriş, Gemenii Lapedatu, Istorie şi Finanţe, Editura Oscar Print, Bucureşti, 2016.

Ioan Opriş, Alexandru Lapedatu în cultura românească, Editura Ştiinţifică, Bucureşti, 1996.

Ioan Opriş, Alexandru Lapedatu şi contemporanii săi, Editura Albastră, Cluj-Napoca, 1997.

Ioan Opriş, Alexandru Lapedatu - Amintiri, Editura Albastră, Cluj-Napoca, 2015.

Ioan Opriș, Comisiunea Monumentelor Istorice, Editura Enciclopedică, București, 1994.

Andreas Wild, Frații Lapedatu – artizani ai României moderne în generația Marii Uniri, broșură editată de Fundația Lapedatu, 2017.

Ioan Ciupea, Virgiliu Țârău, Liberali Clujeni. Destine în Marea Istorie, Editura Mega, Cluj-Napoca, 2009.

Nicolae Edroiu, Alexandru Moraru, Dorel Man, Veronica Turcuş, Alexandru Lapedatu (1876-1950) ctitor de instituţii ştiinţifice şi cultural-bisericeşti, Editura Renaşterea, Cluj-Napoca, 2009.

Nicolae Edroiu, Alexandru Lapedatu (1876-1950) – ctitor si codirector al Institutului de Istorie Națională din Cluj, ACADEMICA, an XXVI, nr. 9, 2016.

Andrea Fürtos, Aspecte privind distrugerea elitei romanești interbelice. Metode, mijloace si mod de acțiune (1950-1955), Tara Bârsei (serie nouă), an I (XII), nr. 1, 2002.

Ioan-Aurel Pop, Alexandru Lapedatu – un universitar clujean, ACADEMICA, an XXVI, nr. 9, 2016.

Lucian Nastasă, Suveranii Universităților românești, Editura LIMES, Cluj-Napoca, 2007.

Materialul documentar al expoziţiei Braşoveni din Elita Românească, Fraţii Ion şi Alexandru Lapedatu la 140 de ani de la naştere, organizată de Muzeul Civilizaţiei Urbane a Braşovului, împreună cu Academia Română, Banca Naţională a României, Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a Transilvaniei din Cluj, Muzeul Judeţean de Istorie Braşov, Biblioteca Judeţeană „George Bariţiu” Braşov, Fundaţia Lapedatu – Bucureşti, Aşezământul Lapedatu – Cluj, Fundaţia Academia Civică septembrie-noiembrie 2016:


National Museum of Transylvanian History

Ion Mușlea was born on September 29th 1899 in Șcheii Brașovului, in the former county of Făgăraș, as the tenth child of primary school teacher Candid Mușlea and of Ecaterina Mușlea. In 1918 Ion enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine in Iași, but he abandoned it after a few months, choosing to follow his true vocation at the Faculty of Letters in Bucharest. In 1919 he transferred to Cluj, specializing in Romanian and French language and literature. In 1922 he obtained his degree in Letters part of the first Romanian promotion at the University in Cluj and decided to follow and academic career, becoming enrolled in a doctoral program.

In the first two years of PhD he benefited from a scholarship to France, specializing at the École Roumaine en France, École d’Antropologie, Université de Sorbonne or following South-Slavic Languages courses at the École des Langues Orientales Vivantes.

In 1925 he returned to Romania and was appointed librarian at the University Library in Cluj and he occupied this position until 1935. His continued interest in the field of folklore was supported, during the first years, by the part time job offered by Romulus Vuia at the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania that had opened a short time before. In 1928 he obtained the first doctoral degree in ethnography and folklore in Romania.

In 1928 Ion Mușlea married Maria Lipăneanu, Ion I. Lapedatu’s step daughter and Mușlea’s former colleague at the University. She was to become a trusted collaborator at the institution of ethnic-folkloric research that was subsequently established.

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As a museographer, Ion Mușlea’s main interests resided in paintings on glass and the woodcuts of the Romanian peasants in Transylvania. Numerous field researches on these topics have led to scientific presentations and studies that were received with great interest both in Romania and abroad. This interest, continued over the years, must be seen as the beginnings of the museum collections that belonged to the renowned folklorist, collections that today bear his name.

Mușlea’s idea of establishing and organizing a folklore archive is also connected to the years he spent at the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania. The archive was meant to contain foremost the questionnaires and their answers on ethnographic topics gathered by the institution’s researchers from all over the country. According to the folklorist’s confessions, the impossibility of establishing the desired archive as part of the Ethnographic Museum in Cluj contributed to a certain degree to his decision to leave the institution in the spring of 1929. He did not let the initiative be lost, so he turned to Sextil Pușcariu, founder of the Romanian Language Museum in Cluj, member of the Romanian Academy, with the intention of establishing the folklore archive under the patronage of this prestigious institution. After an initial failed attempt, in 1930 Pușcariu obtained the required funding and Ion Mușlea was trusted with the task of organizing the long-awaited archive.

From a professional perspective, Ion Mușlea’s career was on an ascending path: in 1936 he became director of the University Library, and he occupied the position for 12 years.

The folklorist’s only son, Ioan, was born in 1940 and besides his education as an engineer he was also active as writer, translator, and journalist. In the same year, after Northern Transylvania was lost, Ion Mușlea and his family took refuge in Sibiu, where the Academy’s Folklore Archive was also evacuated. Mușlea returned to Cluj only after the end of the Second World War, eager to continue his scientific and administrative activity at maximum capacity.

With the war and especially with the early years of the Communist Regime, the status of the archive, Ion Mușlea’s main achievement, became increasingly uncertain. Starting with 1946-1947, the Academy asked the University in Cluj to detach Mușlea from the directorship of the University Library to the Museum of Romanian Language. A year later the Romanian Academy was transformed into a state institution. Neither Ion Mușlea, nor his superior from Bucharest, Professor Dumitru Caracostea, found a place in the “restructured” institution.

During the first years of Communism Ion Mușlea was gradually removed from all the leadership positions that he had held since then. He was nevertheless allowed to continue his activity at the Folklore Archive and started to focus on scientific research exclusively. Certain topics approached by Mușlea, a researcher who had now reached his full scientific maturity, also suffered from the restrictions imposed by the regime. The return of his older interest in icons painted on glass and peasant woodcuts was stopped just as a more consistent manuscript was about to be published “due to the religious implications of the topic and of the reproductions.”

In 1965 Ion Mușlea was offered again a position at the Cluj Department of the Folklore Institute, this time as leader of a local research unit. By that time his health was already poor. One year later, on July 27th 1966, Ion Mușlea died in Cluj, at the age of 67.

Development and structure of the collection

The well-known folklorist has been, in many ways, a pioneer in the little explored (at the time) field of ethnography. His dearest topic remains the authentic, traditional, most often anonymous art of the Romanian peasants from Transylvania. Ion Mușlea has dedicated his entire activity at the Ethnographic Museum to the research and, in some cases, to the saving of old icons painted on glass and of peasant woodcuts the value of which still waited to be discovered in churches or in people’s homes. His researches in the field of icons painted on glass did not have a good fate: his major works, bringing an undeniable contribution to the history of this craft, remained in manuscript form until 1995, almost 30 after his death. The unfavorable post-war circumstances also put an end to his dream of founding the museum of glass icons that he had planned for a long time. A significant part of his collection – 50 icons – ended up in the patrimony of the National History Museum of Transylvania in 1964 through Professor Ion Mușlea’s donation and is today part of the collection that bears his name.

Collected during several campaigns of ethnographic field researches in the county of Cluj, in Sebeșului Valley, and in Țara Oltului, each of the icons painted on glass from the patrimony of the museum have particular characteristics. More than half were created in the painting center in Nicula, betraying the collector’s fondness for what he believed to be “the true folk art”, unsigned, unattributed, simple, and naïve. Among this lot of icons, only one dates to the first half of the twentieth century, while all the others are from the nineteenth century.

Among the icons collected from Sebeșului Valley, also forming a rather numerous lot, one notes the creations of the well-known icon painters from the Poenaru family (Savu, the one who the family its name, Simion, and Toma), dating to the nineteenth century. Another family of painters from Sebeșului Valley, also acknowledged through its exceptional painters, is represented in the Mușlea Collection by the icons attributed to Pavel Zamfir. The oldest icons from the workshops in the area of Sebeș can be nevertheless attributed to Nicolae Zugrav who was active around 1787 in Lancrăm. The depiction of St. Phocas and of Mary Magdalene, painted by Petru from Topârcea in the middle of the eighteenth century, has an even longer history.

A single icon from Țara Oltului ended up in our collection, painted in the middle of the nineteenth century, depicting Christ and the vine in a Eucharistic scene. The icon of Saint George was created in the workshops from Maierii Albei Iulia, and several icons could be attributed to the painters from Mărginimea Sibiului, but there are as yet to certain data on the issue.

The Ion Mușlea collection of icons painted on glass is impressive through its consistency and structure. Its very existence is due to the fact that the great folklorist chose to perform his activity of research and collecting with professionalism, filtering and interpreting this wide field of study, even during a period when the political regime was openly against religious patrimony in its entirety.

Selective bibliography

Institutul “Arhiva de Folclor a Academiei Române” Cluj-Napoca,, 23.03.2018.

Mușlea, Ion, Arhiva de Folclor a Academiei Române. Studii, memorii ale întemeierii, rapoarte de activitate, chestionare, 1930-1948. Ediție critică, note, cronologie, comentarii și bibliografie de Ion Cuceu și Maria Cuceu, Editura Fundației pentru Studii Europene, Cluj, 2003.

Mușlea, Ion, Icoanele pe sticlă și xilogravurile țăranilor români din Transilvania, Editura „Grai și Suflet - Cultura Națională”, București, 1995.

Stan, Mihaela-Corina, Ion Mușlea și cercetarea științifică a picturii pe sticlă și a xilogravurilor populare românești, Teză de doctorat, Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai Cluj-Napoca, Facultatea de Studii Europene, coord. Ion Cuceu, Cluj-Napoca, 2017.

Scientific experts: Olimpia Coman-Sipeanu, Saveta Pop.

Evaluation, restoration and investigations: Olimpia Coman-Sipeanu, Sabin Grapini, Gheorghina Olariu, Raluca Dumitrescu, Cristina Dăneasă, Mirel Bucur, Saveta Pop, Cristina Busuioc, Maria Tonca, Mioara Sîntiuan.