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The Secession Lamp / The History of Romania in One Object

Photo 1: The Sea Snail Secession Lamp, detail

In Timișoara, the Style of the 1900 (known as Secession in Austria, Szecesszió in Hungary, Jugendstil in Germany, Art Nouveau in France, Modern Style in England, Liberty Styles in Italy) came in two forms: the first was characterized by vegetal prints (the floral period), the second, by geometric models.

Photo 2: Färber and Lloyd Palaces - interwar photograph

Photo 3: Merbl, Färber and Lloyd Palaces - interwar photograph

Photo 4: Széchenyi Palace on the Opera Square - interwar photograph

This style, quite popular in the eastern parts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, is on full display in the architecture of the city’s most famous palaces like Lloyd, Merbl, Dauerbach, Széchenyi, Löffler in the central quarter, the Neptune Baths / Hungária Baths, Karl Kuncz, Haymann, Anheuer, Miksa Steiner and the Stefania Palace in the Fabric district or the Hochstrasser Palace and the Water Palace in the Josefin district.

Photo 5: Neptune Baths / Hungária Baths Palace in the Fabric Quarter - beginning of the 20th century postcard

Photo 6: The 1900s Palaces' Row in the Fabric Quarter - beginning of the 20th century postcard

Photo 7: On the left of the postcard, Ștefania Totis Palace

Photo 8: The Water Palace in the Josefin Quarter - postcard

The edifices built in the 1900s on the main avenues of the Royal free city of Timișoara had commercial or residential spaces on the ground floor while the upper floors were occupied by private apartments luxuriously decorated with mirrors, stained glass, and chandeliers of monumental size. The excellent bourgeoise taste of the families that used to occupy these grand residences is proven by the pieces of furniture, stained glass, paintings, and decorative art objects made of ceramic, glass, and metal which are now preserved in the National Museum of Banat.

Photos 9-14: 1900s style objects, interiors and stained glass

Photo 15: The Sea Snail Secession Lamp

The Museum’s collection includes a perfectly preserved Secession-Style snail lamp from the early 20th century, made of silver and brass, 17.7 inches high, designed in the workshops of Moritz Hacker in Vienna between 1900-1905, stamped with MH20 and presenting the bicephalous eagle, symbol of the Habsburg monarchy.

The Museum’s Visual Arts Department purchased it in 2019 from the heirs of a Timișoara doctor who had bought the lamp at the city’s art market after World War II, when the former middle-class families were being forced to sell valuable objects in order to survive under the new communist regime. This collector's passion for decorative art is a living proof that pieces of exquisite artistry were once sold not only in the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s capital cities, Budapest and Vienna, but also in the stores and markets of Timișoara.

Photos 16-18: Details of the lamp

The centerpiece of the lamp is made from a large sea snail shell (Turbo marmoratus Linnaeus, 1758), highly polished to remove the outer layer so that the distinctively shiny mother-of-pearl (aragonite slats) coat remains visible. The shell is of average size, with a height of 5.8 inches, and 5.7 inches wide.

Photos 19-21: Examples of Turbo marmoratus Linnaeus and jewelry made with its shell

Due to the thick layer of aragonite, this species of snail remained commercially important for a long time and was valued in Europe and Asian countries (Japan, China, Korea). The entire shell or certain sections of it were used to make various decorative objects like buttons, jewelry, ornaments, and furniture accessories. The Turbo marmoratus snail lives in the tropical reefs unfolding from the East African coast to the western Pacific Ocean, where it can be found between the Philippines, Okinawa and Northern Australia, Fiji representing the Eastern extremity of its habitat.

Nobel prize author Orhan Pamuk once said that the museum is a special place where objects, stories and feelings communicate to each other, and the atmosphere created by this dialogue - the whole ambience - is much more important than the individual meaning of each object. The National Museum of Banat is the repository of the memory and cultural diversity of the whole province of Banat throughout history. The Secession-style snail lamp tells the story of a fascinating bygone era.

Text by art historian and curator MARIUS CORNEA and curator IONELA SLEJIUC. Video presentation by visual artist and curator GIULIA DELCEA. Film concept by ANA TUDOR and ADRIAN TUDOR.

The third season of THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with The National Museum of Banat in Timișoara and Timiș County Council.


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