The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts features Mongolian art from prehistory through the early twentieth century. The present museum building, located in central Ulaanbaatar, was constructed in 1905 by a Russian merchant. At various times in its history, the building served as a Chinese bank, a Russian Red Army soldier's office, and a department store. The building was inaugurated as the Museum of Fine Arts in 1966.
Among the most significant holdings are sculptures, paintings, and related materials by Zanabazar (1635-1723), the First Bogd Gegen and Mongolia's greatest artist, and members of his school. The museum has more than 10,000 objects in its permanent collection, of which approximately 500 are on display in its second-floor galleries. Organized thematically, the galleries are devoted to prehistoric art, work by Zanabazar, painted thangkas, silk appliques, the Buddhist tsam dance, nomadic traditions, and paintings by the early twentieth-century master B. Sharav.
The museum of Mongolian Fine Arts was opened on June 23, 1966. This museum shows Mongolian Arts from the Paleolithic Age to the early 20th century and consists of several types, such as, Ancient Arts, Zanabazar’s schools and creative works, Tangka and Graphic paintings, Appliqué hangings, Tsam ritual dance and Mongolian folk art and architecture.
In 2004 we received a grant from the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, with Glenn Mullin and Batbold Baast in charge of the project. As a result we were able to have over a thousand of our masterpieces photographed for The Himalayan Art Project website. To date about half of these images have been mounted on the H.A.P site. No doubt the others eventually will also be made available on the H.A.P site, and be of benefit to scholars and art enthusiasts alike around the world.
The two links to our materials on the H.A.P. site are as follows:
In addition to our Buddhist collections, we have considerable holdings of traditional secular works. You can see some of these by the great artist and humorist Marzan Sharav on this site, under "Our Galleries."
We also have a small but important collection of international art, including porcelain from China, Japan and Korea.
But we are perhaps most proud of a work by the great Russian painter Nicholas Roreich, known as "The Red Hero." According to a popular legend, this painting played a role in the re-naming of our capital city, Ulaanbaatar.
Our city used to be called Urga, and also Da Huree. However, after the Communists took power they wanted a more revolutionary-sounding name. They were in a position of authority, and could not be denied.
According to the story, some of the cleaver old lamas of that time noticed a connection between the Roreich painting - "The Red Hero,"-- and a retinue figure in the Chakrasamvara Mandala called "Pawo Marpo," which is the old Pak-yig name meaning "Red Hero." Now, the lamas had long believed that Da Huree is one of the twenty-four sacred sites associated with the Chakrasamvara mandala. They therefore suggested that this name be offered as a suggestion to the Communist authorities.
Thus it came to pass that "The Red Hero," or "Ulaanbaatar," became the name of our capital city. It has remained as such ever since.
Whether or not the story is true, or is merely an artist's late night musing, is not of particular interest to us. Roreich's painting honors both Mongolia and Mongolian Buddhist art, and is a work of great beauty.
We keep the painting on display in the entranceway of our museum, in honor of the legend
Zanabazar Museum Unesco Project
Housed in a early 20th century Russian style mansion, this state museum is now one of the earliest surviving constructions in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia built by a merchant in the heart of the city in 1905. Later on it served as a Chinese bank, a Russian Red Army soldier’s office, and a department store.
The museum was founded in 1966 and is named after the first Bogd Gegen, Zanabazar (1635-1723), who was the most celebrated artist, religious leader and political leader in Mongolia.
The museum contains a collection of more than 10,000 pieces of traditional fine arts of the Mongolian people, including the works by Zanabazar and members of his school. The collection consists of 2,930 thangkas and other objects from Buddhist paintings, robes, appliqué and ritual instruments to prehistoric stone engravings, pottery, sculptures and traditional personal effects such as sets of knives and chopsticks, snuff bottles, bowls and head ornaments, etc.
(photo: Zanabazar Museum)
Zanabazar Museum Project for Museum Development and Preservation of Cultural Assets (2005-2007, extended to 2008)
The Zanabazar Museum Project is a capacity building project which was initiated in 2004 under UNESCO's Preservation of Endangered Movable Cultural Properties and Museum Development Programme, which aims to facilitate the sharing of knowledge between museums and provide training opportunities to enhance skills of museum professionals.
Within this framework a pilot project on the Preservation of Movable Cultural Assets of the Nomadic People of Mongolia: Development of the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, Ulaanbaatar has been started in 2005. UNESCO Office Beijing has worked closely with the Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO and the Zanabazar Museum to develop and improve specific aspects of the museum and its staff capabilities. The project has six areas of focus:
- Object Security and Safety;
- Inventory and Cataloguing;
- Collections Care for Storage;
- Collections Care for Exhibitions;
- Staff Training; and
- Website, Linkages and Publications.
Recent achievements under the project work plan have included the installation of a museum security and fire alarm system, the upgrading of three safe storage rooms for collections not on display, the improvement of museum displays, the purchase of 4 computers to help with the museum's digital cataloguing, the design and publishing of a visitor guide pamphlet, set up of book collections and training courses for the museum staff in preventive conservation, museum management, computer technology and English.
Together with the commitment of the museum staff, the technical aspects of the museum's operation and management have been improved. The project also resulted in the improvement on the other aspects of museum management that spanned beyond the framework of the project.
The project has been completed by the end of 2007, but small-scale assistance will be continued throughout the next 2 years. A publication on the achievements of the project will be prepared in the early 2008.