The term Historicism covers a wide range of neo-styles or revivalist forms that come into existence in the 19th century, based on the appropriation of formal or decorative elements from earlier stylistic periods. Traditional forms of objects of applied arts are adapted to the needs of the modern time, and the development of technology and the transition from handwork to machine production enabled greater and cheaper production. Quite often ersatz and new materials and techniques are employed, through which the appearance of high cost is achieved. In forms of objects of fine craft it is quite common to find the simultaneous presence of elements of quite different styles – Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo…
Two rooms of the permanent display show specimens of furniture of various revivalist styles. A rather grand armchair made around 1840 has formal and decorative elements of neo-Gothic.
Mid-19th century neo-Rococo is illustrated by a drawing room suite, a table and a chaise longue. It is important to bring out, in the sequence and coexistence of revivalist styles, the stylistic period of the Second Empire, the time of Napoleon III in France (1852-1870). In this room it is represented by a console mirror, a side cabinet and an armchair – part of a drawing room suite of ebonised wood with incrustations of mother of pearl and brass.
Several Bohemian porcelain items on show tell of the successful penetration of the European market by this production. Of high quality, and considerably cheaper, during the 19th century, Czech porcelain seriously threatened the survival of the older manufactories. An interesting exhibit is a plate produced in the well-known German works of Rosenthal, showing a painted portrait of Julia von Bonar. The model for this decoration was the countess’s portrait from the famed Schönheitsgalerie in the Munich palace of Nymphenburg. Inspiration with the forms of historical stylistic periods can also be seen in the creation of jewellery in the period of Historicism. While on the one hand individual authors make pieces that in form and decorative elements literally follow some historical original, in most objects, there are only the characteristic details that can be connected with some stylistic trend or other. The basic shape of bracelets, earrings and brooches is a reflection of 19th century fashion. The set of jewellery exhibited was done in 1880 in gold with granulation. Medallions of glass micromosaic with Antique motifs are set in the earrings, brooch and stud; this is characteristic of jewellery made in Italy.
The revivalist style furniture exhibited in the next room is characteristic of the last quarter of the 19th century. In inland Croatia this is primarily furniture in the style of the German neo-Renaissance (Altdeutsch), which prevailed in the Historicist period in the germanophone lands. This style is best illustrated by a cupboard decorated with rich carving and glazed doors on the upper part (Butzenglas, as it is known). Types of furniture from historical stylistic periods were not only reinterpreted but sometimes literally copied, like the exhibited Renaissance or Mannerist types of chairs (the Savonarola and sgabellochairs). Interior decoration in the Historicist period was founded on the viewpoint that a certain style was suitable for a certain purpose of a room. Hence in one dwelling there would often by several different neo-styles: for example, an Altdeutsch dining room, a neo-Rococo salon and a neo-Gothic library.
Machine working of objects became very important for the shaping of metal in the Historicist period. The improvements in machines for pressing and finishing metal products and methods for silver plating and gilding resulted in the decline of craft production, particularly local crafts, which could not compete with cheaper imported products. Most of the objects in this room derive from Austria and Germany, traditional exporters of luxury silver goods to the Croatian market. In the last decades of the 19th century, Zagreb merchants imported white Bohemian porcelain that they then decorated in their own workshops. The service on display is decorated after drawings of Herman Bollé, inspired by motifs with decorated Slavonian gourds, and was shown at the Trieste Exhibition in 1882.