Grigore Antipa In The Bucharest Of The Beginning Of The 20th Century

Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History

Having returned to the country after finishing his studies his studies and his PhD. thesis, awarded "summa cum laude" at the famous University of Jena, on 1 April 1893 Dr. Grigore Antipa was appointed director of the Zoology department of the Natural History Museum by the Minister of Religious Affairs and Public Education. At the time it was headed by Gregoriu Stefanescu from the University of Bucharest. Starting in 1894 he moved the collections to 19 Polona Street, a location which had just been vacated by the German attaché. These collections consisted of only several stuffed mammals, birds, fish, several anatomical specimens and many cases of anomalies. Only the cases discovered in the basement of the University, containing ethnographic pieces from Africa and South America and zoological exhibits from the Indonesian archipelago brought him the joy of a good start at the Zoology museum for which he was responsible. In parallel, he took the necessary measures for purchasing new items from abroad, and the answers and parcels received from his friends around the world soon filled the new headquarters which proved to be quite cramped. Besides his position as museum director, Grigore Antipa received the title of Director of the State Fisheries – The Ministry of Landed Property, which took most of his time. He used to relax by walking on the streets of Bucharest at the beginning of the 20th century; streets with beautiful buildings, some of them embowered, fenced with wrought iron lattice work and façades lighted by street lights – real masterpieces of ironmongery. These were lordly or manorial houses competing in the old architectural styles. The Cantacuzino Palace or the house with lions – today the Music Museum and the headquarters of the Romanian Musical Society, the Sutu Palace – right across Coltei Hospital – the headquarters of the History and Art Museum of Bucharest, the baroque Cretulescu Palace – near Cismigiu, Belvedere or Dinicu Golescu's Tower House, then the houses of P. P. Carp, Marghiloman, Titu Maiorescu, Dimitrie Ghica, Romanit – today the Museum of Art Collections, Monteoru House – the headquarters of the Romanian Writers Society, etc. offered pleasure and delight to the passer-by who, looking over or between these houses could spot the steeples of the monuments of history and art: Bucur, Sfantul Gheorghe-Nou – built by and the resting place of Constantin Brancoveanu, Stavropoleos which Tudor Arghezi called "a dragonfly asleep on a mound", Coltea, Cretulescu, Antim – built by Antim Ivireanu, Mihai Voda – built by the great Voievod, Plumbuita – built by Matei Basarab, all of these actually representing moments in the evolution of Bucur's town. Grigore Antipa was a fine observer of these monuments and while admiring them he did not even notice that people were passing by him in great hurry, walking, or riding in elegant hansoms or carriages. Cismigiu Park, landscaped in the mid 19th century, following the plans of architect W. F Mayer assisted by horticulturist F. Hörer, had become one of the nicest public gardens in Europe. The beginning of the 20th century was the time when Dambovita was channeled and mended and endowed with seven stone bridges and five iron ones, designed by the Romanian architect Grigore Cerchez (1850 – 1927). Thus disappeared the marshy waterside (true, together with its beautiful wild ducks and geese), but also the swarming of the mosquito larva, when the malaria hadn't been eradicated yet. Grigore Antipa's strolls were not at all random. His final destination was "Colaro" hotel, which had a restaurant at the ground floor where he used to meet some of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time: Coco Dumitrescu-Iasi, a man of strong personality, who brought charm to conversations, university professor and journalist with the liberal gazette "Drapelul". Historian Dimitrie Onciu (1856-1923), philologist and historian Ioan Bogdan (1864-1919), professor Constantin Meissner from Junimea (1854-1942), publicist and politician Aurel Popovici (1863-1917), Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912), biologist and the first parasitology university professor Nicolae Leon – Grigore Antipa's half brother, on his mother's side, and many others professors and journalists of that time. Conversations became more animate in such an atmosphere, sprinkled with paradoxes and anecdotes, as well as lots of witticisms. In 1960, professor emeritus Constantin Motas – among others Dr. Grigore Antipa's successor as the head of the National Museum of Natural History, wrote about how he met the great Antipa, in Bucharest: "It was the spring of 1914. Under the guidance of the botanical professor Alexandru Popovici (1866-1941), the zoology professor Ion Borcea (1879-1936), and the industrial chemistry professor Cristea Otin (1878-1952), a couple of students from the Science Faculty (in Iasi, my note), maybe ten altogether, with the late university assistant C. Petrescu, we left our old Iasi, filled with the scent of blossoming irises, and headed for Bucharest, from where we would make an unforgettable trip to the north of Dobrogea. In Bucharest we would join our forth leader, Doctor Gh. Macovei, from the Geological Institute. Once we reached the capital, which some of us saw for the first time, we first visited the foundation of our great D. Brândză (1846-1895), the Botanical Institute designed in Moorish style, the beautiful Botanical Gardens in Cotroceni, with its greenhouses and towering exotic trees, then the Geological Institute from where we went on to visit the Museum of Natural History. I can still remember today with excitement and devotion how we approached the imposing building on Kiseleff Avenue, located in a real park, guarded by tall poplars and old lilac bushes, having the name of naturalists such as Buffon, Lamarck, Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire, Cuvier, von Baer, Humboldt, Darwin, Haeckel, Dohrn, as well as the name of the unforgettable professor Gr. Cobalcescu carved on its frontispiece. Upon entering the museum, a short stout man greeted us. He had a round head, maybe too heavy for his shoulders, so that it appeared to be lodged deeply in between his shoulders. His good nature and kindness charmed us instantly. His clear-cut voice and especially his extraordinary mobility gave us the impression that he was truly made of concentrated energy. The man that welcomed us, greeting us so kindly, was the creator of the wonderful museum, Doctor Antipa himself, member of the Romanian Academy, general administrator of the state Fisheries, in a nutshell a great scholar and a great character who, back then, was only 47 years old. Antipa guided us through the spacious and luminous halls of the museum, showing us whatever was more interesting, all the treasures of the mineral kingdom, the most curious specimens of the animal kingdom, plants, fossils, anatomical specimens, moulds, giving us the necessary explanations and asking us questions with exhaustless vividness and humor. I remember that in front of a window case from the mammals' hall, Antipa stopped and showed us a small deer inside, asked us what kind of cervid it was and where it lived. I answered that it is the Dravidian deer. Antipa, with his lively eyes, surprised, touching the chin of the young man wearing a black velvet rubashka, predicted that the young man would become a great zoologist, which did not actually come true. What doctor Antipa could not suspect back then, and what actually did come true, is the fact that in 30 years' time the young man became his successor at the museum so hard-labouredly created by him, with the help of his devoted collaborators, as well as with the help of his distinguished wife, a woman of exquisite artistic taste, Mrs. Alina Antipa. Devoted life partner since 1899, she did not want to leave him even in death, following him on the road of no return". But the Bucharest of the beginning of the 20th century became interesting also though the dioramas made by Grigore Antipa, which later became exhibit models in other great museums of the world. Professor Constantin Motaş also tells that in 1939, during a visit to Berlin, while admiring the beauty of the dioramas in the Museum on Invalidenstrasse, the director's answer was prompt: "Of course they are beautiful, they were made and arranged under Antipa's guidance". Antipa cared so much about his wonderful creation in Bucharest that if he had risen from his ashes after the aerial bombardments in April and August 1944 and seen the deplorable state in which his work of half of century was, he would have died a second time. Antipa's deep love for his creation caused him not to leave the museum even after his death: his ashes and the ashes of his inseparable wife still stand watch in an alcove near the entrance in the ground-floor hallway of the "Grigore Antipa" National Museum of Natural History in Bucharest. Nowadays the museum has a new façade and a team of top specialists is working in the building, being professionally acknowledged in the country and worldwide. Travaux du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle "Grigore Antipa" magazine has reached its 51st volume. New items which will enrich the museum's patrimony for visitors are being prepared in the restoration and conservation laboratories, and collections of unique specimens in the world have been gathered even from the species described by specialists who are honored to work in the today centennial institute established by Antipa. Translated by Anca Dumitriu

by Dumitru Murariu