History of the museum

History of the museum

The ENVA museum originates from the “Cabinet du Roi”, the Royal Collection of art and curiosities assembled by Claude Bourgelat in 1766.

The Royal Collection & the Alfort Collection [1766 - 1828]

Le bâtiment du cabinet du roi, vers 1860

The museum was originally a study-room for natural history and comparative anatomy, formed by collecting objects produced by students during practical work:

“The exhibits that are made in the Schools will be deposited in a study-room dedicated to the glory of His Majesty, where they shall perpetuate the evidence of recognition towards His Majesty by the Schools and Farmers. This study-room will be named the Royal Collection and its oversight will be entrusted especially to the professor of Anatomy.”

From the beginning, the collection was open to the public and visitors to the school. They were brought to the museum by the so-called “Swiss Guards” in charge of supervising the collection. The quality of exhibits that were rapidly acquired earned the collection a reputation across Europe and we have been left with very precise descriptions of the collection dating from that period. The early days of the collection are marked by the name of Honoré Fragonard, first director and first professor of anatomy at the school, to whom we owe the écorchés (anatomical designs and sculptures), still exhibited in the museum today. But the collection fell foul of the vicissitudes of the Revolution; the Royal Veterinary School of Alfort was threatened many times with being moved or closed and its collections shrank during this period.

The “cabinet of collections” [1828 - 1902]

Le cabinet des collections, en 1900

The cabinet was moved to a new building in 1829. Its surface area was expanded and it received new collections, notably in pathology, which persuaded the administration to give it the name “cabinet of collections.” It appears to have been closed to the public and it served as a collection of teaching materials; professors went there to look for pieces to be used for demonstrations in the amphitheatres. The growth of the Alfort school in the 19th century, along with its role in the great scientific movements of the day, such as experimental physiology or the developments in infectiology prior to and contemporary with the Pasteur era, added greatly to its reputation but did not result in a significant increase in the size of its collections. However, by the 1860’s the collection had nevertheless outgrown the available space; it was thus decided, in 1882, to create a third cabinet.

The new museum [1902 – to the present-day]

Le musée en 1924

It was necessary to house the collection in a new building, located on a floor above the dissecting rooms and adjacent to the library. Plans were drawn up in 1900 and it was opened as a “museum” in 1902. It occupied a surface area of over 700 m² and was organized as an educational tool. The new museum played both an academic and a public relations role. It was used every Thursday afternoon by students who went there to study anatomy and pathology. But it was also a place to demonstrate the strength of the school to visitors. The museum was painted in sombre colours that harmonized with the mouldings of the windows; the ceilings were decorated with floral and geometric reliefs, enhancing the beauty of the surroundings. In the 1920’s students went to the museum less and less frequently, until it became reserved for notable visitors the school wished to honour by allowing them into this inner sanctum.