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BEST ART MUSEUMS
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
The New York "Met", one of America's top fine art institutions, is one of the best art museums in the world, with a collection of almost three million objects covering virtually every era and culture. It attracts more than five million visitors each year. Founded in 1870, it is situated in Central Park on Fifth Avenue between 80th and 84th Streets. It employs about 1,800 full-time employees, assisted by some 900 volunteers.
BEST EUROPEAN GALLERIES
Incorporated in 1870, the Met first opened on February 20, 1872 in premises on 681 Fifth Avenue. Its first President and main benefactor was John Taylor Johnston, a railroad company executive. The fledgling museum rapidly outgrew its allocated space and in 1873 moved to the Douglas Mansion at 128 West 14th Street. These arrangements were only temporary however, as the Museum had already acquired a large a red-brick stone building, designed by American architect Calvert Vaux on the east side of Central Park, which duly became its permanent home. (See also: American Architecture 1600-present.) Since then, a large number of new gallery spaces and architectural features have been added, including the Met's distinctive Beaux-Arts facade, designed by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95), completed in 1926. The museum now extends a quarter mile in length and occupies more than two million square feet.
The museum's permanent collection, divided into nineteen separate departments, each run by a specialized group of curators, encompasses works of prehistoric art from early Mediterranean civilizations including Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome, plus painting and sculpture by most European Old Masters, and a comprehensive collection of American and modern art. The museum also has a world class display of artwork from African, Asian, Oceanic, Byzantine and Islamic cultures, plus extensive collections of antique weapons, armour, musical instruments, costumes and accessories. In addition to its main New York exhibitions, the Met stages numerous travelling exhibitions throughout the year.
From the late 1800s onwards, the Met started to collect ancient art and artifacts from the Middle East. Beginning with an assortment of cuneiform tablets and seals, the Met's collection of Middle Eastern art has expanded to more than 7,000 items, dating from the Neolithic era (c.8,000 BCE) to the Arab conquest of the 7th century CE. Its exhibits of stone reliefs, statuary and statuettes, ivory, and precious metalwork represents the entire history of the Near East, notably the Sassanian Empire, the end of Late Antiquity, the Sumerian, Hittite, Babylonian, Assyrian and Elamite cultures, as well as a wide range of Bronze Age pieces. Highlights of the Met's Mid-East collection include a series of stone lammasu, or guardian figures, commissioned by the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II. See also the British Museum, which has one of the largest collections of Middle Eastern art.
The Met's massive collection of art from Ancient Egypt - amounting to some 36,000 separate pieces - is displayed in the museum's 40 Egyptian galleries. Representing the history of the country during the Early Dynastic Period (c.3100-2686 BCE) the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms (c.2686-1069 BCE), the Intermediate periods, Greek and Roman rule until roughly 350 CE), the collection features a variety of relief sculpture, statues, stelae, funerary objects, jewellery, everyday artifacts, and architecture. Highlights of the Met's Egyptian collection include the reassembled sandstone Temple of Dendura, as well as a set of 24 wooden models, from a tomb in Deir el-Bahri in 1920, depicting a detailed illustration of Egyptian life in the early Middle Kingdom.
Consisting of some 35,000 items dating from as far back as c.2500 BCE, but mainly covering the early period of Classical Antiquity, from the 1st Millennium BCE to approximately 320 CE, the Met's collection of Greek art and Roman art includes a wide diversity of sculpture (marble and bronze), ceramics (including black-figure and red-figure vases, and terracotta sculpture), and mural paintings, as well as items of decorative art such as jewellery, precious metalwork, glass and other functional artifacts. Hightlights of the Met's Greco-Roman collection include the Euphronios krater (ornate drinking vessel), the monumental Amathus sarcophagus, and the magnificent Etruscan Monteleone chariot. Among the Met's earliest works in this department are a series of early Cycladic sculptures from the third millennium BCE. Other notable exhibits within the museum's 60,000 square feet of Greek and Roman galleries are a number of large-scale wall paintings, including a complete "bedroom suite" excavated from a villa in Pompeii, which was entombed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.
The Met's collection of medieval art consists of approximately 11,000 items, divided between the main museum building on Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters. The latter is a separate building located in Fort Tryon Park which is dedicated exclusively to medieval art, and houses the collection donated to the museum by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Its name derives from the five medieval French cloisters whose remains were incorporated into the building's architecture. The Cloisters' collection features a range of early Christian art including a large number of items of historical importance from medieval Europe, including illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, paintings, tapestries, stained glass, metalwork, and other decorative pieces.
The Medieval exhibition in the main building numbers about six thousand objects, consisting of tapestries, funerary statuary, liturgical vessels, precious metals and ivories, along with an extensive range of Western art (c.400-1530 CE), notably Byzantine and pre-medieval European antiquities not displayed in the Ancient Greek and Roman collection.
This department houses the Met's collections of African art, antiquities and artifacts from the Americas (north and south) and Oceania, including Pre-Columbian art, dating from 2000 BCE. It received a huge boost in 1969, when Nelson A. Rockefeller gifted his 3,000-item collection to the museum, and now comprises some 11,000 pieces displayed in the 40,000-square-foot Rockefeller Wing. Highlights of the Met's African, Oceanic, and the American collection include examples of tribal art from around the globe, Australian Aboriginal Paleolithic art, as well as a priceless assembly of ceremonial and personal items from the Nigerian Court of Benin. Also includes numerous artifacts of native American Indian art from across the US.
The Met's Asian collection encompasses Chinese art (from ancient and modern China) and Japanese art (from the Jomon era onwards) as well as works from India, Korea and south-east Asia. Reputedly the most comprehensive of its kind in the West, it consists of more than 60,000 objects representing over four millennia of Asian culture from every Asian civilization. It includes all types of decorative art, such as fan paintings, painted hand-scolls, wood-block prints, bronzes, metalwork, Chinese pottery, jades, lacquer, and textiles. Highlights of the Met's Asian collection include an extensive range of calligraphy and painting, and a complete Ming Dynasty garden court, modelled on the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets in Suzhou.
The Met's collection of Islamic art consists of 12,000 items, the majority created for religious or decorative use in mosques. It encompasses a very wide range of 2-D and 3-D works, including illuminated manuscripts, calligraphy, paintings, ceramics and textiles, from Islamic cultures in Central and Southern Asia and elsewhere across the globe. Highlights of the Met's Islamic collection include famous miniature paintings from Iran and Mughal India, as well as calligraphic texts from the Qur'an (Koran) and Suleiman the Magnificent. For other important library and museum collections of Muslim culture, see: Museums of Islamic Art.
The Met's American Decorative Art Department consists of roughly 12,000 pieces of decorative art - comprising stained glass, ceramics, silver, pewter, furniture and textiles - dating from the late 17th to the early 20 century. Initiated by the 1909 donation from Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, the collection was only properly started in 1934. Highlights include the comprehensive collection of American stained glass, featuring a number of pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the silver collection with many pieces by Paul Revere.
The Met's collection of American art (painting and sculpture) now numbers more than 1,000 paintings, 600 sculptures, and 2,600 drawings from the early Colonial period to the early twentieth century. It includes famous items from all painting genres including portrait art, landscape painting, genre-works, and still life. Highlights include many of the most famous American paintings such as the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) as well as Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-68). The Met's collection of American paintings also features masterpieces by artists like John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Winslow Homer (1836-1910), George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879), and Thomas Eakins (1844-1916).
Departments of Western Art
Started by a bequest of 670 drawings from Cornelius Vanderbilt, in 1880, the Met's collection of works of art on paper focuses on pieces by North American artists and on western European works created since the Middle Ages. The latter includes famous graphic art of the Renaissance, and after, by great master draughtsmen like Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Anthony Van Dyck, Albrecht Durer, and Edgar Degas. In total, the collection consists of more than 11,000 drawings, twelve thousand illustrated books and 1.5 million prints.
Housed in its own wing, this 3,000-item private collection of paintings, drawings, and decorative arts from the Italian and Northern Renaissance through to the 20th century, was donated to the museum by the Robert Lehman Foundation in 1969. It concentrates on paintings of the Early Renaissance and High Renaissance, particularly the Sienese school, and features works by Botticelli and Domenico Veneziano, as well as by Spanish painters like El Greco and Goya.
The Met's collection of European paintings is relatively small (some 2,200 items) but of world class quality, featuring a significant number of the world's most recognizable paintings. It concentrates on Old Masters and nineteenth-century European oil paintings, with a special emphasis on French, Italian and Dutch Realist genre painters, but also includes a wide range of canvases, panels, triptychs and frescoes by Italian, Flemish, Spanish, and British masters, from the 13th to the 19th century. It includes some of the greatest Renaissance paintings from north and south of the Alps. This is one of the highest-spending departments of the museum. Highlights of the Met's collection of European fine art include:
Madonna and Child, by Duccio di Buoninsegna
In addition, the Met holds 5 masterpieces by Jan Vermeer, 18 Rembrandts, 35 paintings by Claude Monet, 21 works by Paul Cezanne and landscapes by many top artists including Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
These works make it one of the best art museums in America.
"Met's Mona Lisa"
As part of its drive to acquire world class art, the Met recently spent $45 million on the 9 x 6 inch Madonna and Child by the important Sienese artist Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319): a work which has been dubbed "the Met's Mona Lisa".
The Met's European Sculpture and Decorative Arts collection comprises more than 50,000 objects from the early 15th to the early 20th century. Although rich in Italian Renaissance sculpture, it also has extensive holdings of furniture, jewellery, glass and ceramic art, metalwork, scientific instruments, tapestries, textiles, and clocks. Highlights include Bacchanal by Bernini, a cast of The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, and several unique sculptures by Jean-Antoine Houdon, including his Bust of Voltaire.
The Met's collection of Modern Art numbers some 10,000 items, predominantly by European and American artists, including works on paper, sculpture, design, and architecture from all major modern art movements and contemporary art movements of the 20th century. Highlights include Portrait of Gertrude Stein, by Picasso; White Flag, by Jasper Johns; Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), by Jackson Pollock; and Beginning (triptych) by Max Beckmann. Note that certain works of contemporary art may be held in other sections, like the American paintings department.
The Met's collection of photographs consists of 20,000 photographs, prints and daguerreotypes, organized around the Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973), Walker Evans, Gilman Paper Company, Ford Motor Company and Rubel collections. It features an extensive series of Photo-Secessionist works as well as collections of early British, French and American fine art photography, avant-garde works from Europe and America, plus contemporary photos from around the world.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses five other departments, as follows:
Arms & Armour
Antonio Ratti Textile Center
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
For details of the development of
painting and sculpture, see: History of