Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world’s largest and most respected art museums, situated near Central park in New York.
It occupies more than 2 million sq ft of space and contains more than 2 million works of art spanning the entire length of civilisation and prehistory.
The museum is home to 22 separate departments, each staffed with curators, scholars and research scientists specialising in their field, who work hand in hand with the dedicated conservation staff to maintain the collections.
The museum is run by a governing Board of Trustees, which consists of 41 elected members including New York City officials and honoured trustees.
The collections are owned by a private corporation of fellows and benefactors which comprises 1,630 individuals, and the museum has an endowment of roughly $3 billion.
History and foundation
The museum was founded in 1870 by a group of American financiers, businessmen and artists who sought to bring enlightenment and education to the public.
An act of incorporation by the New York State Legislature was granted that year, "for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said City a Museum and Library of Art, of encouraging and developing the Study of the Fine Arts, and the application of Art to manufacture and natural life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and to that end of furnishing popular instruction and recreations".
Its first President was the railroad executive John Taylor Johnston, and it began life under the direction of the former Civil War soldier Luigi Palma di Cesnola.
The museum first opened its doors to the public on February 20, 1872, and was originally housed inside a modestly-sized building on Fifth Avenue in New York. Its first collection, built from the donations of three European collectors, consisted of 174 paintings from notable Dutch and Flemish artists along with other European masters, and a Roman stone sarcophagus. However, the collection quickly began to outgrow the building and in 1880 the museum moved to its current home, designed by American architects Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould.
Since then the original building has been entirely surrounded by extensions and additions, and the present facade and entrance structure along Fifth Avenue was completed in 1926. Other 20th century additions include the Robert Lehman Wing (1975), the installation in The Sackler Wing of the Temple of Dendur (1978), an Egyptian monument (ca. 15 B.C.) that was given to the United States by Egypt; The American Wing (1980), the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing (1982) and the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing (1987).
Departments and collections
American Decorative Arts
The collection of American decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum extends from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth century and includes approximately twelve thousand examples of furniture, silver, glass, pewter, ceramics, and textiles. It also features one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of stained glass, including the famous work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
American Paintings and Sculpture
The department is home to more than four thousand works by approximately nine hundred different artists, constituting an encyclopaedic survey of fine art in America from the late colonial period in the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.
Ancient Near Eastern Art
This collection of more than seven thousand works of art ranges in date from 8000 B.C. to the Arab conquest and rise of Islam beginning in A.D. 651, and features work from ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Iran, Syria and Anatolia.
Arms and Armour
This department houses a collection of armour, edged weapons, and firearms consisting of approximately 15,000 objects that range in date from about 400 B.C. to the nineteenth century. It also features the largest collection of Japanese armour in existence outside of Japan.
Arts of Africa, Oceana, and the Americas
The department contains over 11,000 works ranging from archaeological American objects from 2000 B.C to African and Pacific works from the modern era. It features native art of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and North, Central and South America, and covers over four millennia of cultural tradition.
The Asian Art collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the West, and consists of more than 35,000 objects ranging in date from the second millennium B.C. to the early twentieth century. It includes paintings, prints, calligraphy, sculptures, metalwork, ceramics, lacquers, textiles, and other works of decorative art from East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, and the Himalayan kingdoms.
The Cloisters is the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, located on a separate site in Northern Manhattan. The building incorporates elements from five medieval French cloisters and other monastic sites in southern France, along with recreated medieval gardens, and contains approximately 3000 works of art.
The Costume Institute
The Costume Institute houses a collection of more than thirty-five thousand costumes and accessories spanning five continents and five hundred years. It also contains the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, and is the largest collection of its kind in the world offering an unrivalled timeline of Western Fashion history.
Drawings and Prints
The Department of Drawings and Prints focuses on works of graphic art produced after the Middle Ages in Western Europe and in North America, and features a celebrated collection of Gothic and Renaissance prints amongst its 15,000 drawings and 1.5 million prints.
The Egyptian Art department’s collection consists of around 36,000 objects of artistic, historical, and cultural importance dating from the Palaeolithic era circa 300,000 B.C to the Roman period of the 4th century A.D. More than half of the collection has been acquired through the museum's own archaeological work in Egypt which began in 1906 and ran for 35 years.
The department’s collection contains approximately 2,200 Old Master and nineteenth-century European paintings, and features some of the most recognisable works in art history. The French, Italian, and Dutch schools are most strongly represented, with fine works also by British, Netherlandish, German, Spanish, and Flemish masters, and a range of work which dates from the 12th to the 19th century.
European Sculpture and Decorative Arts
This collection is made up of 50,000 objects detailing the development of several art forms in the major Western European countries from the early fifteenth to the early twentieth century. It features sculpture, woodwork and furniture, ceramics and glass, metalwork and jewellery, horological and mathematical instruments, and tapestries and textiles.
Greek and Roman Art
This department houses a collection featuring more than seventeen thousand works ranging in date from the Neolithic period to the time of the Roman emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 312 A.D. It ranges from small engraved gemstones to larger-than-life statues and spans the work of numerous societies that were ruled over by the Greek and Roman Empires.
The department of Islamic art contains nearly 12,000 objects created in the cultural tradition of Islam, collected from countries ranging from Spain and Morocco to Central Asia and India. The work on show displays the traditions of calligraphy, vegetal ornament and geometric patterning through a series of significant examples spanning the 12th to the 19th century.
The Robert Lehman Collection
This collection consists of nearly 3,000 works donated in 1975 from the private collection of the late Robert Lehman, a long-time museum trustee. It contains 300 paintings and a wide variety of Italian Renaissance works, including nearly 2000 examples of decorative arts including ceramics and glassware.
The museum’s Thomas J. Watson library offers one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of publications on the subject of art history, much of which available to the public for research purposes.
The department’s collection of medieval art is one of the richest in the world, encompassing work from the early Christian, Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic periods. There are over six thousand objects displayed in the main museum, with three thousand more in the Cloisters building.
The Modern Art department features more than 10,000 works from European and American artists, dating from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. It contains painting, sculptures, drawings and watercolours, decorative arts, design and architectural representations from some of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists.
The Department of Musical Instruments holds an unsurpassed collection of approximately 5,000 instruments, many historically significant, illustrating their development across six continents from 300 B.C to the present day.
The collection housed in the Department of Photography has more than 20,000 works detailing the history of the medium from its invention in the 1830s. It covers all areas of photography, from turn-of-the-century experimentation to social documentation and modern works of art.
Antonio Ratti Textile Center
This department holds an encyclopaedic collection of over 35,000 objects, with examples from all the world’s civilisations and almost every period in history. It features archaeological fragments, tapestries, carpets, quilts, ecclesiastical vestments, silks, embroideries, laces, velvets, and more, dating from 3000 B.C. to the present.
Provenance Research Project
The research department concentrates on the ownership history and provenance of works, highlighting the historical context in which they were produced and investigating cases of restitution for works which may have been seized from the rightful owners during the Second World War.
Some of the most famous work in the Museum include Van Gogh’s ‘Wheat Field with Cypresses’ (one of the three variations he painted), ‘Young Woman with a Water Pitcher’ by Johannes Vermeer, ‘The Dance Class’ by Edgar Degas and ‘Boating’ by Edouard Manet.
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