If you want to travel back in time, then spending time at the Met is the closest thing to it. The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City, or the Met, is the United States’ largest art museum. Boasting more than two million works, the museum is divided among 17 curatorial departments. From Egyptian tools from the Paleolithic Period to medieval armour to modern art, the museum houses some of the world’s wondrous treasures. For anyone who loves classical and modern art, the Met is a must-visit place. This blog explores everything you need to know about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so keep reading!
History of the Met
The Met was the idea of John Jay, a prominent lawyer. In 1870, Jay, along with a group of friends, incorporated the museum at its first location on Fifth Avenue and 54th Street. The founders included financiers and businessmen, along with leading thinkers and artists of the day. They wanted to open a museum that would bring art and art education to the American public. The Met’s first piece was acquired later that year- a marble Roman sarcophagus which was found at Tarsus. The early years of the museum established it as a home for antiquities from all over the world, particularly Greek and Roman art.
Before the Met was settled in its present location on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street in 1880, it was briefly moved to the Douglas Mansion downtown. In 1889, Edouard Manet acquired two works of art that helped to raise its credibility in contemporary art. By the early 1990s, the Met was regarded as one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Notable works ranged from Renoir to Matisse, not to mention ancient Egyptian sculptures. Today, the Met consists of several expansions around the original building.
What to see at the Met
Similar to some of the other museums in New York City, the Met has two locations. The museum’s permanent collection is curated by seventeen separate departments. Each of these departments has a specialized staff of scholars and curators. In addition to the staff, there are also six conservation departments and a Department of Scientific Research.
The permanent collection of the Met includes artworks from classical antiquity and ancient Egypt, sculptures and paintings from almost all of the European masters, and a huge collection of modern and American art. The museum also houses African, Asian, Oceanian, Byzantine, and Islamic art. There’s more-there are encyclopedic collections of antique weapons and armour, musical instruments, costumes and accessories from around the world. A large number of period rooms, ranging from 1st century Rome to modern American design, are part of the Met’s permanent collection and are installed in the museum’s galleries. In addition to this, the museum also organizes and hosts great travelling shows all throughout the year.
Let’s look at what’s displayed at the Met that draws millions to visit it.
Ancient Near Eastern art
The Met started acquiring ancient art and artefacts from the Near East starting from the late 19th century. The collection represents the history of the region beginning from the Neolithic Period and covers the fall of the Sasanian Empire and the end of the Late Antiquity. The collection has works from the Sumerian, Hittite, Sasanian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Elamite cultures, among others. Besides these, there is also a large collection of objects dating back to the Bronze Age.
Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
The arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Met was opened to the public in 1982. Presently, the collection includes more than 11,000 pieces of art from sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas. The exhibitions are separated by geographical locations. The extensive collection ranges from 40,000-year-old indigenous rock paintings of Australia to a group of 15-foot-tall memorial poles of New Guinea (carved by the Asmat people), to a collection of personal and ceremonial objects from the Nigerian Court of Benin.
The Met’s Asian department has a collection that dates back almost to the founding of the museum. With a collection of more than 35,000 pieces, it is regarded as the most comprehensive one in the US. It spans more than 4000 years of Asian art. The displayed items include all types of decorative art, from paintings to sculptures, to printmaking to metalworking. The Asian department stands out for its collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy, Nepalese and Tibetan works, Indian sculptures, and artworks from Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. The department also includes a complete Ming Dynasty-style garden court.
The Egyptian art collection of the Met constitutes more than 26,000 pieces, starting from the Paleolithic era through the Ptolemaic era. Among the most valuable pieces in this collection are 13 wooden models which were discovered in a tomb in 1920, in the Southern Asasif in western Thebes. The most popular centrepiece of the Egyptian art collection is the Temple of Dendur. The large sandstone temple was dismantled by the Egyptian government to save it from flooding caused by the building of the Aswan High Dam. The government gave it to the US in 1965 and it was assembled in the Met in 1978. The oldest items at the museum are part of the Egyptian collection-a set of Archeulian flints from Deir el-Bahri, dating back to the Lower Paleolithic period.
European sculpture and decorative arts
One of the largest departments of the Met, the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts holds more than 50,000 pieces. While the collection particularly focuses on Renaissance sculpture, it also includes comprehensive holdings of jewelry, furniture, glass and ceramic pieces, textiles, tapestries, mathematical instruments and timepieces.
Greek and Roman art
The Greek and Roman art collection at the Met contains more than 17,000 pieces. The collection dates back to the founding of the Met. Although the collection concentrates on objects from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, it represents a wide range of artistic styles and cultures, ranging from classic Greek black-figure and red-figure vases to carved tunic pins from Rome.
The Met owns one of the world’s largest collections of works of art from the Islamic world. The collection also consists of works of art and artefacts of secular and cultural origin from the time period that denoted the rise of Islam, mainly from the Near East. While a large number of objects in the Islamic art collection were originally made for religious purposes or for decorating mosques, it isn’t restricted to religious art alone. Out of the 12,000 pieces in the collection, a great number of them are secular items, like textiles and ceramics, from Islamic cultures from Spain to Central Asia.
Arms and Armour
The arms and armour department of the Met is one of the most popular collections of the museum. The department focuses on outstanding craftsmanship and decoration and includes pieces that were intended only for display. In this regard, the strongest pieces in the collection include those from late medieval Europe, and Japan from the 5th through the 19th centuries. However, these aren’t the only cultures displayed in the arms and armour collection. It covers more geographic regions than almost any other department of the museum.
Aline Bernstein and Irene Lewisohn founded the Museum of Costume Art, and in 1946, it was merged with the Met as The Costume Institute, with financial support from the fashion industry. It became a curatorial department in 1959. Today, the collection is made of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories. Earlier, the Costume Institute did have a permanent gallery space in the ‘basement’ area of the museum. However, owing to the fragile nature of the items in the collection, the institute does not maintain a permanent collection now. Instead, each year, it hosts two separate shows in the museum’s galleries. The costumes from the collection are used and each show focuses on a specific theme or designer. The Costume Institute also hosts the annual Met Gala.
Drawings and prints
The Department of Drawings and Prints at the Met specifically focuses on North American and western European works and pieces created after the Middle Ages. Presently, the collection is made of more than 12,000 illustrated books, over 17,000 drawings and 1.5 million prints. The collection displays the works of the great European painters who produced more drawings and sketches than actual paintings. The department holds major drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rembrandt and etchings and prints by Van Dyck, Degas and Durer, among others.
Robert Lehman Collection
When banker Robert Lehman died in 1969, his Foundation donated 2600 artworks to the Met. They are housed in the Robert Lehman Wing, and they are done so in a manner that emphasizes the personal nature of the collection. The collection resides in a special set of galleries that evoke the interior of the richly decorated townhouse of Lehman, at 7 West 54th Street. Unlike the rest of the departments at the museum, the Robert Lehman collection doesn’t focus on any specific period or style of art. Rather, it indicates the collector’s personal interests. Lehman concentrated on paintings of the Italian Renaissance. The collection also has paintings by Botticelli and Domenico Veneziano. Works by a significant number of Spanish painters are also part of the collection, such as El Greco and Goya, among others.
Medieval art and the Cloisters
The collection of medieval art at the Met is made of a comprehensive range of Western art, from the 4th to the early 16th centuries. Other than those, there are also antiquities from Byzantine and pre-medieval Europe. In total, the collection contains more than 10,000 objects, divided between the main building on Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters.
The medieval collection housed in the main building of the Met contains around 6000 objects. It displays Byzantine art along with European pieces. The main gallery hosts a wide range of church and funerary statuary, and tapestries. Side galleries hold smaller works made of precious metals and ivory, including secular and reliquary items.
The Cloisters museum and gardens
The Cloisters is a separate building completely dedicated to medieval art. The building was a project of John D. Rockefeller Jr, who was a major benefactor of the Met. The Cloisters was completed in 1983 and is located in Fort Tyron Park. It is named so owing to the five medieval French cloisters whose recovered structures were incorporated into the modern building. The 5000 objects housed at the Cloisters is made of European medieval works.
Modern and contemporary art
The modern art collection of the Met comprises around 13,000 artworks, mainly by European and American artists. It contains many iconic works. They include the portrait of Gertrude Stein by Picasso, White Flag by Jasper John, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) by Jackson Pollock and Beginning by Max Beckmann.
The collection of musical instruments at the Met has around 5000 examples of musical instruments from across the world. The collection started in 1889 when Mary Elizabeth Adams donated 270 instruments to the museum. By the time of her death, the collection amounted to 3,600 instruments that she had donated. The collection was displayed in five galleries. The instruments in the collection are displayed not only on aesthetic grounds but also because they are an embodiment of the social and technical aspects of their cultures of origin. Each continent is virtually represented at each stage of its musical life. A lot of the instruments are playable, and the department encourages their use by hosting concerts and demonstrations by guest musicians.
The collection of photographs at the Met numbers more than 25,000. They are centred on five major collections and also have additional acquisitions made by the Met. The first major collection of photographs was donated by Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer. It included a comprehensive survey of Photo-Secessionist works, a set of master prints by Edward Steichen, and an exceptional collection of Stieglitz’s photographs from his own studio. Stieglitz’s collection was supplemented by the Met with the 8500-piece Gilman Paper Company, the Rubel and the Ford Motor Company collections.
Although the department had a permanent gallery installed in 1997, not all items are displayed at any given time. This is because of the sensitive materials represented in the photographs.
What to know before visiting the Met
The Museum’s opening and closing hours are
- Sunday to Thursday- 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
- Friday and Saturday- 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
- The museum is closed on January 1st, the first Monday in May, Thanksgiving, and December 25th.
- March to October: 10:00 a.m.–5:15 p.m. (Daily)
- November to February: 10:00 a.m.–4:45 p.m. (Daily)
- The Cloisters is closed on January 1st, Thanksgiving, and December 25th.
For those who are visiting from outside the state of New York, admission starts at 25 USD for adults. Seniors and students can avail a discount. Children who are twelve years and younger can get in for free. New York state residents, NY, NJ and CT students can pay what they want for admission, provided they have a valid ID or library card.
All visitors who are twelve years and older must provide proof that they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who are 18 and above must also have a valid photo ID. Other guidelines include
- Face coverings for visitors aged two and older, vaccinated or not. Children below 12 years must have a vaccinated adult accompanying them.
- Social distancing of at least six feet must be maintained.
- Any symptoms of illness must be reported.
- Coat check is temporarily closed. Only select beverage options are available.
The Met is regarded as one of the greatest wonders of the twentieth century. Since its founding, the museum has aspired to be more than just a treasury of beautiful and rare items. Art and culture come alive each day at the Met, and for those who visit, it is a visual treat.