The Largest Museum in the Western Hemisphere (Or, the Met: Part 1)

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in February/March 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.


Metropolitan Museum of Art

Colloquially known as “the Met,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere… which is why I’m sharing it in three different posts (well, technically four, if you count The Cloisters). Please bear with me!

The institution of the Metropolitan Museum of Art began in 1870, when the New York State Legislature granted it an Act of Incorporation to establish and maintain a museum and library of art in order to encourage the development of the study, and the advancement of knowledge, of fine arts. Among the founders of the museum were Theodore Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Sr., as well as artists and thinkers of the day. The museum first opened in 1872, with John Taylor Johnston, a railroad executive, as its president, and Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a former Civil War officer, as its first director.

The Met’s permanent collection is divided into seventeen departments, covering art from classical antiquity and Ancient Egypt, to paintings and sculptures from European masters, to American and modern art, as well as works of African, Asian, Oceanian, Byzantine, and Islamic art.

Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

While the first acquisition concerning art from the Americas was acquired in 1882, the museum did not make a concerted effort to collect from this source until 1969, when Nelson A. Rockefeller donated his own collection (over 3,000 pieces) to the museum. Today, this collection is hosted in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, which is named after Nelson’s son, who died while collecting works in New Guinea. The wing covers an area of 4,000 square meters (40,000 square feet), and the collection is comprised of more than 11,000 pieces from sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas, covering a historical period beginning in 40,000 BCE to the present. It includes ancient Australian rock paintings, a set of memorial poles carved by the Asmat people of New Guinea, and objects from the Nigerian Court of Benin.

Ancient Greek and Roman Art

This collection is composed of over 17,000 objects, and it dates back to the museum’s foundation – its first object was a Roman sarcophagus, which is still on display. The collection includes a group of early Cycladic sculptures from the mid-third millennium BCE, as well as large classical wall paintings and reliefs, including an entire reconstructed bedroom from a noble villa in Boscoreale, excavated after its entombment in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Dish depicting a Wedding Procession

Islamic Art

The Met holds one of the largest collections of Islamic Art in the world, including both secular artefacts and works from the time period of the rise of Islam, mostly from the Near East. The collection is comprised of 12,000 objects, including ceramics and textiles, originating from everywhere from Spain to North Africa to Central Asia. It contains works of calligraphy, both religious and secular, including official decrees of Suleiman the Magnificent, as well as a number of Qur’an manuscripts from various time periods. It also holds a reconstructed Bur Al-Din Room from an early 18th-century house in Damascus.

Mihrab (Prayer Niche)

Medieval Art

The Met’s collection of Medieval Art is divided between the main building and The Cloisters. It contains Western art from the 4th to the 16th centuries, including Byzantine and pre-medieval European antiquities not part of the Greek & Roman Collection, holding a total of 10,000 objects. The main building holds about 6,000 pieces, and concentrates on the Byzantine pieces, with most European pieces being held in The Cloisters.

Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis
Half of a Prayer Bead with the Crucifixion

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