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European Sculpture and Decorative Arts

ESDA

The fifty thousand objects in the Museum's comprehensive and historically important collection of European sculpture and decorative arts reflect the development of a number of art forms in Western European countries from the early fifteenth through the early twentieth century. The holdings include sculpture in many sizes and media, woodwork and furniture, ceramics and glass, metalwork and jewelry, horological and mathematical instruments, and tapestries and textiles. Ceramics made in Asia for export to European markets and sculpture and decorative arts produced in Latin America during this period are also included among these works.

What's On View

Among the department's best-known masterpieces in marble are Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Bacchanal and Houdon's portrait of his infant daughter, Sabine. From the nineteenth century there is an extensive collection of sculptures by Rodin and Degas. Displays of furniture and smaller objects provide a lavish and comprehensive survey of styles in the decorative arts, documenting the achievements of master craftsmen across Europe in this era.

Major areas of the collection include Italian and French sculpture in marble, bronze, and terracotta; French and English furniture and silver; Italian bronzes, goldsmithwork, maiolica, and glass; French and German porcelain; and a comprehensive collection of European textiles, including Flemish and French tapestries. Architectural settings and period rooms range from a sixteenth-century patio from the castle of Vélez Blanco, Spain; to the Wrightsman Galleries, which display splendid examples of French furniture and several salons from grand eighteenth-century French houses; to the early Renaissance studiolo, or small, private study, from the palace of Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, in Gubbio, Italy. Also on view are eighteenth-century decorative arts objects of Central Europe, as well as examples of English furniture and decorative arts and period rooms dating to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Large Italian and French sculptures originally intended for the outdoors and dating from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century are on view, and a series of galleries offers visitors an overview of the progression of artistic styles from the Renaissance through the early twentieth century. Tapestries, decorative arts, and furniture from various countries are presented in telling juxtapositions, starting with the flourishing of the late Baroque style around 1700 and finishing with the spreading of the arts of the French Empire about 1800.

Nineteenth-century sculpture and decorative arts, regardless of country of origin, are displayed together. Spanning the period from the Restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in 1815 to the flowering of Art Nouveau at the turn of the century, many of these works were acquired in an effort to enlarge the spectrum of the department's holdings and illustrate the multiplicity of styles that characterized nineteenth-century Europe.

History of the Department

The Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts has evolved significantly since it was established in 1907, during the Museum presidency of J. Pierpont Morgan, as a repository of decorative art undifferentiated as to time or geography. The department's present scope was established in 1935, and in 1978 it assumed its current title.

Renovation and Reinstallation

In 2007, the Wrightsman Galleries for French decorative arts underwent extensive renovations to improve the presentation of the Museum's renowned collection of French furniture and related decorative arts pieces—many of which have a royal provenance.

View highlights

Exhibition Tour—Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry
December 1, 2014
Free with Museum admission
Great Rooms: Lifestyles of the Rich and Royal
December 1, 2014
Free with Museum admission
Great Rooms: Lifestyles of the Rich and Royal
December 2, 2014
Free with Museum admission

Last updated: Wednesday, November 26