The Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts has evolved from one that was established as a repository of decorative art in 1907, during the presidency of J. Pierpont Morgan. Today it is responsible for a comprehensive and important historical collection, one of the Metropolitan Museum's largest, reflecting the development of art in the major Western European countries.
The holdings, comprising some 60,000 works of art, cover the following areas: sculpture in many sizes and media, woodwork and furniture, ceramics and glass, metalwork and jewelry, horological and mathematical instruments, and tapestries and textiles. The department has distinguished works of Italian Renaissance sculpture, 18th-century French sculpture, and an extensive collection of sculptures by Rodin and Degas. Among its best-known masterpieces in marble are Tullio Lombardo's statue of Adam, the portrait bust of Diderot by Houdon, and the group Ugolino and his Sons by Carpeaux.
Other major areas of the collection are French and English furniture and silver, Italian bronzes, goldsmithwork, maiolica and glass, and French and German porcelain. Architectural settings and period rooms range from the early Renaissance intarsia Studiolo from the Ducal Palace of Gubbio, Italy, and the 16th-century patio from the castle of Vélez Blanco, Spain; to the Wrightsman Galleries displaying splendid examples of French furniture and several salons from famous 18th-century French houses, followed by five galleries devoted to the 18th-century arts of Central Europe; and the Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries, a suite of ten galleries and period rooms featuring nearly 800 examples of English furniture and decorative arts of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The collections are further represented in the Henry R. Kravis Wing and the Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court. This, designed as a classical French garden, serves as a framework for the presentation of large outdoor Italian and French sculptures dating from the 17th to the 19th century. Beyond it, a series of galleries in the Kravis Wing offer the visitor an overview of the progression of artistic styles throughout the 18th and 19th century. In the four Florence Gould Galleries, 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 Empire about 1800.
Further on, three large galleries named for Iris and B. Gerald Cantor are devoted to a display of 19th-century sculpture and decorative arts regardless of nationalities. 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 recently in an effort to enlarge the spectrum of the department's holdings and illustrate the multiplicity of styles that characterized 19th-century Europe.
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