Religious Art

Medieval art curator Melanie Holcomb and drawings and prints curator George Goldner discuss the Museum's responsibilities when showing religious art.

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It is our job to present works of art with fidelity to the purpose and historical context and aesthetic context in which they were made.

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  • George Goldner and Melanie Holcomb
    1280851
  • The Temple of Dendur  |  Roman period, ca. 15 b.c.  |  Egyptian; Dendur, Nubia  |  Sandstone  |  Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965, awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, and installed in The Sackler Wing in 1978 (68.154)
    1280875
  • Mihrab  |  1354  |  Isfahan, Iran  |  Mosaic of monochrome-glaze tiles on composite body set on plaster  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1939 (39.20)
    6891024
  • Standing Buddha  |  Northern Wei dynasty, mid-5th century  |  China  |  Gilt bronze  |  John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1926 (26.123)
    6301024
  • Madonna and Child  |  ca. 1300  |  Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, Sienese)  |  Tempera and gold on wood, with original engaged frame  |  Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, Elaine L. Rosenberg and Stephenson Family Foundation Gifts, 2003 Benefit Fund, and other gifts and funds from various donors, 2004 (2004.442)
    7931024
  • Page from an Illuminated Gospel  |  late 14th century  |  Ethiopia, Highland region  |  Parchment (vellum), wood (acacia), tempera, ink  |  Rogers Fund, 1998 (1998.66)
    7181024
  • Double-page colophon (left side) from the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an  |  1308  |  Iraq, Baghdad  |  Ink, gold, and colors on paper  |  Rogers Fund, 1955 (55.44)
    7381024
  • Double Cup  |  ca. 1300–1350  |  Germany or Bohemia  |  Silver and gilt-silver with applied opaque enamel  |  Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, 1983 (1983.125a, b)
    1280907
  • The Cloisters Cross  |  12th century  |  English  |  Walrus ivory  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    7521024
  • The Cloisters Cross  |  12th century  |  English  |  Walrus ivory  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    12561024
  • The Cloisters Cross  |  12th century  |  English  |  Walrus ivory  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    10271024
  • The Cloisters Cross  |  12th century  |  English  |  Walrus ivory  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    10101024
  • The Cloisters Cross  |  12th century  |  English  |  Walrus ivory  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    1280786
  • Christ Carrying the Cross  |  ca. 1475–80  |  Martin Schongauer (German)  |  Engraving  |  Purchase, The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, by exchange, 1935 (35.27)
    1280869
  • Christ Carrying the Cross  |  ca. 1475–80  |  Martin Schongauer (German)  |  Engraving  |  Purchase, The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, by exchange, 1935 (35.27)
    1280965
  • Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo)  |  Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) (Italian, Sienese)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of Asbjorn R. Lunde, in memory of his parents, Karl and Elisa Lunde, 1996 (1996.261)
    10141024
  • The Flagellation; The Madonna of Mercy, processional banner  |  ca. 1540  |  Girolamo Romanino (Italian, Brescian)  |  Distemper and oil(?) on canvas  |  Purchase, Anonymous Bequest, by exchange, 1989 (1989.86)
    7111024
  • Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper  |  1873  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Graphite heightened with white chalk on faded pink paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.941)
    7741024
  • Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper  |  1873  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Graphite heightened with white chalk on faded pink paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.941)
    1280796
  • The Dance Class  |  1874  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    9441024
  • The Dance Class  |  1874  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    1280666
  • Pietà (Vesperbild)  |  ca. 1400  |  Bohemian  |  Limestone  |  The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.78)
    11811024
  • Pietà (Vesperbild)  |  ca. 1400  |  Bohemian  |  Limestone  |  The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.78)
    1280803
  • Head of Athena  |  late 3rd–early 2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Marble  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
    8131024
  • Head of Athena  |  late 3rd–early 2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Marble  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
    8531024
  • Male Figure (Moai Tangata)  |  early 19th century  |  Rapa Nui people, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)  |  Wood, obsidian, bone  |  Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984 (1984.526)
    4281024
  • Male Figure (Moai Tangata)  |  early 19th century  |  Rapa Nui people, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)  |  Wood, obsidian, bone  |  Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984 (1984.526)
    4591024
  • Washington Crossing the Delaware  |  1851  |  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
    1280735
  • Washington Crossing the Delaware  |  1851  |  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
    1280922
  • Washington Crossing the Delaware  |  1851  |  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
    5901024
  • Washington Crossing the Delaware  |  1851  |  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
    9021024
  • George Goldner and Melanie Holcomb
    1280852
  • I'm Melanie Holcomb and I'm a curator of Medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum. I'm George Goldner. I'm a curator of Drawings and Prints at the Museum.

  • Religious belief has provided the inspiration and the context for much of the art in the Metropolitan Museum.

  • And...we're a secular institution, or I'd like to think we are. I'm wondering if we have any obligation to be sensitive

  • in our presentation of the art to believers, as it were, to people who take these objects

  • seriously as a part of their everyday religious practice. George: I think that quite to the contrary, we have an

  • obligation to be objectively insensitive, to say that it is not our responsibility to care whether a visitor is Catholic, Jewish, Muslim

  • Zoroastrian or anything else. It's not our job, obviously, to try and insult people either, but it's, it is our job to present

  • works of art with fidelity to the purpose and historical context and aesthetic context in which it was made.

  • Melanie: So, if we're thinking about something like the Cloisters Cross, which is one of the great masterpieces of the Medieval collection, that is filled with inscriptions that could be understood as a

  • strongly anti-Jewish object. It's, it's very much that part of medieval Christianity that understood itself as distinct from and better than

  • Jewish practice, Jewish belief, and we downplay that. At times it's not even mentioned at all.

  • George: But who, who would be insulted? Jews, anti-Semites, Catholics? I mean, who would be insulted by a true

  • presentation of it it? I mean that was, anti-Semitism was one of the leitmotifs of medieval Christianity. Melanie: Absolutely, absolutely.

  • George: I mean, if you look at depictions of Christ carrying the cross or the Ecce Homo, there are always, or mocking of Christ, there's always... Melanie: Right...right...right... George: a bunch of really

  • ugly snarling people who are all Jews, with an occasional Roman... Melanie: Although, you know it's often never mentioned that that's what they're doing. George: No, but they are. Melanie: and I know that... George: ...but they are... Melanie: ...that's right...that's right...

  • George: Who else was populating Jerusalem at that period? I mean a few Romans are shown... Melanie: ...right... George: ...generally in better outfits than the Jews. So I guess my feeling is that if one,

  • one shouldn't focus on that as the particular subject of the cross or of a mocking of Christ or of Christ Carrying the Cross, but it's part of it. And I think to leave it out is just falsifying history.

  • Whereas for example, Degas was a vehement rabid anti-Semite. I haven't seen every painting or drawing by him but of the hundreds and hundreds that I've seen I've never seen the slightest indication in any of them... Melanie: ...right. George: that this affected his art.

  • So in that case I think it's a biographical detail, which is largely irrelevant... Melanie: ...yeah...yeah...yeah. George: ...for looking at a work of art.

  • So, if you had a Degas dancers in a gallery I don't think it needs to mention this subject 'cause it's not relevant. Melanie: I think we as an institution want to draw attention to the

  • aesthetic merits of an object and so there might be a sense that it kind of gets in the way, that the message will take over.

  • George: But whose message is it? Melanie: ...right... George: I mean the message that one should be trying to remain honest to, is the message of the artist who made an object and the people who commissioned it. It's really not up to us to edit that any more than

  • it is for us to put something in which isn't there. No art historian really believes that one is studying the pure history of aesthetics. Melanie: ...right...right...right... George: We're studying the history of art and the history of art is partially a history of the people who made it.

  • Melanie: Well, even if we take aside the history part, I think there are people who would accuse us of divesting our objects of their

  • spiritual import, and that we're criticized for it. We perhaps present them

  • too much as historical objects, and we don't acknowledge their continuing

  • power as a source of inspiration. George: Well, I think that any object which was meant to have religious significance, that should be brought up just as any object that had

  • political significance should be brought up. Melanie: ...right... George: I mean one shows Washington Crossing the Delaware. That isn't meant as just

  • a guy in a boat crossing a river. The fact that it's Washington is central to the aesthetic

  • and I don't believe a museum exists to make political and religious judgments. Melanie: ...right...

  • George: A museum makes aesthetic and historical judgments, not political and religious ones.

  • 68.154
    The Temple of Dendur, Roman period, ca. 15 b.c., Egyptian; Dendur, Nubia, Sandstone Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965, awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, and installed in The Sackler Wing in 1978 (68.154)
  • 39.20
    Mihrab, 1354, Isfahan, Iran, Mosaic of monochrome-glaze tiles on composite body set on plaster Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1939 (39.20)
  • 26.123
    Standing Buddha, Northern Wei dynasty, mid-5th century, China, Gilt bronze John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1926 (26.123)
  • 2004.442
    Madonna and Child, ca. 1300, Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, Sienese), Tempera and gold on wood, with original engaged frame Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, Elaine L. Rosenberg and Stephenson Family Foundation Gifts, 2003 Benefit Fund, and other gifts and funds from various donors, 2004 (2004.442)
  • 1998.66
    Page from an Illuminated Gospel, late 14th century, Ethiopia, Highland region, Parchment (vellum), wood (acacia), tempera, ink Rogers Fund, 1998 (1998.66)
  • 55.44
    Double-page colophon (left side) from the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an, 1308, Iraq, Baghdad, Ink, gold, and colors on paper Rogers Fund, 1955 (55.44)
  • 1983.125ab
    Double Cup, ca. 1300–1350, Germany or Bohemia, Silver and gilt-silver with applied opaque enamel Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, 1983 (1983.125a, b)
  • 63.12_av1
    The Cloisters Cross, 12th century, English, Walrus ivory The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
  • 35.27
    Christ Carrying the Cross, ca. 1475–80, Martin Schongauer (German), Engraving Purchase, The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, by exchange, 1935 (35.27)
  • 1996.261
    Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo), Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) (Italian, Sienese), Oil on canvas Gift of Asbjorn R. Lunde, in memory of his parents, Karl and Elisa Lunde, 1996 (1996.261)
  • 1989.86
    The Flagellation; The Madonna of Mercy, processional banner, ca. 1540, Girolamo Romanino (Italian, Brescian), Distemper and oil(?) on canvas Purchase, Anonymous Bequest, by exchange, 1989 (1989.86)
  • 29.100.941
    Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper, 1873, Edgar Degas (French), Graphite heightened with white chalk on faded pink paper H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.941)
  • 1987.47.1
    The Dance Class, 1874, Edgar Degas (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
  • 2001.78
    Pietà (Vesperbild), ca. 1400, Bohemian, Limestone The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.78)
  • 1996.178
    Head of Athena, late 3rd–early 2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Marble Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
  • 1984.526
    Male Figure (Moai Tangata), early 19th century, Rapa Nui people, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Wood, obsidian, bone Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984 (1984.526)
  • 97.34
    Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States), Oil on canvas Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
  • The Temple of Dendur, Roman period, ca. 15 b.c., Egyptian; Dendur, Nubia, Sandstone Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965, awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, and installed in The Sackler Wing in 1978 (68.154)
    Mihrab, 1354, Isfahan, Iran, Mosaic of monochrome-glaze tiles on composite body set on plaster Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1939 (39.20)
    Standing Buddha, Northern Wei dynasty, mid-5th century, China, Gilt bronze John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1926 (26.123)
    Madonna and Child, ca. 1300, Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, Sienese), Tempera and gold on wood, with original engaged frame Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, Elaine L. Rosenberg and Stephenson Family Foundation Gifts, 2003 Benefit Fund, and other gifts and funds from various donors, 2004 (2004.442)
    Page from an Illuminated Gospel, late 14th century, Ethiopia, Highland region, Parchment (vellum), wood (acacia), tempera, ink Rogers Fund, 1998 (1998.66)
    Double-page colophon (left side) from the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an, 1308, Iraq, Baghdad, Ink, gold, and colors on paper Rogers Fund, 1955 (55.44)
    Double Cup, ca. 1300–1350, Germany or Bohemia, Silver and gilt-silver with applied opaque enamel Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, 1983 (1983.125a, b)
    The Cloisters Cross, 12th century, English, Walrus ivory The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    Christ Carrying the Cross, ca. 1475–80, Martin Schongauer (German), Engraving Purchase, The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, by exchange, 1935 (35.27)
    Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo), Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) (Italian, Sienese), Oil on canvas Gift of Asbjorn R. Lunde, in memory of his parents, Karl and Elisa Lunde, 1996 (1996.261)
    The Flagellation; The Madonna of Mercy, processional banner, ca. 1540, Girolamo Romanino (Italian, Brescian), Distemper and oil(?) on canvas Purchase, Anonymous Bequest, by exchange, 1989 (1989.86)
    Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper, 1873, Edgar Degas (French), Graphite heightened with white chalk on faded pink paper H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.941)
    The Dance Class, 1874, Edgar Degas (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    Pietà (Vesperbild), ca. 1400, Bohemian, Limestone The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.78)
    Head of Athena, late 3rd–early 2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic, Greek, Marble Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
    Male Figure (Moai Tangata), early 19th century, Rapa Nui people, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Wood, obsidian, bone Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984 (1984.526)
    Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States), Oil on canvas Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    The Temple of Dendur
    Roman period, ca. 15 b.c.
    Egyptian; Dendur, Nubia
    Sandstone
    Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965, awarded to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967, and installed in The Sackler Wing in 1978 (68.154)
    On view: Gallery 131
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Mihrab
    1354
    Isfahan, Iran
    Mosaic of monochrome-glaze tiles on composite body set on plaster
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1939 (39.20)
    On view: Gallery 455
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Standing Buddha
    Northern Wei dynasty, mid-5th century
    China
    Gilt bronze
    John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1926 (26.123)
    On view: Gallery 208
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Madonna and Child
    ca. 1300
    Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, Sienese)
    Tempera and gold on wood, with original engaged frame
    Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, Elaine L. Rosenberg and Stephenson Family Foundation Gifts, 2003 Benefit Fund, and other gifts and funds from various donors, 2004 (2004.442)
    On view: Gallery 625
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Page from an Illuminated Gospel
    late 14th century
    Ethiopia, Highland region
    Parchment (vellum), wood (acacia), tempera, ink
    Rogers Fund, 1998 (1998.66)
    On view: Gallery 351
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Double-page colophon (left side) from the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an
    1308
    Iraq, Baghdad
    Ink, gold, and colors on paper
    Rogers Fund, 1955 (55.44)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Double Cup
    ca. 1300–1350
    Germany or Bohemia
    Silver and gilt-silver with applied opaque enamel
    Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, 1983 (1983.125a, b)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 014

    Medieval Art and The Cloisters
    The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park
    The Cloisters Cross
    12th century
    English
    Walrus ivory
    The Cloisters Collection, 1963 (63.12)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 014

    Medieval Art and The Cloisters
    The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park
    Christ Carrying the Cross
    ca. 1475–80
    Martin Schongauer (German)
    Engraving
    Purchase, The Sylmaris Collection, Gift of George Coe Graves, by exchange, 1935 (35.27)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo)
    Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) (Italian, Sienese)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of Asbjorn R. Lunde, in memory of his parents, Karl and Elisa Lunde, 1996 (1996.261)
    On view: Gallery 609
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    The Flagellation; The Madonna of Mercy, processional banner
    ca. 1540
    Girolamo Romanino (Italian, Brescian)
    Distemper and oil(?) on canvas
    Purchase, Anonymous Bequest, by exchange, 1989 (1989.86)
    On view: Gallery 608
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper
    1873
    Edgar Degas (French)
    Graphite heightened with white chalk on faded pink paper
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.941)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    The Dance Class
    1874
    Edgar Degas (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham, 1986 (1987.47.1)
    On view: Gallery 815
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Pietà (Vesperbild)
    ca. 1400
    Bohemian
    Limestone
    The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.78)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 010

    Medieval Art and The Cloisters
    The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park
    Head of Athena
    late 3rd–early 2nd century b.c.; Hellenistic
    Greek
    Marble
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
    On view: Gallery 162
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Male Figure (Moai Tangata)
    early 19th century
    Rapa Nui people, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
    Wood, obsidian, bone
    Gift of Faith-dorian and Martin Wright, in honor of Livio Scamperle, 1984 (1984.526)
    Not on view
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Washington Crossing the Delaware
    1851
    Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (German, active United States)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)
    On view: Gallery 760
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors

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