The Costume Institute
The Costume Institute houses a collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories spanning five continents and as many centuries. Among the preeminent institutions of its kind in the world, The Costume Institute began as the Museum of Costume Art, an independent entity formed in 1937 and led by Neighborhood Playhouse founder Irene Lewisohn. In 1946, with the financial support of the fashion industry, the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Metropolitan Museum of Art as The Costume Institute, and in 1959 became a full-fledged curatorial department. The legendary fashion arbiter Diana Vreeland, who served as special consultant from 1972 until her death in 1989, created a memorable suite of costume exhibitions, including The World of Balenciaga (1973), Hollywood Design (1974), The Glory of Russian Costume (1976), and Vanity Fair (1977), galvanizing audiences and setting the standard for costume exhibitions both nationally and internationally.
Greek and Roman Art
History of the Department
Although the Department of Greek and Roman Art (originally the Department of Classical Art) was not formally established until 1909, the art of ancient Greece and Rome has figured prominently in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the time of its founding in 1870. The very first object to enter the Museum's collection was an impressive Roman sarcophagus that occupies a prominent place today in the New Greek and Roman Galleries that opened in April 2007. Among the largest groups of works to enter the fledgling institution after this inaugural acquisition were the several thousand Cypriot antiquities purchased by subscription (in two installments, 1874 and 1876) from General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who subsequently served as the Metropolitan's first director, from 1879 to 1904. Four rooms devoted to Cypriot art are located on the second floor of the Museum, and many other pieces from the collection are displayed throughout the Greek and Roman galleries.
The Department of Egyptian Art was established in 1906 to oversee The Metropolitan Museum of Art's ancient Egyptian collection, which had been growing since 1874. Today, after more than a century of collecting and excavating, the collection has become one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world.
The Great Hall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Great Hall has been the majestic main entry of The Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than a century. When it opened to the public in December 1902, the Evening Post newspaper reported that at last New York had a neoclassical palace of art, "one of the finest in the world, and the only public building in recent years which approaches in dignity and grandeur the museums of the old world." Architect Richard Morris Hunt, who was one of the founding trustees of the Metropolitan and the most fashionable architect of his day, designed both the Museum's classical Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue façade and the Great Hall, which now greets more than five million visitors each year. Hunt did not live to see the project completed—after his death in 1895, his son Richard Howland Hunt carried out the final stages of work.
Arms and Armor
The Metropolitan Museum of Art received its first examples of arms and armor in 1896. Thanks to a substantial group of Japanese arms and armor and a major private collection of European arms and armor, both acquired by purchase in 1904, the Museum's collection quickly achieved international recognition. This led to the establishment of a separate Department of Arms and Armor in 1912, which remains the only one of its kind in the United States. Always among the Museum's most popular attractions, the Arms and Armor Galleries were renovated and reinstalled in 1991 to better display the outstanding collection of armor and weapons of sculptural and ornamental beauty from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and America. The collection ranks with the other great armories of the world, in Vienna, Madrid, Dresden, and Paris.
Medieval Art and The Cloisters
The Middle Ages, the period between ancient and modern times in Western civilization, extends from the fourth to the early 16th century—that is, roughly from the Fall of Rome to the beginning of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. The Metropolitan Museum's collection of medieval art, one of the richest in the world, encompasses the art of this long and complex period in all its many phases, from its pre-Christian antecedents in western Europe through early medieval, the Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic periods. The Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, established in 1933, oversees both the collection in the Museum's main building on Fifth Avenue and that of The Cloisters in northern Manhattan.
The Metropolitan Museum's collection of Islamic art is the most comprehensive in the world. It includes more than 12,000 of the finest objects, dating from the seventh to the 20th century and reflecting the cultural and geographic sweep of historic Islamic civilization, which extends as far west as Spain, Morocco, and Senegal and as far east as India, Southeast Asia, and China. Outstanding holdings include the collections of glass and metalwork from Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia; more than 450 Islamic carpets—the largest collection in the United States, including a 16th-century Egyptian carpet in emerald green and wine red that is a masterpiece of Mamluk design and some 3,000 textiles; pages from a sumptuous copy of the Shahnama, or Book of Kings, created for Shah Tahmasp (1514-76), and other outstanding royal miniatures from the courts of Persia and Mughal India; and a 14th-century glazed ceramic mihrab, or prayer niche, from a theological school in Isfahan.
Established as an independent curatorial department in 1992, the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Photographs houses a collection of more than 20,000 works acquired by the Museum over 80 years.
The American Wing
The American Wing houses one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of American art in existence—more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts objects—all of which are accessible to the public on four floors of gallery and study areas. It also features one of the Museum's loveliest and most popular spaces, The Charles Engelhard Court, a glassed-in garden featuring large-scale American sculptures, leaded-glass windows, and other architectural elements.
Ancient Near East
The Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art was formed in 1956, although the first objects to enter the collection—cuneiform tablets and stamp and cylinder seals—were acquired in the late 1800s.