When the Metropolitan Museum came into being in 1870, the founders stressed its role in giving popular instruction. Ever since then its public has expressed interest in obtaining a general guidebook to all the multiple facets of its encyclopedic collections. But a museum is a living, constantly changing institution, and the preparation of such a guide presents many problems. The scope and depth of the Museum's holdings are described with flexibility in mind, so that alterations to the building and changes in the collections can be readily accommodated in future editions of this Guide. The number of pages allocated to each department is restricted to multiples of eight pages; this will permit revisions in future editions.
A guidebook, however, should not be a straitjacket. It is impossible to locate accurately all works at all times because paintings and objects are constantly being cleaned, restored, loaned to other museums, or rehung within the Metropolitan.
In designing a guide that is easily portable and of interest to a large public, severe restrictions have had to be imposed. The text serves an introductory function and is not intended to give the kind of detailed information found in a catalogue or scholarly publication. Many other books published by the Museum are available to anyone wishing to follow his own special interests: a series of popular handbooks and comprehensive catalogues of various aspects of the collections are available in the Museum's bookshops; the Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a general interest magazine covering all phases of Museum activity, appears regularly throughout the year; and the Journal of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a collection of scholarly monographs, is issued annually. An independent guide covers the collection at The Cloisters, our branch museum of medieval art at Fort Tryon Park.