Director Thomas P. Campbell planned this itinerary for you to explore some of the masterpieces in the Museum's encyclopedic collection of world art. You'll see great works of art and great spaces as this two-part tour takes you through the centuries and introduces you to cultures throughout the world—and throughout the Museum. The Director's Tour contains thirty-five audio stops in total. Below, listen to three select audio messages from this tour.
The Director's Tour is also available in: French (français), German (Deutsch), Italian (italiano), Japanese (日本語), Korean (한국어), Mandarin (中文[简体]), Portuguese (português), Russian (русский), and Spanish (español).
Tom Campbell: Throughout history, artists have delighted in imitating nature and fooling the eye. That impulse ran particularly strong in Renaissance Italy in the fourteen and fifteen hundreds. This tiny, exquisite room is a spectacular example. At first glance, it looks like a fully outfitted interior, with benches set against the lower walls and cabinets above. The cabinets even cast shadows. But this is all an illusion. If you look closely at the walls, you'll see that the entire decoration is made of intarsia, an elaborate type of wood inlay. The illusionism is taken to a virtuoso level here, with thousands of pieces of various kinds of wood fitted together to form an extraordinary result.
This is Federico da Montefeltro's private retreat, or studiolo, from his palace in Gubbio, Italy. Federico was a great military leader, and there are references to military glory here. In the back corner, on the right, there's a helmet crowned with an eagle, similar to helmets on display in the Arms and Armor galleries we just visited. But most of the decoration alludes to peaceful pursuits: the latticed cupboards contain musical instruments, measuring devices, books, scientific equipment, and a bird in a cage. This is the sanctum where Federico could display and indulge his love of learning. A chronicler of the fifteenth century described him as "ever careful to learn some new thing every day," and he was well versed in the literature and history of ancient Greece and Rome. A defining feature of this period, the Renaissance, was the striving to match the achievements of classical antiquity. In the visual arts, the convincing representation of real-life objects and people is part of this heritage.
Our next stop is a stained-glass window from the Middle Ages. To reach it, exit the studiolo, turn left, and look for it on the wall to your right.
Tom Campbell: Johannes Vermeer created this luminous picture in the seventeenth century, when Rembrandt also lived. There are only thirty-six paintings by Vermeer known to exist, and you will find five of them here at the Met. Vermeer is best known for his pictures of quiet interiors, populated by women. In these domestic worlds, Vermeer invests a simple scene with a sense of poetic truth. Look at the crisp, white fabric that covers the woman's head and shoulders, and the careful description of the way light enters her room—from the diffuse illumination of the wall, to the gleaming highlights on the pitcher and basin. Vermeer has a spellbinding talent to capture every nuance of light's optical effects. The composition is exquisitely structured, with every element in perfect balance. The image seems entirely self-contained, and yet it points to places far from Holland—the map on the wall suggests the wider world, and the carpet spread over the table is a Turkish import. The next stop will take you far from Europe; you'll go back to the Great Hall balcony to travel to the Ancient Near East.
Tom Campbell: This twisting figure illustrates a moment in an exuberant dance. The head is turned in one direction, the chest in another, and the hips in yet another. It's a pose almost impossible to strike, and yet the sculptor has made it look wonderfully graceful and natural. The sensuous form and complex contour of the dancer are typical of sculpture from twelfth-century India. Here the body itself is shown, adorned only with delicate jewelry. These ornaments accentuate the dancer's motion, and their texture heightens the smooth forms of her flesh. Look at the contrast between the elaborate, jagged tiara and the serene composure of the face it highlights.
This statue reflects the Indian idea that physical perfection is a sign of spiritual fulfillment—this dancer is a celestial being, and once occupied a niche in a Hindu temple. A sacred image of a deity would have stood in the center of the niche, and other sculpture would have been placed on the walls around it, suggesting the emanation of the divinity into the world beyond. Our South and Southeast Asian collection is exceptional, and I hope you'll have time to explore it. But now our tour continues in the galleries for Japanese art. You can reach them by turning around and crossing the hall, then walk to the glass doors on the other side. These galleries are occasionally closed briefly for reinstallation. If they're closed now, just continue to the galleries for European paintings. Your map will help you find the way.