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The Audio Guide spans over 3,000 audio and video messages, including tours for kids. New media is added on a continual basis.
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Audio Guide players are free for visitors who are blind, partially sighted, Deaf, or with hearing loss, and for New York City high school students with valid ID (made possible by the May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.).
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The Audio Guide provides self-guided tours and popular stops in 10 languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, German, and Russian).
The Audio Guide is free to visitors who are blind, partially sighted, Deaf, or with hearing loss.
Audio Guide players have volume controls and headsets. Neck loops for hearing aids with T-switches are available upon request. Transcripts in standard and large print are also available for selected tours.
Samples from the Audio Guide
The following samples represent only a fraction of the tours and content currently available on the Audio Guide, which are updated regularly and include commentary on works of art from nearly every gallery in the Museum.
This itinerary encourages you to explore some of the masterpieces in the Museum's unparalleled 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 Highlights Tour contains 35 audio stops in total. Below, listen to three select audio messages from this tour.
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.
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.
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.
The Sculpture Tour, also known as Viewpoints: Body Language, features 20 works of sculpture from three departments: European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Medieval Art, and The American Wing. Below, listen and enjoy two sample audio stops and one video where a curator, a scientist, and a musician provide different interpretations of Jean Antoine Houdon's Winter.
"There is this combination of naturalism and abstraction that goes beyond human."
—Jim Draper, curator
Narrator: This sculpture, Winter, is by Jean Antoine Houdon. In French it's called "La Frileuse," or "The Shivering Woman."
Jim Draper: He's studied her long enough in this stance to get it just right. She's wrapped herself up but she hasn't done a totally good job of it because she's just concentrating on her upper half, where her lower half, including her beautiful behind, are almost totally exposed. She's vulnerable.
Jackie Terrassa: Her legs are smooth, they're young. Her right foot turns inward just slightly and creates this almost flirtatious way of standing.
Narrator: Her arms and fingers are gentle and loose, not gripping against the cold.
Jackie Terrassa: The sculpture is incredibly beautiful, elegant. It might recall an ancient sculpture of Venus.
Jim Draper: There is this combination of naturalism and an underlying abstraction in the arrangement that goes beyond human. There's a discrete zigzag in the curve of the bent leg. Another abstraction, if you like, is the total contrast between the folds of the drapery and the smoothness of the flesh—and even that is a way of weighing light volumes, heavy volumes, flesh versus fabric, in a way that's natural but also has abstract underpinnings. The whole thing is done with the utmost delicacy. She is very fully formed in all her sublime contours.
"There is a system in the brain which responds to her shivering. We actually feel cold when we look at something like this."
Eric Kandel: You just want to walk up to her and put your arms around her and protect her, not only because she's cold, but also because she's sensually rather attractive and you're drawn to her.
Narrator: What are some of the things that happen in our brains when we look at this sculpture? Neuroscientist Eric Kandel.
Eric Kandel: So this activates a number of systems in the brain, those that are concerned with temperature regulation. How does that work? We are sometimes so moved by what is being depicted that we simulate the action, and there's a system in the brain called the mirror neuron system, which obviously is responding to the fact that she's shivering, and we actually feel cold when we look at something like this. There is an area called theory of mind that becomes active when we have empathy. What is it like to be in that situation? With this sculpture, we express empathy—this poor young woman—and also, it's slightly charged sexually. So it appeals to us on many, many levels. It's remarkable.
"The feeling of Winter is shivering, cold, despair. I tried to find sounds on the cello that gave me that feeling."
Joan Jeanrenaud: The feeling of Winter is shivering; it's cold, despair. I tried to find sounds on the cello that gave me that feeling. For instance, I used tremolo, which is when you play your bow really, really quickly back and forth, so it seems like shivering. I used sounds that are played behind my bridge. And so it's a bit indeterminate as far as pitch, but it has a certain eerie quality that, to me, was suggested by her holding herself, and then also the fact that she's naked and the surface is so smooth and hard. That's why I ended up using those techniques, to suggest that sort of coldness that you feel when you see the sculpture.
Join actress Sarah Jessica Parker on this tour of costume in the Museum's collection and examine the cultural connotations of dress. The Art of Dress Tour contains 21 audio stops in total. Below, listen to three select audio messages from this tour.
Sarah Jessica Parker: Harold Koda is the curator in charge of the Met's Costume Institute. Here he talks with fellow costume curator Andrew Bolton about David's magnificent double portrait. Harold Koda:
Harold Koda: In the case of Madame Lavoisier, she's wearing the chemise à la reine. The chemise à la reine was derived from the practice of Marie Antoinette to wear simple white dresses as opposed to the formal silk gowns that she was prescribed to wear in most court functions. It looked scandalously nude to the public at that time. By the time Madame Lavoisier is wearing it, it has become standard practice in the high fashion. It's again an example of something that was more private becoming more public—a trend that one sees reflected even today in contemporary fashion.
Andrew Bolton: I think what's interesting about the gentleman's attire is anticipating what became known as the great masculine renunciation, in which decoration, color, lace, all sorts of fripperies were completely stripped away.
Sarah Jessica Parker: By the way, people often focus on the difference between women's and men's clothes. It's interesting to notice the similarities between them.
Andrew Bolton: There is a visual and aesthetic sympathy between men's and women's dresses throughout history. And you see it here in particular, with the pared-down, minimalist aesthetic of her dress and the same in his black and white. It's a lovely contrast.
Sarah Jessica Parker: Madame's ethereal white dress was made of cotton. If you'd like to hear about the tumultuous economic changes produced by that sought-after textile, please press PLAY.
Sarah Jessica Parker: Madame Lavoisier's dress is made of the finest cotton. In the late eighteenth century, when David painted this marvelous double portrait, cotton was very costly and imported from India. In the United States, the huge popularity of this cool, easily maintained fabric, and the invention of Eli Whitney's cotton gin, led to the vast plantations of the South.
King Cotton would, of course, play a crucial role in the formation of American history, including the explosive expansion of slavery, the forced migration of millions of Africans, and eventually the Civil War. In France, the craze for cotton virtually destroyed the silk industry in Lyons, shutting down the city's twenty-thousand silk looms and causing a catastrophic depression.
Sarah Jessica Parker: In the fifteenth century, the duchy of Burgundy—where this elaborate tapestry was made—was among the most fashionable centers in Europe. The design of this fine hanging would have mirrored the fashionable men and women who admired it. The elegant lady, for example, and her suitors, wear well-tailored clothes that accentuate their slender waists. The surcoat, or jacket, of the man on the left is shorter, so he may be younger than his more dignified rival. His lady love, with a glamorous jeweled bourrelet on her head, seems to favor him, since she pushes her roses through his hat. This hood twisted like a turban is called a chaperon. At the same time, the damoiselle may be keeping her options open, as she grasps the same tree as her suitor on the right. This flirtatiousness is typical of late medieval court culture.
You might notice that both gentlemen wear silk stockings. The stockings are either joined at the crotch, or tied with laces—called points—to their underwear. Look at the wrinkle behind the bent knee of the fellow on the left. That suggests the stockings were cut and sewn from woven cloth, rather than knitted. The pointed shoes, or poulaines, are also the latest trend in footwear. At the time, shoes weren't made for the wearer's left and right feet. That's a relatively recent development—less than two hundred years old!
The Audio Guide for Kids features 13 tours that are ideal for children ages 6–12 and their families. These tours have specially designed messages for artworks throughout all of the major areas of the Museum. Below, listen to three select audio messages from a variety of these tours.
Narrator: How many different animals make up the creature you see here, in this marble sculpture? This mythical being has a woman's head, a lion's body, and the wings of a eagle. It's called a sphinx. Look closely at the stone for traces of paint. All Greek marble sculptures were originally painted in bright colors. Does anything about this sculpture give you the idea that the sphinx has a violent temper? Its muscles are tense, and its tail lashes and curls from side to side.
In one Greek legend, the sphinx stood outside the city of Thebes, killing anyone who could not answer its riddle. The Greeks put sphinxes like this one on tombs, to guard against grave robbers. This sculpture comes from the top of a tall grave monument, or stele. You can see this stele on your left. It has a plaster cast of the sphinx on top, so you can see what the whole monument looked like.
Narrator: This little blue hippo was buried in an Egyptian tomb almost four thousand years ago. The black designs on the hippo's body are lotus flowers. They represent the flowers growing along the Nile, where hippos spend most of their time. Ancient Egyptians were afraid of hippos because they were so destructive. By making a model like this one, they might have believed that they could ward off and control such power.
Although Egyptians feared hippos, they also admired them as symbols of creation and life. This was because they often saw hippos' heads rising from the muddy waters of the Nile. This motion reminded Egyptians of the way the land emerged every year from Egypt's annual floods. Farming in Egypt depended heavily on the littler rain that Egypt received and on these yearly floods. This hippo is made of faience, a mixture of materials that is fired in a kiln to get the bright blue color. He has been nicknamed "William" and is the unofficial mascot of the Museum.
Narrator: Dozens of ballerinas seem to float through this painting by Edgar Degas. Follow the diagonal line of white tutus from the girl in front, all the way back to the far corner of the room. Only one girl's actually dancing. She's performing an arabesque near the center of the painting. On the right stands the ballet teacher, a man holding a cane. Today, he's giving a test. Each student must dance for him, one at a time, in costume.
Notice the girl closest to us, behind the music stand: she's adjusting the skirt of her tutu. She's the focal point of the painting even though she's not dancing. Degas loved the ballet. But in his art, he usually portrayed dancers hard at work in their off-stage moments when the audience wasn't watching. In the background on the right, four mothers sit watching. Students lounge beside them on the steps, forming a circle. Notice the mirror on the wall—how does this reflection change the picture?
Morrison Heckscher, curator emeritus of The American Wing, presents the history of the building—including interviews with Kevin Roche of Roche Dinkeloo & Associates, and Peter White, grandson of architect Stanford White. This tour is available in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
The Architecture Tour contains 15 audio stops in total. Below, listen to three select audio messages from this tour.
Morrison Heckscher: Welcome to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and to its Great Hall, one of the most magnificent interior public spaces in New York City. I'm Morrison Heckscher, the Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of The American Wing, and I'll be your guide for the special audio tour we've created about the Museum's architecture. Find a comfortable place to stand while I tell you a bit about the history of this remarkable building. The Metropolitan Museum is itself a work of art, but it's a work of art that has been in more or less constant evolution since its doors first opened, in 1880. Fortunately, the Museum has preserved its past and kept vestiges of its many iterations. Taken together, these elements illustrate the history of America's most important nineteenth- and twentieth-century architectural styles.
Of the many architects who have worked on this building, Richard Morris Hunt was among the most prominent. Hunt was the first American architect to study at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His legacy at the Metropolitan can be seen in the Museum's stately facade, the Grand Staircase leading up to the second floor, and the vast, ceremonial space of the Great Hall in which you are now standing. The Metropolitan demonstrates Hunt's mastery of the Beaux-Arts style, an architecture particularly suited to civic buildings at the end of the nineteenth century. Named after the school in Paris, the style is distinguished by its unified treatment of interior and exterior spaces and by its references to traditional, classical forms. In the Great Hall, many details are classically inspired. For example, the four pedimented niches overflowing with flowers, which originally were intended to display classical sculpture, the elegant colonnades—or rows of columns—which lead to the Museum's galleries, and the domes, which correspond to the three massive arched windows that define the Museum's facade. If you'd like to hear more about Richard Morris Hunt, one of America's first internationally renowned architects, press the green play button now.
Morrison Heckscher: In 1880, when The Metropolitan Museum of Art first opened in Central Park, this staircase was touted by many as one of the Museum's most elegant features. Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould designed the building in the High Victorian Gothic style. We see the pair's talent for ornamental design in this painted iron balustrade with its sextafoil, or six-part, openings. The staircase resembles Central Park's picturesque cast-iron bridges and the balustrade leading down to the Bethesda Terrace on the 72nd Street transverse. The similarities are not coincidental.
The Museum's first architect, Calvert Vaux, also collaborated with Frederick Law Olmsted to create Central Park. The size of this staircase indicates how small the original building was relative to the Museum today. The Great Staircase that now leads up to the second floor had not been built. Instead, this staircase, and three similar ones, transported all Museumgoers between the Museum's first and second floors. Though narrow, the stairway was nevertheless a dramatic sight. Originally, there was a large circular window in the stairwell between the first and second floor, offering spectacular views of the art below.
Morrison Heckscher: In the late 1880s, this monumental brick-and-granite wall served as the entrance to the Museum. A curved ramp delivered visitors arriving by carriage to the front door. The facade is now incorporated into one of the Museum's most beloved spaces, known as the Petrie Court. The man responsible for this short-lived entrance was Theodore Weston, a civil engineer with little architectural experience. Why did the Museum select as its new architect a civil engineer who had spent his career designing the city's sewer and water systems? The answer is that Weston was a member of the Board of Trustees. The Board believed he could be trusted to scale back the Museum's grand architectural scheme and create something that could actually be completed. But, as is often the case with architecture, financial constraints played a role in final design. The gray granite and red brick is a simpler, more understated facade than Weston had envisioned. Look at the three central arches of the facade.
The blank roundels between the arches were intended to feature bronze medallion portraits of Michelangelo and Raphael. And on the upper level of the flanking walls, you can see three large, flat granite panels between the pilasters, or columns attached to the wall. Weston conceived carved sculptural friezes depicting scenes of peace and war. When funds ran dry because Weston had underestimated the costs, the Museum quickly jettisoned his plans for sculptural friezes and bronze doors. The walls have remained blank ever since. If you'd like to take a moment to hear briefly about the fascinating origins of Central Park, walk toward the windows facing the park and find a comfortable place to sit. Whenever you're ready, simply press the green play button.
The Audio Guide at The Met Cloisters comprises interviews with curators, conservators, and educators that focus on the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Several audio messages also offer samples of medieval music to reflect the time and add enjoyment to the audio experience. All Audio Guide tours at The Met Cloisters are available in English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Mandarin.
In total, there are three tours available on the Audio Guide at The Met Cloisters: The Highlights Tour of The Met Cloisters contains 17 audio stops; The Art and Music Tour contains six audio stops; and The Family Tour contains 20 audio stops. Below, listen to three sample audio stops from The Highlights Tour of The Met Cloisters.
In this spot, you may feel like you've stepped back in time—or that the Middle Ages have been brought back to life. In spring and summer, the garden beyond the columns is vibrant with flowers and the scent of lavender. Of course, this is just the effect that the founders of The Cloisters intended. This is a cloister, an open courtyard, with covered walkways around the sides and a garden in the center. Every monastery had a structure like this, though there was considerable variety in size. The columns here actually come from a cloister nearly twice as large as this one. That cloister was built in the early twelfth century at a place called Cuxa in the Pyrenees Mountains, near the border between France and Spain. Look at the capitals, or tops, of these columns.
Some have clean and simple forms, but others have decoration that you may find surprising; you'll see figures in antic, spread-legged poses, fantastic animals, and figures with human heads that end in snaky coils. These carved elements are all medieval, but the low wall beneath and some of the arches above are reconstructions. There are diagrams at the corners of the cloister to show you which is which. Elsewhere in the Museum, it's easy to tell the difference, but here the stone is all the same. It has a distinctive color, a warm pink streaked with white, and it comes from a quarry near Cuxa. The quarry was reopened in the early twentieth century, and new stone was cut to make a full cloister for the medieval elements. The cloister was the heart of every monastery; it connected the places where the monks or nuns carried out their daily routine. The Cuxa Cloister fills a similar place here at the Museum, connecting the gallery spaces on this level. Enjoy your walk around, and I'll rejoin you at our next stop, in the Early Gothic Hall.
That last room was dimly lit—textiles like the Unicorn Tapestries would fade in brighter conditions. But this room is different, dazzling us with light. The windows are responsible, have a look. Each of the tall, narrow windows contains a single figure standing under a delicately ornamented niche; it's similar to the composition of the nine heroes tapestries, and you'll see this again later too. At the bottom of each window is a rectangular panel with a shield or other image; it refers to the donor of the window. Each of these tall windows was the gift of a different municipality or guild to the convent at Boppard, in the Rhineland. In the church there, these six panels were part of one large window, with the three panels on the left set above the three on the right.
The church had five windows of the same height on its north side alone. You can imagine how bright and colorful they made it. Think back to the stained glass you saw a few rooms ago, in the Early Gothic Hall, and you can see how the art form had developed by the time this set was made in the 1440s. In addition to the brilliant red, bold yellow, and rich blue in these designs, there are large areas of white glass that admit more light. And you can see the impact of other arts on stained glass too. Look at the clothes, especially the white garments that the female figures wear; they have carefully modeled folds like those you find in sculpture—think of the Virgin from Strasbourg you saw a few stops ago. There are parallels with painting too: all the shading here was achieved by painting on the glass to produce effects like those found in panel painting. We'll see a superb example in the next room.
Before the rise of printing at the end of the Middle Ages, all books were manuscripts, that is, they were written and illustrated by hand. As a result, every medieval book was a costly and work-intensive product. This manuscript, known as the Belles Heures, is exceptionally lavish, more richly illustrated and more artfully executed than anything comparable. The Belles Heures is always on view here, but the page is changed periodically to minimize wear on the fragile materials. Look at the way the open page is organized—there's a generous border, usually filled with vine-scrolls of the most exquisite pen-work.
Consider the balance between the text and the illustration—the pictorial element often dominates in size as well as impact. And then enjoy the details of the painting: the animation of the figures, the refinement of the drawing, the beauty of the colors. The Belles Heures has a staggering number of illuminations, 172, and these represent the largest and best-preserved collection of paintings from northern Europe in the early 1400s. The exceptionally gifted artists were the three brothers Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg. They were only in their teens when they received the commission for this book from Jean de France, Duke of Berry, an immensely powerful and ambitious patron of the arts. He gave the brothers considerable latitude to enlarge the project, and they used it as a laboratory for their art, growing in their talents as they worked. The Duke was so pleased with the Belles Heures that he commissioned the Limbourg brothers to paint another even larger book, yet neither they nor the Duke survived to see it finished.