On Friday, Natalya and I took a Big Onion tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were signed up for a tour titled "America's Museum: Art and History of the Metropolitan" to be led by an Art History PhD candidate from Columbia.
It was great. I learned a great deal in the two hours of the tour, too much to share here, but here are five tidbits:
1) The Met has more than 2 million pieces of art in its collection.
2) The Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places which protects the structure, both inside and out, from any changes. That means they can't add the murals originally intended for the ceilings in the great halls
nor carve the statues originally intended for the tops of the exterior columns -- the giant blocks of stone must remain as blocks.
3) The original Metropolitan Museum was located in a brownstone that the museum didn't own. It quickly outgrew its space and a permanent location was secured from the City of New York in a parcel on Central Park. Almost as soon as its new home was built, a new one was commissioned to take its place (no one liked the old building). The new building, as it stands still today, was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and encompasses the original building whose walls you can still see in some areas of the museum.
4) The first Met President was Luigi Palma di Cesnola, an Italian-American Union solider who later served as the Consulate to Cyprus. He fancied himself an amateur archeologist and excavated sites throughout Cyprus; when he returned to the United States, his collection came with him and became the start of the antiquities collection at the Met.
5) The Met declined Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's significant collection of American art from the early 1900s because it didn't fit with their acquisition plans at the time. She went on to establish the Whitney Museum of American Art, using her collection as the genesis for that museum. The Met is probably kicking itself on that one, but it is nice to have another New York City museum dedicated to American art.