The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moche peoples, Peru; Pair of Earflares; 3rd-7th century. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's largest encyclopedic art museums. Its permanent collection includes more than 2 million works of art, spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from pre-history to the present day. These vast holdings are divided into 19 curatorial departments responsible for specialized collections, each one comprehensive within their respective fields, whether American art, European art, Egyptian art, Islamic art, or Asian art in general, or more specifically, arms and armor, costumes, musical instruments, antiquities, photography, etc. More than 9,000 images from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collections are represented in the Artstor Digital Library, approximately 7,800 of which are available as high-resolution downloads for academic publishing. For more information see Images for Academic Publishing.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 with a mission to collect, preserve, and display works of art. When it first opened in 1872, the museum was housed in a building located at 681 Fifth Avenue. The museum's collections began with three private European collections, numbering 174 paintings, and quickly outgrew its initial site. After negotiations with the City of New York, the museum acquired land in Central Park along Fifth Avenue to build a permanent home for the collections. The original Gothic Revival-style brick building, designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mold, was opened to the public in 1880. A Beaux-Arts façade and entrance, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, was completed in 1926. Since then, museum has expanded greatly, with several additions that now completely surround the original 1880 structure. Beginning in 1971, the museum underwent a comprehensive expansion program with the aim of making the collections more accessible to the public. To that end, various additions were added to the main fabric of the existing building: the Robert Lehman Wing (Old Master, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art); the Sackler Wing (the Temple of Dendur); the American Wing; the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing (Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas); the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing (Modern art); and the Henry Kravis Wing (European sculpture and decorative arts). Since the completion of these additions, the museum began to renovate and reorganize existing spaces, such as the Arts of Korea gallery, the Ancient Near Eastern galleries, and the Greek and Roman galleries.

The museum also has a branch location in northern Manhattan's Fort Tyron Park, called the Cloisters. Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River, the Cloisters incorporates structural elements from five Medieval French cloisters, and houses approximately 5,000 works of art from Medieval Europe. The Cloisters began as the sculpture collection of George Grey Barnard, a collector of Medieval art. With assistance from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the museum was able to acquire Barnard's collection in 1925 and then build a building on the present site to house it in 1927. Rockefeller also donated works from his own collection to the Cloisters, including the famous “Hunt of the Unicorn” tapestries. The new museum building, which incorporated the cloister elements salvaged by Barnard, was opened in 1938.