A Grand Reopening: New European Paintings Galleries, 1250-1800

May 23

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s galleries for its world-renowned collection of European Old Master paintings from the 13th through the early 19th century will reopen today after an extensive renovation and reinstallation. This is the first major renovation of the galleries since 1951 and the first overall reinstallation of the collection since 1972. Increased in size by almost one-third, the space now accommodates the display of more than 700 paintings in 45 galleries, including one rotating special exhibition gallery. The galleries are organized both chronologically and geographically to provide an overview of painting in Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Great Britain. Many of the galleries have new floors and moldings and the suites of galleries unfold with a new logic and grandeur. Sculpture, medals, ceramics, and other decorative arts have been judiciously incorporated where their presence adds a layer of meaning to the display of paintings. Key works have been conserved or embellished with period frames.  Important loans complement the permanent collection and celebrate the reinstallation.

“As we mark the completion of the new European Paintings Galleries, we celebrate this collection’s remarkable legacy and significance to the Met,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum. “By substantially increasing the space devoted to these works of art and integrating new scholarship in the galleries and online, Keith Christiansen and his team of curators now present the first comprehensive rethinking of these holdings in over four decades. The result is an extraordinary experience for our more than six million annual visitors from around the world.”

The Metropolitan Museum’s collection of early Netherlandish, Italian, and French paintings is wide-ranging and includes landmark pictures, while that of the Dutch school is among the finest and most comprehensive in the world.  As for individual artists, the representations of Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Poussin, Velázquez, Goya, and David are the strongest in the Western Hemisphere, and there are individual masterpieces known to every student of art history, such as Bruegel’s The Harvesters and David’s The Death of Socrates.

The reinstallation also captures historical crosscurrents between countries and contacts between artists by placing works in adjoining rooms, thereby presenting the Museum’s collection in a more coherent and natural progression than ever before.  The new configuration of the galleries now makes it possible to follow the history of painting in the lowlands from Jan van Eyck through Bruegel and the development of landscape in the 17th century through to Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Rubens and Van Dyck. There are galleries for portraiture, landscape, genre painting, and still life, together with a gallery for the display of the decorative arts in Holland that includes newly acquired and restored embossed leather panels. The history of Italian painting, from Giotto and Duccio to Tiepolo, is told in galleries organized by chronology and region—Florence, Siena, Venice, Rome—with galleries dedicated to themes such as domestic art and portraiture. The gallery of domestic art includes a display of 15th-century ceramics (maiolica) while another explores the relation of painting to sculpture.  A key aspect of the reinstallation is the presentation of sculpture where the exchange between the two mediums is illuminating and pertinent.

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