The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the United States and one of the foremost in the world, has its root dates back to 1866, when a group of Americans in Paris vowed to create a national institution and gallery of art for the people of America. The idea was the brain child of John Jay, a lawyer by profession. On his return to the United States, he moved forward with the project, and under his presidency, the Union League Club in New York started to rally for the cause, shoulder to shoulder with the civic leaders, businessmen, artists, and art lovers. Finally, The Metropolitan Museum of Art was incorporated on 13 April 1870 and was opened to the public at 681 Fifth Avenue on 20 February 1872.
The original building of the museum has since expanded greatly, and its various additions have now surrounded the original structure completely. The main building of the museum facing Fifth Avenue was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and was completed as early as 1902. But the American wing, containing the largest collection of American arts in the world, wrapped around the old section with the 1823 marble façade acquired from the demolished building of the US Branch Bank on Wall Street, was added much later in 1924. The remnant parts of the 20th-century additions were carried out by an architectural firm, which includes the Robert Lehman Wing in the west façade, containing the Old Masters, Impressionist and the Post-Impressionist works. The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing proudly houses the invaluable arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.
The Lila Acheson Wallace Wing displays Modern Art, while sculpture and decorative arts of Europe up to the early 20th-century are housed in the Henry R. Kravis Wing, added only in 1990. However, the Sackler Wing contains a complete temple, the ancient Egyptian temple of Dendur, built by Petronius, the Roman governor of Egypt around 15 BC and dedicated to Isis and Osiris. The temple was dismantled and removed from its original location, following the construction of the Aswan High Dam and gifted to the museum, where it has been exhibited in the wing since 1978.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, popularly known as the Met, renovated and opened a reconceived group of 15 galleries in 2011, containing one of the most comprehensive collections of the art of Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, Arab and South Asia. Even in March 2016, the Met expanded its Modern and Contemporary art section, when it shifted its growing collection to a building designed by Marcel Breuer at East 75th Street, the former location of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Today, the main building of the museum, along with the Museum Mile on the eastern edge of Central Park, is by area one of the largest art galleries in the world. Apart from that, a much smaller The Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park also contains extensive art, artifacts, and architecture from medieval Europe.
The permanent collection of the Met contains the exclusive works of art from ancient Egypt and classical antiquity, along with sculptures from nearly all the European masters and an extensive collection of American and modern art. It is divided into seventeen separate departments, each complete with a band of specialized staff of curators, as well as six dedicated conservation departments and a Department of Scientific Research.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a huge collection of around 1700 pieces of European paintings, while its collection of the European Sculpture and Decorative Art has more than 50,000 separate pieces from the 15th through the early 20th centuries. Apart from individual masterpieces by several reputed artists like Jan van Eyck, Caravaggio and Gustav Klimt, its collection of celebrated European Paintings includes some outstanding works by Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Johannes Vermeer. Its galleries of 19th-century French paintings, containing the celebrated works of great artists like Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and others, are second only to the museums of Paris. Its fabulous collection of European sculptures includes several celebrated works by the great European sculptors like Luca and Andrea della Robbia, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Juan Martínez Montañés, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Edgar Degas, and Auguste Rodin.
Apart from that, it also contains a huge collection of jewelry, glass and ceramic pieces, tapestries, textiles, along with some outstanding collections of English and French furniture. The Metropolitan Museum owns one of the world's largest collections of artwork of the Islamic world and much of its 12,000 collection consists of secular items, which include ceramics and textiles from Islamic cultures ranging from Spain to North Africa and Central Asia. However, the highlight of the collection is the miniature paintings from Iran and Mughal India.
Although the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York first acquired a collection of Peruvian antiquities in 1882, it did not begin a concerted effort to collect and exhibit the works of Africa, Oceania and the Americas until 1969, when Nelson A. Rockefeller, the famous American businessman and philanthropist donated his collection of 3,000 pieces of artifacts to the museum. Today, the American Wing of the museum houses the world’s most extensive collection of American paintings, sculptures and decorative art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has an extensive collection of Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Byzantine art. Its total collection of 26,000 ancient Egyptian items from the Paleolithic era through the Ptolemaic era is the largest collection of Egyptian art outside Cairo. However, the most interesting and popular centerpiece of the Egyptian Art department is the complete sandstone temple, the temple of Dendur, assembled in the Met's Sackler Wing in 1978.
However, perhaps the most popular attraction of the Met is its department of Arms and Armour, which include weapons and armour from dynastic Egypt, ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Oceania, and the Americas, even American firearms from the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection of around 14,000 items includes the armours used by Henry VIII of England and Henry II of France. Incidentally, one of the most attractive portions of the area is the parade of the armoured figures on horseback, installed in the first floor Arms and Armour gallery.
Apart from everything, its encyclopedic collection of around 5000 musical instruments from all over the world made the Met unique among the other major museums of the world. The distinctive collection began in 1889 with a donation of 270 instruments by Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown, who later joined the museum as the first curator of musical instruments. When she died, the number of the instruments increased to become 3,600 and occupied five galleries.
In 1967, the main building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was designated a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, while its interior was separately recognized in 1977. However, recognizing both its monumental architecture and its importance as a cultural institution, the main building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.