Old Masters, New Digs

The Met Revamps Its European Paintings Galleries

For most visitors over the decades, the central allure of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been its fabled collection of European paintings. Enthusiasts come repeatedly to see the Old Masters bequeathed to the museum by an array of collectors, including such mighty Manhattan names as Altman and Morgan, Wrightsman and Havemeyer (this last family donated nearly two thousand works to the Met). They come for the magic of the museum’s five Vermeers and nineteen Rembrandts, for the finest collection of El Grecos outside Spain, the best French neoclassical painting outside France. And they come to admire such magnificent single purchases as Hendrick ter Brugghen’s Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John; Velázquez’s Juan de Pareja; Caravaggio’s Denial of Saint Peter; and most recently, in 2004, Duccio’s small but incomparable Madonna and Child.

As art critic Holland Cotter noted in the New York Times, the European galleries are the “raison d’être” of the Met—and yet it had been more than forty years since they were last redesigned, in 1972. After an extensive renovation and reinstallation, the galleries reopened in May. The collection now has fully one-third more space. Keith Christiansen, chair of the Department of European...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author


Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, is president emeritus of Georgetown University.