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10 Things You Can’t Miss at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Category Attractions

|by Karen Jones |


There's no need to feel overwhelmed on a visit to this sprawling museum. Simply follow our expert advice on what every first time visitor must see

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one the world’s premier cultural institutions and houses a collection encompassing everything from ancient classics to modern masters. You could easily spend a week exploring the treasures of the Met to see everything spread across the approximately two million square feet of gallery space. If you only have a day — or even a half-day — you can still do the museum’s vast collection. The key is to find the pieces that are the most iconic and the most indicative of their era – and the artist behind the creation. From the Egyptian Temple of Dendur and the majestic Arms and Armory Hall to revered paintings such Vincent van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses and Washington Crossing the Delaware, here are our picks for the 10 things worth seeking out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Egyptian Temple of Dendur (Photo: Brooks Walker/Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Egyptian Temple of Dendur (Photo: Brooks Walker/Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Temple of Dendur
One of the most popular destinations on the museum map, the Temple of Dendur is located in the Egyptian Galleries where there is plenty to see including sphinxes, sarcophagi, the Tomb of Perneb and the charming 3-D models found in the Tomb of Meketre. But it is the massive Temple of Dendur that commands the crowd. Dating from the time of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar (ca. 15 B.C.) the walk-in temple is a a stunning example of the period. It is beautiful from afar, but get closer and you’ll see the intricate carvings of lotus blossoms, vultures and deities. It is also housed in one of the Met’s most beautiful rooms, and is framed by floor-to-ceiling glass with a stunning view of Central Park. First floor, Gallery 131

Medieval Sculpture Hall
The Medieval Hall transports you back to a time when Kings ruled their realms with an iron fist but under the watchful eye of the Church, which also influenced much of the art. Beautiful stained glass windows, such as Scenes from the Legend of Saint Vincent of Saragossa, sculptures, altarpieces, furniture and tapestries circa 1300-1500 are present throughout. Wall tapestries served numerous purposes; they were status symbols, highly decorative and helped keep chilly castles warm. One of the most famous and best preserved is The Lamentation(1490-1505). The horizontal tapestry, depicts a dying Jesus surrounded by followers. The reds are still vibrant, from the cloaks and head coverings to the red roses speckled along the border. First floor, Gallery 305

King Henry VIII’s Armor
There are enough swords, lances and armor in the Arms and Armor galleries to delight any Games of Thrones fan. It has the largest collection of 16th and 17th century European armor in the U.S. and includes two separate suits of armor thought to belong to England’s King Henry VIII — one when he was fit enough win jousting tournaments and the other when he was decidedly not. There is also a splendid collection of Japanese Samurai artifacts including the fierce Armor (Gusoku) Helmet Bowl signed Saotome Iyetada from the Edo period. First floor, Gallery 371

Chinese Buddhist Sculpture
Located in the Asian Art galleries, the Met’s collection of Chinese Buddhist sculpture is the largest in the West. Here you can see majestic sculptures made from stone, bronzes, wood and clay. Two standouts are Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) circa 550-560, a 14-ft tall standing sandstone sculpture that still has traces of pigment and Buddha, Probably Amitabha from the early 7th century. They are wonderfully preserved despite their (very) advanced age, and perfectly encapsulate the styles of the era.  Second floor, Galleries 206 and 208

The Astor Chinese Garden Court
Nestled in the Asian Art galleries is the Astor Court, a small but lovely garden designed for tranquility and reflection. Based on 17th century courtyard garden it was constructed using traditional tools and styles. It includes rockeries, small pools and rare nan wood. The adjourning reception room is decorated with Ming dynasty hardwood furniture. Walking in is like stepping into another world, making a stop here when a quiet break from the crowds and a chance to recharge your batteries is welcome. Second floor, Gallery 217

Greek Terracotta Vases
The Greek and Roman Art galleries are filled with classic sculptures from antiquity, but the Greek Terracotta Vases are striking examples of the intricate craftwork of the time. One of the most recognizable is the Greek Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora, attributed to The Euphiletos Painter, circa 530 B.C. In ancient Greece an amphora was a two-handled vessel usually used for wine or oil. The black figures on this vase depict a footrace, one of the earliest known events in the Panathenaic games. First floor, Gallery 153

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze
The Met has so many celebrated paintings it is nearly impossible to select only a few, but Washington Crossing the Delaware certainly is one. Fully ingrained in the American psyche, this version of the painting was first exhibited in 1851. The grand scale (it measures 149″ by 255″) will stop you, as will artist Emanuel Leutze’s skill at depicting the icy scene on the river and winter sunlight above. There have been numerous interpretations by other artists but this is the real thing. Second floor, Gallery 760

Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh
Tortured though he was, 19th century artist Vincent van Gogh lives on through his compelling canvasses. It is nearly impossible to just glance at a Van Gogh —  and that is true of Wheat Field with Cypresses (1889) with its swirls of paint drawing you in. It is also part of a series that it is said he was particularly fond of. Also on the must see painting list: Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock and Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Johannes Vermeer. Both are prime examples of the work – and focus – of the prolific artists. Second floor, Gallery 823

The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer by Edgar Degas
Impressionist master Edgar Degas is known for his many paintings of dancers, but his bronze sculpture The Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer is a standout. His model and muse Marie van Goethem was a ballet student at the Paris Opera and it is obvious he took great care with her depiction, particularly her stance. It is a rare departure from paint for Degas, and in interesting mix of media, with the skirt made of cotton and satin hair ribbon adorning the bronze figure. Second floor, Gallery 815

Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Antonio Canova
The European Sculpture gallery is filled with extraordinary art, but Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1804-6) is hard to miss. This sculpture is a replica of Canova’s Perseus, which resides in the Vatican. Created at the request of a Polish Countess, this version is said to be more streamlined than the original, but the nude Perseus holding the snaked head of Medusa is no less striking, especially at almost eight feet tall. Note: fans of marble sculpture also should not miss Ugolino and his Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. First floor, Gallery 548

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