People have been collecting precious objects since at least the 3rd century B.C. That's when the Museum of Alexandria was open for business. Through the ages, members of royalty, universities and monasteries have collected art. But the public was not been invited to view these collections until the last few centuries. Now art museums are everywhere, and everyone can see their treasures. Take a quick tour of some of the greatest art museums in the world.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City—Containing the greatest collection of art in the U.S., it was founded in 1870. In addition to American and European paintings, it displays medieval art and armor, masks from Africa, mummies from Egypt, Aztec gold sculpture, as well as treasures from Asia, the Middle East and ancient Greece and Rome.
Top Art: Death of Socrates (Jean-Jacques David) Self Portrait (Rembrandt), Cypresses (Vincent van Gogh), Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (Grant Wood), The Harvesters (Peter Brueghel the elder), Young Woman with a Water Jug (Jan Vermeer).
Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia—It looks like a palace—because it was. Started in the 18th century as a private collection of Empress Catherine II, it contains artwork collected by the Russian czars. It became public museum in 19th century. Its six buildings hold more than 3 million items from Russia, including amazing jeweled Easter eggs created by Carl Faberge.
Top Art: Madonna with a Flower (Leonardo da Vinci), St. Sebastian (Titian), Dance (Henri Matisse), Woman with a Fruit (Paul Gauguin),
Louvre, Paris, France—Once one of the world's largest palaces, it is now one of the world's largest art museums-and maybe the most famous one. Since 1793 it has been gathering an incredible collection of ancient and Western art, including 6,000 European paintings dating from the 13th century to the middle of the 19th century. It would take many hours to walk through all its vast halls.
Top Art: Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci), Venus of Milo, Victory of Samothrace, Slaves (Michelangelo), Embarkation for Cythera (Antoine Watteau) Wedding at Cana (Veronese), The Lacemaker (Jan Vermeer), The Raft of the Medusa (Theodore Gericault)
Prado, Madrid, Spain—Finished in 1819, the Prado was originally a museum of natural history, but the royal family decided to use it to hold its paintings. In 1868, it became a national museum. It is famous for its collection of Spanish, Flemish and Venetian paintings. The Prado owns more than 10,000 artworks, but only 2,000 are displayed at any one time.
Top art: Naked Maja (Goya), Burial of the Count of Orgaz (El Greco), Maids of Honor (Diego Velazquez), Adam and Eve (Albert Durer), Garden of Earthly Delights (Hieronymus Bosch)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy—This palace holding the museum was built in the 16th century for Cosimo I de' Medici. In 1591, the public was allowed to view the artworks inside, making the Uffizi the first public art museum in the world. Today, the Uffizi's 45 rooms hold 1,700 paintings, 300 sculptures and 45 tapestries. Among its wonders is the world's best collection of Renaissance art.
Top Art: Primavera and Birth of Venus (Sandro Botticelli), Annunciation (Leonardo da Vinci), Holy Family (Michelangelo), Judith and Holofernes (Judith Gentileschi), Venus of Urbino (Titian)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.—Part of the Smithsonian Institution, it opened in 1941. Though it holds great paintings, photographs, furniture and sculpture from all over the world, the museum focuses on American art, including portraits of the Presidents and Native Americans, as well as 20,000 drawings and watercolors that span the history of American art.
Top Art: Street in Venice (John Singer Sargent), Breezing Up (Winslow Homer), The Biglin Brothers Racing (Thomas Eakins), Watson and the Shark (John Singleton Copley), George Washington (Gilbert Stuart). Lavender Mist (Jackson Pollock), Perilous Night (Jasper Johns), Jack in the Pulpit No. IV (Georgia O'Keeffe)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York City—Its recently redesigned and expanded space holds the world's greatest collection of 20th-century art. It was founded in 1927 and has been the model for all modern museums ever since. It also exhibits contemporary art, showcasing the best of today's painters, photographers, sculptors and designers.
Top Art: The Bather (Paul Cezanne), Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Pablo Picasso), The Starry Night (Vincent van Gogh), Water Lilies (Claude Monet), Flag (Jasper Johns), Girl with Ball (Roy Lichtenstein)
National Gallery, London, England—It opened in 1824 with 38 paintings. Today, the National Gallery is a monumental museum located in Trafalgar Square. It holds one of the world's greatest collections of European art: more than 2,300 paintings that date from 1250 to 1900, many of which are masterpieces.
Top art: i(Leonardo da Vinci), The Arnolfini Portrait (Jan van Eyck), Boating on the Seine (Pierre-Auguste Renoir), The Hay Wain (John Constable)
Tate Gallery/Tate Modern, London, England—When it opened in 1897, the Tate Gallery had only 65 works. Now the national collection of Great Britain, it owns more than 65,000 British artworks from 1500 to the 20th century. A separate, newer museum, called the Tate Modern, holds the national collection of international modern art rivaled only by New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Top Art: Snow Storm (J.M.W. Turner), Marilyn Diptych (Andy Warhol), God Judging Adam (William Blake), The Opening of Waterloo Bridge (John Constable), Nocturne: Blue and Gold (James Whistler), Red on Maroon (Mark Rothko), Head (Amedeo Modigliani), The Kiss (Auguste Rodin)
J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, Brentwood, Calif.—Originally a single house created for J. Paul Getty to hold the multi-millionaire's art collection, the Getty Museum has grown into six buildings that overlook Los Angeles. The collection centers on European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts and decorative arts. There are also photographs from Europe and the U.S.
Top Art: Irises (Vincent van Gogh), Still Life With Fish (Simeon Chardin), Venus de Clerq (Praxiteles), Supper at Emmaus (Caravaggio), Christ on the Cross (El Greco), Criminal Case (Honore Daumier), Le Moulin Rouge (Pierre Bonnard)
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