The Met Collection

With 17 curatorial departments, 2.2 million square feet, and more than 2 million works in its permanent collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art—colloquially known as the Met—contains more treasures than most visitors will ever be able to see in a lifetime. It’s impossible to summarise the New York City museum’s history, contents, and legacy in just one list, but here are a few of our favourite pieces.

Lady Lilith

Fascinated by women’s physical allure, Rossetti here imagines a legendary femme fatale as a self-absorbed nineteenth-century beauty who combs her hair and seductively exposes her shoulders. Nearby flowers symbolize different kinds of love. In Jewish literature, the enchantress Lilith is described as Adam’s first wife.

Lady Lilith, 1867 Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The name ‘Lilith’ is derived from the Babylonian Talmud. It refers to a dangerous demon of the night, associated with the seduction of men and the murder of children. The character is thought to have been derived from the stories of female demons in ancient Mesopotamian religion, found in the cuneiform texts of Sumer, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, and Babylonia.

Rossetti first painted this artwork using Fanny Cornforth as the model; he then altered the painting to show the face of another model, Alexa Wilding. Rossetti over painted Cornforth’s face, after the success of his picture of “Sibylla Palmifera,” in which Wilding is the model; and because he was starting a relationship with Fanny Cornforth.

The piece at the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is a replica of Lady Lilith, painted by Rossetti in watercolour, which shows the face of Cornforth.

Venus & Adonis

Venus, as if filled with foreboding about Adonis’s fate, desperately clings to her lover, while he pulls himself free of her embrace, impatient for the hunt and with his hounds straining at the leash. The goddess’s gesture is echoed by of Cupid, who anxiously watches the lovers’ leave-taking while clutching a dove—a creature sacred to Venus.

Venus and Adonis, 1550s – Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

Titian’s scene was inspired by the account in Ovid’s Metamorphoses of the goddess Venus’s love for the beautiful young huntsman Adonis, who was tragically killed by a wild boar. Though Ovid did not describe the last parting of the lovers, Titian’s imagining of it introduced a powerful element of dramatic tension into the story.

Venus and Adonis were some of the most successful designs of Titian’s later career. At least 30 versions are known to have been executed by the painter and his workshop, as well as independently by assistants and copyists within the painter’s lifetime and immediately afterwards, and the evolution of the composition over the years was highly complex. For stylistic reasons, the Gallery’s version is believed to date from the 1560s. However, technical examination of the underlying paint layers has revealed changes to the composition that suggest the painting may have been begun as early as the 1540s.

Queen Mother Pendant Mask

This ivory pendant mask is one of a pair of nearly identical works; its counterpart is in the British Museum in London. Although images of women are rare in Benin’s courtly tradition, these two works have come to symbolize the legacy of a dynasty that continues to the present day. The pendant mask is believed to have been produced in the early sixteenth century for the Oba Esigie (1404-1550), the king of Benin, to honour his mother, Idia. The Oba may have worn it at rites commemorating his mother.

Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century – Edo peoples

The mask is a sensitive, idealized portrait, depicting its subject with softly modelled features, bearing inlaid metal and carved scarification marks on the forehead, and wearing bands of coral beads below the chin. In the openwork tiara and collar are carved stylized mudfish and the bearded faces of Portuguese. Because they live both on land and in the water, mudfish represent the king’s dual nature as human and divine. Having come from across the seas, the Portuguese were considered denizens of the spirit realm who brought wealth and power to the “oba”.

Cow’s Skull Red Painting

Around the time of this painting’s creation, American artists, musicians, and writers were interested in identifying a uniquely American style and subject matter for their work. They sought out themes for the Great American Novel and the Great American Story. O’Keeffe offered a different opinion about what images could best symbolize America.

Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue 1931 – Georgia O’Keeffe

Rather than paying tribute to the lush pastoral landscape of the New World as the Regionalist painters did, or reflecting on urban problems like the American Scene painters, she often focused on images that seem at first to be more desolate: A cow’s skull or a brown hill or a largely featureless adobe wall.

In this case, she used a weathered cow’s skull to represent the enduring spirit of America or depicting Jesus Christ on the cross with touches on the strong ties to Christianity. The painting prominently displays the three colours of the American flag behind the cow skull. Although she said made it as a joke on the concept of the: The Great American Painting,” and the picture has become a quintessential icon of the American West.

Human-Headed Winged Bull

This Human-Headed Winged Bull is a Lamassu, which is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird wings. The horned cap attests to its divinity, and the motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East. The first distinct Lamassu motif appeared in Assyria as a symbol of power.

Human-headed winged bull (lamassu), ca. 883–859 B.C. – Assyrian

The sculptor of this Human-Headed Winged Bull gave this guardian figure five legs so that they seem to be firmly standing when viewed from the front but striding forward when seen from the side. Lamassu protected and supported essential doorways in Assyrian palaces. This sculpture is one of a pair of lamassu that was placed at the entrance of a prominent palace.

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