The collection of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum is the largest and most comprehensive in the West. Each of the many civilizations of Asia is represented by outstanding works that provide�in both quality and breadth�an unrivaled experience of the artistic traditions of nearly half the world. The collection of more than 60,000 objects, which range in date from the second millennium B.C. to the early twentieth century, includes paintings, prints, calligraphy, sculptures, metalwork, ceramics, lacquers, works of decorative art, and textiles from East Asia, South Asia, the Himalayan kingdoms, and Southeast Asia. The department is renowned for its Chinese calligraphy and paintings�both monumental landscapes and more intimate glimpses of nature�as well as for its Japanese folding screens and woodblock prints and its assemblage of functional, ritual, and luxury objects in many media. Stone and metal sculptures from South and Southeast Asia and early paintings from Nepal and Tibet are other areas of strength within the collection.
Highlights from the Department of Asian Art are presented online and are organized first by country of origin and, within countries, chronologically. Most, if not all, of the works shown here will be on view when you visit the Museum. As mandated by conservation concerns, certain gallery installations, such as those of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, and Tibetan paintings, rotate every six months, and displays of more fragile textiles, lacquers, and woodblock prints change approximately every four months.
More about the Department and Its Collection
The Metropolitan Museum has been collecting Asian art since the late nineteenth century. Many of its earliest benefactors�the Altmans, the Havemeyers, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and others�included objects from Asia in their large bequests to the Museum in the first half of the twentieth century. The Department of Far Eastern Art was established in 1915, and in 1986 the name was changed to the Department of Asian Art. The real impetus for creating a comprehensive collection of Asian art, however, came from Douglas Dillon, who was named president of the Museum's Board of Trustees in 1970. Since that year, which coincided with the Museum's centennial, the Department of Asian Art has been engaged in expanding its staff, collection, and display space under an ambitious master plan. This process culminated in 1998 with the completion of an entire wing devoted to Asian art, occupying 64,500 square feet.
As distinctive as the cultures of Asia are from one another, many pieces in the Metropolitan's collection reveal similarities in form and iconography occasioned by the sharing of religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, or themes and techniques, such as those found in blue-and-white ceramics or ink painting. Thus, even though the galleries are arranged geographically and chronologically, an exploration of the works on view yields both an appreciation of the art of Asia's many cultures and an understanding of the ties between these traditions.
For instance, two special installations on the Great Hall Balcony, where the department's extensive collection of Chinese ceramics is exhibited, enhance the chronological presentation: one explores the impact of Chinese and Japanese ceramics on European traditions, and the other the relationship between Chinese blue-and-white wares and those made in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Examples dating from the sixth century B.C. to the eighteenth century (many of them gifts from Stanley Herzman) are also complemented by the Altman Collection of Qing dynasty (1644�1912) porcelain.
A unique feature of the Asian galleries is the Astor Court, modeled on a Ming dynasty (1368�1644) scholar's courtyard in the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai famous for its garden architecture. A gift of the Vincent Astor Foundation, the garden court, which opened to the public in 1981, includes an adjoining room for the Museum's collection of Chinese hardwood furniture.
Renovated in 1997, the Charlotte C. Weber Galleries for the Arts of Ancient China first opened in 1988 to display the department's holdings of archaic bronzes and jades, ceramics, and metalwork from the Neolithic period (ca. 4500�2000 B.C.) to the Tang dynasty (618�907). The Museum's notable collection of monumental Chinese stone sculptures from the fifth through the eighth century, and its rare holdings of Buddhist images from the Tang to the Ming dynasties, round out the presentation of early art and culture in these galleries.
An extraordinary selection of Chinese paintings and calligraphy, including works in both the scholarly and the courtly traditions from the eighth through the eighteenth century, is presented in the Douglas Dillon Galleries, the C. C. Wang Gallery, and the Frances Young Tang Gallery. First opened in 1981, these galleries were renovated and expanded in 1997, enabling the department to exhibit nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings that were part of a 1986 gift from Robert H. Ellsworth. The Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for Decorative Arts were also part of the 1997 expansion of the department. A genius for adapting a wide range of materials to functional and luxury objects is found in the Chinese jades, lacquers, metalwork, textiles, and other objects from the twelfth through the nineteenth century on view in these four galleries located on the third floor.
Traditional details, such as an altar platform (based on a twelfth-century example) for the display of Buddhist sculptures and a small shoin-style reception room typical of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries are at the heart of the Arts of Japan galleries that opened in 1987 in The Sackler Wing with the support of the business community in both Japan and New York. The full range of Japanese art�from Neolithic ceramics (ca. 1500�300 B.C.) to Edo-period (1615�1868) woodblock prints and textiles�is presented chronologically in eleven rooms. Thirteenth- and fourteenth-century narrative paintings (handscrolls) known as emaki, an important collection of folding screens dating from the fifteenth through the eighteenth century, and Edo-period porcelains for domestic use and export are among the highlights of the collection.
The Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and Southeast Asia opened in 1994. These fifteen rooms present the visual traditions of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, from the earliest civilizations to the sixteenth century. Areas of particular strength include Buddhist stone and bronze sculptures from the Kushan dynasty (first to third century A.D., approximately); Kashmiri- and Pala-period sculptures (sixth to thirteenth century); Hindu bronzes from the Chola period (ninth to thirteenth century); an unparalleled collection of early Southeast Asian metalwork; and monumental sculptures from the Khmer empire in Cambodia and Thailand (about ninth to fourteenth century). Indian court paintings from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century and Nepalese and Tibetan religious imagery from the eighth through the nineteenth century are exhibited in three additional galleries on the third floor.
Support from The Korea Foundation and The Kun-Hee Lee Fund for Korean Art made possible the opening of the Arts of Korea Gallery in June 1998. The gallery is a sophisticated blend of Western minimalist design and such traditional features as granite thresholds and a floor of wooden planks. Objects from the Museum's permanent collection, especially Buddhist paintings and ceramics of the Koryo (918�1392) and Choson (1392�1910) dynasties, together with thematic exhibitions featuring loans from collections in the United States and abroad, provide a comprehensive overview of Korea's artistic and cultural heritage.
In addition to the permanent and rotating installations of the Metropolitan's own collection, the Department of Asian Art maintains an active program of special exhibitions.