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Field Trip and Extra-Credit Assignment, Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the world's great collections of art and artifacts, provides students of Western Civilization with a great opportunity to engage directly with the past.  The Met's collections cover 5,000 years of human history and so are relevant to almost every topic we have discussed in this course.

To prepare for our field trip, I want you to read the information below on the Met's basic "rules" for visitors, then read the information on the Met collections that are most directly relevant to our course.  Finally, at the end of this page I will provide you with directions for your extra-credit assignment.



The Met's Basic "Rules" for visitors:

Regarding backpacks and purses: 

Like all public institutions, the Met understandably has become cautious about the packages and luggage that visitors bring to the museum.   Here is the Met's luggage policy (from its website):

"Luggage is not allowed into the Museum and cannot be checked in at the Museum's coat-check facilities. This includes small carry-ons and oversize backpacks. All standard-size backpacks, large bags, and packages 16" x 16" x 8" or larger must be checked in at the coat-check facilities."

NOTICE that this means that you can NOT bring a really big backpack into the Met!  You have to travel light!  You can bring a backpack or a large purse, but you will need to check it at the coat check.


Regarding food and drinks:

You can NOT bring outside food or drinks into the Met with you.  There is a cafeteria in the museum and there are several restaurants, so there are plenty of places to eat if you get hungry.  The food is pricy, so be prepared to spend more than you might think is "normal."  Here is a link to the Met's webpage on places to eat at the museum:

Often there are vendors outside the museum selling hotdogs, etc., and if you walk a block or two east of the museum you'll find some coffee shops and other places to eat (but you won't find fast food places).


Regarding shopping at the museum:

The Met has a very good museum store.  Here is a link to its webpage:


Regarding cameras and pictures:

It is ok to use cameras to take still photographs (but not movies/videos) at the Met, except where it is specifically designated that you can not do so.  Here is the Met's policy statement:

"Still photography is permitted for private, noncommercial use only in the Museum's galleries devoted to the permanent collection. Photographs cannot be published, sold, reproduced, transferred, distributed, or otherwise commercially exploited in any manner whatsoever. Photography is not permitted in special exhibitions or areas designated as "No Photography"; works of art on loan from private collections or other institutions may not be photographed. The use of a flash is prohibited. Movie and video cameras are prohibited."

NOTICE that you can NOT take flash pictures!


Regarding sketching images:

For those of you who want to take time to draw some of the images you see, the museum does allow sketching of most of the collection.  Here is the Met's policy statement:

"Sketching with pencil, felt tip, ballpoint, crayon, pastel, and charcoal is permitted in all galleries of the Museum devoted to the permanent collection and in most special exhibitions. Inquire at the Information Desk in the Great Hall regarding current special exhibitions in which sketching is permitted. The use of ink, fountain pen, and watercolor is prohibited. While sketching, please do not hinder the normal traffic flow in the galleries."


Met collections directly relevant to our course:

Ancient Near Eastern Art:

Our course began with a brief survey of the history of the Ancient Near East (remember Mesopotamia?).  The Met's Ancient Near East collection contains art and artifacts that range in time from the Neolithic period to the foundations of Islamic societies in the 7th century CE.  The geographic range of this collection covers the entire area from present-day Pakistan in the East to present-day Turkey in the West, from the Arabian Peninsula in the South to the coast of the Black Sea in the North.  In these rooms of the museum, you will find treasures that belonged to rulers of Ur, decorations from buildings in Babylon, and giant stone guardians from the palace at Nimrud.

If you are interested in focusing your visit on the culture of the ancient Near East, then I very strongly urge you to visit the museum's on-line guide to that collection:


Egyptian Art:

Our early readings in this course dealt rather quickly with the history of ancient Egypt.  If you recall, we found that Egypt exercised enormous cultural influence in the ancient "west" (remember our brief discussion of influences on Greek art?).  The Met's Egyptian collection includes artifacts from as far back as the Paleolithic period up through the 4th century CE.  You will find samples of objects that Egyptians used in their everyday lives, hieroglyph documents, statues of rulers, magical and tomb art, and even the reconstructed interior of a burial tomb.

 If you are interested in focusing your visit on Egyptian culture, then I very strongly urge you to visit the museum's on-line guide to that collection:


Greek and Roman Art:

The Met's world famous collection of ancient and classical Greek and Roman art has been closed for renovation for some time, but it reopens on 20 April.  So our timing is  perfect.  The collection features objects from the Neolithic period up to the 4th Century CE (to the Roman adoption of Christianity under Emperor Constantine).  It includes objects not only from Greece and Italy, but from across the broad regions that came under Greek/Hellenistic and Roman influence.  You will find an amazing array of sculpture, pottery, mosaics, and other objects.

If you are interested in focusing your visit on ancient and classical Greek and Roman culture, then I very strongly urge you to visit the museum's on-line guide to that collection:

I also strongly urge you to look at the museum's webpage on the renovation project that will be completed just before our trip:


Medieval Art:

The Met has one of the world's greatest collections of art and artifacts from Europe for the period from the 4th through the 15th centuries.  Its medieval art holdings are kept at two locations--at the main museum building, and in a great annex building called The Cloisters.  The collection at the main building (which we are visiting) ranges from non-Roman Bronze Age artifacts to Gothic jewelry, 12th century French stained glass windows and 15th century tapestries from the Netherlands.  The main building's collections are particularly strong for Byzantine art.   If you want to take a side-trip after leaving the main building, then head uptown to The Cloisters, which has an amazing collection of medieval art and artifacts from Western Europe.

If you are are interested in focusing your visit on Medieval culture, then I very strongly urge you to visit the museum's on-line guide to that collection:

And I also very strongly urge you to check out the webpage for The Cloisters at:

Once you have paid to enter the main building at the Met (and don't worry--you're ticket price is covered by the Honors Program!), you can get in to The Cloisters at no extra charge.  You can catch a bus to The Cloisters at Madison Ave. and 83rd St.  To get directions to The Cloisters from the Met, see this webpage:


The Renaissance through 1650:

The Met does not have a special department/exhibit space for Renaissance and Early Modern art, but its very large collection does include a great deal of art from the period 1450-1650.  There are major works of painting from this period, and also paintings from the period 1200-1450, in the European Painting collection.  You can find paintings by Giotti, Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, El Greco, Durer, van Eck, Bruegel, Rembrandt, and Vermeer, etc.

For a guide to the European Painting collection, I strongly urge you to visit the   museum's on-line guide to that collection:

There also are many masterpieces from the 1400s-1600s in the Robert Lehman Collection:

The Met has a great collection Drawings and Prints that include important Renaissance graphics--drawings, sketches, and etchings.  These include, for instance, drawings by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

For a guide to the Drawings and Prints collection, I strongly urge you to visit the museum's on-line guide to that collection:

Similarly, there are masterworks of Renaissance sculpture and decorations in the collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts.  See the description at:


Some of you might be interested in artifacts from this period in the following three sections of the museum:

The Arms and Armor Collection:

The Costume Collection (seeing this requires that you make special arrangements ahead of time):

and the Musical Instruments Collection:


Islamic Art:

The Met's large collection of Islamic Art is closed for renovation.  When it reopens in 2010, you will be able to see Islamic art and artifacts from the 600s through the 1800s.  Some of these art works are currently on display as part of other exhibits (e.g., in the Ancient Near East exhibit).  For more information, see


BUT, we are very fortunate that the Met currently is running a special exhibit that deals with interactions between Islamic and European culture:

Venice and the Islamic World, 828-1797:

As the Met's website explains:

"This exhibition examines the relationship between Venice and the Islamic world over a thousand-year period, focusing on artistic and cultural ideas that originated in the Near East and were channeled, absorbed, and elaborated in Venice, a city that represented a commercial, political, and diplomatic magnet on the shores of the Mediterranean. The underlying theme of the exhibition focuses on the reasons why a large number of Venetian paintings, drawings, printed books, and especially decorative artworks were influenced by and drew inspiration from the Islamic world and from its art."

If you want to focus your visit on the interactions between Islamic and European culture, then I strongly urge you to visit the museum's on-line guide to this special exhibit:{2F178712-5011-4C93-8BE1-05845F1C62E6}&HomePageLink=special_c2a


Extra Credit Assignment

I will count the following assignment as the equivalent of an extra credit quiz (and so it can increase your grade by as much as 3 percent--in other words, it can make the difference between a B+ and an A-....). 

Completing your observations for this this assignment should take up approximately 2 hours of your time at the Met.  

Directions Part A.

Pick one of the following categories as your main focus

  • Ancient Near East
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Greece and Rome
  • Medieval Europe
  • The Renaissance
  • The influence of Islamic culture on Venice

Directions Part B.

Spend some time reviewing the web pages at the Met relevant to your focus (see above)--be sure that you know where the relevant collections are at the Museum, so that you can use your time as efficiently and effectively as possible.


Directions Part C. 

Bring a small notebook and couple of pens to the museum so that you can keep a journal of your observations.  This journal is your actual extra credit assignment.


Directions Part D.

In the journal you will

a) make notes/observations on artifacts and works of art that you find of interest (historically or artistically) or that catch your attention. 

For EACH of these, jot down just enough information to convey:

  • who created the work
  • when
  • where
  • why you find it historically or artistically interesting

b) in addition, take notes that gather evidence to answer the specific question that I have asked for "your" focus topic.  You will find the questions listed below (see Directions Part E).

As you browse through the museum, you need to pay special attention to works of art and artifacts that you think help answer "your" focus question.  For EACH of these, jot down just enough information to convey:

  • who created the work
  • when
  • where
  • and, in GREATER DETAIL, what about this work provides evidence relevant to the focus question.


Directions Part E.

Here are the focus questions:

  • Ancient Near East:  We discussed the rise of kingship in the Ancient Near East and the functions that kings played in ancient states.  What evidence do you find in works of art and artifacts in the Met's Ancient Near East collection that shed light on how ancient Near Eastern kings demonstrated their power and legitimacy (their right to rule)?


  • Ancient Egypt:  Your readings briefly discussed the complexity of ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.  What evidence do you find in works of art and artifacts in the Met's Ancient Egyptian collection that shed light on how ancient Egyptians viewed birth, death, the afterlife, and other aspects of their religious beliefs?


  • Greece and Rome:  We discussed the cultural influence that Hellenistic Greeks and Romans had on the peoples that they conquered and also the influence that these conquered peoples had on Greece and Rome.  What evidence do you find in works of art and artifacts in the Met's Greek and Roman collection that shed light on this reciprocal cultural influence?


  • Medieval Europe:  When we discussed the Medieval world view, we focused on efforts to "harmonize" worldly and secular themes and "unify" Christian and non-Christian knowledge into one "orderly" system of faith, thought, and aesthetics.  What evidence do you find in works of art and artifacts in the Met's Medieval Europe collection that shed light on this pursuit of "harmony, unity and order"?


  • The Renaissance:  One important cultural theme that emerges from our readings on the Renaissance is the rise of individualism.  Examine the collections of paintings, drawings, and sculptures relevant to the Renaissance (see above).  What evidence do you find that Renaissance artists and their subjects (the people they were depicting) were asserting their individuality through works of art?


  • The Influence of Islamic Culture on Venice:  the Islamic and Christian cultures that emerged as successors to the Roman Empire can be seen historically as "siblings."  They exercised a continuing and important influence on one another.  To varying degrees, both Islamic and Christian cultures downplayed the significance of these cultural interactions.  Some historians argue that Europeans often portrayed the Islamic world as "Oriental" (as "eastern" and thus "exotic," "different" and, by implication, culturally inferior despite its great wealth).  

Focus on the period from the 1200s through the 1600s:  do you find evidence in these works of art and artifacts that Venetians depicted the Islamic world as "Oriental" (as exotic, different, and inferior)?  If so, explain; if not, how would you characterize Venetian depictions of Islamic culture in the 1200s-1600s?


Directions, Part F:

You must turn your notebook in to me on the bus trip back to Bloomsburg.