Thursday, March 10, 2016

From the Archives: A Fabulous Gift to Readers from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, March 10, 2016
Isabella reporting:

This post first appeared nearly four years ago, but that "fabulous gift" from one of the world's greatest art museums is still available, and it's an offer well worth exploring again for new treasures. Happy hunting!

It's a long time until Christmas, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art is playing the part of Santa and giving all us Nerdy History Folks the presents early. Dozens of digital versions of the Met's out-of-print exhibition catalogues and art books are now available online for FREE.

Yes, the price that can't be beat: free. Available both as Google books to read online or as higher-quality PDFs to be downloaded, these older titles are often impossible to find as books.  The digital versions aren't streamlined, either. All the original text, reproductions, and illustrations are included. Nor are these out-dated or irrelevant tomes; many of these books have permanent places on our Nerdy History Girls bookshelves.

Because the Met has such a vast and varied collection, the available books are equally diverse, ranging from ancient sculpture to medieval armor, Victorian furniture to modern musical instruments, portraits to tapestries. I can't begin to list them all here (here's the link to the search page), but I will recommend several favorite books that I own, wonderful, gloriously illustrated books produced by the Met's Costume Institute.

The striped taffeta robe á l'anglaise, top left, (French, c. 1785) is featured in The Age of Napoleon: Costume from Revolution to Empire, 1789-1815. French fashion changed dramatically in this time period, from the elaborate styles set by Queen Marie-Antoinette to the classically inspired elegance of Empress Josephine. There are also chapters devoted to jewels, military uniforms, court attire, and the influence of French fashion on American women.

The white cotton mull summer dress, right, might have been worn by an American Gibson Girl c. 1902-1904. It's to be found in Our New Clothes: Acquisitions of the 1990s. This collection ranges from a court lady's late 17th c. silk mantua to a man's red velvet suit designed by Tom Ford for Gucci in the 1990s. Also included are explanations of what made each garment a specially prized addition to the Met's collection.

The tableau of 18th c. French gowns, lower left, is from my all-time favorite costume book, Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth CenturyThis book is the catalogue to one of the most ravishing costume exhibitions ever mounted at the Met. The specially-created mannequins were posed not in display cases, but in the Museum's period rooms, almost like actors and actresses in some exquisite 18th c. drama. I love how the relationship between the ornate furnishings and the clothes is so effortlessly shown, and how the mannequins are beautifully "styled", with the appropriate jewelry, shoes, plumes, fans, and hair. It's a gorgeous, fanciful book, and one that's been highly prized (and priced!) on the used book market, and I'm so glad it's now available here.


Ann Sharp said...

Let me recommend generally to readers that an exhibition catalogue is often the very best source of information about 1) the specific objects in the exhibit and similar objects and 2) the way the objects fit into the context of their creation and use. A major exhibit will usually have the top expert on [whatever] write the exhibit catalogue entry on it, so the information is not only top quality, but also up to date.

Barbara H. said...

Thank you! Thank you! I missed this the first time and never thought to look at the Met's web site myself. I picked up several catalogues in addition to the ones you mentioned, a a nerdy historical girls delight. The one on Arms and Armor is short but has some beautiful photos.

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