The Morgan Collection

The Morgan Collection

The famous American banker and financier J. P. Morgan (1837–1913) began collecting medieval manuscripts and rare books in the 1890s, a date coinciding with the death of his father, Junius Morgan, and J. P.’s inheritance of the family business. Over the next two decades, Morgan’s collecting accelerated, as he accumulated paintings, medieval artwork, and gems. He amassed a fine collection of enamels, including the Hoentschel Collection and—most important for this exhibit—the Zwenigorodskoi Collection of Byzantine enamels.

Morgan’s own opinions of his collection are difficult to pinpoint: he destroyed many of his letters and personal papers.  But the high regard in which he held his collections is clear.  He appointed experts and connoisseurs to help him with his own collection and with his work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These men, including Edward Robinson, Henry Kent, and Wilhelm Valentiner, were major voices in the revival of interest in early Christian art in the 20th century.

After Morgan’s death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art arranged a blockbuster exhibition: more than 4,000 items from his collection filled 20,000 square feet of the museum. The exhibit’s success secured a “munificent gift” from Morgan’s son; the Morgan collection of artwork went to the Met in 1917. J. P. Morgan’s rare books, manuscripts, and selected artworks—including some enamels—formed the basis of the Morgan Library & Museum.  Select items found their way into other collections, including the Louvre.

J. P. Morgan’s collections raised the profile of Byzantine art, both in the public mind and in the critical literature. Descriptions of the Zwenigorodskoi Collection can give us an idea of how Byzantine art was viewed in the early twentieth century: In 1912, O. M. Dalton wrote of their “convention,” “severity,” and “self-abnegation,” saying that “these generalized forms express real feeling, because the maker of them was at unity with their tradition.”

 
More information ...

More Exhibit Items

Alexandre du Sommerard and the Musée de Cluny
Alexandre du Sommerard and the Musée de Cluny

The Basilevsky Collection
The Basilevsky Collection

The Zwenigorodskoi Collection: Exquisite Book for Exquisite Enamels
The Zwenigorodskoi Collection: Exquisite Book for Exquisite Enamels

Johann Schulz and Early Publication of the Zwenigorodskoi Collection
Johann Schulz and Early Publication of the Zwenigorodskoi Collection

Stasov and the Legacy of Zwenigorodskoi’s Catalog and Collection
Stasov and the Legacy of Zwenigorodskoi’s Catalog and Collection

The Botkin Collection and the Naïvete of the Educated Consumer
The Botkin Collection and the Naïvete of the Educated Consumer

The Spitzer Collection
The Spitzer Collection

The Morgan Collection
The Morgan Collection

E. Guilhou’s Collection of Ancient Rings
E. Guilhou’s Collection of Ancient Rings