From great art collections to priceless gems and cultural artefacts, the world’s top museums are home to fascinating exhibits and are a brilliant addition to any holiday.
To celebrate International Museum Day 2016, which takes place on 21st May and aims to raise awareness on how important museums are to society, we take a look at 10 of the best museums in the world and some the standout pieces in their collections:
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Presiding over the centre of Paris, the Louvre buildings began life in the 12th century as fort overseeing the comings and goings along the Seine. After years of development and grandiose additions by a succession art-loving French kings including Francois I who bought the prized Mona Lisa and Henri II who brought Michelangelo’s work to Paris.
The Louvre now comprises of two former royal palaces, the Louvre and the Tuileries, which in the wake of the French Revolution were effectively nationalised along with their contents opening as a museum in 1793.
While the museum and its contents have continuously been added to, it is President Mitterrand’s contribution that has left perhaps the biggest mark. The Grand Louvre project saw the building of the glass pyramid and the integration of the Richlieu wing into the Museum – doubling the exhibition space and giving the site its famous entrance.
Don’t miss: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue which looks over the Daru stairs and the Venus de Milo.
National Museum of China, Beijing, China
Flanking the eastern side of Tiananmen Square is the behemoth National Museum of China, which has more than one million historical and cultural items on display. Formed by the merger of the National Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution in 2003, the state owned museum houses collections dedicated to China’s history – the Ancient China exhibition on the basement floor is outstanding.
Don’t miss: Houmuwu Ding, the biggest piece of bronzeware in China, the flag flown at the Proclamation of the People’s Republic of China and the Han Dynasty burial suits sewn with gold thread.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, USA
National Museum of Natural History: Founded in 1910, the National Museum of Natural History is the USA’s answer to the British Musuem, only in true American style – its collections are substantially larger. Over 126 million scientific specimens and cultural artefacts are housed in the museum which is part of one of the world’s preeminent museum and research complexes, the Smithsonian Institution.
Don’t miss: One of the world’s most famous jewels, The Hope Diamond, a Live Coral Reef and the museum’s iconic African Elephant.
National Air and Space Museum: Another of the Smithsonian’s sites, the National Air and Space Museum, began life with the purchase of 20 kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission in 1876. The centre has now amassed the world’s largest collection of items related to human flight and space exploration.
Don’t miss: The world’s first airplane, the Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1 that carried Captain Chuck Yeager through the speed of sound for the first time and the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, which brought Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin home from the Moon.
British Museum, London, UK
Over two million years of human history is catalogued in the British Museum, the first national public museum in the world. Founded in 1753 when royal physician Sir Hans Sloane, a noted naturalist, left his collection of 71,000 objects to King George II before an Act of Parliament established the British Museum, which opened to the public six years later.
Today, Sir Sloane’s original collection has grown to over 8 million objects which are housed in the UK’s largest and most popular museum.
Don’t miss: The Rosetta Stone, the study of which allowed us to decipher hieroglyphics, the Parthenon Sculptures and the iconic collection of Mummies which includes a 4 metre crocodile.
National Gallery, London, UK
Situated in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is home to over 2,300 paintings including some of the most famous works ever created. The seedlings of the museum were planted when the British government bought 38 pieces from the heirs of the banker and art patron John Julius Angerstein in 1824.
Don’t miss: Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, Hans Holbein’s Ambassadors, J. M. W. Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or simply ‘the Met’ is the USA’s largest art museum and features over two million works from the last 5,000 years.
Founded in 1870 by a group of lawyers, collectors, businessmen, artists, civic leaders and philanthropists to ‘collect, study, conserve, and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge, and ideas.’
Don’t miss: Madonna and Child by Duccio, The Card Players by Cézanne and Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt.
Vatican Museums, Vatican City
Home to arguably the world’s greatest collection of art are the Vatican Museums. With origins in 1506 when Pope Julius II purchased the sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons from a vineyard owner, the collections have been enlarged by pontiffs ever since.
Classical sculptures and some of the most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world are displayed in the Vatican and Belvedere Palaces which house the collections.
Don’t miss: Highlighting only a few pieces is incredibly difficult when it comes to the Vatican Museums, however the blockbuster pieces include Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Raphael Rooms and the double spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo.
Tate Modern, London, UK
One of four separate museums (the others being Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives) collectively comprising 70,000 works, the Tate Modern started life in 1897 with a devotion to British art. In the century since it has grown to feature pieces from across the world and is the proud custodian of some of the finest collections of Surrealist, Early Modern, Abstract, Minimalist, Pop Art and Conceptual art.
Don’t miss: The Shakespeare inspired Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, John Constable’s Flatford Mill and Dame Barbara Hepworth’s Pelagos sculpture.
Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy
Housing what’s often referred to as the ‘queen of all private art collections’, is the Galleria Borghese.
The art collection was formed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, patron of famed sculpture Bernini, until his death in 1633. Originally housed in the cardinal’s residence near St Peter’s, the collection was transferred to its current location just outside Porta Pinciana in the 1620s.
Don’t miss: Caravaggio’s Boy with a Basket of Fruit, Bernini’s Ratto di Proserpina and Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love.
Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia
One of the world’s oldest and largest museums, the State Hermitage is housed across six historic buildings and palaces that preside of the Neva River in St Petersburg. The main building, The Winter Palace is a stunning Baroque–style structure worth visiting for its architectural qualities. The collection of 2.7 million exhibits was started by Catherine the Great in 1764 and is now regarded as one of the most gloriously diverse in the world.
Don’t miss: Cézanne’s Girl at the Piano, Michelangelo’s Crouching Boy and the Pavilion Hall.
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