The Morgan Library and Museum—colloquially just “The Morgan” —was named for its founder, financier J.P. Morgan, who established it in 1906 as a “private retreat” near his home on 36th Street of New York City. Unsurprisingly, then, it has a certain homey elegance as one walks through its rooms and takes in the many treasures that he collected throughout his life. (It became a private institution in 1924, and was declared a New York City and National Landmark in 1966.)
The architecture and decorations of the museum are a work of art in themselves; the West Room alone has been called “one of the greatest achievements of American interior decoration.” This marvelous study is decorated with burgundy wall coverings, stained glass windows and many works of art, including paintings of the late Morgan and his wife. Standing out from the decor is a thick metal vault, open to the public, which contains some of the rarest books and pieces.
Outside of this room, the domed ceiling of the Rotunda was painted by American artist H. Siddons Mowbray, with designs inspired by the Renaissance master Raphael. The library and librarian’s office are equally enchanting to the eyes.
There is not room here to list all of the great pieces present in the Morgan. It holds several notable Bibles (including the famous Morgan Bible and three that were printed by Gutenberg), prints and drawings of artists ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso, a manuscript of The Christmas Carol with handwritten notes by Charles Dickens, and many Victorian instruments. One of the more important American pieces is a note that Frederick Douglass wrote his former master (“I love you, but hate slavery”).
One specialty of the museum is ancient Near Eastern artifacts; it has one of the most extensive collection of cylinder seals in the world. Also notable is a copper statue of King Ur-Namma, the Mesopotamian ruler of Ur, Sumer and Akkad. Interest in this region also goes down into more modern items, such as two excellent Armenian books which were given silver covers in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Morgan Library and Museum is not one of the best known attractions in New York City, but it is an underrated gem. So if you have an interest in old books, history, beautiful art or architecture, you may want to stop by and take a tour.