One needn’t be a patron of the arts to be wowed by the Gardner Museum. Its namesake traveled tirelessly to acquire a world-class art collection, which is housed in a Venetian-style palazzo where flowers bloom, sculpted nudes pose in hidden corners, and entire ceilings reveal their European origins. The palace is complemented by a striking modern building, designed by Renzo Piano, which holds an intimate performance hall, galleries, and a charming café.
25 Evans Way • “T” station: Museum (green line/E train) • 617 566 1401 • www.gardnermuseum.org • Open 11am–5pm Wed–Mon (to 9pm Thu) • Adm $10–$15; free for under 17s and anyone named Isabella
The most artistically significant gallery was conceived by Gardner as the palazzo’s grand reception hall. It has an Italian flavor and showcases Cillini’s Bindo Altoviti and Titian’s Rape of Europa, one of the most important paintings inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Gardner integrated Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Gothic elements in the magnificent courtyard, which is out of bounds but can be viewed through the graceful arches surrounding it.
Roman sculptural fragments and busts line glass cases that are filled with unusual 15th- and 16th-century books and artifacts. One such rare tome is a 1481 copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which features drawings by Botticelli.
Restored to its original 1914 state, this sweeping gallery houses two 16th-century Belgian tapestry cycles: one depicting Scenes from the Life of Cyrus the Great and the other Scenes from the Life of Abraham.
Housing some of Gardner’s most impres-sive Dutch and Flemish paintings, this room lost a Vermeer and three Rembrandts in a 1990 art heist that still remains unsolved.
The Macknight, Yellow and Blue rooms house portraits and sketches by Gardner’s contemporaries such as, Manet, Matisse, Degas, and Sargent. Of particular note is Sargent’s Mrs Gardner in White.
John Singer Sargent’s grand and somewhat risqué 1888 portrait of Mrs Gardner is here, as well as medieval liturgical artwork from the 13th century.
With its richly gilded and painted Spanish-leather wallcoverings, it’s easy to miss this gallery’s highlight: look up at Paolo Veronese’s 16th-century masterwork The Coronation of Hebe.
With stunning mosaic tiling and a Moorish arch, the Spanish Cloister looks like a hidden patio at the Alhambra. But Sargent’s sweeping El Jaleo (1882), all sultry shadows and rich hues, gives the room its distinctiveness.
Gardner was the first collector to bring works by Raphael to the US; three of his major works are here, alongside Botticelli’s Tragedy of Lucretia and Crivelli’s St. George and Slaying the Dragon.
Before Isabella Stewart Gardner died in 1924 she stipulated in her will that her home and her collection become a public museum. She believed that works of art should be displayed in a setting that would fire the imagination. So the collection, exhibited over three floors, is arranged purely to enhance the viewing of the individual treasures. To encourage visitors to respond to the artworks themselves, many of the 2,500 objects – from ancient Egyptian pieces to Matisse’s paintings – are left unlabeled, as Gardner had requested.