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Philippe de Montebello Announces Retirement from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Philippe de Montebello. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Don Pollard.

Throughout this period, the Museum under Mr. de Montebello’s leadership has also mounted an ambitious, critically praised, and widely attended program of some 30 special exhibitions annually, involving not only all of the institution’s 17 curatorial departments, but also presenting celebrated works of art on loan from public and private collections around the world. Among them—in but the briefest summary—have been such landmark exhibitions as: The Great Bronze Age of China (1980); The Horses of San Marco (1980); The Vatican Collections (1983); Manet, 1832-1883 (1983); Van Gogh in Arles (1984); India! (1985-1986); Degas (1989-1990); Velázquez (1989-1990); Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries (1990-1991); Seurat (1991-1992); Splendors of Imperial China (1996); The Glory of Byzantium (1997); Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids (1999-2000); Vermeer and the Delft School (2001); Tapestry in the Renaissance (2002); Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman (2003); and Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings (2005). He has focused particular attention over the last decade on exhibitions that explore and interpret the Met’s own collections, including Goya in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1995), Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt (1995-96), From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1998-1999), The Year One (2001), and the recent showing of the Museum’s entire holdings in Dutch paintings, The Age of Rembrandt (2007-2008), which coincided with the publication of a monumental, two-volume catalogue of this collection. Mr. de Montebello’s tenure has been marked throughout by notable growth in the institution’s publishing program. Now the leading art book publisher in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum issues between 25 and 30 lavishly illustrated, prize-winning collection and exhibition catalogues each year, along with an annual Journal containing scholarly articles written by both resident and outside authorities on works in the Museum’s collections, and a quarterly Bulletin that is sent to its more than 130,000 members, whose fall issues Mr. de Montebello converted into an annual survey of the year’s most notable acquisitions.

The Met also issues many publications specifically designed for students, along with boxed resource kits and other curriculum materials for teachers. In addition to spearheading the expansion of the Uris Center, Mr. de Montebello has seen to the unprecedented expansion of educational efforts at the Museum—welcoming at peak levels more than 250,000 school children, adult learners, student interns, and professional educators each year, as well as more than 50 doctoral and post-doctoral international fellows, the largest such program in the United States. This has been accomplished while ensuring the continuing popularity of and critical acclaim for its annual roster of concerts, lectures, and scholarly symposia now attended by more than 80,000 people yearly. As a special reflection of the Director’s goal of making scholarly use of the Internet, the Museum also established an unprecedented online resource called the Timeline of Art History—featuring works of art reflecting more than 5,000 years from prehistory to the present day. This learning tool is now consulted by some 24 million visitors annually to the Museum’s website.

Long the narrator of the Museum’s audio guide programming—which now features a “Director’s Selections” tour that he himself recorded in five of the eight different languages offered—Mr. de Montebello’s has become one of the most instantly recognizable and respected voices in the cultural world.

The Met—and Its Director—on the World Stage
As the senior director among the world’s major art institutions, Mr. de Montebello has served as a global ambassador widely known for his impassioned advocacy for the enduring concept of the encyclopedic museum. He was, for example, among the first in the art world to raise warnings about the threats to Afghanistan’s now-destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas, and has generously provided Metropolitan Museum resources and expertise to crucial art preservation efforts throughout the world. He has also been a leader in an informal international museum directors’ association, working with his colleagues at its annual summit meetings to codify and maintain the highest museological standards among institutions throughout the world. Mr. de Montebello has lectured on the Met and museum issues not only throughout the United States, but also in Europe and Asia.

Long active as well in creating coalitions among, and working to help craft standards for, all museums, he has served as a leader within the museum community on issues of provenance, specifically in the areas of antiquities and of spoliated World War II-era art. An advocate of ongoing, transparent research into the ownership history of the Museum’s collections, he served as chairman of the 1998 Task Force of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which drafted guidelines still governing museum-wide response to World War II-era art claims.

And in 2006 he successfully negotiated a precedent-setting agreement with the Italian government ending years of disputes regarding the legal ownership of several works in its Department of Greek and Roman Art. Under the terms of the agreement, Italy provided long-term loans to the Met in exchange for the return of these works.

Over the years Mr. de Montebello has been awarded many honors, including Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1991 (he was promoted to the rank of Officier in 2007); Order of Isabel la Catolica, Encomienda de Numero; the Spanish Institute Gold Medal Award; Knight Commander, Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great; the 2002 Blérancourt Prize for contributions to the cultural bond between France and America; the National Medal of Arts from the President of the United States in 2003; the 2004 Amigos del Museo del Prado Prize; the 2005 C.I.N.O.A. (Confederation Internationale de Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art) Prize; and in 2007, both the Mayor of New York’s Award for Arts and Culture, and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold & Silver Star, from the Government of Japan.

He has received honorary doctorates from Harvard University, New York University, Dartmouth College, Lafayette College, Bard College, Iona College, and the Savannah College of the Arts. He serves on the Board of Trustees of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, and on the Advisory Council of Columbia University’s Department of Art and Archaeology, and is a Trustee of the American Federation of Arts.

He and his wife, Edith, raised three children in New York City and now have four grandchildren.

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