The Metropolitan Museum of Art received its first examples of arms and armor in 1896. Thanks to a substantial group of Japanese arms and armor and a major private collection of European arms and armor, both acquired by purchase in 1904, the Museum's collection quickly achieved international recognition. This led to the establishment of a separate Department of Arms and Armor in 1912, which remains the only one of its kind in the United States. Always among the Museum's most popular attractions, the Arms and Armor Galleries were renovated and reinstalled in 1991 to better display the outstanding collection of armor and weapons of sculptural and ornamental beauty from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and America. The collection ranks with the other great armories of the world, in Vienna, Madrid, Dresden, and Paris.
In addition to the fine examples of European armor, firearms, and swords, there are on view many spectacular works from the Metropolitan's renowned collection of Japanese arms and armor, the most comprehensive outside Japan. Galleries are also devoted to arms from various Islamic cultures and to American arms from the Colonial era to the late 19th century. The collection, the most encyclopedic in the world, now consists of more than 14,000 objects that range in date from the fifth through the 19th century, and includes everything from minute ornamental sword fittings to full suits of armor.
The focus of the collection is on outstanding craftsmanship and decoration, that is, arms often intended solely for display rather than for actual use. Outstanding among the Metropolitan's holdings are a superb series of tournament and parade armors. Notable among these are: a series of five armors made in the English royal workshops at Greenwich for Tudor courtiers; magnificent Renaissance parade pieces inspired by the Antique, including a helmet dated 1543 that is the masterpiece of Filippo Negroli, one of the finest Milanese armorers of the 16th century; and a sumptuous armor covered with representations of foliage, human figures, and grotesques worked in low relief, made around 1555 for King Henry II of France.
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