A Message from the Director

Read an introduction to The Met’s new Collecting Practices feature.

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A Story Behind Every Work of Art

Each object in our collection has a unique history, and part of the Museum’s mission is to tell these stories. When, how, and where was it created? Who made it, and why? What was going on at that time and place in history? The Met also examines the ownership history or provenance: where has the object been, and in whose care?

By exploring the journey of an object from maker to The Met, we see personal and world histories play out—objects changing hands to mark milestones such as births and marriages or due to forces like war, shifts in societal norms, and political turmoil. Not only do we use the information to further our understanding of the artwork but we also use it to determine whether the provenance meets relevant laws and guidelines and the art work should join (or remain in) the Museum’s collection. We publicly share ownership histories on our website—The Met was one of the first institutions to do so on such a large scale—and invite new information by posting an email address on every object page. We also provide a list of objects that were returned in recent years further below in this section, and will soon be publishing related images and ownership histories for these objects as well. 

The Met is committed to responsible collecting and goes to great lengths to ensure that all objects entering the collection meet our strict standards. Additionally, as laws and guidelines on collecting have changed over time, so have The Met’s policies and procedures. Occasionally, new information arises from our own research or from external experts; we welcome this new information and are committed to sharing and acting on it as appropriate. The Met is a leader in provenance research and has a long and public track record of working collaboratively to resolve questions about an object’s history and in comprehensively reviewing and resolving. 

The topic of repatriation or restitution (the return of a work of art to a country of origin or a previous owner) has long been an important focus for The Met. The subject is rightly receiving increasing public attention, further encouraging museums like The Met to explain what we know about our collection, how we acquire objects, and how we approach provenance research and questions about returns. 

The Met’s collecting practices are guided by three key principles: research, transparency, and collaboration. Read on for more details.


The Met has one of the largest faculties of curators, conservators, and scientists in the world. These scholars work collaboratively with the Museum’s legal and archives staff to learn as much as possible about a work of art. This research often benefits from the welcome input of outside experts—including journalists, government officials, and community members—and the increasingly active digital circulation of material. 

The Met shares this research through our online collection, in scholarly publications, and in exhibitions. One notable example is the exhibition Rayyane Tabet: Alien Property, which told the story of the ninth-century B.C.E. stone reliefs excavated in the early 20th century at Tell Halaf, Syria, and their subsequent destruction, loss, or dispersal to museum collections around the world, including The Met.

Broadly, there are two main areas where this research work is concentrated. First is the provenance of works that changed hands in German-occupied Europe during the Nazi era in response to the systematic, widespread looting by the Nazi regime. The second area of focus encompasses, ancient art, archaeological materials, and cultural property—specifically how these objects were discovered and subsequently changed hands.


The Met has a responsibility to be transparent about the works in our collection and what we know about the objects. The collection is available to the public, both in the galleries and online, and we are continually publishing images and the known ownership history for all works in our online collection.

The Met's collection is one of the most accessible and discoverable on the Internet. Through the Museum's Open Access initiative, we have made all images of public-domain works in our collection free to use without restrictions under the Creative Commons Zero license. Further, through The Met Collection API, users can connect to a live feed of all data and images. The Met also shares images and information about works in the collection with outside registries, such as the Association of American Museum Directors object registry for New Acquisitions of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art, the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal Project, and Digital Benin.

To complement the research of our staff and collaborators, we also invite the sharing of information or concerns by emailing feedback@metmuseum.org; there is also a link for sending feedback on each collection object web page. Messages are read by a dedicated team of staff and forwarded to the appropriate department.


As a universal museum presenting art from around the world, The Met is dedicated to working closely with our international colleagues on the study, display, and interpretation of art. The Museum is deeply engaged with governments, cultural organizations, and scholars across the globe in a range of education initiatives, discourse, and cooperation that brings new depths of understanding and innovation to the work we do. From expansive programs for object loans and traveling exhibitions; to formalized engagement with countries like Korea, Greece, and India; to supportive partnering with organizations like the International Council of Museums (ICOM), The Met is truly a nexus of global cultural activity.