“Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth”

#14: Go to a museum with my mom

My mom and I with part of the exhibit "Tiny Taxonomy".

My mom and I with part of the exhibit “Tiny Taxonomy”.

While I will openly admit that I have no artistic talent whatsoever, I can say that I appreciate art more than I think a lot of even my closest friends know I do. My mom is also a huge fan of art, even though my dad is the actual artist of the family. My mom and I have together been to several famous art museums before (The Getty, Norton Simon Museum to name a few) but haven’t been to one on this side of the country together in a while. I wanted to go to a museum with my mom this summer so I put it on my list. For a while she’s been talking about taking me to her favorite museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. That’s where we decided to go!

The museum from the outside patio.

The museum from the outside patio.

I think I should first point out, or rather rant, that every time I plan on going to a museum, something happens to my eyes a few days prior. Last year, one of my summer goals was to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with Nick and Miranda. A few days before, I scratched my cornea. When Nate and I went biking a few days ago to eat at the Bistro Bus (see last post), something got in my eye during our bike ride and I again scratched my cornea only this time it also got infected. But ain’t no cornea issues going to stop me from seeing priceless works of art! I grabbed my antibiotic drops and we hit the road.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is in Boston basically right next to the Museum of Fine Arts and Wentworth so it’s about two hours from where we live. We got there at about 11:30 and parked right in the MFA parking garage. We waited for our family friend, Jane, who works in the area, to join us for the day and then we all went inside.

The museum consists of two different buildings: the “old” one and the “new” one. The new one is your typical museum-looking building; it’s really inviting and has lots of glass and modern decorations. The old building (which is connected to the new one via a hallway), is Isabella’s creation. She had the museum built right after her husband died and decorated each room herself. It’s slightly less inviting-looking, but I think it’s nifty.

I think I first need to explain this museum before I describe what’s inside because it’s quite different from any other museum I’ve been to. Isabella collected, or had other people collect for her, works of art from around the world. As mentioned, when her husband died she had a museum built for all of her artwork and so she could buy and display more. The building is absolutely incredible. To describe it in words would do no justice. It’s four stories (the fourth floor were her living quarters and are now mostly offices) complete with huge rooms, small rooms, dimly lit rooms, brightly lit rooms (natural sunlight), halls, a “chapel”, a “little salon”, and my favorite: the Courtyard (more on all of this later).

The museum is set up like a house. The art is in the furniture (chairs, tables, fireplaces), on the walls (paintings, sculptures, wallpaper, chandelers), on tables (jewerly, household items) on the floor (rugs). There are no little plaques that tell you who did what and where and with what materials and when. Instead, in each room there are four room guides (one for each wall of the room) that gives you all of this information. Isabella wanted people to walk in this museum and feel however they did, instead of being told what it is.

At the entrance to the old building (which you get to through the new building) the woman told us that there is no photography or cell phone use there. This being said, I not only noticed people taking pictures with huge, expensive camera (and then being told to put it away), I also noticed room guards taking our their cell phones and texting or something while on their shift.

After the first hallway, you walk right into the Courtyard. Words can’t describe and I won’t begin to so I posted a picture (don’t have a cow – I didn’t take this one). The Courtyard changes about 9 times a year. I really loved this room.

Fenway Court. Courtyard

Here’s one I took. Sorry! Couldn’t resist.


Around the perimeter of the Courtyard were tons of rooms:

  1. The Yellow Room
  2. Spanish Chapel
  3. Chinese Loggia
  4. Blue Room
  5. Macknight Room

As I mentioned, I love all art but my favorite is probably Italian Renassiance, Baroque, or Spanish, so I was thrilled about the Spanish Chapel. When we walked in I saw a painting that I had written a paper on about a year and a half ago in my Art History class at UMASS (in the paper I compared it with two other pieces with a similar subject). This was crazy to me. I noted all the details I had in my paper but in real life. It was so cool! Turns out this was Isabella’s first purchased piece of art. It’s called Virgin of Mercy by Francisco de Zurbanan.

After we looked at the Spanish Chapel and the Chinese Loggia, we watched a presentation by one of the volunteers of the museum and learned about Isabella’s life and her love of art. If you go to this museum I highly recommend listening to this presentation! (only about 20 minutes long). We then had lunch at the outdoor cafe (the indoor restaurant had a long wait) and got pre-made (but tasty!) sandwiches. We then went to an outdoor exhibit called Tiny Taxonomy of 25 tiny plants in tiny enclosures. So cute and nice! I was able to photograph those.


We then went to the second floor which had the following rooms:

  1. Dutch Room
  2. Early Italian Room
  3. Little Salon
  4. Raphael Room
  5. Short Gallery
  6. Tapestry Room

This floor was awesome. We first went to the Early Italian Room. This had a lot of religious art on wood with tons of gold in the paintings. The room itself was really lovely, too. When we went into the Raphael Room, I noticed two other paintings that I had written about in the same paper, comparing them with Virgin of Mercy. These two were Virgin and Child with a Goldfinch by Francesco Franica and Virgin and Child with a Swallow by Francesco Pesellino. It was really incredible to see these words in “real life” rather than just on the Internet.

English: Pesellino. Madonna and Child with a S...

English: Pesellino. Madonna and Child with a Swallow. c. 1445. 60 x 40 cm. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Little Salon we couldn’t go into but The Short Gallery was one of my favorite spots. This was a little nook that was home to a lot of portraits of Isabella and her family members (unfortunately, one of the most famous ones, Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice by Anders Zorn, was on display at a different place).

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice (1894), by ...

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice (1894), by Anders Zorn (Gardner Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, I really liked this room because it had a nifty set of drawers that had tons of drawings in them from really famous artists. Degas is one of my favorite artists and I was saddened when I saw the sign that read the four titles of the drawings missing and then the sentence “STOLEN MARCH 18, 1990”. On that day, thieves came into the museum dressed as Boston police officers, handcuffed the guards, and stole 13 pieces of art. 😦 The Dutch Room was also missing two pieces from the theft, art done by Rembrandt. It was here in The Dutch Room that I ran into my dear friend, Jojo,’s mother…What are the chances!? The Tapestry Room was really cool as well. I don’t really care for tapestries but I liked the largeness of the room and a specific painting, Archangel Michael by Pedro Garcia de Benabarre.

We then went up to the third and final floor (the fourth floor is not open to the public). This floor has the following rooms:

  1. The Veronese Room
  2. The Titian Room
  3. The Long Gallery
  4. The Chapel
  5. The Gothic Room

Probably the coolest part of The Veronese Room was The Coronation of Hebe by Veronese on the ceiling. Other than that, I don’t remember too much about the art in that room. The Titian Room, on the other hand, was really cool. The walls were very bright red and Isabella had put fabric from her favorite ball gown as part of the wallpaper. One of the most famous pieces in the museum, The Rape of Eurpora, was in this room.

The Rape of Europa (1562) by Titian is one of ...

The Long Gallery is what it sounds like. I really liked the things in here. A lot of it was personal notes from or to Isabella Stewart Gardner and there were also some old church pews and stained glass. The Chapel was part of The Long Gallery, towards the end of the hall. The Gothic Room was very cool too. The lighting was mostly dark and featured another portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner (see below).

We then went back to the first floor and checked out The Yellow Room, The Blue Room, and The MacKnight Room. These were all small rooms compared to those upstairs, but still had tons of awesome art and furniture in it. One of the room guards talked to us for a bit in The Yellow Room; he was really nice and helpful and seemed to really appreciate the art there, whereas a room guard in The Raphael Room, when I asked what her favorite piece in the room was, claimed she did not have one. (Instead she said her favorite piece in the museum was in The Blue Room).

I know I say this in every post but you really need to go here. If you take an interest in art, religion, history, people, architecture, homes, or horticulture, you’ll love this museum. Like I said, it’s not your typical museum where each room has ten paintings and a bench in it; there is so much to see. It’s really affordable ($5 if you’re a student, free if your name is Isabella!) and worth every dime. Especially after taking an Art History course, I could really appreciate the art and Isabella’s efforts. It was also, of course, very nice to spend time with my mom and seeing her favorite pieces and rooms and hearing her experiences from past visits. She claimed this was the best visit she had, because it was bright outside and therefore lighted up the place better.

I think I would say that this museum is great for people of all ages. I saw a lot of elderly couples there as well as several groups of children on field trips who seemed to be enjoying themselves with the tour guides. Don’t bank on taking pictures and if you’re a gift shop type of person, bring a lot of moo-la. Try to go on a well-lit day, say “hello” to the cute guy at the coat-check for me, and have a blast. I can promise you it is unlike any other thing you’ll ever see and it was definitely my favorite thing I’ve done on my 2013 list so far.

More information:

Website: http://www.gardnermuseum.org/home/

Twitter: @gardnermuseum

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gardnermuseum?fref=ts

Related articles

My Pictures:

Beautiful trees on the outside of the new part of the museum.

Beautiful trees on the outside of the new part of the museum.

Jane and my mom.

Jane and my mom.

Tiny Taxonomy

Tiny Taxonomy







2 thoughts on ““Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth”

  1. Yes, my favorite museum!
    1. You, my dear, are a museum freak too like Aunt Debbie and me. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT!!!! 2.Don’t forget, on my deathbed—–“Mom, they found the Vermeer!” I would die happy.

  2. Pingback: Button, button, who’s got the button? | Summertime Goals

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