The Morgan Library & Museum—formerly the Pierpont Morgan Library—is a museum and research library located at 225 Madison Avenue at East 36th Street in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. It was founded to house the private library of J. P. Morgan in 1906, which included manuscripts and printed books, some of them in rare bindings, as well as his collection of prints and drawings. The library was designed by Charles McKim of the firm of McKim, Mead and White and cost $1.2 million. It was made a public institution in 1924 by J. P. Morgan’s son John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., in accordance with his father’s will.
A complex of buildings in the heart of New York City, The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913), one of the preeminent collectors and cultural benefactors in the United States. As early as 1890 Morgan had begun to assemble a collection of illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.
The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1966 and was declared a National Historic Landmark later that same year.
Mr. Morgan’s library, as it was known in his lifetime, was built between 1902 and 1906 adjacent to his New York residence at Madison Avenue and 36th Street. Designed by Charles McKim of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, the library was intended as something more than a repository of rare materials. Majestic in appearance yet intimate in scale, the structure was to reflect the nature and stature of its holdings. The result was an Italian Renaissance-style palazzo with three magnificent rooms epitomizing America’s Age of Elegance.
Completed three years before McKim’s death, it is considered by many to be his masterpiece. In 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan’s death, his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr. (1867–1943), known as Jack, realized that the library had become too important to remain in private hands. In what constituted one of the most momentous cultural gifts in U.S. history, he fulfilled his father’s dream of making the library and its treasures available to scholars and the public alike by transforming it into a public institution.
Over the years—through purchases and generous gifts—The Morgan Library & Museum has continued to acquire rare materials as well as important music manuscripts, early children’s books, Americana, and materials from the twentieth century. Without losing its decidedly domestic feeling, the Morgan also has expanded its physical space considerably.
In 1928, the Annex building was erected on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street, replacing Pierpont Morgan’s residence. The Annex connected to the original McKim library by means of a gallery. In 1988, Jack Morgan’s former residence—a mid-nineteenth century brownstone on Madison Avenue and 37th Street—also was added to the complex. The 1991 garden court was constructed as a means to unite the various elements of the Morgan campus.
The largest expansion in the Morgan’s history, adding 75,000 square feet to the campus, was completed in 2006. Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano, the project increases exhibition space by more than fifty percent and adds important visitor amenities, including a new performance hall, a welcoming entrance on Madison Avenue, a new café and a new restaurant, a shop, a new reading room, and collections storage. Piano’s design integrates the Morgan’s three historical buildings with three new modestly scaled steel-and-glass pavilions. A soaring central court connects the buildings and serves as a gathering place for visitors in the spirit of an Italian piazza.
The new design integrates three historical buildings—the original 1906 Morgan Library, designed by Charles McKim; the 1928 Annex building, designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris; and the mid-nineteenth-century Morgan House—with three intimately scaled pavilions to create an accessible and inviting setting. The three new pavilions face 36th Street, 37th Street, and Madison Avenue, with the largest centering the campus and providing the new entrance on Madison. The smallest contains a 20 x 20 x 20 foot “cube” gallery, the Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, and was inspired by Renaissance chambers Piano encountered in Italy. It is an essential element in the interplay of the three new structures with the three historical buildings.
The pavilions are constructed of faceted steel panels and glass, with the steel coated in a rose-hued, off-white paint (a subtle nod to the Tennessee pink marble of the McKim building and Annex). The design also features high-transparency, low-iron glass and baffled roof systems for filtered natural light. The glass-enclosed Gilbert Court connects the buildings and seamlessly joins the old and new, providing many views both in and out of the 151,000-square-foot campus. In total, the Morgan expansion project adds about 75,000 square feet to the complex.
Today the library is a complex of buildings which serve as a museum and scholarly research center. The scope of the collection was shaped in its early years as a private collection by Belle da Costa Greene, J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian, who became the library’s first director and served from the time that it became public until her retirement in 1948. Her successor Frederick Baldwin Adams, Jr. managed the Library until 1969 and was also world-renowned for his own personal collections.
The most internationally significant part of the collection is its relatively small but very select collection of illuminated manuscripts, and medieval artworks such as the Stavelot Triptych and the metalwork covers of the Lindau Gospels. Among the more famous manuscripts are the Morgan Bible, Morgan Beatus, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Farnese Hours, Morgan Black Hours, and Codex Glazier. The manuscript collection also includes authors’ original manuscripts, including some by Sir Walter Scott and Honoré de Balzac, as well as the scraps of paper on which Bob Dylan jotted down “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “It Ain’t Me Babe”.
It also contains a large collection of incunabula, prints, and drawings of European artists—Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Gainsborough, Dürer, and Picasso; early printed Bibles, among them three Gutenberg Bibles; and many examples of fine bookbinding. Other holdings include material from ancient Egypt and medieval liturgical objects (including Coptic literature examples), Émile Zola, William Blake’s original drawings for his edition of the Book of Job; concept drawings for The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; a Percy Bysshe Shelley notebook; originals of poems by Robert Burns; a unique Charles Dickens manuscript of A Christmas Carol with handwritten edits and markup from the author; a journal by Henry David Thoreau; an extraordinary collection of autographed and annotated libretti and scores from Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mahler and Verdi, and Mozart’s Haffner Symphony in D Major; and manuscripts of George Sand, William Makepeace Thackeray, Lord Byron, Charlotte Brontë and nine of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, including Ivanhoe.
The collection still includes a few Old Master paintings collected by Morgan between 1907 and 1911 (works by Hans Memling, Perugino, and Cima da Conegliano), but this has never been the collection’s focus, and Ghirlandaio’s masterpiece Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni was sold to Thyssen when the Great Depression worsened the Morgan family’s finances.
Other notable artists of the Morgan Library and Museum are Jean de Brunhoff, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, John Leech, Gaston Phoebus, Rembrandt van Rijn, and John Ruskin. In 2018, the Morgan acquired the drawing Bathers by Renoir, a previously unexhibited work.
The Morgan has one of the world’s greatest collections of ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals, small stone cylinders finely engraved with images for transfer to clay by rolling. It also contains many music manuscripts and a considerable collection of Victoriana, including one of the most important collections of Gilbert and Sullivan manuscripts and related artifacts.
Of interest to Australians is a copy of the letter written by Andrea Corsali from India in 1516. This letter, one of five in existence, contains the first description of the Southern Cross which is also illustrated by Corsali in this letter and which was also named “croce” by him. One other copy of the letter is in the British Library and two are in Australia. The fifth is in the Library of Princeton University. The letter is also readily available in Ramusio’s Viaggi, a compendium of letters of exploration, published in Venice in three volumes from 1555.
Pierpont Morgan’s immense holdings ranged from Egyptian art to Renaissance paintings to Chinese porcelains. For his library, Morgan acquired illuminated, literary, and historical manuscripts, early printed books, and old master drawings and prints.
Drawings Online provides the public and specialists with a digital library of over 10,000 images, representing works of art spanning the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries.
These pages provide access to digitized versions of more than 500 music manuscripts.
This online feature makes almost 500 images from the Morgan’s exceptional collection of Rembrandt etchings available for the first time.
Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts
Thousands of images from the Morgan’s renowned collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts are available on this website.
Paintings and Art Objects
Browse images of paintings, objects, sculpture, and oil sketches from the Morgan’s collection.
CORSAIR Collection Catalog
CORSAIR provides access to over 250,000 records for medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, rare and reference books, literary and historical manuscripts, music scores, ancient seals and tablets, drawings, prints, and other art objects.
The first building constructed to house Morgan’s library – the “McKim Building” – was designed in the Classical Revival style by Charles Follen McKim of the noted firm of McKim, Mead & White in 1903. Morgan also commissioned a house to be built for his daughter a block away at the same time. It is located at 33 East 36th Street, which was at the time just to the east of Morgan’s residence, a brownstone house at 219 Madison Avenue built in 1880. McKim took his inspiration from the Villa Giulia and its Nymphaeum. The building was constructed from 1902-1907 and has a facade of Tennessee marble and a Palladian arch entrance which features two lionesses sculpted by Edward Clark Potter, who would later create the two lions that guard the New York Public Library Main Branch. Also in the entrance are roundels and panels by Andrew O’Connor and Adolph Weinman.
The interior of the building is richly decorated, with a polychrome rotunda which leads to three public rooms, which were originally Morgan’s private study, the librarian’s office, and the library itself. The rotunda itself has a domed ceiling with murals and plasterwork inspired by Raphael, created by H. Siddons Mowbray. Morgan’s study, now the West Library, has been called “one of the greatest achievements of American interior decoration,” while the East Library features triple-tiers of bookcases.
Morgan’s residence was torn down in 1928, after his death, to be replaced by an annex building which featured an exhibition hall and a reading room, designed by Benjamin Wistar Morris to harmonize with McKim’s original.
The remaining Italianate brownstone house in the library complex is 231 Madison Avenue, on the corner of East 37th Street. This house was built by Isaac Newton Phelps who bequeathed it to his daughter, Helen Stokes, wife of Anson Phelps Stokes. She extended the building, doubling the size and adding an additional attic floor (architect R. H. Robertson). Their son, architect Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, was born in the house on April 11, 1867. The house was purchased by J. P. Morgan in 1904. It served as the home of his heir J. P. Morgan Jr. from 1905 to 1943.
The most recent addition to the library is a modernist entrance building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano – his New York City debut – and Beyer Blinder Belle, which was completed in 2006. Although externally “bland”, the building helps to organize the interior spaces of the complex.
The Library was closed during the construction and expansion. In the interim it sponsored numerous traveling exhibitions around the country. When the work was completed, it reopened on April 29, 2006 as the Morgan Library & Museum. With the expansion above and below street level, the Morgan’s exhibition space had been doubled; Piano set its new reading room under a translucent roof structure, to allow scholars to examine manuscripts in natural light. Piano’s four-story steel-and-glass atrium links McKim’s library building and the Morgan house in a new ensemble. Added storage facilities were obtained by drilling into Manhattan’s bedrock schist.
J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library
In 1902 American financier Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913) chose architect Charles Follen McKim (1847–1909) of the prominent firm McKim, Mead and White to design a library to house his growing collection of rare books and manuscripts. Adjacent to Morgan’s home, which stood on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street, McKim created a majestic structure in a classical style based upon villas of the Italian Renaissance. The exterior is constructed of Tennessee pink marble, the blocks set with such precision that virtually no mortar was used. A simple recessed portico is flanked by a pair of stone lionesses. Completed in 1906, Mr. Morgan’s Library—as it was called for many years—is the historic heart of today’s Morgan Library & Museum.
In Morgan’s day, visitors to the library passed through a pair of monumental bronze doors into a rotunda replete with opulent detail: variegated marble columns, an ornately patterned floor, and fine mosaic panels that line the curved walls. The ceiling paintings, by American artist H. Siddons Mowbray (1858–1928), depict three of the major literary epochs represented in Pierpont Morgan’s collections—the ancient world, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. The apse, decorated with blue and white stucco reliefs of classical and mythological subjects, is based upon Raphael’s design for the Villa Madama in Rome. Mowbray modeled the reliefs on site to ensure they would be lighted effectively by the central oculus, or skylight. Over the door opposite the library’s grand entrance, a ceramic relief by the Renaissance sculptor Luca della Robbia (1400–1482) depicts the madonna and child framed by the Latin motto Soli deo honor et gloria (Glory and honor to God alone).
On view in the Rotunda are highlights from the Morgan’s distinguished collection of rare printed and manuscript Americana. As Pierpont Morgan strove to build an American library that would rival the great collections of Europe, he did not overlook the history and literature of his own country. He acquired important letters of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as well as collections documenting the early years of the republic. In 1909 he purchased some of the finest surviving literary manuscripts of nineteenth-century America, including the journals of Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne and works by Edgar Allan Poe and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In recent years, the Morgan has continued to augment its American holdings, acquiring the Carter Burden Collection of American Literature and the archives of the literary periodical The Paris Review. Featured selections are changed every few months.
The East Room
With its three-story inlaid walnut bookshelves and magnificent ceiling, the East Room was designed as a treasury for Pierpont Morgan’s remarkable collection of rare printed books. The sixteenth-century Netherlandish tapestry over the mantelpiece depicts avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, personified by the mythological King Midas. Two staircases, concealed behind bookcases, provide access to the balconies. Paintings by H. Siddons Mowbray adorn the upper reaches of the room, and the signs of the zodiac are depicted in the ceiling’s hexagonal spandrels. (Morgan was a member of an exclusive dining club that admitted only twelve members at a time—one for each sign of the zodiac—and the arrangement of the signs in his library’s ceiling may carry a hidden meaning related to key events in his personal life.) Allegorical depictions of the arts and sciences alternate with portraits of figures from Socrates to Michelangelo, identifying the library as a place for the preservation of art and ideas.
Literature, Art, and Music from the Middle Ages to the Present
On view in the East Room are examples from The Morgan Library & Museum’s extraordinary collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts, rare printed books and bindings, and handwritten manuscripts of great writers, artists, and composers from the Renaissance to the present day. While some of the items on view were purchased by Pierpont Morgan, others have been acquired in the century since his death. Selections are changed regularly, but a seminal work is always on view: one of the Morgan’s three copies of a Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455. With Gutenberg’s Bible, the painstaking process of copying books by hand gave way to an innovative new technology—movable type—that facilitated the exchange of art and ideas in all spheres of human endeavor.
The West Room
During the last years of his life, Pierpont Morgan spent a great deal of time in his richly appointed private study, away from the Wall Street offices of his banking firm. In this lush but intimate room, among some of his favorite works of art, Morgan worked, relaxed, and met with art dealers and business associates. It was here that he gathered a group of bankers in 1907 to orchestrate a dramatic resolution to a national financial panic. Low shelves containing rare printed volumes line the study’s walls. To the left of the massive fireplace, Morgan’s impressive manuscript collection was once secured in a vault lined with solid steel. The red silk wall covering (a reproduction of the deteriorated original) contains the insignia of the Chigi, a great Sienese banking family, and much of the furniture was commissioned by Morgan in the Renaissance style. Pierpont Morgan’s portrait hangs over the fifteenth-century mantelpiece, and that of his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr., is displayed between the west windows.
Art of the Renaissance
Nowhere is Pierpont Morgan’s affinity for the Renaissance aesthetic more evident than in his study, where he surrounded himself with paintings by Italian and Netherlandish masters and small objects of great beauty. On view in the West Room are many of the works that were installed here during Morgan’s lifetime alongside objects acquired since then. They include such highlights as Man with a Pink and two altarpiece panels by the great fifteenth-century Flemish painter Hans Memling (1430/40–1494) as well as a marble bust of the Christ child by Antonio Rossellino (1427–1478).
The North Room
In 1905, as the construction of his library neared completion, Pierpont Morgan hired Belle da Costa Greene (1879–1950) to manage and augment his collection of rare books and manuscripts. She later served as the Morgan’s first director. For over forty years, Greene worked in the sumptuous North Room, lined with two tiers of bookshelves and adorned with ceiling paintings from the studio of American artist James Wall Finn (1852–1913). The bronze bust over the mantel was cast after a marble sculpture by the Renaissance artist Giovanni Francesco Rustici. Depicting the Italian humanist poet Giovanni Boccaccio, it is a fitting centerpiece for a room originally devoted to the study of great works of art and literature.
The Ancient World and the Early Middle Ages
Today the North Room serves as a gallery devoted to the earliest works of art from the Morgan’s collection: ancient Near Eastern seals and tablets; Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculpture; and jeweled early medieval objects from the Thaw Collection. From intricately carved cylinder seals produced by Mesopotamian sculptors to an eleventh-century jeweled bookbinding crafted to house a sacred text, the small-scale works on view span several millennia. As a group, they convey the pervasive human desire to create useful works of extraordinary beauty.
Between 1987 and 2008, Charles E. Pierce Jr. served as director of what was then known as the Pierpont Morgan Library. During his tenure at the Morgan Library and Museum between 2008 and 2015, director William M. Griswold spearheaded the growth of its collections, exhibition programs and curatorial departments, adding a photography curator in 2013, a first for the institution. In an effort to reach a younger audience, he also presented many contemporary-art exhibitions and installed temporary sculpture in its atrium. In 2015, the Morgan named Colin Bailey as its new director.
In popular culture
The library was depicted in E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, Ragtime (as well as in Miloš Forman’s 1981 American film version of the novel). In the story, set at the turn of the 20th century, character Coalhouse Walker and his gang of vigilantes storm the library, taking the priceless collection hostage and wiring the building with dynamite, provoking a standoff with police.