American Renaissance at its Finest

Boasting both beauty and profound majesty, Morgan Library’s aesthetic is a unique combination of courthouse austerity and cathedral-esque reverence.

Morgan Library’s 100+ Year History

Morgan Library & Museum began as the book collection of financier and corporate leviathan, John Pierpont Morgan, AKA J.P. Morgan, back in the late 19th century. He commissioned Charles McKim, an award-winning architect known for his American Renaissance style, to build the library between 1902 and 1906.

A black-and-white photo of the Morgan Library.
Photo Credit: LOC's Public Domain

As grand as it was even from the get-go, it was originally just a private book collection with many rare and precious items. It wasn’t until eleven years after Morgan’s death that his son, J.P. Morgan, Jr., felt it was too valuable to keep under lock and key. So, he opened its doors to make it available to the public and scholars who could use its knowledge to enrich society.

The library’s collection has only expanded over the years, gathering first-edition classics and original Gutenberg Bibles, among other priceless artifacts. The building itself has also seen many additions, including J.P. Morgan Jr.’s former home in 1988 and a new annex built in 2006 that added a café, performance hall, shop, and more.

A Neoclassical Masterpiece

As you can imagine, Morgan Library & Museum has a wealth of knowledge and history you can’t find anywhere else. And it doesn’t hurt that even almost 120 years after it was built, the design of the original library is still massively impressive. The intricate ceiling paintings and mosaic windows in particular give the place an almost religious sense of significance. You’d think it was a cathedral built by Michaelangelo himself - but then, McKim was already like the Michaelangelo of his day, so… close enough.

A beautiful photo of the Morgan Library & Museum.
Photo Credit: Hilton Contemporary

More than just a pretty piece of architecture, the library’s unique collection is a bastion of historical, leather-bound treasures. The only downside is that it’s more museum than library, as pretty much all the books are locked up or behind glass. Not that I’m complaining, mind. A lot of these books are crazy old. They’d probably crumble to pieces if you handled them with anything rougher than a pair of tweezers.

Getting a Glimpse at the Collection

While you may not be able to check out any book as you please, rest assured that they don’t always have the same old things on display. The library regularly switches up its exhibitions with new pieces and themes. Sometimes they’ll showcase new pieces or items lent to the library, such as the drawings from the Clement C. Moore Collection, set to be gifted to the library and put on display from June 28th, 2024.

A wide-angle shot of the Morgan Library's collection in the West Room.
Photo Credit: Conde Nast Traveler

Most of the time, though, they’ll pull out a gem that’s been in the library’s collection for years or even decades, hidden out of sight until it’s ready for public viewing again. This can range from gorgeous, centuries-old books with their intricate illustrations and delicate pages still intact, to paintings from all over the world.

West Wing, East Wing, and Everything In Between

As I mentioned before, the library has seen a lot of additions over the years. As of today, the complex contains three buildings seamlessly woven together: the original library, the Morgan House, and the Renzo Piano expansion. The original library consists of a marble rotunda, the study, the North Room, and of course, the famous library and its three-tiered floors of shelves. The Morgan House was where J.P. Morgan’s house used to stand before he knocked it down to put up a garden, and it’s also where J.P. Morgan, Jr.’s house was. Nowadays, it has a dining hall, a gift shop, and a conservation center.

The Morgan Library cafe
Photo Credit: Shinya Suzuki on Flickr

Finally, the newest addition, the 2006 Renzo Piano Expansion, gave the complex a sleek, modern face and several new galleries. It’s the main area for hosting exhibitions of rare books and original manuscripts. It also houses the Morgan Café and the central court that links the separate wings together.

Plan Your Visit

The two easiest ways to get to the Morgan Library & Museum are the bus and the subway. For bus, there are several stops right in front of the library; just take the M2, M3, M4, or Q32 to 36th Street. For subway, take the No. 6 to 33rd Street, then head one street westward to Madison Avenue and turn right to go north until you’re between 36th and 37th Street. Can’t miss it!

The Morgan Library on Google Maps
Photo Credit: Google Maps

Address: 225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

The Morgan Library & Museum is closed on Mondays. From Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday to Sunday, it’s open 10:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and stays open two extra hours on Friday, from 10:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Although available to the public, the Morgan Library is still technically a private institution, so to get in, you need to buy a ticket at $25 per adult and $13 for students. There’s a slight discount for groups ($2 discount per person with at least ten people), though if you want a guided tour, you’ll need to fork over an additional $150 for the whole group.

Fear not, though, my fellow broke folk - if you snag a reservation in advance, you can get in for free on Fridays from 5 - 7 p.m. College students also have a chance to get in free on the first Sunday of every month - but again, these free tickets get snatched up like hot cakes, so you have to reserve ahead of time.

Even so, I’d say the ticket price is pretty reasonable to get to step into a piece of history like this. As you might expect from such a prestigious, long-standing institution, the Morgan Library also offers a variety of tours, from the aforementioned group tours to audio guides and even virtual tours via Zoom. (Don’t even have to leave the comfort of your living room to see it!) All in all, this library has a lot to offer.

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