12 Fascinating Facts About the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A crowd on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A crowd on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
iStock.com/JannHuizenga

With 17 curatorial departments, 2.2 million square feet, and more than 2 million works in its permanent collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art—colloquially known as the Met—contains more treasures than most visitors will ever be able to see in a lifetime. It’s impossible to summarize the New York City museum’s history, contents, and legacy in just one list, but here are 12 facts that might make you view the storied institution in a new light.

1. The Met wasn't always enormous.

The Met was founded in 1870 by a group of businessmen, financiers, artists, and cultural enthusiasts. Today, it’s known for its swanky digs on Museum Mile, a swath of Fifth Avenue that borders Central Park, but the institution was originally located in a much smaller building at 681 Fifth Avenue, which housed a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 European paintings. The Met’s collection quickly grew too large for the space, and in 1873, the museum was moved to an estate on West 14th Street known as the Douglas Mansion, where it remained until builders completed its permanent location in 1879.

As the Met's contents swelled over the years, various additions were attached to the building. Today, the original structure is completely surrounded by more modern wings. However, you can catch a glimpse of its original west facade in the museum’s Robert Lehman Wing, which houses 2600 works that once belonged to the notable banker.

2. The museum retired its iconic metal buttons in 2013.

If you visited the Met before 2013, you likely received a metal button emblazoned with the museum’s logo (and accidentally left it attached to your jacket lapel long after you had exited the premises). The iconic proof of admission was introduced in 1971, but soaring metal prices in recent years made the trinket too costly for museum officials to continue—so in 2013, the Met retired the button in favor of a sticker. The new offering will likely never be as nostalgic as its predecessor, which for years has been incorporated into artworks, featured on museum souvenirs, and collected by zealous patrons.

3. The Met has a residential floral artist.

A tropical flower arrangement at the MetiStock.com/Terraxplorer

Each week, Remco van Vliet—a Dutch florist whose father’s flower shop once supplied blooms for the country’s royal family—produces five towering bouquets for the Met’s Great Hall. Van Vliet’s arrangements stretch up to 10 to 12 feet high. Meanwhile, floral works he creates for events held in the museum’s sky-high Egyptian wing can reach up to 20 feet.

4. It's full of familiar paintings and sculptures.

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s 1851 painting 'Washington Crossing the Delaware' during a press preview at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtTIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Among the institution’s many paintings and sculptures, highlights for art lovers include Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer by Edgar Degas, Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), and Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses.

5. It's home to the world's oldest surviving piano.

If you’re more of a music person than an art lover, there’s no need to skip a trip to the Met. The museum’s collections include about 5000 instruments, and one of them is the world’s oldest surviving piano. The antique instrument dates back to 1720, and was created by Bartolomeo Cristofori—the Italian man who is credited with inventing the piano.

6. There's plenty of armor and weaponry within its walls.

Even if you're not that interested in music or art, you can still check out Henry VIII’s armor—which was likely worn by the king during his last military campaign in 1544—and other impressive examples of battle gear in the Met’s Arms and Armor Department.

7. It's a mecca for fashionistas.

Meanwhile, fashion-lovers can get their fill at the museum’s Costume Institute, which boasts more than 33,000 historic, contemporary, and culturally significant articles of clothing and accessories from five continents and seven centuries.

8. You can travel the world ...

By visiting the Met, you can temporarily leave New York City—if only in spirit. Visitors can stand in an ancient Egyptian temple, relax in a Chinese Garden Court, stroll around a 16th-century Spanish castle’s patio, visit a villa bedroom that was swallowed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, and admire a room like the ones found in the late Ottoman period in Damascus, Syria.

9. ... Or visit the Middle Ages.

A section of the CloistersiStock.com/jgorzynik

You can travel back in time if you head up to northern Manhattan. The borough’s Washington Heights neighborhood is home to The Cloisters, a branch of the Met that houses medieval art, architecture, and artifacts. Built as an ensemble that incorporates architectural elements from medieval cloisters and other European sites, the Cloisters loom over the Hudson River and are surrounded by lush Fort Tryon Park. Its idyllic location makes it a popular day-trip destination for city dwellers.

10. The Met has been featured in children's books ...

One of history’s most beloved works of children’s literature, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, chronicles the misadventures of two children who run away from home and take up residence inside the Met.

11. ... And also in movies.

The Met has appeared in so many movies that it’s a cinematic star in its own right. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan stroll through the museum’s Egyptian temple area in When Harry Met Sally (1989). In 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair (a modern-day remake of the 1968 original), Rene Russo stars as an investigator who tries to prove that an elusive—and charming—financier played by Pierce Brosnan stole one of the institution’s Monet paintings. And the Cloisters' scenic grounds have appeared in movies like Coogan's Bluff (1968), Keeping the Faith (2000), The Front (1976), and The Devil’s Own (1997).

12. The museum receives millions of visitors each year.

iStock.com/diegograndi

The Met is the largest art museum in the United States, and one of the most-visited museums in the world. In 2019, officials announced that 7.3 million people had swung through the museum during the previous year.

This list was first published in 2016 and republished in 2019.

Thursday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Guitar Kits, Memory-Foam Pillows, and Smartwatches

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 3. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

25 Facts About Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s Wedding

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on Wednesday, July 29, 1981. The ceremony was one of the decade’s biggest events—and for good reason. Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest son Charles was (and still is, of course) first in line to the throne, which made the day a landmark moment in the life of the presumptive future King of England.

With the early days of Charles and Diana’s relationship now immortalized in Netflix’s The Crown, here are some more facts and figures behind one of the 20th century’s most famous relationships.

1. Prince Charles met Diana while he was dating her sister.

Prince Charles and Sarah Spencer (right, facing camera) on the sidelines after he played in an international polo match, July 1977. Dennis Oulds/Central Press, Getty Images

Charles was romantically involved with Diana’s elder sister, Sarah Spencer (now Lady Sarah McCorquodale) when he first met his future bride-to-be. His and Sarah’s relationship wasn’t quite as harmonious as it’s portrayed in The Crown; Sarah later said that she wouldn’t marry Charles whether “he were the dustman or the King of England." Nevertheless, it’s through Sarah that Charles was first introduced to Diana while on a grouse hunt at Althorp House, the Spencer family's ancestral home, in 1977. Diana was just 16 at the time—six years younger than Sarah, and more than 12 years younger than Charles.

2. It was love at first sight for Charles and Diana …

Charles seems to have taken an immediate shine to Diana, telling The Daily Telegraph in 1981 that he remembered thinking, “what a very jolly and amusing and attractive 16-year-old she was” after they first met. For her part, Diana reportedly told friends that she was destined to marry Charles after her first encounter with him—adding (not so prophetically) that “he’s the one man on the planet who’s not allowed to divorce me.” (Divorce laws for royals used to be a lot more stringent than they are today, and weren’t fully relaxed until 2002.)

3. … or maybe it wasn’t love at first sight for Charles and Diana.

Long after their relationship had broken down, Diana revisited her first impression of Charles—this time with the benefit of hindsight. In 1992, she told her biographer Andrew Morton that her actual first thought after meeting the future king was, “God, what a sad man.” Ouch.

4. It took a while for things to get going between Charles and Diana.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

No matter what their first impressions were, it took a long time for Charles and Diana to become a couple. It wasn’t until 1980, shortly before Diana’s 19th birthday, that the couple finally got together. In the three years in between, Charles’s relationship with Sarah Spencer fizzled out, after which he reportedly proposed to Amanda Knatchbull, the granddaughter of Earl Mountbatten, his mentor. Knatchbull turned him down.

At the same time, rumors began swirling that Charles was still romantically involved with his long-term sweetheart Camilla Shand, despite her having married Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles in 1973. (Camilla is now the Duchess of Cornwall, Charles's second wife. The couple tied the knot in 2005.)

Charles had, in fact, intended to propose to Camilla years earlier, but their relationship crumbled when the royal family allegedly deemed her an unsuitable match for the heir to the throne.

5. Prince Charles’s schedule often got in the way of his courtship with Diana.

The problem with being heir to the world’s most powerful monarchy is that it doesn’t leave you a lot of time for romance. Reportedly, Charles and Diana only met in person, at most, 13 times before Charles proposed on February 3, 1981.

6. Charles did get down on one knee when he proposed to Diana.

Charles proposed to Diana in the nursery of Windsor Castle. Unlike what is stated in The Crown, Charles apparently did get down on one knee to ask for Diana's hand. (Also unlike The Crown, Diana’s immediate reaction was apparently to laugh.) The engagement was kept a secret for three weeks while arrangements for an official announcement were made; their betrothal wasn’t made public until February 24, 1981.

7. Diana picked out her own engagement ring (and it’s still in the family).

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge in 2014.Ricky Wilson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Charles didn’t pick out a ring for Diana; rather, Diana picked her own from a selection made by Garrard & Co., the official Jewelers to the Crown, The ring she chose—an 18-carat white gold band featuring a Ceylon sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds—is now worn by Prince William’s wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. Nevertheless, it proved a controversial choice: because the ring came from the Garrard’s public catalogue, it wasn’t a unique bespoke design which many in the royal family believed would have been more suitable.

8. Charles and Diana’s wedding was hastily arranged.

Charles and Diana had only been dating for around six months by the time Charles popped the question in February 1981, and it took barely another five months to arrange the big day—they were wed in July 1981.

9. Charles and Diana’s rehearsal dinner was almost as big as the main event.

Prince Charles, President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, and Princess Diana pose for photos before a dinner in 1985.White House — Ronald Reagan Presidential Library // Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The couple held a rehearsal ceremony at St Paul’s two days before the big day, then headed back to Buckingham Palace for a lavish celebratory dinner and party. The Queen hosted the event, which was attended by 1400 invited guests. Alongside dignitaries and famous faces like the First Lady, Nancy Reagan, the list of rehearsal dinner invitees also included many of the palace’s staff, who had been in the couple’s service throughout their relationship.

10. The rehearsal dinner was big, but Charles and Diana’s wedding was still bigger.

A congregation of 3500 people were invited to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the royal couple's wedding day, with more than 2 million well-wishers lining the streets of London outside—and a further 750 million people believed to have tuned in from home to watch the events on television, in more than 60 different countries. The broadcast remains one of the biggest television events in history for a non-sporting event.

11. There were almost as many musicians as guests at Charles and Diana’s wedding.

There were three separate choirs and a further three orchestras arranged inside St. Paul’s Cathedral for the ceremony, including the British Philharmonia Orchestra, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the entire orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Add to that the official fanfare ensemble of the Royal Military School—plus the New Zealand operative soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who sang Handel’s Let The Bright Seraphim as part of the ceremony—and you’ve got almost as many musicians in attendance as invited guests.

12. Charles and Diana’s guest list was suitably impressive.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret ThatcherHulton Archive/Getty Images

Besides the immediate royal family—plus Diana’s family, the Earl and Countess Spencer—among those also invited to the wedding were then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband; President Mitterrand of France; countless other European and Commonwealth heads of state; royal representatives from the monarchies of Japan, Jordan, Nepal, and Thailand; and a select handful of more personal invitees, including Prince Charles’s favorite comedians, Spike Milligan and Sir Harry Secombe, and the staff and parents of the nursery Diana had worked at before she began dating Charles.

13. Charles and Diana did have a few notable no-shows at their wedding.

Famously, King Juan Carlos of Spain declined his invite because the couple’s honeymoon plans included an overnight stay in Gibraltar, which has long been the subject of a territorial disagreement with the UK. Patrick Hillery, the president of Ireland, also stayed home in protest over the status of Northern Ireland. And while his First Lady was in attendance, President Reagan wasn't able to attend the wedding as he was scheduled to chair an economic summit in Ottawa the previous day (though it’s been speculated that he actually snubbed it because he didn’t want his first official visit to Europe as president to be a purely social one).

14. Charles was related to a lot of the people attending.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Thanks to many of Queen Victoria’s nine children and 42 grandchildren marrying into most of Europe’s other royal dynasties—lending her the title of “Grandmother of Europe”—today almost all of Europe’s royal family trees are all intertwined. (Incredibly, Diana was the first ordinary British citizen in 300 years to marry an heir to the throne.) So on his wedding day, Charles—as one of the foremost figures in the British House of Windsor—was related to most of the other royals in attendance. The King of Norway, Olav V, was his first cousin twice removed; Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands was his fifth cousin once removed; Prince George Valdemar of Denmark was his second cousin once removed; King Baudouin of Belgium was his third cousin once removed, as was King Carl XVI of Sweden. And both the deposed King Michael I of Romania and his wife, Queen Anne of Romania, were Charles’s second cousins. Even Charles and Diana were related—albeit distantly: Both were descendants of Henry VII, which made them sixteenth cousins once removed.

15. Diana reportedly liked watching herself on TV.

On the morning of the wedding, Diana’s dressing room at the palace was a flurry of excitement. But in the midst of it all, Diana was oddly quiet—and was reportedly mesmerized by watching herself on television. According to bridesmaid India Hicks, “there was a small television on the side of this dressing table, and Diana was seated in front of it ... dressed in her jeans.” If any of the dressers, designers, bridesmaids, florists, hairdressers, or make-up artists who were in the room got in the way of the screen, Diana would shoo them away, “because, obviously, she was very excited to see herself on television.” It was only when the commercial break came on that Diana finally began to dress for her big day.

16. Diana’s wedding dress stole the show.

While Charles wore his traditional full-dress naval commander uniform, Diana wore an ivory-colored taffeta wedding gown, decorated with handmade lace and finished off with 10,000 hand-sewn pearls and a 25-foot silk train. The dress was the work of designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel, while Diana’s shoes—a bespoke, low-heeled pair of wedding slippers (low-heeled so that no one could tell she and Charles were both 5’ 10”)—were designed by shoemaker Clive Shilton, who personally adorned them with a further 542 sequins and another 132 pearls. (It took Shilton about six months to make the shoes.)

The designers all added a number of personal touches to Diana’s outfit, too. The Emanuels (a favorite designer of Diana's) sewed a diamond-encrusted horseshoe and a secret blue ribbon into the lining of her dress for good luck, and Shilton hand-painted a hidden “C” and a “D” onto the arches of her shoes. The designers were prepped for everything, too: In case it rained on the big day, they had prepared a lace-trimmed ivory parasol to shield the bride from the worst of the British weather.

17. Diana’s wedding dress broke all sorts of records.

Diana and the Emanuels (who were compelled to install a safe in their studio to keep their designs secret ahead of the big day) are said to have intentionally wanted her bridal gown to have the longest train of any royal gown in history—and they reportedly broke the previous record by a full 60 inches. In fact, Diana’s silk train proved too long to comfortably manage at home, forcing the Emanuels to eventually relocate from their studio to a seldom-used wing of Buckingham Palace to unroll, measure and construct the enormous garment in full. Though it was the train that stole all the headlines, that wasn’t even the dress’s biggest extravagance: Diana’s veil was made from a single 153-yard length of white tulle.

18. Diana had a dress disaster just before the wedding.

The French perfumiers at Houbigant (the oldest fragrance company in all of France) created a special perfume just for Diana's wedding day, which they called Quelques Fleur. Unfortunately, while getting ready Diana for the ceremony, Diana spilled some of the perfume on the front of her dress. She can be seen covering the stain with her hand in some of the wedding footage from that day.

19. Diana messed up Charles’s name while reciting their wedding vows.

Princess Diana wearing what she called her "Elvis dress" on a visit to Hong Kong in 1989.Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

Unfortunately, Diana's perfume disaster wasn't the only gaffe of the day. While reciting her vows, Diana famously muddled up the order of Charles’s full name, calling him “Philip Charles Arthur George” instead of “Charles Philip Arthur George.” In return, Charles fluffed his lines too, referring to “thy goods” rather than “my worldly goods” in his nuptials.

20. Diana refused to say she'd "obey" Charles in her wedding vows, which started a new royal tradition.

The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has provided the basis of the Church of England’s traditional wedding vows (whether royal or not) since the 17th century—and it’s this book that includes the famous line, “to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part." Diana, however, left out the “obey” part of that line in her wedding vows, prompting some eagle-eyed viewers at the time to assume it was just another nervous mistake. Not so, as it was later revealed that the couple (with the backing of the Dean of Westminster himself) had mutually agreed to ditch the “obey” part of the ceremony, arguing that it was outdated thinking.

When it was revealed that the line had been intentionally removed, the couple’s decision caused a sensation. Nevertheless, it has since become a tradition, with both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle omitting the word obey from their vows in 2011 and 2018, respectively.

21. Charles and Diana’s post-wedding breakfast was a much smaller affair than their wedding ceremony.

Of the nearly 4000 guests invited to the ceremony, barely 100 were invited back to Buckingham Palace for a private wedding breakfast after the event.

22. Charles and Diana’s kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony established a new tradition.

AdrianHancu/iStock Editorial via Getty Images Plus

Charles and Diana appeared on the famous front balcony of Buckingham Palace just after 1 p.m. and their wedding day and delighted the enormous crowds below with an impromptu kiss. Kissing on the balcony has since become a traditional high point of all royal wedding days, maintained right up to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's wedding in 2018.

23. Charles and Diana had 27 wedding cakes.

A number of high-profile chefs and patisseries were asked to produce cakes for the wedding, including Food Network regular Nicholas Lodge and legendary Belgian pastry chef SG Sender (known as the “Cakemaker of the Kings,” due to the number of European royal weddings he was involved in). In total, some 27 different cakes were baked for the occasion—although the official wedding cake was made by David Avery, the head baker of the Royal Naval School of Cookery. Reportedly, Avery spent 14 weeks preparing the cake, which was a 5-foot tall, tiered fruitcake that weight 225 pounds. In fact, Avery made two cakes (in case one got damaged) so, really, there was really 28 cakes.

24. Some of Charles and Diana’s wedding gifts were quite unusual.

What do you get the couple who (truly) has everything? How about one ton of high-quality West Country peat? At least, that’s what a local village in the English county of Somerset decided to send to the royal couple to celebrate their big day, so that Charles could use the peat to fertilize the gardens on his new Gloucestershire estate, Highgrove House. Besides a host of gold and silverware, jewelry, antique furniture, and priceless art, some of the couple’s other wedding gifts included two four-poster beds, a carpet, a silver mousetrap, a case of Scottish whisky, a first edition of The Complete English Traveller (1771), a 100-year-old set of antique silk mittens, a $20,000 fully-equipped kitchen, and a handmade paperweight created from the same limestone used to build the Tower of London.

25. Charles and Diana’s marriage may not have lasted, but their wedding day was a triumph.

While Diana famously came to (understandably) take very different view of her wedding day, at the time, to her and everyone else involved it was a triumph. “It was heaven, amazing, wonderful, though I was so nervous when I was walking up the aisle that I swore my knees would knock and make a noise," Diana proclaimed of the day. As for Charles? He confessed to a cousin that, "There were several times when I was perilously close to crying from the sheer joy of it all."