One of New York's great cultural treasures has reopened after a three-year renovation. The Morgan Library and Museum has expanded above and below the ground.
In a city filled with world-class museums, the Morgan has always stood out because it remains, essentially a library. And what a library it is.
The Morgan Library was founded by financier J. Pierpont Morgan to house his growing collection of rare prints and drawings and medieval manuscripts and bindings, including prized illuminated manuscripts, jewel-encrusted gospels and three Gutenberg Bibles. The Gutenberg Bible is the first book printed from moveable type.
The library also has an extraordinary collection of autographed and annotated libretti and scores from Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mahler, Mozart, and Verdi. But director Charles Pierce says the library also has some more recent wonders from the world of music.
"We have the little piece on paper on which he wrote 'Blowin' in the Wind,'" he said. "The other Bob Dylan song that we have a manuscript of is 'It Ain't Me, Babe'".
With the expansion, the Morgan's exhibition space had been doubled and the word museum has been added to the institution's full name. But the importance of books remains central. A new reading room is located under a translucent roof structure to allow scholars to examine manuscripts in natural light.
"This combination of significant new gallery space and a state-of-the-art reading room truly underscores the dual mission of the Morgan as both a library and a museum, and it allows us to pursue this mission as we have never done before," he added.
The new design integrates three historic buildings, including the Morgan mansion, with pavilions of steel and glass, connected by a four-story atrium. Renowned architect Renzo Piano has received high praise for the building, which is his first New York commission.
"We always wanted to create here a place where we can find a balance between the serenity, the calm, the silence you need for meditation, for research, for study, and at the same time without forgetting that you are in the middle of chaotic life in the city," he said.
Much of the expansion is not visible because Piano has built down, not just up, creating a storage vault for the 350,000-object collection in New York's bedrock.
"First we had put in a safe environment a few hundred thousand rare books," he added. "The safest way to do it is to put them inside the rock of Manhattan."
The Morgan is showing off its collection with an inaugural exhibit of some of its most prized objects including rare printed books, medieval altar vessels of gold and silver, and drawing by Gainsborough, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens.