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Boston's Top 10 : Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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One needn’t be a fervent patron of the arts to be wowed by the Gardner Museum. Its namesake, who travelled tirelessly to acquire the pieces now housed here, opened the museum in 1903 to befit (some would say to rival) her staggering collection. The 15th-century, Venetian-style palazzo is a veritable feast of artifacts, art, and architecture in which flowers bloom, sculpted nudes pose in hidden corners, and entire ceilings reveal their European origins.

  • “T” station: Museum (green line/E train)

  • 280 The Fenway

  • 617 566 1401

  • www.gardnermuseum.org

  • Open 11am–5pm Tue–Sun.

  • Adm: $12; free to anyone named Isabella


Fenway Court

Before Isabella Stewart Gardner died in 1924 she stipulated in her will that Fenway Court (as it was then known) and her collection become a public museum. She believed that works of art should be displayed in a setting that would fire the imagination. So the collection, exhibited over three floors, is not arranged chronologically or by country of origin but organized purely to enhance the viewing of the individual treasures. To encourage visitors to respond to the artworks themselves many of the 2500 objects – from ancient Egyptian pieces to Matisse’s paintings – are left unlabeled, as Gardner had requested.


Light salads and sandwiches are served in the museum’s café. Weather permitting, request a table outdoors in the garden.


The museum’s Tapestry Room hosts a concert series in the spring and fall. See museum website for more information.


No photography or filming is permitted in the museum.


Self-guided audio tour: $4.




Top 10 Features
  1. The Courtyard

    Gardner integrated Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Gothic elements in the magnificent courtyard, which is out of bounds but can be viewed through the graceful arches surrounding it.

  2. Dutch Room

    The space that houses some of Gardner’s most impressive acquisitions was the scene of an incredible art heist in 1990: among the 13 works stolen were a Vermeer and two Rembrandts.

  3. Gothic Room

    Appreciate John Singer Sargent’s splendid and somewhat risqué 1888 portrait of Mrs Gardner as well as medieval liturgical artwork from the 13th century.

  4. Titian Room

    The most artistically significant gallery was conceived by Gardner as the palazzo’s grand reception hall. It has a distinctly Italian flavor and showcases Titian’s Europa, one of the greatest masterpieces in the US.

  5. Long Gallery

    Roman sculptural fragments and busts line glass cases crammed with unusual 15th and 16th-century books and artifacts. One such rare tome is a 1481 copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, featuring drawings by Botticelli.

  6. Raphael Room

    Gardner was the first collector to bring works by Raphael to the US; three of the artist’s major works are on display here, alongside Botticelli’s Tragedy of Lucretia and Crivelli’s St. George and the Dragon.

  7. Tapestry Room

    This room houses two series of 16th-century Belgian tapestries, each comprised of five individual works: one depicts Scenes from the Life of Cyrus the Great and another Scenes from the Life of Abraham.

  8. Macknight, Yellow, & Blue Rooms

    Fans of the Impressionists need look no further than these rooms, which house portraits and sketches by the likes of Manet, Matisse, Degas, and Sargent. Of particular note is Sargent’s Mrs. Gardner in White.

  9. Spanish Cloister

    With stunning mosaic tiling and a Moorish arch, the Spanish Cloister looks like a hidden patio at the Alhambra. But Sargent’s sweeping El Jaleo (1882), all sultry shadows and rich hues, gives the room its distinctiveness.

  10. Veronese Room

    With its richly gilded and painted Spanish-leather wall coverings, it’s easy to miss this gallery’s highlight: look up at Paolo Veronese’s 16th-century masterwork The Coronation of Hebe.

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