Following a thirty-two-year tenure as Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello has been, since 2009, Fiske Kimball Professor in the History and Culture of Museums at the Institute of Fine Arts. Also in that year, Professor de Montebello became the first scholar in residence at the Prado Museum in Madrid, and, among his many other honors and awards for his contributions to the arts, was recently named to the Board of Trustees of the Prado and the Musée d’Orsay. On November 21, 2014, IFA Master’s student Jennie Sirignano sat down with Professor de Montebello to discuss his newly-published book, Rendez-vous with Art.
Jennie Sirignano: Professor de Montebello, thank you for meeting with me. In your new book Rendez-vous with Art, you mostly focus on ancient and European works of art. Was it a conscious choice to not include discussions of contemporary art?
Philippe de Montebello: We just happened to not go to certain places. I didn’t go to the National Gallery in London. I didn’t go to the Uffizi. For over two and a half years, Martin and I would call each other and say “I’m going to Florence for a conference—can you be there?” And so we happened to be in Florence, and me in Madrid because I am on the board of the Prado, and he never had more than one day, nor me more than one day, so we limited it. I would have loved to do the Musée du Moyen Âge in Paris at Cluny. I never got around to it. I could have spent a great deal of time in MoMA looking at things I love. Not contemporary, it would have been more Modern. Contemporary I don’t understand very well, but if I do a second book with him, which I don’t think I will because I don’t think it’s necessary, I would do medieval, I would do Islamic, and we would cover many of the things we haven’t. This serves in a way as a kind of travel guide for people who want to go around and look at art. I don’t know. I am not sure it serves anything.
JS: Well, you have described your decision to dedicate the majority of your professional life to museum work as wishing to “above all share my passion with others, many others.” Does Rendez-vous with Art have a similar genesis?