The Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library in New York may be one of the least well known of the city’s many museums but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. The institution was founded in 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington with the simple aim of creating a free public library and museum dedicated to the arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the Philippines. Today, the center offers an unparalleled snapshot of the artistic histories of these regions, as well as a host of other activities to keep you entertained and informed. It may currently be closed for renovation, but with a wealth of things to do and see, you’d be a fool not to add it to your to-do-list when it reopens in Fall 2019. Unconvinced? These top 10 reasons to visit might persuade you.
1. It’s free
How many things come for free these days? Not lunches, that’s for sure, and nine times out of ten, even museums will ask to see the color of your money before deciding to let you in. Fortunately, the Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library is a much more generously inclined institution than most. If you’re stone-broke but fancy a day of culture and intrigue, you’ll be able to enjoy all that’s on offer at the museum and library (more on which coming up) with free, all-year-round access. Can’t say fairer than that.
2. It has the largest collection of 19th century Spanish art outside of Spain
If you’re a fan of Spanish art but don’t want to fly all the way to there to see it, you’re in luck. As eulogized over by the Huff Post, the Hispanic Society of America Museum & Library in New York is home to the largest collection of 19th-century Spanish art and manuscripts in the world (well, the world outside of Spain, in any case). Notable works include The Duchess of Alba (1797) by Francisco de Goya, Gaspar De Guzman, Conde-Duque De Olivares (ca. 1625-1626) by Diego Velázquez and Dona Maria Catalina De Urrutia by José Campeche.
3. It has one of the largest rare book collections in the world
Literature lovers and fans of antiquities alike will have endless joy perusing the library’s 250,000 books and periodicals, manuscripts and modern-day publications. With all publications relating to the art, history, and culture of Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the Philippines, the collection is a celebration of Hispanic culture that precious few other institutions can come close to matching.
4. It has a shop
Who doesn’t love a good gift shop? After an afternoon spent purveying the museum’s exhibits, don’t miss a quick stop- off at the museum shop. With museum inspired gifts; prints and photographs of some of the more renowned exhibits; a selection of fine and decorative arts; and heaps of literature on the art and culture of Spain, it’s the ideal place to spend a few of those dollars you saved on the way in.
5. It has over 1000 sculptures
In addition to its collection of fine art and manuscripts, the museum is home to over 1000 spectacular sculptures. If you’re a fan of the medium, don’t miss a visit to the Audubon Terrace, which houses a towering statue of El Cid, reliefs of Don Quixote and a limestone bas-relief of Boabdil, the last Moorish king of Spain. All were created by the wife of the museum’s founder and one of the most prominent artists in New York’s history, Anna Hyatt Huntington.
6. It provides digital copies for free
If you fancy taking home one of the library’s many rare books, you can. Well, you can in digital copy, anyway. While the library doesn’t support interlibrary loans, digital copies of the manuscripts can be requested for free. If you’d prefer a one-on-one personal experience with the real thing, you can – you just need to make an appointment in advance.
7. It’s a cartographer’s dream
If you’re a professional cartographer or just an amateur map enthusiast, the museum’s collection of over forty portolan charts, atlases, and sailing charts is sure to delight. With pieces dating from the 15th to 18th century (with the earliest being a portolan chart, drawn by Jacobus de Giroldis in 1447), you’ll struggle to find anywhere else that offers such an extensive and fine collection.
8. It’s as modern as it is old
Yes, the center homes some of the oldest examples of Spanish art and literature available in the US, but it hasn’t forsaken modernity entirely. The Modern Library has over three hundred thousand monographs printed after 1830 and over one thousand five hundred periodical titles. Particularly noteworthy are its first editions of 19th and early 20th centuries works, including those of the Spanish Generations of 1898 and 1927.
9. It has a reading room
If the constant noise and buzz of the city are driving you to distraction, what better way to relax and unwind than to spend a few hours in the cool tranquility of the library’s reading room? Arm yourself with a book from the Modern Library, take a chair and enjoy a few hours of blissful calm as you soak up the culture and history of Spain. If you’re a student of Hispanic culture, the reading room also offers the ideal place to brush up on some research thanks to the immediate access it offers to all the material you could ever need.
10. It offers tours
If you’re feeling dazed and confused about where to go, what to see, and how to navigate the center’s many different exhibits and collections, relax. While you’re perfectly free to peruse the library under your own direction, you can also take advantage of the convenience of one of the regular guided tours that take place every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The knowledgeable staff are ready and waiting to guide you through the best of the museum, fill you in on its history, and give you as much background on its many paintings, manuscripts, sculptures and books as you can handle. Tours are free and do not require any reservation.