10 Books about Medieval Art you can now download for free, courtesy The Met

Whether you are interested in the rise of Gothic art in 12th century France, or the arms and armor of the samurai in Japan, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has something for you. The museum is making freely available hundreds of previously published books, as part of their new online and social media initiatives.

While the museum remains temporarily closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has launched many new online activities, including performances, conversations with curators, 360-degree tours, and educational resources that will share The Met collection.


“The Museum’s mission is to connect people, wherever they are, to creativity, knowledge, and ideas—an effort we’re especially committed to in this time of isolation and uncertainty,” says Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “We strongly believe that art can bring people together—even remotely—by helping to share our stories and our reflections on the world around us. Art has the power to engage our minds, to provide comfort and respite in times of suffering, and to feed our spirits and strengthen our resolve. The Met is not just a place to visit, but a provider of cultural experiences, narratives, and educational offerings for people all around the world.”

One part of this outreach that will be of interest to medievalists is how MetPublications is releasing even more out-of-print titles for free download. They now have over 500 books which can be freely read or downloaded as a PDF. Here are ten books that deal with the Middle Ages:


Medieval Art: A Resource for Educators (2005)

This resource presents medieval art in the Museum’s collection from Western Europe and Byzantium and provides strategies for teaching art of the Middle Ages. Among the contents are an overview of medieval times and art; a discussion of aspects of medieval life, including knighthood and monasticism; information on materials and techniques; lesson plans; a map; a glossary, and a bibliography.

The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated (2019)

With its vivid descriptions of courtly society, gardens, and architecture in early eleventh-century Japan, The Tale of Genji—recognized as the world’s first novel—has captivated audiences around the globe and inspired artistic traditions for one thousand years. Its female author, Murasaki Shikibu, was a diarist, a renowned poet, and, as a tutor to the young empress, the ultimate palace insider; her monumental work of fiction offers entry into an elaborate, mysterious world of court romance, political intrigue, elite customs, and religious life. This handsomely designed and illustrated book explores the outstanding art associated with Genji through in-depth essays and discussions of more than one hundred works.

Italian Medieval Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters (2010)

The collection of Italian medieval sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters began with the acquisition in 1908 of a Romanesque column statue; today the Museum’s holdings comprise more than seventy works dating from the ninth to the late fifteenth century. The earlier pieces evidence traces of Roman and Early Christian influences, while the later ones presage the forms and themes of the Renaissance. The birthplaces of these works range from Sicily to Venice; some typify local styles, others illustrate the intense artistic exchanges taking place within Italy and between Italy and the wider world. The vibrant Mediterranean trade, for example, is visible in decorative motifs that traveled from Byzantium or the Near East as designs in textiles, ivories, and ceramics.

German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600 (2013)

In conjunction with the grand reopening in May 2013 of the newly renovated European Paintings galleries, the Museum is pleased to present this comprehensive catalogue of our early German paintings. The collection has not been examined in its entirety since 1947, when (at half its current size) it was included in A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and Germany Paintings by Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger. Our seventy-two paintings constitute the largest, most diverse collection of its kind in America and include examples by the foremost German artists of the period: three by Dürer, eighteen from the Cranach group, eleven by Holbein and his workshop, and remarkable works by Hans Baldung, Hans Süss von Kulmbach, and Hans Schäufelein.


The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty (2010)

In 1215, the year Khubilai Khan (1215–1294) was born, the Mongols made their first major incursion into North China, initiating a period of innovation in the arts that had its greatest flowering in the Yuan dynasty, founded by Khubilai in 1271 and lasting until 1568. The creativity unleashed during this period of approximately 150 years was instigated by the confluence of the many cultures and ethnic groups that were brought together in a unified empire in China, which for centuries past had been politically divided. Skilled craftsmen from all over Central and Western Asia were relocated to workshops in North China, where they worked alongside Chinese artists, exchanging ideas and styles. This interaction eventually resulted in the creation of new art forms that would provide models for the arts of China in all subsequent periods until the twentieth century.

From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2010)

The twenty-six essays in this volume provide the first in-depth study of this American repository of arts representing the many cultures and peoples that created early Europe, including the Ostrogoths, the Langobards, the Franks, and the Anglo-Saxons. The products of this great age of “portable art” range from elaborate weapon fittings and ornate buckles to gold brooches and other intricately designed and decorated jewelry. Over six hundred black-and-white photographs and eighteen color-plates dramatically testify to the depth, breadth, and beauty of the Museum’s Early Medieval collection.


The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini (2011)

In the words of cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt, fifteenth-century Italy was “the place where the notion of the individual was born.” In keeping with that idea, early Renaissance Italy was a key participant in the first great age of portraiture in Europe. As groundbreaking artists strove to evoke the identity or personality of their sitters—from heads of state and church, military commanders, and wealthy patrons to scholars, poets, and artists—they evolved daring new representational strategies that would profoundly influence the course of Western art. More than a mere likeness, the fifteenth-century Italian portrait was an attempt to wrest from the unpredictability of life and the shadow of mortality an image that could be passed down to future generations.

Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868 (2009)

Samurai arms and equipment are widely recognized as masterpieces in steel, silk, and lacquer. This extensively illustrated volume includes the finest examples of swords, sword mountings and fittings, armor and helmets, saddles, banners, and paintings from Japanese collections. Dating from the fifth to the nineteenth century, these majestic objects offer a complete picture of samurai culture and its unique blend of the martial and the refined.

Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis (1986)

Suger, abbot of the French abbey of Saint-Denis, lived from 1081 to 1151. This book of essays about his life and achievements grew out of a symposium sponsored by the International Center of Medieval Art and by Columbia University. The symposium was held in 1981 simultaneously at The Cloisters and Columbia University in conjunction with an exhibition at The Cloisters that commemorated the 900th anniversary of Suger’s birth. For the symposium, twenty-three medieval scholars from all parts of the world, representing a wide range of humanistic disciplines, were brought together to discuss the varied nature of Suger’s activities.

Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators (2012)

Learn about art and culture of the Islamic world and glean ideas for supporting studies of English language arts, math, science, social studies, world history, and visual arts.


Click here to see The Met’s full list of books available to read and download