The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, seen from across Fifth Avenue, January 1939.
VIEW GALLERY | 38 PHOTOS
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, seen from across Fifth Avenue, January 1939.Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, seen from across Fifth Avenue, January 1939.
A sculpture of a cat figure walking is seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Struggle of Two Natures in Man by George Grey Barnard stands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
An encaustic portrait of a young man is seen on a mummy's casket, in the Egyptian collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 1939.
Two Egyptian figures of cats are displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A little boy stares up at a medieval suit of armor in a glass case at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A steel helmet dating to the time of Joan of Arc in the 1400s is shown in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art .
An ornate helmet adorned with semi-nude figures sits in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Proven a fake in 1961, this warrior statue was thought to be Etruscan when it was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 1939.
Later proven to be a fake, this alleged Etruscan statue stared out with large eyes into the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Skylights brighten an interior sculpture court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Half man, half animal, an Egyptian sculpture crouches in the Metropolitian Museum of Art.
A sculpture by Auguste Rodin is seen in closeup at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Standing behind an easel, two art students copy work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Ramps and collonades are featured in an unidentified model included in the Egyptian Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An Egyptian sculpture of a figure kneels while holding objects in both hands in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Two Egyptian mummy cases featuring crossed arms and ornate decoration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 1939.
A lone woman stands at the threshold to an Egyptian Tomb at the Metropolitian Museum of Art
Egyptian xcuptures of a pphinx and seated figure are displayed beside columns inside the he Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A sculpture of riders and their charging horses is displayed in a corridor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A Greek statue of a man is standing in a contrapposto pose among other sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Greek statue of a male youth stands with one foot in front of the other in a hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Figures fight and fall in battle in Greek sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An unidentified sculpture of a nude archer takes aim at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 1939.
A visitor takes in Roman sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 1939.
A seated female student studies statues in a sculpture gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A helmet in the Hall of Armor feature stylized eyes, teeth, mouth and moustache at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A fully armored figure sits atop a partially armored horse figure in the Hall of Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Intricate battle scenes decorate armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Glass cases display three, highly-detailed, full suits of armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Past the legs of a horse and rider is seen the Hall of Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A group of Asian statues feature figures standing around another figure reclining at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A multi-faced stone statue from Asia is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A multi-faced and -armed statue of a Hindu deity sits and gestures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A fragment of a hand from an Asian statue is displayed on a pedestal at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A staircase is on display, possibly in the American wing, at at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Costumes featuring volumes of cloth, bustles and corseted waists are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Wrapping hides unseen works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, seen from across Fifth Avenue, January 1939.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
1 of 38

LIFE at the Met Museum: Photos From a House of Treasures

Apr 10, 2014

In March 1939, LIFE magazine celebrated The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with an eight-page article featuring photographs by the great Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Most of the pictures that Eisenstaedt took at the museum in January of that year, however, never made it into the magazine. Now, in a gallery that includes published and unpublished photos from the shoot, LIFE.com presents a selection of evocative (and sometimes playful) images that offer a virtual tour, of sorts, through one of the world's great museums, taken at a time in the Met's history when one could, on a good day, walk through the collections and not be confronted with the jostling crowds that today seem to fill the massive building to bursting every day of the week.

Here, in beautifully stark black and white, are the Egyptian cats and the ornate mummy cases; the Hall of Armor and the Rodin sculptures; the Greek battle tableaux and the quiet, elegant architectural exhibitions — in short, the myriad elements and scenes that have always made a trip to the Met (as LIFE put it in 1939) "as much fun as rummaging through a king's attic."

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.