The 72 stone steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art were made famous by Sylvester Stallone in the 1976 iconic movie Rocky. An imposing Greco-Roman temple-like structure, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is America’s third-largest art museum. Ionic pillars with well-defined volutes and pediments set the tone of the building. We zoomed in on one of the pediments to our right and found it embellished with intricately sculpted figures. I was already impressed by the architectural beauty of the museum and we had not even entered the main building!
“There are people who are here just for the steps…they don’t come inside the museum,” explained one of the museum attendants. We paid 16 dollars each for the main building which includes the Perelman building as well. First Sunday of each month is “pay what you wish all day!” Located at the junction of Fairmount and Pennsylvania Avenues, the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building is the result of an effort to expand and modernize the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Inside, the gold-hued brick-lined walls dominated the vast neo-classical Stair Hall whose slender steps led up to an elegant statue of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt. Acquired by the museum in 1925, Diana is made from thin copper sheets and was originally intended to serve as a weathervane for the tower of the Madison Square Garden in New York. It is the handiwork of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the renowned American sculptor.
On the upper level, one of the greatest works of the Baroque style greeted us…tapestry sets representing the “History of Constantine the Great.” According to the museum, “The top-center of each tapestry border contains two letters of the Greek alphabet, X and P. This monogram was an early Christian symbol of Christ, called the Chi-Rho, and was used by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great as a military standard.”
As we took in the tapestries and our surroundings, I heard a woman yell “Matthew, do not touch that” from a gallery behind us. Wheeling around we found ourselves at the threshold of a rare collection of Renaissance arms and armors fit for a king’s army. No wonder little Matthew was intrigued. Well, so was my husband. I am sure you can guess why this is one of the highlights of the museum.
Among other notable collections are The Montiers of Philadelphia, the Portal from the Abbey Church of Saint-Laurent, a ceremonial Japanese Teahouse (Sunkaraku) and the Agnew Clinic photogravure by Thomas Eakins to name a few. Housing over 200 galleries and a wide variety of artifacts, this museum may make you lose track of time. If you happen to visit on a weekend, I suggest you catch an Art After 5 show which takes place every Friday evening in the Great Stair Hall, and is accompanied by servings of cocktails and appetizers. For details on timings and upcoming events, please click here.
As we walked out into the bright sunlight, down the steps of the museum’s East Entrance, the one with the Rocky Steps, a trio of colorful umbrellas caught my attention. Waving at us was a bespectacled man dressed in a pink tee-shirt and a big beige hat selling Rocky Water Ice in various fruity flavors. Given the soaring temperature, my husband and I decided to try the Rocky ice.
“I see people climb the steps every day…but it’s especially fun in winter…after a snowstorm…with the sleds and snowboards…” said the man as he handed us our drinks. Wish I had asked him what he does during the cold winter months.