A Night at the Met: an After Hours Visit with Michelangelo

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people! A review of an after hours VIP visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Michelangelo exhibit.

Metropolitan Museum facade at night during the Michelangelo exhibit
My After Hours visit to the Michelangelo exhibit: very special! Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is my kind of Night at the Museum — Michelangelo, me, and very few other people!

Michelangelo's sketch of Masaccio's fresco Expulsion from the Garden displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Michelangelo’s sketch of Masaccio’s fresco Expulsion from the Garden. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

The Met show, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, contains over 200 works of art by Michelangelo and his colleagues (133 drawings by the master himself), including chalk drawings, paintings, and works of charcoal on paper, along with bronze and marble sculptures.

The exhibit was eight years in the making. The exhibition’s curator, Carmen C. Bambach, started with a tour to Europe to visit the different works under consideration, and once a list was developed — then came the arduous process of soliciting the artwork.

Many of the drawings are rarely seen at all, and certainly not together. On the left is a very early sketch — the young Michelangelo’s Study of Adam and Eve after The Expulsion from the Garden fresco by Masaccio. It’s fascinating to see drawings from this period in the artist’s life.

In an interview with Artsy, Bambach said, “This is a drawing that hardly anybody has seen in the original other than the specialists,” says Bambach. “Though it’s housed in the Louvre’s collection, it is rarely seen. Having that very powerful drawing in red chalk and in the company of all [other] late 15th-century works…is really a first,” she says.

The exhibit is an extraordinary opportunity to see Michelangelo’s evolution from a young artist into a sculptor, then into a painter, and finally into an architect, through works of art that have never been displayed together at one time. Sadly, the exhibit runs only three months . . . and the clock is ticking: the end is coming quickly. It closes February 12, 2018.

In late January, about three weeks before the exhibit is set to close, The Met announced that over 500,000 people had already visited Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.

This is, of course, the problem.

My daughter Catherine went to see the exhibit in the fall, and although she was there when the museum opened, the Michelangelo exhibit was quickly swamped. It’s hard to feel a personal relationship with a work of art when you’re standing eight people deep trying to look at the same drawing.

And the crowds aren’t just for the Michelangelo exhibit. According to the New York Times, over the last 13 years attendance at the Met has soared from 4.7 million to over 7 million annual visitors.

Entrance to displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Entrance to the Michelangelo Exhibit. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

One of the most beautiful rooms in the exhibit was the space devoted to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The illuminated copy of the ceiling in a 1:4 scale is displayed along with the master’s sketches of many of the figures in the fresco.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
The Sistine Chapel ceiling: an illuminated copy at 1:4 scale of the original. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As our world becomes more crowded, and more people travel, personal and quiet access to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the things I value most highly, and that I am willing to pay to have.

Second to last room in the displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
In an increasingly crowded world, access and quiet may be our greatest luxuries. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

A closing photograph from the Michelangelo exhibit, the Young Archer.

If you are not going to get to see the exhibit before it closes, consider getting the catalogue, which is one of the finest I’ve ever seen: you can find it here in the Met shop online.

Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo displayed in the exhibit Michelangelo Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Detail of the Young Archer, by Michelangelo. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information about my After Hours viewing

Wonderful story about two children who run away from home and live in the Metropolitan Museum. As an adult, I STILL love this book! From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The ticket I purchased through Viator granted access to both the Michelangelo and Hockney exhibits. I arrived twenty minutes ahead of my 6:00 admission, and entered the museum at a street level door at 81st Street, an area reserved for groups. They checked the After Hours ticket holders off the list, and whisked us up in two elevators.

We walked through a couple of rooms on the way to the Hockney and Michelangelo exhibits. No, you can’t just go rambling through the museum! All side rooms were cordoned off.

I have to admit, I was having twitchy feelings about sneaking away and trying to spend the night at the Met 🙂 . If you’ve ever had a desire to live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you haven’t read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it’s wonderful.

Empty Rodin gallery on my way to A Night at the Met with the Michelangelo exhibit
I passed through several galleries on the way to the Michelangelo exhibit. Here is the empty Rodin gallery that I enjoyed looking around on my way out of the museum.

The night I went, there were three entry times to choose from: 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 pm. At each entry time, according to what I read, entry was limited to 150 people over the whole evening — staggered out fifty at a time, so that not everyone entered at once.

After Hours Viewings at the Met  — Availability for this will come and go. The After Hours viewing nights of the Michelangelo show are finished, but look for them to happen from time to time for exhibits that are particularly popular and crowded.

Viator VIP Empty Met  Regularly available: a 1.5 hour tour before the Met opens to the public. Note, you will be with a guide for the tour, but then you can stay for as long as you like, and see anything you like on your own, once the museum opens.

Viator VIP: Mornings at MoMa  A similar tour is available at the Museum of Modern Art.

Other Tips for Visiting the Met

While the strategies listed below may not work as well for special exhibits like Michelangelo, the entire Metropolitan Museum is SO HUGE that you can definitely have a quieter experience without paying a premium price:

  • Go on the weekdays, not the weekend. A no-brainer, right?
  • Go early, or stay late –Be there when the museum opens, or choose to visit one of the several nights each week that the museum is open late. Check out the Met’s hours.
  • Become a Met member . . . did you know that there are special early hours and evenings, only for members of the Met? Check out the schedule for upcoming members-only hours and events.
  • Try a concert — yes, you will have to pay extra for these, but there are always interesting performances happening at the Met and the Cloisters that allow you experience them in an entirely different way.
  • Dine at the Met. Somehow, there’s something pretty special about wine, food, and art. Take a look at the different eating and drinking venues at the Met on Fifth Avenue.
  • And really all of this means — do your homework. If visiting this amazing museum is an important part of your visit to NYC, look at the Met calendar as you are planning your trip!

Disclaimer: While I paid to take this tour, I do have an affiliate relationship with Viator, which means that if you book through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you, my reader. I use Viator’s services — and I particularly love the VIP access to museums, which I’ll be buying again. I never recommend things that I don’t love, believe in, and do. Thank you for your support! It makes this my work and this web site possible.

Additional info: I first found Viator VIP experiences when I was in Rome a couple of years ago. My friend Joyce had never been to Italy, and we had to do all of the crowded Roman sights. Since we were going to be there in the summer, I started doing research to find ways to see the Colosseum and the Vatican without lines — and without dying of heat.

The VIP experiences I have had with Viator in Rome have been very special: Breakfast at the Vatican, and Night Tour of the Coliseum with a rooftop dinner, both so good I did them twice: once with Joyce, and then the following year when my sister and I were in Rome. You can read about those here — Rome: Beating the Crowds.

Walking Tour of Florence with a Visit to the David

A review of my 2017 small group walking tour of Florence, skipping the line to see Michelangelo’s David, with the family-owned company, LivItaly Tours.

Piazza della Signoria on a florence italy walking tour
On my LivItaly walking tour, a wonderful view standing in the doorway of the Palazzo Vecchio looking out on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

On Wednesday, I spent a wonderful afternoon with a small group tour from LivItaly Tours.

This tour was nothing like those groups of 20 to 40 you see herding past where the guide is holding a little flag and chirping at the people on a radio transmitter. If you are trying to choose from among the many Florence tours available, this is not the direction I would go.

The maximum group size on a LivItaly Tour is six people. This means your walking tour of Florence feels more like a stroll with friends than one of those larger, impersonal groups — which frankly make me want to run in the opposite direction.

Walks of Florence with LivTaly Tours - Rape of the Sabine
Rape of the Sabine by Giambologna in the Loggia dei Lanzi. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our guide, Francesca, met us in the Piazza della Signoria right in front of the famous Caffé Rivoire.

This three hour walking tour started in the Piazza della Signoria, went past the Uffizi to stop on the Arno, lead us through the Piazza Repubblica to the Duomo, then down the Via de Martelli to the Palazzo Medici. We arrived at the Academia, and swept right in past the line to see Michelangelo’s David. The final 30 – 40 minutes of time were in the Academia with the David.

Francesca, a licensed guide for Florence and many other cities in Tuscany, was not only knowledgable — but very funny.

My afternoon with her was like having my own storyteller in the middle of the most important city of the Italian Renaissance. The great thing about the group of six, is that our afternoon was a conversational experience. Everyone had a chance to ask questions.

While I’ve been to Florence a number of times, Francesca connected the Florence of the Roman period, the medieval period, the Renaissance period, and finally the modern period in a way that increased my understanding and connection to the city, really bringing it to life.

walks of italy florence - we stopped in the Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza della Repubblica in Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Walking tours of Florence with LivItaly - use bronze 3D map of Florence
Our guide from LivItaly Tours uses the 3D bronze map of Florence to show the course of the medieval wall around the city. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Just a block away from the Arno, Francesca led us down one of the remaining medieval streets in Florence as we talked about the cramped city and the lack of light of that period, then out into the Piazza della Repubblica.

This had been the site of the forum during the Roman period, then the old market, and finally the Piazza della Repubblica when Florence was briefly the capital of the newly united Italy (1865 – 1871).

We paused in the Piazza to use the bronze model of the city to discuss the original streets dating back to the Roman period, then to look at where the medieval walls had been, before walking towards the Duomo.

Il Duomo -- walking tours of Florence with Livitaly
Francesca explained the machines Brunelleschi used to build the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore — knowledge that had been lost following the fall of the Roman empire. Walks of Italy, Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher

In front of the Duomo, we stopped at the Baptistry to look at the copy of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise (originals are in the Opera del Duomo) as Francesca explained the doors, and then the competition for the first set of Baptistry doors that marked the beginning of the Renaissance. We were a lively group with questions, and the whole thing was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

Walking tour of Florence - no line for the David
If you have a limited time in Florence, which is true of most visitors, it is very important not to waste your day standing in line to see the David. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Skipping the Line to Visit Michelangelo’s David

If you do not make plans ahead, and you simply arrive expecting to walk in and see the David, you may be out of luck.

When we arrived at the Academia museum, and the line to see the David still stretched most of the way down the block — so far, that with the time left before the Academia closed, that the people at the very back might get to enter.

Long line outside the Academia waiting to see Michelangelo's David.
It’s not unusual to have to wait two hours in line at the Academia to see the David. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our little group waited while Francesca picked up our reserved tickets, and as we did, a husband and his wife had a very public melt-down outside of the museum.

“I don’t know why you thought you knew SO MUCH BETTER about how to do this than someone who ACTUALLY LIVES HERE!!” said the husband, his face increasingly red as he spoke.

His wife seemed close to tears. “I just didn’t think the line would be this long, since we aren’t here in the summer.”

“We’re not going to get in today, and we leave first thing in the morning! Mary Ellen bought a reserved ticket ahead, like Piero told her to . . .  but now there are no more of those left this afternoon!”

“Joe, I’m so sorry.”

He bellowed, “Well, at least SHE’S going to get to see him!”

“I wish you would just calm down . . . ”

“You knew that the David was the only thing I really wanted to see here, and now it’s not going to happen!! . . . And I’m not going to calm down!”

We saw the David on our walking tour of Florence.
The David, created 1501-1504 by Michelangelo, walking tour Florence. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

At this point, Francesca re-appeared and whisked us straight into the Academia.

I felt incredibly sorry for that couple. Can you reserve tickets to see the David without taking a tour? Yes, you absolutely can, and if you’re not going to take a walking tour, you definitely need to do that.

The reason this is so much better is that visiting the David with a guide gives you the full context for this amazing work of art. Francesca did a fine job of telling the story of how the young Michelangelo returned from Rome after his success with the Pieta and won the contract to carve the enormous block of marble.

The citizens of Florence were awestruck with the David when they first saw him completed in 1504. David was a GIANT then, and he is a GIANT now.

Francesca concluded the LivItaly Tour at his feet, leaving us to spend as much time with this masterpiece as each of us liked.

I finished my day with a cocktail at Caffé Rivoire, to watch the light in the piazza, and to think about my walk — which had been perfect. Returning to sit in the Piazza della Signoria was coming full circle, a contemplation of my afternoon of time-travel through Italian history.


If you’re looking for: walks of Italy, Florence — you’ve found a review of my 2017 walking tour of Florence with Livitaly Tours.


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Small Group Walking Tour of Florence with the David


Disclaimer: Many thanks to LivItaly Tours for hosting me on their walking tour. As always, opinions and experiences are honest and my own. I’ll never recommend anything I didn’t love myself.