Luigi Palma di Cesnola

One of the world’s largest and finest art museums is The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York City. It has more than 2 million works of art representing over 5,000 years from every corner of the world. The extensive collection is spread over 17 curatorial departments. The museum was founded in 1870 and opened in February 1872. The first director was Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a product of military schools and wartime.

Born in Rivarolo Canavese near Turin on July 29, 1832, he was the son of a military officer and, at age 15, joined the Sardinian army. He attended the military academy, served with the British Army in the Crimean War, came to America, and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. He was wounded, taken prisoner by the Confederates and later exchanged in a prisoner swap. He was decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor and commissioned as a Brigadier General by President Abraham Lincoln. He was appointed consul to Cyprus in 1865 and, during his stay as a diplomat, became an archaeologist and began a series of excavations. He later wrote a book of considerable service to antiquary.

In his newly founded profession, he discovered thousands of Cypriote objects such as necropoli containing thousands of deeply buried tombs and the Golgoi temple containing vaults loaded with gold, silver, gems, sculptures, and other rare antiquities. The collection was purchased by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1872 and Luigi Palma di Cesnola became the first director in 1879 and served as its director for 25 years until his death in New York on November 23, 1904.

It was written of Luigi Palma di Cesnola that “The Museum as known today may be regarded as a monument to his energy, enterprise and rare executive skill – it would be hard to replace him.”