Philippe de Montebello was Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for thirty-one years. The astonishing length of his tenure is matched by the brilliance of his reign. Every part of the museum's forty-plus acres of exhibition space was renewed or transformed during those years, from classical antiquity to twentieth- and twenty-first-century art. Not a tatty corner or a tired old gallery remained after de Montebello swept through his empire of art on Fifth Avenue. Eighty-four thousand objects flowed into the already capacious collections. The apex of these acquisitions was Duccio's Madonna and Child, purchased for US$45 million or thereabouts (the Met is always cagey about what it actually pays for an object). It was the largest amount the museum has spent on any object in its 145-year history. De Montebello's response to the Duccio forms one of the better passages in Rendez-vous with Art:
what drove me to buy the Duccio was the fact that for close to an hour I did hold it in my hands, that I did turn it around, looking at the back, sensing its weight, measuring its thickness. It had a corporeal reality that was almost, to use a paradox, mystical.