Isabella of Boston.

A wealthy, eccentric socialite. A Venetian palace in Boston that looks like it was transported directly from Italy. Countless paintings, tapestries, valuable furniture, priceless books, and ancient statues. An iconic courtyard garden. And the greatest unsolved art heist of all time. Today’s adventure has a little of everything! Despite promising myself that I would remain near home and relax this weekend, on Sunday I found myself once again scanning a map of Boston, looking for a new place to visit. I soon came across a museum I had never visited but that has long been on my list: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

After a series of personal tragedies, including the death of her only son in 1865 just before his second birthday, Isabella Stewart Gardner fell into a deep depression. Her husband Jack arranged for the couple to travel to Europe to get away from the daily reminders of their personal traumas. During their travels, the couple discovered that they enjoyed collecting art, and for the next forty years would pour their fortune and efforts into creating one of the largest personal art collections in the world. Not content to keep the works solely for herself, after her husband’s death in 1898 Isabella commissioned a museum to display the art to the public. The result is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the design of which was heavily influenced by a palace in Venice. Opened in 1903, the museum is smaller than its neighbor, the the Museum of Fine Arts, but is more intimate and reflects the unique, singular vision of Isabella (via Wikipedia).

The museum is not solely known for its unique architecture and beautiful works of art, however. In 1990, thieves who were dressed as police officers entered the museum after hours, subdued and tied up the guards, and then stole several works of art, the total worth of which was close to $500 million. While investigators believe the thieves had ties to organized crime families in New England and Philadelphia, no charges have ever been filed and no arrests have been made. Indeed, two months ago the museum increased the bounty on the return of the art to $10 million, but no one has stepped forward (via Wikipedia). Thirteen empty frames hang on the walls of various galleries inside the museum, signifying where a work of art was stolen.

With all of this information swirling in my head, I set off for the museum and a fun afternoon exploring more of my new hometown.

Map of Boston. A pin is in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum location.
Located in the Kenmore/Fenway neighborhood, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum sits beside the Back Bay Fens, a saltwater marsh that was turned into a public park in the 1880s.
View of traffic on I-93 Northbound. The Boston skyline is in the distance.
Ah, traffic. Always, traffic. Shortly after I took this photo, in the lane beside me I saw another 2012 Honda Accord V6 coupe in Polished Metal Metallic, an identical twin to my car. I pulled up alongside and tried to give the other driver a thumbs up. He ignored me. I decided that his car must be DH’s evil twin. For you Knight Rider fans, if my car is KITT, that evil Accord was KARR.
2012 Honda Accord in gray, parked in a parking lot.
I stashed DH in a nearby parking lot. After leaving my car, my heart sank. The Red Sox are playing in Fenway Park today, and a large sign outside the parking lot gave the rate for “Game Day Parking,” a price 3x higher than the normal rate. I did not see the sign when I arrived. I usually buy myself a souvenir when I travel. Today my parking spot was my souvenir.
Front of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Currently in the midst of a multi-year renovation, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s original entrance is surrounded by scaffolds and tarps.
Main entrance to Isabella Stewart Gardner museum.
This more modern building is the newest wing of the museum, finished in 2012. It houses the new main entrance, a gift shop, a cafe, a library, a lounge, classrooms, offices, and performance spaces.
Archway leading to the courtyard.
Leave the modern wing and enter the main museum. It feels like you’ve been transported, as if by magic, to an ancient European palace.
Central Courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
The Courtyard of the museum, one of its most iconic features. The large square at the center of the garden is Medusa, a Roman mosaic dating to 125 AD.
Flowers in the courtyard.
The courtyard features a beautiful collection of flowers, plants, and trees, accenting its European design.
Spanish Chapel at the Museum.
The Spanish Chapel, one of two chapels at the museum. On the floor is an alabaster tomb figure of a Spanish knight, from approximately 1500 AD. Isabella bought it in 1906 and brought it to the museum. When Isabella died in 1924, her body lay in state outside this chapel before her funeral.
Stone stairs with blue walls.
Isabella was intimately involved in the design of the building, overseeing the project every step of the way. No detail was too small for her eye.
Candelabra on table in the Dutch room.
The Dutch Room. Notice the empty frame on the wall- here hung the painting The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, one of thirteen paintings stolen in 1990.
The Tapestry Room. Tapestries hang on the walls, a dinner table with chairs in in the center of the room. People are milling about the room.
The Tapestry Room, the focal point being the 16th century tapestries that hang on the walls.
Little Salon. A tapestry hangs on the wall. A table is decorated with small plates. Chairs and benches surround the room.
The Little Salon, furnished almost entirely with objects from 18th century Venice.
The Gothic Room. A large circular window is on the wall at right. Two tables are in the middle of the room, one with two candles on it, the other with several boxes on top. A fireplace is in the wall at left.
Looking like a set from the show Game of Thrones, the Gothic Room houses medieval art and furnishings from the years 1300-1500.
Stained glass window in front of altar table. A cross and several candles adorn the table.
In the Chapel Room is this stained glass window from Soissons Cathedral in France. The window was made in the early 1200s. I find it amazing that this glass window, made from such fragile material, could survive for over 800 years. The window tells the story of the murder of the Archbishop of Reims and his sister by Germanic Vandal barbarians in the year 403 AD. Fun fact- in the year 455, the Vandals sacked and looted Rome, and the memory of their actions have stayed with us even today. From them, we get the term “vandalism.”
The Long Gallery on the 3rd Floor. Various works of art are on the walls on both sides. People mill about the center.
The Long Gallery contains 15th century books, Italian art from the 15th and 16th centuries, 15th century furniture, and a cross made in the year 1100.
Evans Way Park near the museum. Benches are on either side of a central path.
Despite being in a major city, the museum’s location in the Back Bay Fens makes you feel like you have ventured into the countryside.
Back Bay Fens. The saltwater marsh runs through the middle of the picture. Trees are on either side of the marsh.
The Back Bay Fens. The museum is across the street. The small park is very peaceful and quiet, but this area is actually a very busy part of Boston. Nearby is Northeastern University, Simmons College, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital… and if you close your eyes and listen closely, you can actually hear the cheers from Fenway Park during games (such as today).
Odometer of car. Odometer reads 86838. Trip meter reads 157.1.
DH continues to roll onward toward 100,000 miles! The 87,000 milestone should be passed sometime this week.

This Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is open Wednesday through Monday, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm (closed on Tuesdays), with extended hours until 9:00 pm on Thursday evening. Adults pay $15 for entry, senior citizens 65 and older are $12, and college students pay $5. However, before you go, I would strongly suggest you research the Offers and Discounts page on the museum’s website. Is your name Isabella? If so, you receive free entrance to the museum for life. Are you celebrating your birthday? If you are, the museum is free for you as well. Are you a Boston Red Sox fan? Well, so was Isabella. In fact, in 1912, when the Red Sox won the championship, she caused quite a stir by wearing a white bandana to a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The bandana read: “Oh, you Red Sox!” As per rules issued by Isabella Stewart Gardner herself, museum attendees wearing Red Sox attire also receive a discount. Do you have an account with Bank of America? If so, show proof, and on the first full weekend of the month, you receive free admission (thanks to my friends Jenny and Jason for that tip!).

The Museum does a wonderful job of preserving the art and treasures of Mrs. Gardner, while also keeping alive her playful sense of wonder. Photography is allowed, children are not frowned upon by museum staff but rather are encouraged to attend (there is even an art play room for the little ones), and every staff member I spoke with was very helpful. The only drawback today was the large number of attendees, which made some of the galleries too crowded to fully appreciate. I will definitely take a day off from work this fall and return, so I can spend more time at this amazing museum. Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

9 thoughts on “Isabella of Boston.

  1. Wow, 27 years after the robbery of those paintings and the case still isn’t closed! Very cool tour here. Definitely looks like a bit of an oasis in the middle of the large city, and a step far back in time too. I don’t know how stained glass can survive 800 years. I can’t even keep my iPhone screens intact for longer than 2. Haha. So, what was the parking rate after paying the “game day premium”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the case is one of the more fascinating whodunnits, especially since the thieves left more valuable works of art in place. They probably could have cleaned out the museum, but instead took only the 13 mentioned.

      Parking rate was $29, which is really high considering I was expecting to pay around $10.

      Hope your weekend went well!

      Like

  2. So interesting! Is the courtyard enclosed and protected from the elements? And I’m guessing the stained glass is on display and not an actual window, right? One of these days I’m going to get to Boston 🙂

    Like

  3. I found this post to be especially delightful! What a breath of fresh air! The museum is terrific and I felt as if I was there touring in person. THANK YOU! My name is not nor will ever be Isabella, but I might be able to swing another connection for an admission discount. It looks like you found a valuable way to spend your time! Thanks for taking us readers along.

    Liked by 1 person

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