What you need to know before visiting the Met’s ‘Heavenly Bodies’ exhibit


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Met Gala 2018: How the Catholic theme inspired divine fashions
Josmar Taveras, USA TODAY

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s spring 2018 Costume Institute exhibit is the largest in the museum’s history, spanning 25 galleries and 60,000 square feet.

Opening on Thursday , and running through Oct. 8, it’s also shaping up to be one of its most popular. The centerpiece, 40 ecclesiastical wears from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy, was years in the making, and the largest loan to the museum since the successful 1983 exhibit “The Vatican Collections.”

Though it takes no prep-work to enjoy, there are a few key details that can help maximize your visit .

Where is it and do I need a ticket?

The exhibit is housed in two main locations: the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Cloisters (in Fort Tryon Park above Washington Heights).

General admission is $25 for adults; $17 for seniors; $12 for students; and free for members, patrons, and children under 12. General admission tickets include exhibitions and are valid for three consecutive days at the Met Fifth Avenue, the Met Breuer and the Met Cloisters.

Where should I start?

Curator Andrew Bolton and team designed the exhibit with a pilgrimage in mind. The full journey begins in the Byzantine galleries of the Fifth Avenue location, with fashions from Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, inspired by ancient religious art and architecture.

It continues into the medieval galleries, with fashion that references the church’s hierarchies and gender distinctions, including nuns and priests. Here, Alexander McQueen, Valentino and Dior preside.

Behind the choir screen in the cathedral-like gallery, the exhibit continues with the conceptual divide between heaven and earth, full of images of angels, the Virgin Mary and a bride via Christian Lacroix and more.

Beyond, in the Robert Lehman Wing, a slew of angels in gold Lanvin rest alongside Renaissance paintings.

Next is the Anna Wintour Costume Center where the liturgical pieces encompassing more than 15 papacies from the 18th to the early 21st century are housed unto themselves.

And last is the Met Cloisters, where things get a bit more cerebral with minimalist fashions, inspired by monasteries.

What are the must-see pieces?

Saint John Paul II’s shoes

Where: In the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery of the Anna Wintour Costume Center

Pope John Paul II wore Loredano Apollini not Prada, but his shoes were the traditional papal red. The color signifies Christ’s blood as well as that of Catholic martyrs. 

The cope of Pius IX

Where: In the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery of the Anna Wintour Costume Center

This cope, or long cloak worn by Catholic priests, is the largest and most elaborate of a suite of twelve vestments given to Pius IX in 1862, including a chasuble (or robe) and two dalmatics (tunic) also on view. They are part of the pieces that have never before left the Vatican.

Tiara of Pius IX

Where: In the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery in the Anna Wintour Costume Center

A flashy man, Pius IX also was gifted this piece from a European royal, Queen Isabella II of Spain. Weighing almost three pounds, the tiara includes about nineteen thousand precious stones, the majority of which are estimated to be diamonds.

Valentino Evening Dress

Where: In the Medieval Sculpture Hall (305)

The couture dress by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino’s fall 2017 haute couture collection is reminiscent of choir dress worn by cardinals and bishops, but is equally fitting for a gala.

Dior Evening Ensemble

Where: In the Medieval Sculpture Hall (305)

This piece made waves in 2000 when John Galliano sent it down the Dior haute couture runway. It is based on a priest’s cope, but was part of a subversive show by the provocative designer. 

Yves Saint Laurent Statuary Vestment for the Virgin

Where: In the Medieval Europe Gallery (304)

This ensemble, created for a statue of the Virgin in the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Compassion in Paris, and is fit for the holiest of women in the church, Mary.

Chanel gilet 

Where: In the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Byzantine Art, Apse (303)

Designer Karl Lagerfeld riffed on chainmail with this jeweled vest, using medieval reliquary crosses, a type closely associated with Coco Chanel, who was raised by nuns in a Catholic orphanage.

Christian Lacroix “Gold-Gotha” Ensemble 

Where: In the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Byzantine Art, Apse (303)

Anna Wintour put this jacket on her first cover for American Vogue in 1988 with a pair of Guess jeans. 

Balenciaga Wedding Dress

Where: In the Fuentiduena Chapel at the Met Cloisters

Fashion history has designated this garment by Cristobal Balenciaga the “one-seam wedding dress,” though it is made of two pieces. However, it’s now a reminder of Jesus’ seamless robe at the Crucifixion (John 19:23). 

Madame Grès Evening Dress

Where: In the Pontaut Chapter House at the Met Cloisters

This dress’s pleats are similar to Saint Francis’ habit, and may have helped convince Archbishop Georg Gänswein to agree to the exhibit, as the New York Times reports.

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