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BOSTON'S MUSEUMS

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In 1942, Alfred North Whitehead said of Boston that it had come to occupy a position in the 20th century similar to that of Paris in the Middle Ages. It had become, he observed, the "capital city" of Western learning. One of the reasons behind the British philosopher's observations lay in Boston's many remarkable museums.

Indeed, the preservation and exhibition of artistic, historical, and scientific objects have reached impressive heights in and around Boston. Whatever a tourist's interests, he will find a wide variety of museums to match them.

One might begin with a leisurely stroll through the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a great mansion in the Fenway area of Boston, designed after a 15 th-century Venetian palace. Planned by Mr. Gardner herself, the museum houses an impressive and eclectic collection of art -- original works by Rembrandt, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Vermeer, as well as John Singer Sargent's portrait of Mrs. Gardner.

An exquisite lace collection, a 14th-century Syro-Egyptian bowl, a bronze vessel from the Shang Dynasty (1200-1100 BC), and a goldover-porcelain Empire tea set from France, displayed against a backdrop of Whistler pastels, can be viewed within the museum's many galleries.

Within walking distance of the Gardner museum, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts of fers, to give just a sampling, Egyptian and Near Eastern art, a textile collection which includes embroideries, printed fabrics, weavings, and costumes from all over the world, and works by French Impressionists, Spanish and Italian painters, as well as American artists such as John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart. (Stuart painted the famed George and Martha Washington portraits, which will be housed alternately every three years between the Museum of Fine Arts here and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.)

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