Philippe de Montebello is the longest-serving director in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art's history. Martin Gayfor is a British art critic who writes for Artinfo. They have collaborated on this unique project which takes them to experience paintings and sculpture as they encounter art in museums, galleries, and churches on two continents and in six counties. Addressing the intention, Martin Gayford states:

"Our idea was to make a book that was neither art history nor art criticism but an experiment in shared appreciation. It is, in other words, an attempt to get at not history or theory but the actual experience of looking at art: what it feels like on a particular occasion, which is of course the only way any of us can ever look at anything."

Their travels take de Montebello and Gayford to the Louvre, the Met, the British Museum, the Prado, and the Palazzo Pitti. Along the way they ask themselves revealing questions on the modern challenges of seeing art: What comprises an art collection? How are works of art classified? How are art works displayed and in what ways does that impact our appreciation and understanding of them?

Here are a few things that caught our interest while reading this sturdy and innovative book that contains 75 illustrations in color and b&w:

  • To enter an art museum is to step into the past and to allow the artist to put us in the picture.
  • Martin Gayford alludes to the pleasure of ruins and what English painter John Piper called "pleasing decay" brought about by both man and nature."
  • "One of the great pleasures of life as an artistic consumer is that of discovery; suddenly finding what other people see in something that one hitherto couldn't respond to at all. It's a process of enlarging one's sensibility, which is a marvelous experience," writes Martin Gayford.

Rendez-vous with Art by Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford models for us "the conversations, thoughts, reactions, words, and silences" that can take place in front of great works of art.

Read an excerpt on attention