The Museum and Library constitute the most extensive collection of Hispanic art and literature outside of Spain and Latin America. Archer Huntington’s fascination with Spanish culture started at the age of twelve; by fourteen he had begun to study the Spanish language; and by nineteen he revealed his aspiration to found a “Spanish Museum.” As Huntington’s enthusiasm grew he became increasingly committed to the creation of an institution that would encompass all facets of Hispanic culture. Working toward this goal, Huntington began his collection with Spanish rare books and manuscripts; then decorative arts; followed by paintings and sculpture—all of which now fill the galleries of The Hispanic Society of America.
Huntington ceased most of his activity as a collector by the 1930s, although the Hispanic Society’s collections continued to benefit in the following decades from numerous donations and bequests. Following Huntington’s death in 1955, the remaining portion of his personal collection entered the Museum and Library collections. It was not until the 1970s that the Museum began to add to the collections through purchase. Today the Hispanic Society Museum and Library builds upon the legacy of Huntington through an active acquisitions program.
The Museum Department of the Hispanic Society contains more than 18,000 works in almost every medium, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, decorative arts, and the useful arts dating from the Paleolithic to the 20th century. Objects from prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Iberia; Spain and Portugal; Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin America; Portuguese Goa in India; and the Philippines all figure notably in the collection.