Art has told stories and educated communities for many thousands of years. From the 17,000-year old paintings in the Lascaux Caves to today’s most innovative physical artists and digital content creators, art has the remarkable ability to communicate messages and offer a real-time commentary on life. The biggest art galleries in the world offer accessibility to a wide audience, stimulate cultural discourse, and, as you’ll see below, they often rank among the world’s most beautiful buildings.
In an age defined by digital technology, the contenders for the title of largest art gallery in the world have managed to maintain their relevance and importance. They’ve adapted and evolved with the digital revolution, creating virtual tours, online exhibits, and interactive experiences, democratising art and making it accessible to a global audience at the click of a button.
Let’s take a look at some of the planet’s largest art galleries, culminating in the world’s biggest art gallery.
For the purposes of this article, the biggest art galleries are measured by public gallery space.
Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands | Gallery Space: Approx. 12,000 m2
The Rijksmuseum is one of the largest art galleries in the world as well as being among the most famous. It was established in the Hague in 1798 and moved to the Dutch capital ten years later. The Rijksmuseum welcomes around two million visitors every year and its collection of over a million items includes Rembrandt’s Night Watch, Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Portrait of a Young Couple by Franz Hals.
National Gallery of Canada
Location: Ontario, Canada | Gallery Space: Approx. 12,400 m2
Canada’s national art gallery was established in 1880 and its collection of over 93,000 pieces includes indigenous and national works as well as paintings, drawings and sketches, sculptures, books, documents and photographs from all over the world. Paintings by Turner, Titian, Rembrandt and Klimt hang in the gallery alongside its most famous resident, Van Gogh’s Iris.
Location: London, UK | Gallery Space: Approx. 30,700 m2
Home to the largest collection of Italian Renaissance art outside of Italy, the Victoria & Albert Museum opened in 1852. It’s one of the world’s largest art galleries and the world’s biggest museum for applied arts, decorative arts and design. The permanent collection encompasses well over two million pieces spanning five millennia of history.
Location: Vatican City | Gallery Space: Approx. 43,000 m2
Founded by Pope Julius II in 1506, the Vatican Museums is home to perhaps the most staggeringly beautiful collections of priceless art and sculpture in the world. It isn’t the biggest art gallery in the world, but it may be the most ornate. Highlights of the 70,000 work collection include Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Transfiguration, the Belvedere Torso by Apollonios, and Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ, as well as countless ancient Roman and Greek artefacts. In 2022, over five million people visited the Vatican Museums.
Museo Nacional del Prado
Location: Madrid, Spain | Gallery Space: Approx. 47,700 m2
The Prado in central Madrid houses one of the world’s great collections of European art and includes works by Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, Raphael and Albrecht Dürer. One of the world’s biggest art galleries, it opened in 1819 displaying the Royal Family’s personal collection. The permanent collection contains tens of thousands of drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures as well as countless other works and documents. In 2020, the Prado welcomed almost 900,000 visitors.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Location: New York, USA | Gallery Space: Approx. 58,800 m2
Welcoming 3.2 million visitors in 2022, The Met is a contender for the title of biggest art gallery in the world. Its permanent collection of over two million items includes one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of both musical instruments, and antique weapons and armour. It also includes paintings by the European Old Masters and world-class collections of Byzantine, Islamic, African and Asian art.
Musée de Louvre
Location: Paris, France | Gallery Space: Approx. 72,800 m2
Once the residence of the kings of France, the largest art gallery in the world is also the world’s most popular, with almost eight million visitors in 2022. The Louvre opened in 1793 with 537 paintings. Today, the permanent collection contains close to 400,000 objects including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Vermeer’s The Astronomer, the Venus de Milo by, possibly, Alexandros of Antioch, and Bathsheba at her Bath by Rembrandt.
The Universal Language
The world’s largest art galleries not only provide a physical space to house incredible collections, but they also contribute to the cultural tapestry of our shared human heritage. These vast temples of creativity and imagination stand testament to the depth and breadth of human artistic endeavour across the globe.
These art galleries do more than display works of art; they offer the opportunity to embark on a journey – a journey that traverses continents and eras, that delves into diverse cultures and civilizations, and that ultimately leads back to the heart of humanity. Through their vast collections, these museums underline the fact that creativity itself is universal.