The Gardner museum offers art with a side of scandal. In 1990, thirteen works, including a rare Vermeer and Rembrandts valued at $500 million, were stolen by thieves posing as police. They’ve never been recovered, and the empty frames still hang in their original spots in memory of the lost works. Heist aside, this is probably the most beautiful museum in New England. Modeled on the Venetian palazzi adored by nineteenth-century socialite and philanthropist Isabella Gardner, it’s an immersive experience, with pencils and sheaves of paper nestled into corners and stacked on surfaces to encourage sketching. Although she was a Boston resident, Gardner spent most of her time exploring Europe and the Far East with her husband, accruing a collection of paintings, books, sculptures, and textiles—nearly 16,000 items in all. Sketches by Manet, Michelangelo, and John Singer Sargent, gothic tapestries, paintings by Velázquez and Titian, as well as an extensive furniture and rare books collection fill the galleries. Wander through the rooms of the palazzo and wind up in the courtyard, a cloistered space filled with sculptures, trees, tiles, and a proper Roman-style pond, all of which adds up to the most serene spot in Boston no matter the season.

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