Now, though, it's unveiled a brand new initiative that's bound to endear it to designers and artists worldwide. It's updated its Open Access policy and made all of the public domain artworks in The Met collection available under a Creative Commons Zero licence.
What this means is that whoever you are, you can access and download images of any of the public domain works in The Met's digital collection and do whatever you want with them. Whether you want to remix them, turn them into digital collages, or even sell them as prints or T-shirts, you can do so right now.
And there's quite a selection to work with. In his blog post introducing Open Access at The Met, chief digital officer Loic Tallon estimates the public domain collection to number over 375,000 works out of a total of over 1.5 million objects spanning 5,000 years of culture from around the world.
This includes over 8,000 paintings for you to search through, and new works are being added all the time; in the past year alone over 18,000 new public domain works have been added to the collection.
Finding a piece of art to work with is spectacularly easy; you can search The Met's online collection and filter by Public Domain, and beyond that you can fine-tune your search by specifying artist, object type, location, date and department.
The Met is also making key information, otherwise known as tombstone data – title, maker, date, culture, medium, and dimensions – available for all 440,000 artworks that the Museum has digitised to date; you can download it now from GitHub.
The Met isn't the first institution to throw its collection open to the world in this way; in 2015 the British Library put over a million images from its collection for anyone to download. Both schemes, however, represent an excellent opportunity for designers and artists to find inspiration and create new works based on classic art. So don't hang around; head over to The Met's online collection and see what you can find!