Whilst the nucleus of this collection is made up of works from Antonis Benakis' personal collection, the bulk of it is derived from the donation made by Damianos Kyriazis in 1953, as well as from subsequent gifts and bequests made by many other friends of the Museum. It includes a total of almost 6000 paintings and drawings by mainly European artists of the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as works by Greek artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The two categories consist of paintings and drawings by artists who either visited Greek lands, or were inspired by Greek history and culture. The subjects are landscapes, views, ancient and modern monuments, portraits, historical events, folk scenes and regional costumes.
The collection also includes two related groups of prints: caricatures dating to the 19th century, and maps covering a continuous chronological period spanning the 15th to the 19th century.
The subject matter of this specialist collection makes it one of the most important archival sources of pictorial information about the Greek world during the periods of Latin and Ottoman rule.
In the index of artists represented in the collection, the names of many leading exponents of the European Romantic movement can be found, such as R. P. Bonington, Ary Scheffer, Carle Vernet, Albert Riegel, A. M. Collin, Sir Charles L. Eastlake, H. W. Williams, and W. J. Muller. One can also find complete collections of watercolours by E. Lear and J. Cartwright, as well as the unique, complete set of Greek drawings by Thomas Hope.
Greek artists represented in the collection include Nikolaos Kantounis, Theodoros Vryzakis, Philippos Margaritis. There are also large groups of drawings by Nikolaos Gyzis and Nikephoros Lytras.
The collection of Prehistoric, Ancient Greek and Roman antiquities which is formed through the contributions of several Greek and foreign donors, as well as from the reserves of other museums, covers a vast chronological period stretching from the dawn of prehistory to the end of the Roman era.
The Byzantine collection links the ancient Greek world to that of modern Greece. The collection is exceptionally rich, although it is not representative of all the different artistic tendencies and currents which flourished during the thousand-year Byzantine Empire, and is divided into two groups.
The Benaki Museum collection of Islamic art, which includes examples of all its local variations from as far as India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain, ranks among the most important in the world.
The collections of ecclesiastical and secular art cover the historical period from the 15th to the 19th century and provide evidence of the high level of culture in the Greek world during the Frankish and Ottoman occupations.
The Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery was gifted to the Benaki Museum by the artist and functioned as an annexe to the museum from 1991-2000, whereupon it closed temporarily for maintenance and building refurbishment. Work commenced in 2005 under architect Pavlos Kalligas and in May 2012 the Gallery re-opened its doors to the public.
The Maria Argyriadi donation is the core of the Department of Childhood, Toys and Games, which was founded in 1991.