View from the Hudson River with bell tower
|Established||May 10, 1938|
|Location||99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park
Manhattan, New York City
|Public transit access||Bus: M4 to museum's entrance (rush hours only), or M4 or M98 (rush hours only) to the entrance of Fort Tryon Park
Subway: 190th Street ( train) or 191st Street ( train)
The Cloisters is a museum in Upper Manhattan, New York City specializing in European medieval architecture, sculpture and decorative arts. Its collection grew from that of American sculptor, art dealer and collector George Grey Barnard, whose foundations were acquired by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1925. Rockefeller extended the collection and in 1931 purchased land at Washington Heights and contracted the design for a new building. The museum is today part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Its architectural and artistic works divide between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. Its four cloisters -known as the Cuxa, Bonnefort, Trie and Saint-Guilhem cloisters- come from French monasteries and abbeys. Between 1934 and 1939 they were excavated and reconstructed in Washington Heights, in a large project overseen by the architect Charles Collens. They are surrounded by a series of indoor chapels and rooms grouped by period which include the Romanesque, Fuentidueña, Unicorn, Spanish and Gothic rooms. The design, layout and ambiance of the building is intended to evoke in visitors a sense of the Medieval European monastic life through its distinctive architecture. The area around the buildings contains a number of reconstructed early medieval gardens.
The Cloisters is a well-known New York City landmark and has been used as a filming location a number of times. In 1948, the experimental filmmaker Maya Deren used its ramparts as a backdrop for her experimental film Meditation on Violence. In the same year, German director William Dieterle used the Cloisters as the location for a convent school in his film Portrait of Jennie. The 1968 film Coogan's Bluff used the site for the scene of a shoot-out.
- 1 History
- 2 Cloisters
- 3 Chapels and halls
- 4 Collection
- 5 Selected objects
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The design for the 66.5-acre (26.9 ha) Fort Tryon Park was commissioned by the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. beginning in 1917, when he purchased the Billings Estate and other properties in the Fort Washington area and hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of one of the designers of Central Park, and the Olmsted Brothers firm to create a park, which he donated to New York City in 1935. As part of the project, Rockefeller also purcheased the medieval art collection of George Grey Barnard, an American sculptor and collector, who had already established a medieval-art museum near his home in Fort Washington, and during one of his frequent financial crises, sold it to the Metropolitan. His collection was acquired along with a number of pieces from Rockefeller's own holdings, including the Unicorn Tapestries. These became the foundation and core of the Cloisters collection.
The Cloisters and its adjacent 4 acres (1.6 ha) gardens are situated within Fort Tryon Park, and were constructed using grants and endowments from Rockefeller; construction took place over a five-year period beginning in 1934. He also bought several hundred acres of the New Jersey Palisades, which he later donated to the State of New Jersey, to help preserve the view from the museum. This land is now part of the Palisades Interstate Park.
The Cloisters building in Washington Heights was designed by Charles Collens, incorporated parts from the five cloistered abbeys in Catalan, Occitan and French origins. Parts from Sant Miquel de Cuixà, Sant Guilhèm dau Desèrt, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigòrra, and Froville were disassembled stone-by-stone and shipped to New York City, where they were reconstructed and integrated into a cohesive whole. In 1988, the Treasury Gallery within the Cloisters, containing objects used for liturgical celebrations, personal devotions, and secular uses, was renovated. Other galleries were refurbished in 1999.
The museum contains architecture elements and settings relocated from four French medieval abbeys: the Cuxa, Bonnefort, Trie and Saint-Guilhem cloisters. Between 1934 and 1939 they were transported, reconstructed and integrated with new buildings, in projects overseen by the architect Charles Collens.
The Cloisters is fortified, as would have been the original churches and abbeys. In such circumstances well developed gardens would have been essential for survival. Today the gardens of the Cloisters contain a wide variety of mostly rare medieval species, amounting to over 250 genera of plants, flowers, herbs and trees, making it one of the world's most important collection of specialized gardens. Their design was overseen by during the museums build by James Rorimer, aided by Margaret Freeman, who conducted extensive research into both the keeping of plants and their symbolism in the Middle Ages.
Today the gardens are tended by a staff of horticulturalists; the senior members are also historians and researchers on medieval gardening techniques.
The Cuxa Cloisters are located on the south side of the building and structurally and thematically are the museum's centerpiece. They are from the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Mount Canigou in the northeast French Pyrenees, founded in 878. The monastery was abandoned in 1791. Around half of the building was relocated to New York, after it was purchased by Barnard in 1906 and 1907. Until then it had been in disrepair; its roof collapsed in 1835, followed by its bell tower in 1839. They were then acquired by John D. Rockefeller Jr in 1925, and their installation was one of the first major undertakings by the Metropolitan after it had acquired and absorbed his Barnard's collection. After intensive work over fall and winter 1925–26, the Cuxa cloister was finally opened to the public on April 1, 1926.
The Cuxa cloisters are placed at the center of the museum; its quadrangle-shaped garden once formed a center around which monks slept in cells. Its original garden seemed to have lined walkways around adjoining arches lined with capitals enclosing the garth. The oldest plan of the original building describes lilies and roses. It is impossible to now represent all medieval species and arrangements; those in the Cuxa are approximations by botanists specializing in medieval history. At the center is an eight sided fountain.
The walls surrounding the Cuxa cloisters are modern. The capitals and columns are cut from pink marble stone from the Pyrenees known as Languedoc marble. They capitals were cut at different points in its history, and thus contain a variety forms and more abstract geometric patterns, including scrolling leaves, pine cones, sacred figures such as Christ, the Apostles, and angels, as well as monstrous creatures such as two headed animals, lions restrained by apes, hybrids, monstrous mouths consuming naked human torsos, and a mermaid.
The motifs may be derive from popular fables, represent the brute forces of nature or evil, or based on late 11th and 12th century monastic writings, such as those by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). The order in which the capitals were originally placed is unknown, making their interpretation especially difficult, although an overall sequential and continuous narrative was probably never intended. According to art historian Thomas Dale, to the monks, the "human figures, beasts, and monsters" may have represented the "tension between the world and the cloister, the struggle to repress the natural inclinations of the body".
The Bonnefont cloisters consist of four walkways around medieval herb garden, and in part dates from a late 12th- to early 14th-century Cistercian abbey in the southern French region of Midi-Pyrénées, built on a monastery active between 1136 to 1807. The cloister is not fully from any monastery, but a composite of a number of buildings from the region. The clositers today contain twenty-one double capitals, surrounding a garden that contains many typical features of the medieval period, including a wellhead, raised flower beds, and fences lined with acacia. The marbles are highly ornate and decorate, some contain two registers, some with grotesque figures. The garden contains raised beds bordered by bricks and wattle fences.
The garden contains a medlar tree, found in The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, and is centered around a wellhead in use since the 12th century. The remnants of the Bonnefont cloisters were acquired by Barnard in 1937.
The Trie cloister were originally built as part of a convent for Carmelite nuns at Trie-sur-Baïse, in south-western France. The original abbey, except for the church, was destroyed by Huguenots in 1571. Like those from Saint-Guilhem, the Trie cloisters have been roofed. A number of small and narrow buttresses were added to the exterior by the curator Joseph Breck, who based their design on features at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, England.
The convent originally contained 81 white marble capitals, carved between 1484-1490. Eighteen are now at The Cloisters, and contain numerous biblical scenes and incidents form the lives of saints. There is evidence of secularization in some of the carvings, with biblical scenes merged with characters from legend, including Saint George and the Dragon. Examples include a "wild man" confronting a grotesque monster, and the droll head wearing a very unusual and fanciful hat. The biblical capitals are placed in chronological order, beginning with God in the act of creation at the north west corner, Adam and Eve in the west gallery, followed by and Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and Matthew and John writing their gospels. Capitals in the south gallery illustrate scenes from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the Entombment.
The Trie cloisters surround a rectangular garden which hosts around 80 species of plants, and contains a tall limestone waterfall at the center. The waterfall is a composite of two late 15th- to early 16th-century French structures.
The Saint-Guilhem cloisters originate from the site of the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. Some elements date to 804, with other pieces from the 1660s. Around 140 architectural elements were transferred to New York. They were one of Barnard's early acquisitions, from 1906. At the time, the site marked an important stopping point in the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
The unusual and innovative carvings on the marble piers and column shafts are in places coiled by extravagant foliage, including vines, and recall Roman sculpture. The capitals contain acanthus leaves and a variety of grotesque heads peering out from the vines, including representations of the Presentation at the Temple, Daniel in the Lions' Den, and the Mouth of Hell, and a number of pilasters and columns.
The carvings seem preoccupied with the evils of hell. Those beside the mouth of hell contain the head of the devil, and nearby are various tormenting beasts with, according to art historian Bonnie Young, "animal-like body parts and cloven hoofs [as they] herd naked sinners in chains to be thrown into an upturned monster's mouth".
The Saint-Guilhem cloisters is located in an indoor section of the building, and is small than its original incarnation. It covered by a skylight and plate glass panels which conserves heat in the winter months. Its plant are mostly potted or in containers, including a 15th-century glazed earthenware vase. The small garden contains a central fountain.
Chapels and halls
The Gothic chapel faces northeast and consists of two stories overlooked by stained glass windows. It is entered at ground level via a heavy abbey door at its east wall. The hall begins with a pointed Gothic arch, leading to high bayed ceilings, ribbed vaults, with buttress on the thick walled exterior.
The apse contains a large limestone sculpture of Saint Margaret dated to c. 1330 and from Lleida, Spain. The glass windows are of the 14th century with a depiction of Saint Martin and complex medallion patterns, the three center windows are from the church of Saint Leonhard, in southern Austria, from c. 1340. The glass on the east wall comes from the abbey of Evron, Normandy, and dates from around 1325.
The Gothic chapel contains four tombs, each supreme examples of contemporary sepulchral art, and each from the Urgel family of Catalonia; counts, their wives and children, each with a commemorative tombstone sculptural effigy. The family is associated with the church of Santa Maria at Castello de Farfanya, which was redesigned in the Gothic style by Ermengol X, who was dead by 1314. The tombs are thought to contain Ermengol VI (d. 1184), who commissioned the tombs. The "Effigy of a Lady", sourced in Normandy and dated to the mid 13th c, is perhaps of Margaret of Gloucester. Although resting on a modern base, she is dressed in the height of contemporary aristocratic fashion, including a cotte, jewel studded belt and mantle, and an elaborate ring necklace brooch.
Three of the tombs come from the Bellpuig de las Avellanes monastery in northern Spain. The effigy of a young boy was also acquired from the church of Santa Maria at Casttello de Farfanya.
The Fuentidueña hall is the museum's largest room. It opens with oak doors flanked by sculptures of leaping animals. It houses the Fuentidueña Apse, a semicircular Romanesque apse dated c. 1175–1200, originally part of the San Martín church at Fuentidueña in Segovia. The room also contains a hanging crucifix, and large frescos honoring the Virgin Mary. The chapel consists of a rectangular courtyard with covered walk ways, and beds of flowering shrubs and plants. The capitals supporting the arch portray the Adoration of the Magi and Daniel in the lions' den. Its piers contain the figures of Saint Martin of Tours on the left, and the angel Gabriel announcing to The Virgin on the right. The Fuentidueña room includes a number of other, mostly contemporary medieval art works set within the Fuentidueña Apse. They include, in its dome, a large fresco painted on wet plaster c. 1130-50, from the Spanish Church of San Juan de Tredos, which in its colorization resembling a Byzantine mosaic and is dedicated to the ideal of Mary as the mother of God. Hanging within it the apse is a c. 1150-1200 Crucifix from the convent of St Clara at Astudillo.
By the 19th century the church was long abandoned and in disrepair. In the late 1940s the apse was moved and reconstructed for installation in The Cloisters, a transfer than involved the shipping of almost 300 blocks of stone from Spain to New York. The acquisition followed three decades of complex negotiation and diplomacy between the Spanish church and both countries art historical hierarchies and governments. It was eventually exchanged in a complex deal that involved, in return, the gifting by New York of six frescoes from the San Baudelio de Berlanga to the Prado, on an equally long term loan.
The Lagon Chapel is entered from the Romanesque hall via a massive Gothic oak doorway with elaborate architectural framing. It was sourced from Moutiers-Saint-Jean in Burgundy, France. Carvings on the elaborate white oolitic limestone doorway depict the Coronation of the Virgin, and contains foliated capitals, statuettes on the outer piers, two kings positioned in the embrasures, and various kneeling angels. Carvings of angels hover in the archivolts above the kings. 
The chapel's architecture is from the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Bourg de Digne in Lagon, and dates from c. 1126. The Pontault Chapter house consists of a single aisle nave, projecting transepts is taken from a small parish Benedictine church of c. 1115 from Notre Dame de Pontault, then in neglect and disrepair - when acquired its upper level was a holding for tobacco. About three quarters of its original stonework was relocated to New York.
The heads on the right hand capital were for a time assumed to represent Henry II of England. Seven capitals survive from the original church, with carvings of human heads or figures, some now conformed as identifiable as historical persons, including of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The Romanesque hall is noted for its three great church doorways. It opens through a monumental arched Burgundian entrance from Moutier-Saint-Jean de Réôme France, dated to c. 1150. Two animals are carved into the keystones, both on their hind legs as if about to attack each other. The capitals are lined with carvings of both real and imagined animals and birds, as well as leaves and other fauna. The two other, earlier doorways are from Reugny, Indre-et-Loire in and Poitou in central France. The hall contains four large early 13th-century stone sculptures representing the Adoration of the Magi, and frescoes of a lion and a wyvern, each from the Monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza, in north central Spain. On the left of the room are portraits of kings and angles, also from the monastery at Moutier-Saint-Jean.
The hall contains the remnants of a church at the small Augustinian church at Reugny, consisting of three pairs of columns over a door with molded archivolts. Surviving records indicate that an upper "new cloisters" were installed at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert before 1206. The site at Reugny was badly damage during both the French Wars of Religion and French Revolution, and most of it had already been sold on by 1850 by Piere-Yon Verniere, whose heir sold it on to Barnard in 1906.
The Cloisters contains approximately five thousand individual European medieval works of art, mostly from the 12th to 15th centuries. It holds several ivory c. 1300 Gothic Madonna ivory statuette, mostly French, with some English examples. Other major works include the Flemish tapestries The Hunt of the Unicorn (c. 1495-1505, probably woven in Brussels or Liège and the Nine Heroes, Robert Campin's c. 1425-28 Mérode Altarpiece panel painting, and the 12th-century ivory Cloisters Cross. The museum holds an extensive collection of frescoes, stained glass, manuscripts, porcelain statuettes, reliquarys, wood sculptures and boxwood Rosary beads.
The museum has collected four medieval illuminated books, each of the first rank and of major art historical interest. Their acquisition was a significant achievement for the museums early collectors - but consensus among the ruling hierarchy believed the Cloisters should focus on architecture rather than manuscripts, then considered more suited to the Pierpont Morgan Library.
The four books are the c. 1330 French "Cloisters Apocalypse" (containing the Book of Revelations), the "Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux" (1325–28), the Psalter of Bonne de Luxembourg and the Limbourg brothers' "Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry" (1399–1416).
Miniature from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, French, 1399–1416
The Cloisters' collection of stained glass windows are characterized by vivid colors and often abstract designs and patterns. Many are made from hand made opalescent glass. Among the best known are from Canterbury Cathedral in England, dated to c. 1178-80. Typical of such art works of the time, the designs highlight the effects of light, especially interplay between darkness and illumination. The current collection began from acquisitions in the early 20th century by Raymond Picairn, who was acquiring at a time when medieval glass was not a highly sought after medium by connoisseurs. There were a number of reasons for this, including the fact that pieces were not easily extractable, and even then difficult to transport.
Jane Hayward, a curator at the museum from 1969, believed stained glass was "unquestioningly the preeminent form of Gothic medieval monumental painting", and began a second phase of acquisition. She bought c. 1500 heraldic windows from the Rhineland, now installed in the Campin room with the Mérode Altarpiece, acquired in 1950. Hayward's 1980 addition lead to a redesign of the room so that the installed pieces would echo the domestic setting of the altarpiece. She later said that the Campin room is the only gallery in the Met "where domestic rather than religious art predominates, [because] a conscious effort has been made to create fifteenth-century domestic interior similar to the one shown in [Campin]'s Annunciation panel." Other acquisitions from this time include c. 1265 grisaille panels from the Château-de-Bouvreuil in Rouen, the Cathedral of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais at Sées, and panels from the Acezat collection, now in the Heroes Tapestry Hall, which feature a number of grotesques.
Grisaille panel, Cathedral of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais, Sées, 1270–80
From the Church of St. Leonhard, Lavanttal, Austria
From the Schlosskapelle, Ebreichsdorf, Austria
Library and archives
The Cloisters Library is one of the Metropolitan Museum's thirteen libraries. It contains 15,000 volumes of books, its archive administration papers, the personal papers of Barnard, early glass lantern slides of museum materials, curatorial papers, museum dealer records, scholars records, recordings of musical performances at the museum and maps.
The Cloisters Cross, English, 12th century
Enthroned Virgin and Child, English, c. 1300
Doorway in granite and oak, Aixe sur Vienne, France. 15th century
Rosary Bead, south Netherlandish, boxwood, 1500–1510
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- List of New York City Landmarks
- National Register of Historic Places listings in New York County, New York
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Cloisters.|
- "Visit The Cloisters". The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- "Medieval Art and The Cloisters". The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Cloisters Archives Collection from the Digital Collections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries
- The Cloisters' 75th Anniversary Samantha Dossena, L'Idea Magazine N.4, 2013