The Cloisters: Medieval Museum of Art
Designed by Charles Collens, the Cloister’s museum buildings were constructed by merging various medieval styles. The final building was not based on any one particular style but employed elements from five French abbeys that were reassembled into one structure.
The Cloisters was opened to the public in 1938 on Manhattan Island in New York City. The building is used by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to house its medieval artwork collection. The museum and park were donated by John D. Rockefeller Jr. who also donated much of his personal medieval art collection to the Cloisters. The museum is comprised of between 3,000 – 5,000 medieval works of art from Europe dating from the 9th to the 16th centuries.
The Cloisters contains approximately 20 rooms, that include: Gothic halls, 3 chapels, a chapter house, cloister gardens, and various galleries. In addition to its beautiful art collection, the Cloisters also contains many other interesting pieces such as earthenware jugs and vases, furniture, jewellery, books of hours, escutcheons, reliquaries, and tapestries.
Pieces of Note:
The Unicorn in Captivity – This famous late 15th century tapestry made of wool warp, silk, silver, and gilt wefts from the French south lowlands depicts a unicorn in captivity. This piece belongs to a late Gothic series of tapestries, known as ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’. This tapestry is the seventh and final panel in the series.
Tabernacle Panel - These colourful panels were once the wings of a tabernacle dating to the 13th century. This Spanish piece flanked an enthroned Virgin and child and bore the arms of Castilla and Leon.
The Lamentation – Carved of walnut, this beautiful, Spanish altarpiece vividly depicts the emotional response of viewing Christ’s suffering during the Crucifixion. Note the stirring detail in the faces of the figurines. Dating to 1480, this work was used to encourage worshippers to engage in meditation as if they were present during The Passion.
Painted Wood Box of the Capture of Orange – This walnut box dates to the early 13th century and comes from southern France. It portrays the medieval legend of William, Count of Toulouse and the Capture of Orange in intricate detail. William was a relative of Charlemagne and a great warrior. His early life is recounted in a ‘Chanson de Geste’. William fell in love with a Muslim Queen, was discovered and captured. The battle scenes from the Chansons, the Franks who came to rescue William and the events detailing the Capture of Orange, appear on side panels of the box. William renounced the world and became a monk in 804, becoming known as Saint Guilhem and founded the monastery of Saint Guilhem le Desert.
Effigies – The Cloisters houses a room of stunning effigies. The Tomb of Jean d’Alluye is made of limestone and dates to the 13th century. The tomb shows the idealised funerary depiction of D’Alluye as a youthful knight. Jean D’Alluye was entombed in 1248 in La Clarte-Dieu, a Cistercian abbey he founded in 1239. The effigy of Count Ermengol IX, Count of Urgell is also located in this room. This limestone tomb from the church of Santa Maria at Castello dates to the early to mid-14th century. The count died as a boy and this tomb effigy was used as a ‘chaux vive’ burial where the remains were interred in quicklime for one year and then transferred to a sarcophagus. The room also contains effigies of other members of the Count’s family.
Plan to spend at least two hours walking through the spacious and captivating rooms of the Cloisters – it is perhaps the best museum of medieval art work in North America. During the spring and summer the gardens are in bloom, adding a pleasant experience to your visit. Events including musical performances, gallery talks and special tours are regular occurrences. The Cloisters is open throughout the year, from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:30 am to 5pm, but is closed on Mondays and some holidays. For more information, please visit www.metmuseum.org/cloisters