Maj. Nicholas Utzig (United States Military Academy)
The Year’s Work in Medievalism:Volume 27 (2012)
Nestled in the hills of Fort Tyron Park in northern Manhattan lies an extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters. The Cloisters house much of the Met’s medieval collection. The structure itself is composed of elements taken from five European cloisters. The resulting building, as the Met’s official website puts it, “is not a copy of any specific medieval structure but an ensemble of spaces, rooms, and gardens that suggest a variety of artistic aspects of medieval Europe.” While constructed of medieval materials, the Cloisters is not a medieval construction. It is a conflation, a re-appropriation of elements of a medieval past for a specific contemporary purpose. The structure is not medieval but a medievalism. In a sense, the Cloisters is a metaphor for the practice of a kind of medievalism, a practice with a conceptual mirror in the early modern period.
While the modern Metropolitan Museum of Art hopes to “suggest” a medieval space through the reorganization of physical material, Tudor and Stuart medievalists (if we can apply such a term) labored to mediate their religious and political present by reorganizing a re-appropriated English past. The early modern period saw the birth of Anglo-Saxon studies and the reclamation of the Old English language. With the renewed interest in a manifestly English, pre-Norman past came the desire to transmit this history to the broader public. Immediately, the recovery of an Anglo-Saxon past was swept up in larger Reformation-era ideological conflicts.