Rockefeller wanted the objects to speak for themselves in harmonious surroundings that were not subject to modern whims or fashions. The Cloisters has been described: “as a structure… integrated with its monuments and objects, the reciprocal relationship being fundamental to the whole.”*
There is a substantial amount of art to peruse in The Cloisters museum and gardens – up to 5,000 works. Here’s a tour of some of those highlights. Enjoy!
Picturesque doorway ~ History, restored
Catch a glimpse at The Nativity tapestry (1500-1520) through the doors leading into The Late Gothic Hall.
It’s unbelievable that this 27-foot long by 13-foot high artwork had been vandalized prior to its acquisition by The Cloisters in 1938. In 1967, the Department of Textile Conservation found that the tapestry had been cut into four irregular pieces; as a consequence, badly stitched back together.
Pay heed to the admirable, laborious, and challenging undertaking of its restoration. Led by conservators, Alice Blohm and Tina Kane, the meticulous process of its conservation spanned from 1973 to 2009. The team restored missing yarns, reweaved damage and holes, and reconstructed missing areas.
It really is humbling to see a piece of history restored thanks to the dedication of artisans.
A 12th Century Canvased Camel
The camel seems to have been associated with the lands of the Bible. But also with power, luxury, and the exotic ~ The Cloisters
The Fuentiduena Chapel
Romanesque architecture with a barrel vaulted ceiling, wall paintings, and sculptures; it is easy to get ‘lost’ in the Chapel’s spaciousness.
More than three thousand limestone blocks, lent to The Cloisters by the Spanish government in 1957, constitute the twelfth-century apse that dominates this gallery…
The interior of the half dome is decorated with a Catalan fresco depicting the Virgin and Child in Majesty and the Adoration of the Magi from the church of the Virgin near Tredòs, and a magnificent twelfth-century painted Spanish wood crucifix hangs from the arch. ~ The Met Museum
Splash of Colour
Look, don’t eat: Spreading from China to India, both bitter and sweet oranges were introduced into Europe from Asia; the bitter species preceded the sweet species by five centuries.
Take a leaf out of this Chapter
If you were to rewind to the 12th century, there would be a meeting taking place in The Chapter House. Fast forward a few centuries, and how things have changed. In the 1800′s, prior to its purchase in the 1930s, the House was being used as a stable.
Whenever any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community and state the matter to be acted upon.” So Saint Benedict began “Chapter 3 of his Rule for Monasteries.” ~ The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Here, the space evokes a sense of calm.
Take a seat on one of the wooden bench encircling the room – versus a stone-hewn one of the Middle Ages – and take in the beauty of The Chapter House’s work; its pillars are decorated with carvings of roses and pinecones, and the rib-vaulted Gothic-inspired ceiling is really beautiful. The arched windows that line it to one side illuminate the space with a soft light.
The West Terrace makes the most of The Cloisters’ position, perched on the highest point of Manhattan. From this vantage point, as if on a fort, you have a great view of the Hudson River, the New Jersey Palisades, and the George Washington Bridge in the background.
Named for the early Netherlandish masterpiece, the Merode Altarpiece, The Merode Room features works of art intended as aids to private devotion.
You’ll be enchanted by its stained glass windows, and the central chandelier.
Lend Some Support
Columns such as the one below were used as decoration in the Benedictine abbey of Notre-Dame de la Grande Sauve. From here, you can see the leaf motifs up close.
Myths and Mysticism
Though the gardens may be waiting for a sprinkle of Spring magic, the Unicorn Tapestries are always abloom. Their backgrounds feature millefleurs (millions of flowers); these plantings are reflectied of the museum’s Trie Cloister Garden.
Traditionally known as The Hunt of the Unicorn, these tapestries were woven in wool, metallic threads, and silk, and include the depiction of 101 species of plants, of which over 85 have been identified. The vibrant colors still evident today were produced with three dye plants: weld (yellow), madder (red), and woad (blue). ~ The Met Museum
Note: symbolism is interwoven into the planted background of Middle Ages tapestries; landscape was treated as more than just a place to inhabit physically – it was used to create ambiance and emotion.
The pomegranate tree, featured in several of the tapestries, symbolized the chastity of the Virgin Mary, the union of faith, and peace. The fruit’s red juice represented Christ’s blood, and redemption in a paradise garden. ~ Corey Eilhardt, The Cloisters
Austrian, glazed and stained
Light shines through The Gothic Chapel’s tall fourteenth-century Austrian stained glass windows. Splashes of colour brighten a chapel fashioned in the thirteenth-century, filled with tomb effigies.
Pause before Exiting ~ Doorways and Candelabras
This doorway looking into the Langon Chapel is a thing of Gothic-inspired beauty.
A Paved Farewell
The driveway is made of original Belgian blocks from old New York streets. Tread carefully!
*Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1974, Number 4, LP-0835
More Information: The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation.